Business ontology was described by Mark Fisher: "Over the past thirty years, capitalist realism has successfully installed a ‘business ontology’ in which it is simply obvious that everything in society, including healthcare and education, should be run as a business". This mode of thought has led to the use of non-economic topics as a barrier to protecting the economic status quo. Things such as sexual relations, what is considered legal, who and how people will be punished if they break the law, tax rates, gender roles, who (and of course more importantly for them who's not) worthy of access to state services and funds, much of this is not up for much discussion and it is defended as part of the 'natural order' by the capitalists and their lapdogs.
Excuses like that’s not how we do things here in the West, we cannot afford it, why should we pay for that, who gets profit from that, this isn’t good for business. All of these are used to beat back any social progress. It was previously done with homosexuality and people of colour, and now that they have been assimilated into capital and accepted by the larger society; they have started on Muslims and anybody wanting to break with gender norms. Any ground given to trans rights or the welcoming of refugees is often phrased as an attack on 'Western civilization' and that includes capital. Not to forget the more subtle but dangerous classist narrative around meritocracy and social Darwinism i.e. if you are not rich that is your fault and no one else's.
Since 2008 there has been a turn when it comes to how capitalism is viewed. Various polls show that people would welcome state intervention in the market is evidence of this. Furthermore, the range of economic measures taken during the pandemic has permanently crippled any argument against state intervention. As this is the case, there has been a more concentrated effort to make capitalism look like the natural state of things. People have started to argue that it is a fundamental part of life, the backbone of Western values. This puts it on a sublime pedestal with (liberal) democracy as if there were no other kind, and even if there were 'that's not who we are'.
Defending wealth through culture
This builds bridges over the glaring wealth gaps. With nationalist-tinted language and nods to ambiguous cultural signifiers, capitalists are able to build a 'classless' cultural defence around their wealth. Orientalism, the overselling of Eastern stereotypes and the reaffirmation of Western superiority is back and bigger than ever, with China, Russia, trans, homosexuals, freeloaders, gypsies and immigrants as the enemy to our 'way of life'. But none of this is new, capitalism has always done this with fascism from the Nazis to Pinochet, they will pay whomever to protect the system that serves them and their interests. The business ontology is just the form that today’s ideology takes.
In the late 90's capitalism was seen as young, cutting edge, and even trendy. New Labour ditched nationalization and Clinton reminded us that it was all about the economy. Now, just like the politicians of old that pushed it, capitalism is a bit like that family member that was once fashionable but after one too many divorces, they have turned into a shit version of Jeremy Clarkson. If anything capitalism has turned into what it always criticized communism for: overly heavy on meaningless bureaucratic processes such as key performance indicators or scrum masters; people doing bullshit jobs where no one else really knows what they do, or what value they add to the company (and in most cases society!)
Sex and the City was previously revolutionary in the sense that it challenged narratives. Like born-again capitalism after the fall of the Berlin wall, Carrie Bradshaw, but more specifically Samantha Jones, modernised the image of the the sexually liberated female of the 80's to the corporate boss girl of the 90's/00's.
Strutting down Upper East Side's East 73rd Street, SATC may have not been every feminist's favourite cocktail, but it did get people thinking about sexuality and gender roles. Yet sadly it did so with terrible stereotypes for homosexuals, people of colour, transsexuals, and even men. It was six seasons of laughter, post-it notes, dildos, the emerging of the mobile phone, Kim Cattrall's breasts, a self-indulgent protagonist and a rolling camera shot of badly formed rhetorical questions. Had we seen enough of SATC, or did we want more?
Watching this series now it seems like another world but in the past fitted with the narrative of the time which included Damien Hirst's modern art, Jamie Oliver, sex tapes, MSN Messenger, Britpop, Windows 98, colourful Macs, the Eurotunnel, Concorde and rave. Although it should be remembered that the late 90’s to early 00’s was not that great. Terrorism, illegal and unnecessary war, alcopops, Adidas popper pants, capitalist greed that led to the 2008 crisis, ecological damage, globalism, increasing obesity and the rise of fast fashion. And worst of all the pointless celebrity: Paris Hilton and reality TV.
The liberal New York scene
After the disaster of the feature-length SATC 2, And Just Like That... gives Manhattans and stilettos a facelift into the liberal New York scene where the majority don't remember life before broadband. Like most of Gen Z, it is trying to find its place between gender pronouns, gender binary, and diversity when it should be more concerned with issues around Botox, society’s attitudes towards being childless at 50, a lack of retirement options, falling birth rates, increasing hostility towards immigrants, precarious work and friendships falling apart.
Instead of addressing any of this, it places a range of diverse characters in stale storylines, meanwhile, the main protagonists lose most of their previous characteristics. Whilst they do skate over some of these issues, most of it is superficial and toothless. The three women that are left seem like people who have never experienced culture change, which is sad because seeing them navigate the lost world of the millennium was SATC's most endearing feature. Now, it's as if they have been dropped on Planet Woke and been told to improvise. Whilst life for some of us may feel like this at times, they could have made more of a joke of it. The second season does feel more relatable but still, it lacks any critique of society that SATC previously attempted. Much of this is probably down to timing and a worn-out formula for TV shows.
At one point Charlotte screams out of pure frustration “Why can’t everyone just stay the same!”, referring to one character’s change in sexual orientation, but this gag seems to point towards something different, a certain liberal outlook that our modern-day business ontology reinforces. Liberalism is happy to make superficial changes and even address issues at a surface level, but its lack of critique when it comes to the economy, and more importantly our environment, shows how our modern-day ideology is held hostage to its own beliefs and those of capitalists alike. We live in a cynical age where we do what we are supposed to whilst making comments to our partner on the way home in the car. We are all lost in the symbolic order of things but let's not pretend it's fun for any of us. Most people want to live a dignified life without having to have a drama over it, however on the flipside they seem to relish the negativity of it all. This is all reflective of the mainstream liberal narrative that much of the ‘middle class’ live in. Just like Miranda’s drinking problem, it turns a serious issue into the butt of a joke.
The diversity trap
Falling into liberal talking points without an analysis and a structural answer is what Spanish author Daniel Bernabe calls the diversity trap. He argues that identity politics, although needed and respectable, waters down the class struggle against capitalism as it makes this form of politics competitive within a market framework.
“Whereas the revolutionary movements of the 20th century strove to find what it was that united different people, the activism of the 21st century strives to find the difference of the units. Thus, while the concept of class is an attempt, based on an analysis of a material situation, to search for something profoundly transversal that cuts across nationalities, genders and races, current movementism seems determined to create a system of analysis where individuals are holders of privileges or recipients of oppressions that they exchange regardless of their position in the productive system. Obviously, the point is not to deny that people have specific problems associated with gender, race or sexual orientation, but rather that these problems are closely related either to the needs of the economic system or to the ideological structure that justifies it.”
Thus, we need to change the form of both the base and superstructure, not work within them.
The far-right have always weaponised cultural issues to defend capitalism but also to feed in their ideological positions. Before you know it liberals are condemning refugees, or more often than not: saying nothing. A good counterexample of this is Black Lives Matter and their slogan defund the police as it got liberals questioning the structure of racism and the need for the police force as opposed to don’t kill black people because it is bad. Whilst some never went beyond posting a black tile on Instagram, the media was forced to discuss the issue and give airtime to people with an analysis and solutions to the inherent contradictions that exist between capitalism, race and wider society.
That is why And Just Like That... is the perfect example of what is wrong with progressive politics today. It pits race, ecology, sexuality, gender, age and disability against one another for attention in the spectacle when the bigger issue is no one can afford the increasing accommodation costs and cost of living. We should talk about all of them, but it should never be at the expense of the other. It must always be structural.
To conclude with a quote from Fisher:
“Emancipatory politics must always destroy the appearance of a ‘natural order’, must reveal what is presented as necessary and inevitable to be a mere contingency, just as it must make what was previously deemed to be impossible seem attainable.”
Only a project that aims to build modern socialism can succeed.