Posts Tagged ‘naturalization’

Last semester I took a class in ideology and media – (probably the most interesting and informative communication class)

One of my essays looked specifically at the process of reification and naturalization: Thompson defines reification is the “relations of domination may be established and sustained to representing a transitory, historical state of affairs as if it were permanent, natural, outside of time” (Thompson, p.65). This specifically carries through with the naturalization strategy where “[a] state of affairs which is a social and historical creation may be treated as a natural even or as the inevitable outcome of natural characteristics” (p.66).

Simply put, by representing things/actions/institutions (things that human-made) as things that are natural (inevitable/determined by conditions that are beyond human control) – we don’t question the authenticity of the object in question, nor the possible power relations which allowed the portrayal of this authenticity.

So what on this blue earth does this have to do with sugar? Well, without sounding too Michael-Mooresque – I think that we as a culture have fully accepted processed sugar as naturalized – that is, we no longer question the oddness of having it play such a huge role in our diets. Nor do we question the labour conditions under which it is produced. It is ubiquitous, the norm, it is not contemplated.

The Candy Cane - forever embedded in the collective imagery of "Christmas"

But how about a real example of how this happens in our everyday life? The best example I can think of is the idea is how sugar has crept into vernacular semiotics  (signs, symbols and even language). Just try to count the number of ads you see on TV that sell candy, cake and ice-cream like its going out of fashion. The ritual of chocolate and sweets before the register as an impulse buy. The use of the phrases “sweet tooth”, “a sweet person” or “trick or treat”. Can we disassociate Easter from the Bunny and his eggs? Is there a contemporary Christmas without candy-canes and gingerbread men? When this language of signs and imagery become a part of our collective pool as society – how then is it not naturalized?

Ironically, this idea dawned on me while watching 16 and pregnant (Believe me, the shame of this lack of cultural capital haunts me). But in one episode I was really struck by a nurse’s comment to the new mom: To paraphrase, “You have to teach a baby everything; when to sleep; when to be awake; and even the very basics of the eating process”. If we had to learn the how-to-eat action — something that I’m certain we take as very natural aspect our lives — then most certainly we did learn how the content of eating too. And we also unlearn parts of it too.

And did I just speak about semiotics and MTV in the same post? Why yes – yes I did.


Thompson, J. (1991). Ideology and Modern Culture: Critical Social Theory in the Era of Mass Communication (1 ed.). Stanford : Stanford University Press.

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