Wednesday, September 13, 1995


THE word power has been busy in the later half of the 20th century, popping up in all sorts of discourses from philosophy to cultural studies; from management to computing.

As well as its obvious adaptability, as a noun, adjective and verb, the word also has the potential for an enormous range of moods, from faceless to monolithic, when in the company of its close friend, knowledge, to boyish and ironic when it steps out with consumer durables.

It is the latter of these moods that has seen the most prolific development in the last 20 years. Politicians have grown careful about the use of the word. Henry Kissinger may once have asserted that a low fibre diet of committee meetings and mendacity "is the great aphrodisiac", but that was then, and this is now. Postmodernist theorist Jean Baudrillard, is closer to the spirit of the times when he suggests contact with men of power is "very like being in close proximity to faecal matter"

In the 1980s, the rise of terms such as power dressing, power lunching and power napping marked a halfway point in the word's slide into the market place. These phrases permitted a modicum of ambiguity, since it was never really clear whether the use of pin-stripe twin-sets and shoulder pads was a forceful way of dressing, or a bid for power in the more traditional sense. This ambiguity was, however, short-lived.

In the 1990s, while automobile companies began to experience difficulty equating their product's real asset - the power of their machines - with environmental awareness, in other sectors, power lust slipped in less obtrusively. It was a typically astute move when Apple decided that its latest generation of computers would bear the prefix "power". In the unleaded world of computing, PowerBooks and PowerPCs were devoid of destructive, pollutant connotations, while still maintaining the allure of the word.

But while computer manufacturers are happy to make use of the word "power", they are not alone. When Newt Gingrich was looking for a fitting guest of honour for his swearing in at the 150th Congress earlier this year, he naturally enough selected the stars of one of the US's top-rated TVshows, The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, thus co-opting the word's refreshed image for the Republican party.


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