FORUM FOR ANTHROPOLOGY AND CULTURE

ANTROPOLOGICHESKIJ FORUM
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Forum for Anthropology and Culture, 2017, no. 13

 

FETISHISM UNDER DEVELOPED SOCIALISM: LENINGRAD ADOLESCENTS AND THE CHEWING-GUM CRAZE IN THE 1970s

Konstantin Bogdanov
Institute of Russian Literature (The Pushkin House), Russian Academy of Sciences
4 Makarova Emb., St Petersburg, Russia
konstantin.a.bogdanov()gmail.com

Abstract: This article intends to clarify two interrelated issues. The first is recalling the meanings that chewing gum had in childhood and adolescence in everyday Soviet life. The second is the question of the function ‘extraordinary’ values of certain objects and artifacts in various subcultures. The author assumes that this case can be described (in terms of cultural anthropology and social psychology) as the phenomenon of commodity fetishism in the context of more fundamental mechanisms that determine the practice of collective interaction in terms of relative deprivation and self-isolation. Thus, in a teenage (and largely male) environment, the use of chewing gum deserves attention both as a key illustration of fetishisation, and as an example of the socialisation of the Soviet young in the period between the early 1960s and the late 1980s. Information about chewing gum highlights its strangeness and even hostility to the Soviet man in his social behaviour. In the case of adolescents, chewing gum was the manifestation of emotional solidarity, speaking as an alternative to the propaganda and expectations of Soviet ideology. From an ethnographic and anthropological point of view, this alternative is interesting because of its apparent irrationality. Yet it is convincing as an argument for which evidence was determined not by words, but by the very fact of its ‘material’ and symbolic presence: the price of gum was converted to the collective values of symbolic exchange. The role of the imagination in these cases was immeasurably greater than the physiology of taste or category of use.

Keywords: chewing gum, teenagers’ subculture, commodity fetishism.

To cite: Bogdanov K., ‘Fetishism under Developed Socialism: Leningrad Adolescents and the Chewing-Gum Craze in the 1970s’, Forum for Anthropology and Culture, 2017, no. 13, pp. 306–324.