This article is a translation of “¿Qué es el Retrocapitalismo?,” published in El Libertario on the 3rd of June 2019.
I loosely place my first retrocapitalist experience by the time when found out about the eight bits music (aka chiptune). I can’t recall how, but found the album The 8 Bits of Christmas, with soundtracks produced by a set of contributors under the name “The 8 Bits People.” This happened on year 2006 while I reached the end of college. The album and its concept seemed both impressive and captivating. But I’m not certain that this experience truly matches what is to be tagged as retrocapitalist. For what is this retrocapitalism?
The Origins of the Concept
A quick search for “retrocapitalism” on Google Scholar gives back only four entries: 1 & 2) Kroker & Weinstein 1994 & 1996 use the expression in the sense of an archaic sort of capitalism, 3) Fiks & Kopenkina 2008 give it the meaning of a post-Soviet capitalism, and 4) McLaren 2017 names it in order to describe Trump’s economic policy as it rejects neoliberalism while embraces corporatism. They all agree in regard to adopting the term in the sense of a specific sort of capitalism distinguished by either how or when it’s practiced. This conception dramatically differs from that I sketched in the paragraph above, indeed: for me, the concept is linked to a cultural experience.
This reflection, nonetheless, was brought about to me by Patricio Arriagada, who has published “vaporwave: Unique Retrocapitalist Magazine”—now “retrocapitalism.” It’s this “retrocapitalism” the one I intend to define here. As suggested by its title, Arriagada’s blog spreads stuff tagged as “vaporwave”, but also related to dead malls. Besides this blog, he has also described “retrocapitalism” in an unpublished paper he has kindly shared with me. From this document, the concept for “retrocapitalism” I’ve been able to capture is that of an evocation of cultural products from the 80s and 90s. This definition does match, by the way, the first retrocapitalist experience I mentioned above. My love for the Atari and the NES were suddenly shaken the first time I listened that eight bits music.
The term “retrocapitalism”, on the other hand, has been inspired on the facts that 1) the vaporwave trend makes use of advertisement artefacts —what gives “retrocapitalism” its capitalist aspect— and 2) the documentary records of dead malls are focused on a cultural product (the shopping mall), which is allegedly “capitalist” —as it is intended for “shopping”— and the peak of which was reached during the 80s and the 90s. It could well be said, then, that the word “retrocapitalism” has arisen from a puzzling conceptualisation, but is an appealing term.
The aesthetic trend of vaporwave, cyberpunk, and chiptune, the documentaries on dead malls, the relaunching of video game consoles, even the odd performance of the vocal group Backstreet Boys in the 2019 Viña del Mar Festival, are retrocapitalist phenomena according to the definition excerpted from Arriagada: an evocation of cultural products from the 80s and 90s. I must highlight that these cultural products are not confined to the artistic and the gaming dimensions, but they extend to the advertising and the household: a visit to the “notalgia.pura” Instagram account would clarify what I’m trying to explain here.
cultural products must spread over every aspect of culture: politics and
religion, technique and science, art and moral. So it’s not just The Simpsons and the Mega Drive, but
also Thatcher and Chernobyl and Tiananmen and the Discovery and the tablecloth pattern and the furniture design and
the 3rd stanza of the National Anthem of Chile, etc. All these are
retrocapitalist evocations. I think there exists a trend of understanding these
evocations as nostalgic, but don’t agree that nostalgia is a relevant factor in
order to get a “retrocapitalist experience”, for the crucial is that it refers
us to the 80s and 90s decades. Nostalgia might be felt by those who actually
lived during this period, but those born later and the forthcoming connoisseurs
of the matter have no need of it in order to understand and to convey
 “Retrocapitalismo: propuesta multisemiótica para un análisis literario-estético de la sociedad poscapitalista chilena mediante el corpus ‘Odio a Puente Alto’ (José Ángel Cuevas, 2006), Mano de Obra & Sumar (Diamela Eltit).”