It is art, recently produced and intended to please an audience, as well as the concepts, clichés, and conversations that inform, surround, and result from it. This will be our working definition. Star Wars, Super Mario Bros., zombies, Chuck Norris, NCIS, Freddie Mercury, and the Ninja Turtles all fit into it nicely.
The reason we should care is going to take more than one article, but we’ll begin here by discussing an important presumption among participants in pop-culture, namely consumerism.
In our working definition, the purpose of pop-cultural artifacts is to please. But it is accepted that what fuels production is money (and by and large it’s not simply money, it’s profit. Which is, simply put, more money than you need). This means that, although there are people out there who think what they make has value in itself, the cliché is that even they need to get people to give them money. Hence, they need to buckle down and make a product that makes money, if they want to make a product at all.
So, where does the pop-cultural artist hope to get this money? He doesn’t really make it. That is a euphemism. If he actually made it he would be counterfeiting. The answer is that he gets it from consumers. Either directly (with KickStarter and so on, this is more and more possible), or from companies who in turn get it from the consumers.
So, all eyes are on the Consumer, and that is because his name, as creepy as it sounds, is just as much a euphemism as “make money”. Cows consume a lot of fodder. But farmers don’t give it to them to consume because they consume it. They give it to them to get milk and hamburgers from them. Just so with the Consumer. It isn’t his capacity to consume that the money-maker cares about, it is the fact that he will pay money to consume. He is a sort of cash cow *yuck yuck yuck*.
But, besides the unflattering rhetoric, what is wrong with this arrangement?
It depends upon a certain fundamental position vis-à-vis man and his place in the universe. Or, at least, it depends upon the consumers’ practical acceptance of such a position and, if this position is wrong, then the “consumers” are not being done any favors. The position I’m talking about is some version of the idea that man is the top of the heap; that his impulses, desires, emotions, thoughts, etc. do not have a proper goal, but are just there.
A common version of this seen on the internet has been beautifully summed up by a friend of mine who, in a Cro-Magnon tone of voice, proclaimed: “I want to be a monkey, but my brain swelled!” In other words: “man is merely an animal which is merely a result of evolution which is merely an arbitrary set of forces randomly causing miscellaneous effects, so I can watch as much anime and drink as many energy drinks as I want because civilization’s taken care of survival and the population’s pretty big anyway, so I have a lot of extra time.”
The current dynamic of producers producing for consumers to consume assumes such a position by default by looking no further than what hoi poloi will buy. To do this is practically to treat tastes and desires as of absolute import, and it is clear that this is the way “consumers” of pop-culture think of their position. While the producers are feeding the cash cows and milking them for money, the cows think of themselves as golden calves inhaling the incense sacrificed to them by the producers, blessing them with money when pleased but, when displeased, destroying them in a flood of disapproving YouTube comments.
And yet, doesn't this arrangement get the people what they want (more or less)? Do I have some alternative to suggest? Stay tuned!
© 2013 John Hiner III