Althusser states that “it is not their real conditions of existence, their real world, that ‘men’ ‘represent to themselves’ in ideology, but above all it is their relation to those conditions of existence which is represented to them there” (Rivkin and Ryan 690). I argue that the ATV festival, that takes place annually in Berlin, New Hampshire, becomes that same representation of the relation of the individual to their idealized view of existence. To explain more clearly what it is that I am saying, it must be understood that some generalization about the people that attend the festival must be made. As with any case of generalization there are certainly individual exceptions. With that said I feel that this festival, which encompasses the entire town and includes numerous vendors and subcontractors, comes to represent the illusionary concept of the American dream. The American dream, of course, is the idea that hard work can transport someone from rags to riches. This conceptualization feeds the needs of capitalism by creating a large body of the proletariat that are willing to work and perpetuate consumerism. There is a connection that can be made between the wealthy and acts of leisure. ATV-ing, for some, represents a leisurely activity. After all it is for the most part something to be done when somebody is not toiling away at work and being a good little American consumer. The simple act of ATV ownership could be seen as an attempt to create the image of wealth as well because it is a non-essential purchase acquired to say “Hey guys, I just spent enough money to buy a new car on something that I will only be able to use a few months of the year.” The purchase hails the individual as part of the club of those fortunate enough to own the machine. All of this follows Althusser’s concept of the imaginary nature of ideology because, in reality, the wealthy members of our society at large don’t attend festivals dedicated to the riding of AT’s. Maybe more important to my argument is the fact that the individuals who do attend the festival shell out way more money than they can afford on the machines required to attend. I know of an individual who spent 25,000 dollars, which he had to take a ridiculous loan out for, on an ATV. This same individual has two young kids who will eventually be looking to go college. Instead of saving what he will be paying and spending that money on something that could actually provide upward mobility, i.e an education, he is left with years of payment for what amounts to a toy. It is this construction of an image of wealth and a life of leisure that I believe lends itself to critique within Althusser’s conceptualization of ideology.
The Student Theorist: An Open Handbook of Collective College Theory by Ethan Dorval is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.