Tolkien and consumerism

There’s an old line of criticism that Tolkien’s works are politically irresponsible because they fit cozily into this introverted, consumerist approach to civic life. (Mentioned in Cantor’s disc. of Tolkien in Inventing the Middle Ages.) And I really don’t think that’s what Tolkien was about, and I think that, at least in a lot of popular culture, and in local cultures across the US, Tolkien provided the resources to articulate a subculture in Hebdige’s sense: I think of Gandalf’s in Frostburg, MD, at a local level, and all of the rock music that drew upon Tolkien in creating an identity for itself. (You can see this among American Catholic undergrads, too, I think, where students draw upon Tolkien as Catholics of a particular kind to articulate who they want to be.) These show that while Tolkien could certainly be used as mere escapism, there’s something more there.

I think some of my beef with Peter Jackson is that he’s reduced Tolkien to pop cultural pabulum, and thereby made it less meaningful as a source for subcultural articulation. He’s made Tolkien obviously crass and commercial, without any sense that crass commercialism is a deep part of what Tolkien was revolting against. He has deeply reduced Tolkien’s text, and done violence to its spirit.


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