The Village Voice is not only the publication that got me interested in politics but also music journalism- I’ve been reading it since about 1982. I have them to thank for getting me into freelance writing (like this). I write for them regularly. Thanks to my association with them, I’ve heard and seen a lot of great music. I also have good friends that work there and have been there for a while. All of which makes me very interested and concerned about their takeover by New Times Media.
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A week ago the WSJ had a trend piece (ie, take it with a grain of salt, since there is no effort to substantiate any of these claims) about people renting status goods rather than purchasing them, citing eBay’s slogan “Buy it, love it, sell it” as a kind of proof. (It begins with a flip reference to Marx as a kind of shorthand way to dismiss anyone who would resist the dynamic world of postindustrial capitalism, but that’s fodder for another post.) Allegedly, “shoppers care less about whether things are truly theirs and more about whether they can get the latest and best” because more of them buy things and then immediately flip them on eBay for something else, and more of them uses services like Netflix to rent DVDs and games and books and music, etc. This seems to lump unrelated phenomena together: There are those who enjoy eBay because it allows one to consume capitalism itself as a product, the thrill of buying and selling commodities for profit as often as possible, to experience capitalism as a game in which one is a real player rather than a pawn. And then there are those who are using the Internet as a more efficient way to turn goods (DVDs and games and whatnot) into purchased experiences rather than products. You buy something to do for a specific time rather than a product to own for life—the Internet becomes a circulation library for a whole host of commodities. The latter development seems as though it could be a good thing; it undermines the notion that ownership is a species of experiential pleasure all its own, a collector-mania mystification induced by capitalism and its fetishization of private property. And it focuses the consumer on the moment of actualizing use value, whether that be the pleasure of showing off a handbag you’ve rented or the moment you are watching that Degrassi Junior High season two DVD, rather than allowing the usefulness to remain a theory or a myth. It militates against having things one doesn’t use. But it at the same time accelerates the rate of change for fashion cycles, and urges one to use things up faster—the sheer cost of possession, budgetary discipline, is one of the few factors remaining that retards the spinning of the fashion wheel, now that technology has removed so many of the others. What something had cost u is one of the few motives we have for consuming something intensively rather than shallowly—it’s what made me listen to the same Zeppelin 8-Track over and over as a kid; I couldn’t afford to go out and get another one, and there was no Internet on which people were willing to rent me music (or give it to me for free). And it’s what made me listen to Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ridiculous double album far more times than it deserved. The $10.99 or whatever I spent on it made me want to milk out as much enjoyment as possible out of that record (alas, no blood could be squeezed from that stone). Renting consumer goods, and the potential to flip them on eBay, allows one to never have to own one’s shopping mistakes, which has the effect of removing some of the productive labor out of consumption—you never have to work at integrating something you’ve bought into your life if it doesn’t immediately fit, and you need not develop such consumer-based identities very deeply, because these new tools allow you to quickly change them and reconfigure your surface. This could be liberating, but it could also mea one lacks the integrative capacity all together, and then behind that surface of rented status items is nothing but an empty shell, a mannequin on which culture advertises its latest goodies.
This NYT article details people who keepblogs devoted to their favorite brands and the corporations who love them. The desire to connect ourselves to something larger and more meaningful in the world we know leads some to join churches, some to root for college-football teams, and others to become proselytizers for Barq’s root beer. Brands have fans just as the Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees do, those teams, in fact, have done more to makes teams and brands synonymous. Both megateams and megabrands, when they have outgrown their local function and usefulness, depend on the bandwagon effect to grow, they foster an aura about themselves that simply reflects their own popularity independent of anything they might have done to deserve it—the phenomenon becomes tautologous: everyone should drink Coke because everyone else does, and that’s simply that.
I suppose when one feels that self-branding, the way in which one markets oneself, fails to generate enough buzz, one longs to attach oneself to a larger and more powerful brand, one with more institutional heft behind it.
Elizabeth Eisenstein’s The Printing Press as an Agent of Change sheds a great deal of light on the dawn of the commercial-print business and the advent of fiction-writing as a profession. This seems a pivotal moment, the beginning of the culture industry as we know it and the various paradoxes that adhere to the making of art for profit—are artists disinterested arbiters of taste or are they simply craftsman making a specialized commodity? Should one judge one’s merit in terms of how wide an audience one reaches, how many people’s attention you can hold, as the logic of the marketplace suggests? Or should artists properly resist such philistine assessments, and define themselves in opposition to market rationale. How do artists balance the need for publicity with the need to establish a reputation by scorning it?
Eisenstein theorizes that the divide between “competent businessmen” with no leisure or interest in imaginative fiction and fiction writers who had inherently “a vested interest in idleness, in promoting the value of pleasure seeking and leisure, in cultivating consumption of the ‘finer’ things of life” surfaced with commercial printing. This opposition, this “inversion of values” leads to uneasy alliances when fiction-writers would try to scandalize bourgeois values to make profits with the help of those they were scandalizing. She posits an inevitable sensationalism developing in print culture, fueled by the professional writer’s need to hold the attention of the idle, who would be drawn to “vicarious participation in this particular sport” of scandal. In this, novels are merely following the pattern of consumer products in general, as they become sold increasingly for the novelty rather than their usefulness. The novel (the name is not accidental) is the ur-commodity in this sense, because it was never particularly useful and always was the quintessence of an object valuable only for the semblence of novelty it promises. The printing press transforms writing into a commodity (one of the first, pathbreaking ones pointing the way to a consumer society driven on marketing branded, specicoulsy differentiated goods) and makes writers into an especially alienated species of widget maker.
And Eisenstein’s characterization of the earliest professional authors is unsparing. “Alone with his quill pen, altogether remote from workshops and foundries, equally remote from the fickle readers upon whom his fame and fortune hinged, the professional author did not simply mirror the alienation of others from an industrial or urbanized society. He was himself an alienated man who worked hard to promote leisure, fought for commercial success that he despised, set wives against husbands, fathers against sons, and celebrated youth even in his old age.” (This description remains depressingly accurate for many who write for lifestyle magazines.) The professional writer relies on a novelty that he comes to despise and must manufacture conflicts to create the cultural space for his product to exist, all while regarding his clients as rubes, sheep. In Eisenstein is right, this kind of professional writer is in bad faith with himself, his audience and his culture. It’s a wonder anything gets written at all.
It’s sort of a oft-repeated mantra that the whole idea of A&R, artist development has been pretty much croaked out of the major label mindset in the last 10-20 years. How true is this though?
// Sound Affects
"On the elusive yet clearly existential sadness that adds layers and textures to music.READ the article