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Tuesday, Apr 4, 2006

Apologists for advertising usually like to spiel about about how ads provide useful information for people, providing it in a pleasurable way, and besides, their ubiquity proves how ineffective they are—if they really worked there wouldn’t need to be so many of them, repeating themselves so often. Obviously this is sophistry—ads are ubiquitous precisely because they work, and their effectiveness prompts escalating saturation battles between firms fighting for market share. The less intrinsic quality there is to a product (the more it is a commodity distinguished only by brand name), the more critical advertising is to making profits.


Exposure to advertising tends to lead us to try to build up defenses against them—sometimes these defenses provide a false sense of security, as when ads try to sidle up to us and reassure us that we’re realy smart, and oh, aren’t ads silly? and by the way, here’s something you really need to stay as smart as you are. But generally these defenses allow us to filter out many commercial messages and discount the information provided in those that get through (always the most dangerous ones, because if they have passed the filter, that means they are likely telling us something we really would like to believe). Hence advertisers like to target a group without any defenses: children. Via BoingBoing.net comes this link which details a recent study that shows children’s demand for products increases with their exposure to ads and product placements. the researchers conclude, “The current study does document that screen media exposure is a true prospective risk factor for subsequent consumeristic behavior, adding to the evidence supporting behavioral and policy interventions to reduce children’s exposure to screen media and advertising, whether implemented at the individual family level, institutional level or the population level through legislation and changes in social norms.” In other words, America should legislate children’s advertising out of existence, as has been tried in several other countries.


Will this do any good? I wonder whether the exposure to ads builds up the child’s anti-ad defense system or whether it creates a kind of apathy toward them. Or does it make children tolerate them when they shouldn’t be tolerated (as in movie theaters—people used to boo the screen when they showed ads, now people hardly notice). When you haven’t watched TV in a while, the first thing you notice when you do is how irritating and invasive and shrill and intrusive the ads are, and how the rhythm of the programming is designed to serve them (with precommercial cliffhangers or dramatic tableau). Attempting to protect children from ads may give ads an even more seductive power as something forbidden, making them a signifier of adulthood and thus giving them an even greater power to confer legitimacy, social recognition, the sense that one has arrived—the very thing most ads use to sell products in general.


If ads were simply givign information, then they could be thwarted by providing factual information from nonprofit or government sources. But ads don’t provide information so much as they provide a sense of belonging. The most effective way to undermine the efficacy of ads would be to set up an alternate source of social recognition, to empower social networks independent of corporate sponsorship. Would such a system prove resistant to the likely attempts to commercialize it? Probably not. (Witness MySpace, which takes fledging friend groups and moves them online so that they can be commercilaized.) So the best way to evade the effectiveness of ads is to make marginalization one’s personal goal—be a weird outcast on purpose, in what could be called the Goth strategy. But this is a kind of self-sabotage, as a reputation for being anti-social isn’t likely to sustain one’s sense of identity or social accomplishment. For better or worse, ads are safely ensconsed at the relay between public and private and are able to insinuate themselves into the circuit of social recognition.


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Tuesday, Apr 4, 2006
by PopMatters Staff


The Sharp Ease
“Advantage” [MP3]
“Life Preservers” [MP3]
“Tie Me Over” [MP3]


The April Skies
“Rise and Rise Again” [MP3]
“Three Minute Singles” [MP3]


Wizardzz
“Whispers From Wallface” [MP3]


Destroyer
“Looter’s Follies” [MP3]
“Painter in Your Pocket” [MP3]


Lady Sovereign
“XXXChange Remix” [MP3]


Tapes ‘n Tapes
“Insistor” [MP3]


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Monday, Apr 3, 2006

The happiest day of the year has arrived, and if you don’t believe me, then you obviously don’t have a fantasy baseball team. For the next few months I’ll be reveling in the joy of numbers and player news, with every piece of data being operable rather than inert—every new fact, every new at bat or injury, leads to a series of reevaluations, a host of potential decisions, a cascade of consequences that one can nonetheless feel one has mastered. In all, fantasy baseball is like a simplified stock market, and I can play a being a daytrader, with all the intensity and obsession that implies, without having to venture my retirement savings to do it. I can have the high blood pressure without the profit. If I put half as much energy into research companies as I did into researching shortstops, I could probably make a mint.


The analytical tools used for investing and fantasy-baseball play are rapidly converging, especially with data available on the big administrative sites like CBS.Sportsline and ESPN and Yahoo on what is happening across fantasy leagues in the aggregate—you get the rough equivelent of a stock’s beta, as well as a speculatively determined sense of a player’s value, and which players saw heavy volume. You can see in how many leagues a player is being used, at what position he was drated on average, and several different objective measures of his value on a daily, weekly, or season long basis. (And of course you get analyst’s reports daily when there is news for a particular player—just as Yahoo gives you company news for your portfolio, it provides player news for your fantasy squad, along with how should affect whether you buy, hold, or sell. The very notion of fantasy baseball is a kind of derivatives market, in which values are derived from another source and slightly distorted, magnified, laden with different incentives. My investment strategy? Get some steady value guys—proven established players whose production won’t surprise or disappoint—and then take on some risk with players with growth potential, such as pitchers in their third full year or players coming off injury-plagued seasons. You need a few blue chippers, but often enough, the small caps outproduce that big-salary guys.


This kind of thinking is probably what’s behind those who complain that fantasy sports “destroy” the fun of being a sports fan, or constitutes some phony kind of fandom, turning baseball into pseudo-business. In truth, it reflects perfectly the values of American culture: it stresses the individual over the team, and holds individuals accountable for things the larger team often controls (a pitcher’s wins, a hitter’s RBIs); it enshrines financial calculation and analysis as a primary mode of pleasure (tracking the value of your holdings is a value unto itself; possession itself is the most pleasurable form of spectatorship) and the most rational way of assessing who’s winning (success must be measured in numbers). It reiterates the sense that there should be no emotional investment in something without a quantifiable stake, and no leisure that doesn’t in some way mimic work.


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Friday, Mar 31, 2006

More about immigration, which is really ultimately about how the labor market is where the “first world” and “third world” collide. Economist Max Sawicky points out that existing welfare state programs, funded by the influx of new workers themselves, can help reduce the impact of this collision, edge it toward resembling something more like a merger, and that immigrants make a society on the whole more progressive. Inother words, illiegal immigration is preferable to outsourcing because our institutions blunt the exploitation of labor and serve to distribute more of the fruits back to the worker in the form of social benefits (a safe country to live in with lots of leisure-time fun, etc.).


This is why Zizek finds it necessary to lampoon the Bono/Davos set LRB in this LRB piece, where he condemns entrepreneur/philanthropists (“liberal communists”—business world equivelants of third-way politicians like the Clintons) such as Bill Gates and George Soros for creating the third world misery that they then try to alleiviate. “Etienne Balibar, in La Crainte des masses (1997), distinguishes the two opposite but complementary modes of excessive violence in today’s capitalism: the objective (structural) violence that is inherent in the social conditions of global capitalism (the automatic creation of excluded and dispensable individuals, from the homeless to the unemployed), and the subjective violence of newly emerging ethnic and/or religious (in short: racist) fundamentalisms. They may fight subjective violence, but liberal communists are the agents of the structural violence that creates the conditions for explosions of subjective violence. The same Soros who gives millions to fund education has ruined the lives of thousands thanks to his financial speculations and in doing so created the conditions for the rise of the intolerance he denounces.”


Or as James Galbraith puts it in this review of Jeffrey Sachs’s book The End of Poverty: “Can it be that charity has a price, which is playing the game by the global rules? And can it be that these rules—which force poor countries to open markets, cut social and health budgets, privatize power and water, and starve their public investment—in general create more poverty than charity can cure?”


Zizek has this advice for the next time you are tempted to admire Bono or Soros for their selflessness: “We should have no illusions: liberal communists are the enemy of every true progressive struggle today. All other enemies religious fundamentalists, terrorists, corrupt and inefficient state bureaucracies А depend on contingent local circumstances. Precisely because they want to resolve all these secondary malfunctions of the global system, liberal communists are the direct embodiment of what is wrong with the system. It may be necessary to enter into tactical alliances with liberal communists in order to fight racism, sexism and religious obscurantism, but it’s important to remember exactly what they are up to.”


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Friday, Mar 31, 2006

A recent article in the Guardian notes that the ever-complex and expensive process of getting work and travel permits are stopping musicians from arriving on American shores.  But it gets worse than than…


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