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Let them eat brands

When most people are confronted with the plight of the poor, they are perhaps overwhelmed with sympathy for their sufferings and filled with shame at the world's structural inequities. But when marketers notice the struggle and squalor of the lower classes, they see opportunity: "How can we extract from them what little they have for products we inflate the significance of?" Today's WSJ has a piece about advertisers targeting the poor, called "Marketers Pursue the Shallow-Pocketed." Having saturated the middle-class and luxury markets, what remains untapped is the potential of the poor, who as a class make up for what little they have to spend with their sheer numbers -- a lot of poor people buying a little is just as good as the few rich people buying a great deal. This, anyway, is the pet idea of economist C.K. Prahalad, who peddles the idea that the poor will see improvements in their life if businesses began to cater to them and try to hawk them branded goods. The poor get flattered by the recognition of their special needs and integrated into the market (the only relevant social institution), and the businesses fatten their profits, win-win. It seems constructive when companies seek to give the poor opportunities to subvert some of the inequities of the credit market by offering them alternative means to pay, but offering them an opportunity to participate in brand culture seems counterproductive -- brands are about making the class structure visible, not effacing it. (Though brands associated with the poor would allow some sympathetic middle-class slummers to feel faux solidarity with the poor by using them, similar to how I earned all that street cred and deep understanding of black culture as a teenager by drinking Old English 40-ouncers in the rural Pennsylvania town where I went to college.) And there may be some bumps on the road, as when advertising people see just how destitute the poor are:

But communicating with low-income groups remains something of a mystery for multinational firms. Marketers and ad agencies are full of well-educated and well-off employees who know little about how the other half lives. A trip into slums or lower-class neighborhoods is frequently a "mind-blowing" experience, says Johnny Wei, Nestlé Brazil's director of regionalization and low income.

Another problem, the inconvenient fact that the poor are uneducated. "lliteracy is one big challenge. In Brazil's northeast, Unilever solved that problem by launching a brand of soap called Ala. 'It's three letters, and two are the same,' says Fabio Prado, Unilever's vice president of marketing for Brazil." So apparently the poor are protected from marketing by the inconceivable misery of their lives and their lack of the basic education necessary to participate in the mainstream of public life. Perhaps I should try to remember that when I'm dreaming about being assaulted with fewer advertisements; abject poverty might be the cost of that dream.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

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