The brand-orientated play-community: toxic play in the marketplace

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O'Sullivan, Stephen Robert
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University College Cork
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This ethnographic study makes a number of original contributions to the consumer identity projects and the marketplace cultures dimensions of consumer culture theory research. This study introduces the notion of the brand-orientated play-community, a novel consumption community form, which displays, as locus, a desire to play. This contributes to our understanding of the fluid relationship between subcultures of consumption, consumer tribes, and brand community. It was found that the brand-orientated play-community’s prime celebration, conceptualised as the ‘branded carnival’, displays characteristics of the archetypal carnival. The community access carnivalistic life and a world-upside-down ethos via the use and misuse of marketplace resources. The branded carnival is further supported by the community’s enactment of ‘toxic play’, which entails abnormal alcohol consumption, black market illegal resources, edgework activities, hegemonic masculinity and upsetting the public. This play-community is discussed in terms of a hyper-masculine playpen, as the play enacted has a direct relationship with the enactment of strong masculine roles. It was found that male play-ground members enact the extremes of contrasting masculine roles as a means to subvert the calculated and sedate ‘man-of-action-hero’ synthesis. Carnivals are unisex, and hence, women have begun entering the play-ground. Female members have successfully renegotiated their role within the community, from playthings to players – they have achieved player equality, which within the liminoid zone is more powerful than gender equality. However, while toxic play is essential to the maintenance of collective identity within the culture so too is the more serious form of play: the toxic sport of professional beer pong. The author conceptualises beer pong as a ‘toxic sport’, as it displays the contradictory play foundations of agon and corrupt ilinx: this is understood as a milestone step in the emergence of the postmodern sport era, in which spontaneity and the carnivalesque will dominate.
Marketplace culture , Toxic play , Brand-orientated play-community
O'Sullivan, S. R. 2013. The brand-orientated play-community: toxic play in the marketplace. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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