muckrakers and culture stakers

The pop culture world. We just have to accept it until it runs its course. And the cycle could be very long until it unravels, like a balance sheet depression or a life long illness or addiction that may take almost a lifetime to heal itself. The current culture reinforces American materialism by playing on images, or converting to commercial images which will crystallize all social and economic phenomena into commodities.Hollow them out like a Thanksgiving turkey and stereotype the objects into a consumer culture spectacle. Occupy Wall Street is simply a category, albeit one expressing authentic suffering and the potential to challenge the system, now replaced as the headline act by the Penn State child molesting scandal which structurally is also about children as commodities, hollowed out and with no value. The fragile American equilibrium is being rattled by what Donald Kuspit called “the unconscious terror of annihilation.”

Joseph Beuys Read More:

As the OWS movement realized, the situation is incredibly complex, like Pete Seeger, we are in the “Big Muddy” distracted by symptoms, and engaged in finger pointing and scapegoats. Certainly, the status quo, reinforces their legitimacy not by convincing the denizens of the lower order that the current system is the answer, 1950′s style. Vance Packard is repackaged in Michael Moore and Naomi Wolf et al. to preach the anti-fiction narrative necessary in light of so much contradictory evidence. What has been done, and over many years, is a convincing display of there being no alternative to market economies. Backed into a corner, the defense is that winter is harsh, and you may not have enough wood to heat yourself come February. Greece may just be a minor passion play if the child’s virus infects the parents and larger family.

Yvelyne Wood. Memory in Flames. Read More:

So, we have the necessary illusions then about an infinite amount of choice under capitalism,  and, the glory of obsolescence as somehow liberating the human spirit. Change is in the air.  “creative destruction” as a kind of nihilism of the spirit, withered and dead to be reborn, playing on the old American theme of constant reinvention of karmic lives being enacted endlessly driven by the consumer marketplace. We work out identity issues through a schedule of mediated images; now bourgeois morality in the Penn scandal will be divorced by the commodity culture of which it is part.

Also, its fairly coherent that both Dems and the GOP present candidates, nearly identical in content; the American model, market based neo-liberalism that is the default position of all Western society’s and whoever else can be arm twisted into following. So, its the “market” that controls politics. And in this game, everyone is a “radical.”  New television shows are radical, the Ford Focus is radical, even Warren Buffett is radical. Were running out out of straw men. Maybe we should look in the mirror….

---Because of the post-war boom the Fifties, although in some ways remembered as a kind of peak of American capitalism, also laid the groundwork for the more sustained consumer culture that peaked in the late 1960s and has continued to this day. Yet, sinisterly, advertising has used this critique to present the illusion that one’s personal freedom and rebellion are affected through the purchase and consumption of certain commodities. --- Read More: image:

From Adorno and Horkheimer’s “Culture Industries”. Outdated, and woody worded, but not totally off-base. After all, the way we feed our head and are plied with doctrine may be more insidious than a bunch of arsehole bankers who merit public floggings :

…The culture industry perpetually cheats its consumers of what it perpetually promises. The promissory note which, with its plots and staging, it draws on pleasure is endlessly prolonged; the promise, which is actually all the spectacle consists of, is illusory: all it actually confirms is that the real point will never be reached, that the diner must be satisfied with the menu. In front of the appetite stimulated by all those brilliant names and images there is finally set no more than a commendation of the depressing everyday world it sought to escape. Of course works of art were not sexual exhibitions either. However, by representing deprivation as negative, they retracted, as it were, the prostitution of the impulse and rescued by mediation what was denied….

John Collier. ---It actually goes back a long ways. There's a Playboy interview with John Wayne where he explains how Herbert Marcuse is ruining America. TF: Really? That must be where it comes from. I've always wondered what the source of it was. It's amazing how widespread the conspiracy theory has become. I recently saw something that blamed the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado on the Frankfurt School!---Read More: image:

…The secret of aesthetic sublimation is its representation of fulfilment as a broken promise. The culture industry does not sublimate; it represses. By repeatedly exposing the objects of desire, breasts in a clinging sweater or the naked torso of the athletic hero, it only stimulates the unsublimated forepleasure which habitual deprivation has long since reduced to a masochistic semblance. There is no erotic situation which, while insinuating and exciting, does not fail to indicate unmistakably that things can never go that far. …the culture industry is pornographic and prudish. Love is downgraded to romance. And, after the descent, much is permitted; even license as a marketable speciality has its quota bearing the trade description “daring.” The mass production of the sexual automatically achieves its repression. Because of his ubiquity, the film star with whom one is meant to fall in love is from the

set a copy of himself. Every tenor voice comes to sound like a Caruso record, and the “natural” faces of Texas girls are like the successful models by whom Hollywood has typecast them. The mechanical reproduction of beauty, which reactionary cultural fanaticism wholeheartedly serves in its methodical idolisation of individuality, leaves no room for that unconscious idolatry which was once essential to beauty….

---I have to tell you, one kind of writing that I look back to as an inspiration is the crusading, journalistic style of the Populists and the people right after them, the Muckrakers. The Muckrackers were pretty much straight-forward journalists, but always with this incredible outrage to their writing, like Lincoln Steffens going around looking at what was wrong with American cities....He would present this unbelievable panorama of corruption. And he would for the most part keep his authorial voice under control, but occasionally break out in these expressions of anger which were very justified. The Populists tended to be a little bit more apocalyptic about it all. But both of those traditions were explicitly political and involved. They made this kind of critique as a prelude to political action. When you're criticizing and doing that kind of muckraking, obviously that's not when you're making specific policy proposals. Read More: image:

…The triumph over beauty is celebrated by humour – the Schadenfreude that every successful deprivation calls forth. There is laughter because there is nothing to laugh at. Laughter, whether conciliatory or terrible, always occurs when some fear passes. It indicates liberation either from physical danger or from the grip of logic. Conciliatory laughter is heard as the echo of an escape from power; the wrong kind overcomes fear by capitulating to the forces which are to be feared. It is the echo of power as something inescapable. Fun is a medicinal bath. The pleasure industry never fails to prescribe it. It makes laughter the instrument of the fraud practised on happiness. Moments of happiness are without laughter; only operettas and films portray sex to the accompaniment of resounding laughter. But Baudelaire is as devoid of humour as Hölderlin. In the false society laughter is a disease which has attacked happiness and is drawing it into its worthless totality. To laugh at something is always to deride it, and the life which, according to Bergson, in laughter breaks through the barrier, is actually an invading barbaric life, self-assertion prepared to parade its liberation from any scruple when the social occasion arises. Such a laughing audience is a parody of humanity….In the culture industry, jovial denial takes the place of the pain found in ecstasy and in asceticism. The supreme law is that they shall not satisfy their desires at any price; they must laugh and be content with laughter. In every product of the culture industry, the permanent denial imposed by civilisation is once again unmistakably demonstrated and inflicted on its victims. To offer and to deprive them of something is one and the same. This is what happens in erotic films. Precisely because it must never take place, everything centres upon copulation. In films it is more strictly forbidden for an illegitimate relationship to be admitted without the parties being punished than for a millionaire’s future son-in-law to be active in the labour movement. In contrast to the liberal era, industrialised as well as popular culture may wax indignant at capitalism, but it cannot renounce the threat of castration. This is fundamental. It outlasts the organised acceptance of the uniformed seen in the films which are produced to that end, and in reality. What is decisive today is no longer puritanism, although it still asserts itself in the form of women’s organisations, but the necessity inherent in the system not to leave the customer alone, not for a moment to allow him any suspicion that resistance is possible….

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Thomas Frank has written compellingly, about inverting accepted belief about   Sixties counterculture. Seeing them as witting tools of a new consumerist paradigm. Instead of a rebellion against consumption oriented values , corporate America may have actually welcomed the counterculture, encouraged, and most cynically may have created it, building on the Edward Bernays “Torches of Freedom” idea. Obviously, a cult of entitlement and easy gratification was a great money making idea. Its almost an ultimate conspiracy theory: precipitate and encourage rebellion and dissent, find a few wild ones like Ginsberg and Hoffman, create an aesthetic of black radicalism, then spin a critique of itself to make more eager, and “consciousness raised” consumers.

…The principle dictates that he should be shown all his needs as capable of-fulfilment, but that those needs should be so predetermined that he feels himself to be the eternal consumer, the object of the culture industry. Not only does it make him believe that the deception it practices is satisfaction, but it goes further and implies that, whatever the state of affairs, he must put up with what is offered. The escape from everyday drudgery which the whole culture industry promises may be compared to the daughter’s abduction in the cartoon: the father is holding the ladder in the dark. The paradise offered by the culture industry is the same old drudgery. Both escape and elopement are pre-designed to lead back to the starting point. Pleasure promotes the resignation which it ought to help to forget…

---The problem with this narrative, according to Frank, is that far from being a critique of consumerism, it is actually the central ideology of consumerism in our time. It lends aid and comfort to the idea that consumerism is a form of conformity, helping to obscure the fact that it is rebellion – not conformity – that is currently performing the ‘valuable function of justifying the economy’s ever-accelerating cycles of obsolescence’. The central figure in modern consumerism, in Frank’s view, is the ‘hip consumer’ or the ‘rebel consumer’, the one who attempts to express his or her individuality through consumer choice. Thus so-called ‘culture jammers’ are sustaining, even glorifying, precisely the narrative that has been greasing the wheels of commerce since the early 1960s. The result, according to Frank, is that ‘business is amassing great sums by charging admission to the ritual simulation of its own lynching’. Unlike much of what is written on the subject of consumerism, Frank’s thesis is both challenging and original. Unfortunately, it also shares some of the defects that are endemic to this literature. First of all, it lacks a clear statement of what ‘consumerism’ is, choosing instead to rely upon our more dubious ‘I know it when I see it’ intuitions.---( Heath ) Read More: image:

…Even today the culture industry dresses works of art like political slogans and forces them upon a resistant public at reduced prices; they are as accessible for public enjoyment as a park. But the disappearance of their genuine commodity character does not mean that they have been abolished in the life of a free society, but that the last defence against their reduction to culture goods has fallen. The abolition of educational privilege by the device of clearance sales does not open for the masses the spheres from which they were formerly excluded, but, given existing social conditions, contributes directly to the decay of education and the progress of barbaric meaninglessness. Those who spent their money in the nineteenth or the early twentieth century to see a play or to go to a concert respected the performance as much as the money they spent. The bourgeois who wanted to get something out of it tried occasionally to establish some rapport with the work. Evidence for this is to be found in the literary “introductions” to works, or in the commentaries on Faust. These were the first steps toward the biographical coating and other practices to which a work of art is subjected today….

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…Even in the early, prosperous days of business, exchange-value did carry use value as a mere appendix but had developed it as a prerequisite for its own existence; this was socially helpful for works of art. Art exercised some restraint on the bourgeois as long as it cost money. That is now a thing of the past. Now that it has lost every restraint and there is no need to pay any money, the proximity of art to those who are exposed to it completes the alienation and assimilates one to the other under the banner of triumphant objectivity. Criticism and respect disappear in the culture industry; the former becomes a mechanical expertise, the latter is succeeded by a shallow cult of leading personalities. Consumers now find nothing expensive. Nevertheless, they suspect that the less anything costs, the less it is being given them. The double mistrust of traditional culture as ideology is combined with mistrust of industrialised culture as a swindle. When thrown in free, the now debased works of art, together with the rubbish to which the medium assimilates them, are secretly rejected by the fortunate recipients, who are supposed to be satisfied by the mere fact that there is so much to be seen and heard. Everything can be obtained. The screenos and vaudevilles in the movie theatre, the competitions for guessing music, the free books, rewards and gifts offered on certain radio programs, are not mere accidents but a continuation of the practice obtaining with culture products. The symphony becomes a reward for listening to the radio, and – if technology had its way – the film would be delivered to people’s homes as happens with the radio….

…Culture is a paradoxical commodity. So completely is it subject to the law of exchange that it is no longer exchanged; it is so blindly consumed in use that it can no longer be used. Therefore it amalgamates with advertising. The more meaningless the latter seems to be under a monopoly, the more omnipotent it becomes. The motives are markedly economic.

…One could certainly live without the culture industry, therefore it necessarily creates too much satiation and apathy. In itself, it has few resources itself to correct this. Advertising is its elixir of life. But as its product never fails to reduce to a mere promise the enjoyment which it promises as a commodity, it eventually coincides with publicity, which it needs because it cannot be enjoyed. In a competitive society, advertising performed the social service of informing the buyer about the market; it made choice easier and helped the unknown but more efficient supplier to dispose of his goods. Far from costing time, it saved it.

Today, when the free market is coming to an end, those who control the system are entrenching themselves in it. It strengthens the firm bond between the consumers and the big combines. Only those who can pay the exorbitant rates charged by the advertising agencies, chief of which are the radio networks themselves; that is, only those who are already in a position to do so, or are co-opted by the decision of the banks and industrial capital, can enter the pseudo-market as sellers. The costs of advertising, which finally flow back into the pockets of the combines, make it unnecessary to defeat unwelcome outsiders by laborious competition. They guarantee that power will remain in the same hands – not unlike those economic decisions by which the establishment and running of undertakings is controlled in a totalitarian state. Advertising today is a negative principle, a blocking device: everything that does not bear its stamp is economically suspect. Universal publicity is in no way necessary for people to get to know the kinds of goods – whose supply is restricted anyway. It helps sales only indirectly….  Subsidising ideological media is more important than the repetition of the name. Because the system obliges every product to use advertising, it has permeated the idiom – the “style” – of the culture industry…. Advertising becomes art and nothing else, just as Goebbels – with foresight – combines them: l’art pour l’art, advertising for its own sake, a pure representation of social power. In the most influential American magazines, Life and Fortune, a quick glance can now scarcely distinguish advertising from editorial picture and text. The latter features an enthusiastic and gratuitous account of the great man (with illustrations of his life and grooming habits) which will bring him new fans, while the advertisement pages use so many factual photographs and details that they represent the ideal of information which the editorial part has only begun to try to achieve.

…The effect, the trick, the isolated repeatable device, have always been used to exhibit goods for advertising purposes, and today every monster close-up of a star is an advertisement for her name, and every hit song a plug for its tune. Advertising and the culture industry merge technically as well as economically. In both cases the same thing can be seen in innumerable places, and the mechanical repetition of the same culture product has come to be the same as that of the propaganda slogan. In both cases the insistent demand for effectiveness makes technology into psycho-technology, into a procedure for manipulating men. In both cases the standards are the striking yet familiar, the easy yet catchy, the skilful yet simple; the object is to overpower the customer, who is conceived as absent-minded or resistant. Read More:

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