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by Jason Gross

15 Nov 2008

Excellent article/interview in Miller-McCune about the changing relationship between advertising and pop music that’s happened over the last decade, including Moby, Lenny Kravitz, the Beatles, the Shins, the Pernice Brothers and others plus issues about what kind of products bands will shill for and what they think of their own musical heroes doing ads.  Makes me look forward to Bethany Klein’s upcoming book about the subject, As Heard on TV: Popular Music in Advertising.

by Rob Horning

14 Nov 2008

Does typecasting by nationality become more pronounced in a crisis? (One of the curious paradoxes of the identity politics of the 1980s and 1990s was that it was both wrong to essentialize people categorically based on their nationality, race, or gender or what have you, but at the same time the differences automatically engendered by these characteristics required a deeper respect.) I’m reading Orwell’s essays written during World War II, in which he concludes naturally enough that patriotism is the most powerful force in the world, considering all the destruction being wreaked in its name. In “England Your England,” he proceeds to claim that Spaniards can be known by their cruelty to animals and Italians are congenitally noisy before proclaiming that the British citizens’ respect for the law is a national characteristic.

Now, facing an economic crisis, more and more national stereotypes seem to be cropping up in economic analysis. Or maybe they are always there, but now we really need them to be true. Americans are presumed to be optimistic shopaholics, sustaining worldwide demand; Asians are inveterate savers who stubbornly refuse to consume more. And in an editorial in yesterday’s FT, Canadian finance minister James Flaherty champions his people’s dullness. In a piece headlined ” ‘Boring’ Canada’s financial tips for the world,” he writes,

Few countries are as dependent on trade or as integrated into the global financial system as Canada. Yet our financial sector continues to weather the turbulence better than many other countries. This did not happen by chance. Canadians by nature are prudent and our financial system has been characterised as unexciting. Canada’s regulatory regime ensures that stability and efficiency are balanced.

This sort of thing makes me extremely envious of Canadians. I wish I lived in a country that was generally proud of being boring and pragmatic as opposed to gluttonous and intemperate.

by Jason Gross

14 Nov 2008

When the Eagles decided that they were getting rid of some of the ticketing fees for their shows, their new buddies at Ticketmaster had to come up with a creative way to announce this.  Before we get to how they worded it, a note from the linked Live Daily article notes that TM has a ‘controlling stake’ in their management.  So now that they’ve hooked up, they decided to give their fans a little break by waving the ridiculous, greedy fees that they usually attach to the ticket prices:

“Ticketmaster is testing this program and is consulting with all our clients in the hope of rolling out the ‘all- in ticketing’ program for events nationwide,” Ticketmaster CEO Sean Moriarty added. “We are honored that the Eagles are the first to kick off this unprecedented fan-friendly Ticketmaster program.”

TM themselves who’ve never even tried to show any transparency over the ‘handling’ charges for the printed tickets that they mail out, not to mention the charges that they still dole out for ‘will call’ tickets which don’t get mailed to you or the ‘paperless tickets’ that you vouch for at a box office or the printable tickets which you can just make at home (and which they sometimes charge you extra for).

When they say ‘testing out the program,’ they mean that they wanna see if they can rake in enough dough without the extra charges, especially now that a falling economy means that people have less money to spend on concerts.  It also makes TM and the band look nice for not trying to rip you off with these charges.  Whether it’ll be enough to keep fans coming out to shows remains to be seen.

If TM doesn’t see fit to waive the fees, then I’d suggest that the new admin’s attorney general look into their practices to see if they can really justice the charges or not.  If they can’t, I say that they owe us some big refunds and not the chintzy ones that the major labels had to cough up for payola violations a few years ago.

by Rob Horning

14 Nov 2008

I still remember being taught in high school during the 1980s that the U.S. was superior to the Soviet Union because we could shop at the mall and choose from a cornucopia of goods while the Soviets had stand in line at gray, dreary state-owned dispensaries and basically take what they were given. The Soviet citizens envied our freedom, which is why they were always defecting and why they faced a repressive police state and fences to keep them in rather than enemies out. When the U.S.S.R. fell, many assumed that the former Soviet bloc would smoothly integrate into the global capitalist economy, greased by surging consumer demand. That hasn’t worked out so well, though we still hear of the over-the-top consumer decadence of Russian oligarchs—for example inadvertently killing their mistresses by letting them bathe in tubfuls of expensive perfume. But considering how Russia remains a bloc unto itself, it seems true that Soviet citizen weren’t simply Western-style consumers in waiting, that in fact Western-style consumption is not some universal mind-set that sits dormant in all humans and is merely waiting for the opportunity to flourish as it should. It may be that the Western consumerist mentality is itself as anomalous as the Iron Curtain mind-set. What’s more, those not to the consumerist manner born might actively resist adopting it.

This FT editorial about stoking consumer demand in China (also noted by Brad Setser here) got me thinking about the desirability of consumer mind-set. The FT and Setser rightly argue that from an economic standpoint, the world needs more demand from Chinese consumers. From the FT:

China’s growth to date has been phenomenal, but it was based on exports and investment, at the expense of consumption. China almost aimed to be a supersized South Korea: in 2005, capital investment made up more than half of China’s gross domestic product. The capital-intensity of its growth also meant profits grew strongly as a share of GDP. But employment growth has slowed since the 1980s, so workers have gained small benefit.
With an undervalued renminbi also making imports dear, the Chinese public has proved loath to spend. China has far too little dom­estic consumer demand. Where­as household consumption made up more than half of China’s GDP in the 1980s, it now contributes little more than a third.

Whether China wants to become more like South Korea culturally seems questionable; it’s curtailment of political freedoms seems to suggest otherwise, and if the Milton Friedmans of the world are right, the procedure of fulfilling increased consumer demand habituates people to freedom of choice and leads to citizens insisting on liberty across the board. Already, no one trusts China’s economic data; part of the obfuscation seems to be to conceal its efforts to manage consumer demand and suppress it. It seems probable that China, on the give-an-inch-take—a-mile principle, would want to intentionally restrict consumer demand to forestall unrest. So it keeps wages (and consumer demand) low, produces goods and sells them to the West, and then uses the proceeds to buy Treasurys and keep its currency weak (making foreign goods expensive and also pre-empting consumer demand). It pooh-poohs the West with talks of rebalancing its economy and reducing its current-accounts surplus, but takes no action. Its recent stimulus plan, as the FT argues, does little to address this. Setser adds that Chinese tax rebates on exports will only exacerbate the imbalances that are creating problems for the Chinese economy in the first place—namely that world demand for cheap Chinese goods is falling yet the Chinese economy has little incentive to shift to manufacturing for the domestic market. (Though the Chinese government might want to consider some palliatives if this sort of thing keeps up.)

This seems to add up to Chinese government officials being reluctant to unleash consumerism in China. Perhaps they fear moral corrosion. Perhaps the ghost of Mao is admonishing them. Perhaps the Chinese people haven’t effectively been taught how to demand—maybe there is a marketing deficit there. But some attention should be paid to the political and social factors (as opposed to only the economic factors) that retard the growth of consumer demand. It may be that consumer demand can’t automatically be called into being simply because economic models require it.

by Thomas Hauner

14 Nov 2008

Living legend is a term frequently abused. Interlopers inattentively dilute it, so squeezing what meaning remains from it does not give justice to David “Honeyboy” Edwards’ remarkable, and continuing, 93-year history steeped in the blues. However, tossing in the name Robert Johnson—whom Honeyboy was acquainted with and whose fateful final performance he was present at—instantly adds much deserved lore and intrigue to Honeyboy’s often overlooked stature.

Let it be clear that the rowdy crowd at B.B. King’s knew exactly whom and what they were listening to. The venue’s dinner-theatre arrangement easily gave way to whoops and hollers that helped energize Honeyboy’s aged hands and weathered voice, while second guitarist Rocky Lawrence also egged them on between and during songs.

Joining the nonagenarian and Lawrence was harmonica player Michael Frank, longtime collaborator and friend. But Frank and Lawrence were merely rhythmic and social companions to Honeyboy’s deep shuffling vocals and finger picked slides. Together they played with apt dynamics, beautifully conveying the emotional ebb and flow of each tune.

Opening with “Catfish Blues” Honeyboy himself was avuncular and sympathetic. Maintaining a woefully serious face on the surface through most of his songs, he would eventually give in to a bright-eyed grin when the audience got particularly rowdy, like during “Sweet Home Chicago”, or when they howled after he sang “I don’t know right from wrong” during “Don’t Say I Don’t Love You”. I also personally felt for him and his inherent frustrations, his fingers not always responding as they once had nor as he’d intended.

Like Honeyboy’s humble origins in Shaw, Mississippi (where the historic Mississippi Blues Trail marks his roots) his sound was bare yet refined, unfiltered yet concentrated with decades of raw emotion. In fact, much of Honeyboy’s demeanor suggested ceaseless pain from the woeful subjects of his songs: drunks, untrustworthy companions, and his own primordial vices. 

But he keeps moving on though, musically steeped in a distancing past, his life embodying that of the mythical traveling blues man.

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The Moving Pixels Podcast Becomes the 'Beholder'

// Moving Pixels

"It's easy to think that we would never be complicit with the dictates of an authoritarian regime, but Beholder reveals how complicated such choices can become.

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