Sunday, February 5, 2012

When Consumerism and Art Collide

Well first off I dedicate this blog post to one of the most significant days in television mass media advertising - the superbowl! Considering it is the Giants and Patriots playing each other (again) I will be one of the many mass of Americans who will watch simply to be entertained by the commercials. According to ( each 30 second superbowl ad this year will cost $3.5 million dollars (that number is up half a million from last year). Matt Kiebus, the author of this article puts it into perspective for us: 
"Meaning the Super Bowl generates $245 million in advertising revenue during a sporting event which lasts roughly 3.5 hours. To put it in perspective $245 million is more than two thirds the nominal value of Tonga’s GDP. So remember when you’re hogging the bean dip on February 5th: the cost of each 30 second commercial could by you a lifetime supply of Ticonderoga No. 2 pencils or roughly 23,333 snow tires."
I could certainly use some snow tires right now....
But reflecting upon these numbers it reminds me how much of a force the advertising culture still is, and one could argue it is way more predominate in every aspect of our lives than it was during Horkheimer and Adorno's era. One quote from "Enlightenment as Mass Deception" really stuck with me: "This raises the question whether the culture industry fulfills the function of diverting minds which it boasts about so loudly. If most of the radio stations and movie theaters were closed down, the consumers would probably not lose so very much" (p. 139). I would say that I wholeheartedly agree with this question - what if ll of the TV stations were to shut down today? Despite all of New York and New England having a massive heart attack would anything really be lost? I highly doubt that there is much to gain from sitting around watching commercials for four hours along with a performance by Madonna and hopefully Tom Brady getting sacked that could not be gained from four hours of time spent doing something other than seeking diversion through mass media. If the culture industry is becoming more predictable (which I argue it has and continues to be) then why do we continue to turn to it as a means of enlightenment and escape? Are we becoming (or have we become) too dependent on it for our daily doses of stimulation? "Even when the public does - exceptionally - rebel against the pleasure industry, all it can muster is that feeble resistance which that very industry has inculcated in it. Nevertheless, it has become increasingly difficult to keep people in this condition. The rate at which they are reduced to stupidity must not fall behind the rate at which their intelligence is increasing" (p. 145). There seems to be at times a tug of war between the media we ingest and allow to steer our actions versus what we know is impossible and unreal. One could say the pervasiveness of mass media today walks a thin line between what we take in and what we separate as unable to identify with.

Finally, the other passage that stood out to me was from Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," about the increase in the number of writers in modern times. "For centuries a small number of writers were confronted by many thousands of readers. This changed toward the end of the last century. With the increasing extension of the press, which kept placing new political, religious, scientific, professional, and local organs before the readers, an increasing number of readers became writers - at first, occasional ones. [...] Thus, the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character. [...] Literary license is now founded on polytechnic rather than specialized training and thus becomes common property" (p. 7). I bring this quote forward because within our current age of bloggers and self publishers this very phenomenon, that anyone can become a writer, has been a touchy dispute in the world of professional writing. I myself have done some freelance writing in the past  and actually went to school for a degree in writing, so I often consider what it means that anyone can suddenly take upon writing as an art form and be successful (or at least successful in their own minds). No one can wake up one day and decide to become a surgeon and start operating that very day. And yet, thanks to the internet, any one can wake up one day and decide to start publishing their own blog or trying to self-publish a story they wrote. Does this cheapen writing as an art form at all? Of course there will always be the untrained artists who are naturally brilliant at what they do and can be quite successful without an education in that particular area. But, do professional writers and 

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