This is a guest post by CYH Volunteer Patricia Louie
Macklemore’s thought provoking song “Wings” is an excellent way to introduce students to Marx’s theory of commodity fetishism. Commodity fetishism is the process of ascribing magic “phantom-like” qualities to an object. In “Wings,” Macklemore associates these qualities with Nike Air Max shoes, explaining his belief as a child that they would make him into a superstar athlete like Michael Jordan. The value of Nike shoes is displaced from the labour time that went into creating them, and instead is infused with social-cultural value that comes into being through celebrity endorsement or symbols such as the Nike “Swoosh.” “Wings” becomes a statement on how market capitalism seduces us into purchasing products that promise to make our lives better. Macklemore comes to this realization through the song’s narrative, exclaiming, “Nike tricked us all,” before finally realizing as the song comes to and end that “it’s just another pair of shoes.”
Through tracks like “Wings,” Macklemore explores the darker side of consumption that is rarely discussed in mainstream music. He breaks from the typical discourse in rap music about buying expensive cars, “ice,” and bottles of Dom Pérignon and instead urges the listener to critically rethink the messages superimposed on us in capitalist societies that make us feel the need to constantly consume.
This video is a great segue into discussions about the Marxist concepts of use-value, exchange-value, and surplus-value. How is value made? Why do we pay $180 for a pair of Nike Shoes, but only $20 for a pair of Sketcher shoes?
In addition, this video bolsters discussion about the power of symbols and signification in creating cultural meaning embodied in a commodity sign (think: the Swoosh on the Nike shoe, or the Apple symbol on an iPhone).
In the end, Macklemore is right – his Nikes are “so much more than just a pair of shoes.” They are “what I am… the source of my youth… the dream that they sold to you.”