Database for Animation Studies


Rocko’s Magic Capitalism: Commodity Fetishism in the Magical Realism of Rocko’s Modern Life

This article presents a textual analysis of the Nickelodeon animated series Rocko’s Modern Life. Drawing from the theories of Guy Debord and Imamura Taihei, the series is posited as a revelatory lens into the spiritual crisis of late capitalism. The author then argues that the series employs magical realism to depict an animist capitalism in which the fetishization of commodities literally brings them to life. The show’s characters experience the alienation of labour as the draining of their spirit, haunting their workplaces as dead labour reanimated through the necromancy of commodity fetishism. As consumers, the characters attempt to recapture the enervated agency of their alienated selves by populating their lives with commodities. Ultimately, they are unable to find meaningful agency and spiritual fulfilment amidst the distributed agency of animated commodities. Despite its often problematic engagement with both indigeneity and animism, this close analysis of Rocko’s Modern Life supports Imamura’s theory that Western animation appropriates elements of indigenous animism to bring dead labour back to life in the form of fetishized commodities. It also suggests further research into the interconnection and contestation between capitalist animism and indigenous animism within animation.

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Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal
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