Publication Details

Griffiths, M. R. (2010). Production values: Fordism and Formalism in North by Northwest. Postmodern Culture: an electronic journal of interdisciplinary criticism, 20 (3), 1-16.


This essay analyzes the aesthetics of capitalist economics at the threshold of the transition from fordist to postfordist modes of production. The essay organizes this analysis around a close reading of Alfred Hitchcock's 1959 film North by Northwest. At stake is the relation between aesthetic productions which engage the economic base and thematize this engagement. In making this claim, the notion of capital's "axiomatic"--a concept by which Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari designate the relative autonomy of the economic base--is employed to examine the way that, from as early as the 1950s, U. S. capitalism's prodigious industries of entertainment and popular culture began to change to ungrounded, flexible, representational economies. An instance of this shift is the emerging pre-eminence of advertising, which the essay finds signaled in the "value" attributed to Cary Grant's Roger O. Thornhill in the farcical spy plot. This value is referred to as "advertising agency," and signals the collapse of such discrete spheres as the economy and state, as well as of production and consumption. Because of its historical position and its content, North by Northwest is a remarkable text for investigating the transformation of twentieth-century economic modes to a dereferentialized form which we continue to inhabit.