Thursday, October 31, 2013

Entertainments Role In Spreading Ideology

One thing I despise about the corporate entertainment apparatus is this paradigm that entertainment is a distant second to profits. We see it every summer with the barrage of repackaged old films and the ever growing number of sequels. Another thing I despise is the use of entertainment to perpetuate and spread negative stereotypes. 

The music industry, like the movie industry, also suffers from a lack of new and original artists. If 2Chainz sells a gold album the competing record companies knee jerk reaction is to find a carbon copy who will (hopefully) cash in on the buzz created. The reality is that talented new artists are sacrificed for the "next" Tupac, 50 Cent, or Jay-Z. Think about the space that was created after the death of Tupac. Ja Rule, DMX, and a slew of 5 foot nothing no hundred pound tough guys were selected to fill the void- some more effectively than others.

The corporate entertainment structure doesn't have the ability to control what we think, but it does have the ability to influence what we think about. If the only movies made about Muslims depict them as bloodthirsty savages, and the only TV shows about Italians portray them as Mafia or (worse) like the cast of Jersey Shore, then sadly for some, it becomes their depiction of reality.  

Many critics have classified Hip-Hop and rap music as noise. They point to the glorification of violence and the exploitation of women as proof of its negative impact. In these cases their critique aptly fits. But, let's go to the next level: instead of asking why is this music so seemingly fascinated with death and destruction; let's ask why are these the only images we see? 

The rise of Gangsta rap in the late 80's was caused by the identification to the real life struggles of the inner city, and the fascination with that struggle by those (safe on the sidelines) in suburban and rural America. I never understood how Tipper Gore, the "Moral Majority", and a host of others were more offended by the creative narration of life in the ghetto than they were with the hell these kids were growing up in. This type of negative thinking is just as dangerous as the ideology shared by kids who feel they have nothing to live for. The idea that voices crying out for help should be silenced for the sake of a politically correct dialogue is a form of censorship and denial of the everyday realities for some. 

Forget the copycat artists who offer very little in the way of creativity, but look at the men and women who have provided an autobiographical quality to the genre. These voices have been drowned out by the fascination with street culture. Rap music is the opportunity for inner city kids to tell their story and corporate executives to exploit it. 

The use of the large and small screen, or music to advance a social message is paradoxical by it's nature. The pain that fueled N.W.A's lyrics was glorified into the message: only male machismo can overcome the system. "Get rich or die tryin" was sanitized of the living hell that spawned it and turned into a catchphrase. It's sad how easily these messages were co-opted. I'm not downplaying the role the artists have played in this process. The road out of the ghetto is paved with hard choices and the introduction of money makes many of the ethical choices even harder. 

The same window that was open for Public Enemy was open for 2 Live Crew. The Cosby Show was a platform for African American exceptionalism that Cops at its worst tore down. Instead of Heathcliff Huxtable in a sweater we were bombarded with an assortment of half literate men in wife beaters. The worst examples of African American behavior edited and displayed for entertainment. This is true for Married With Children, Jerry Springer, and the majority of reality TV shows. Imagine how many people have been negatively impacted by this type of entertainment? They can't control what we think, but they can certainly influence what we think about.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Lack Of Choices in A Monopolist Utopia

I spend a large portion of my week submerged in commerce. On the surface our retail and grocery stores appear to be filled with a plethora of choices, but when you look closely at the labels and investigate you see that our choices are rather narrow. Monopolistic capitalism has morphed into a two-sided coin with the winner always being the large multinationals.

Recently, I had a customer ask me a series of questions concerning the sale of Smithfield to the Chinese conglomerate (Shuanghui). The most telling aspect of the conversation was her underlying concern for our country. Almost everyday a new company either sells or ships its manufacturing base off our shores. We have an economy driven by corporate interest that no longer respects the dignity or well-being of labor or consumers.

If you go down the soft drink aisle you'll see bottled water in a variety of different labels, but the truth is Dasani and Evian are Coca-Cola products, Nestle owns Poland Springs, Arrowhead, Deer Park, Ozarka, and Ice Mountain. All of these choices funnel money into the pockets of the two companies. Monopolies have killed the small businesses politicians profess to support. As companies grow bigger the influence they have over our lives also grows.

Smithfield handles one-third of all the pork slaughtered and processed in this country. One company having that much control also has the ability to affect pricing for the whole market. When you put this in the context of the "too big to fail" paradigm, it's easy to see how this could end badly. 

Many of our good, God fearing patriots profess their love for America, but will sell her (and her people) out to the highest bidder. The Neocons beat their chests to show their American pride, but worship at the alter of the almighty dollar. The third way offered by the Neo-liberals is a less offensive version of this economic policy, different on the surface, but with similar results.

Whether it's toothpaste (which Colgate-Palmolive and Proctor and Gamble control over 80% of the market for), or bottled water eventually we are given a wide variety of the same choice. I don't know how the Smithfield deal will workout in the long run, but I've gotten use to the reality that American hallmarks are being sold to the highest bidders.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Ideology In The Modern World

I have a friend from Nigeria (Adawale Adelke aka Wallace) who taught me a valuable lesson about life and ideology. He said we (in the west) are so concerned with deciding whether the glass is half full or half empty that we don't appreciate the fact that a large number of people in the world don't have a glass. 

This is how free market capitalist ideology functions in our society. While parts of the world are starving and dealing with a level of existential angst we can only sympathize with, we are consumed with the half empty glass in the form of iPhones, Abercrombie and Fitch, and Air Jordan’s. We struggle to find the items that will fill our glass.

I'm not pointing out the flaws in our society while exonerating myself: I'm just as guilty as the next person. The degree to which we wrestle with these issues is what determines how sincere we are in our struggle with the question: what kind of person are you going to be? Accepting the darkness inside of us is the key to overcoming and changing it. All of the phobias, "isms", and negative ideologies inside of us won't die without us being conscious of their existence.

We aren't bad people because we want these items, we're told our lives won't be complete without them. I know for more mature people this trap is easily avoided, but in the last 25 years children have been marketed to in a way incomparable to any period of time before it. Our posterity are constantly told the only way to fit into the status quo society is by chasing the labels. There are a great number of people with compassion for the suffering of their fellow citizens, but the belief that we can possess our souls through the acquisition of physical commodities is a prevalent ideological misnomer.

I pose these questions and offer commentary, yet I struggle to find answers that would sufficiently deal with the kinds of apathy and nihilism that grow from this kind of ideology. At the core of our existence is the search for meaning; a meaning that will make all of the suffering in this life worth it. I know I haven't found all of the answers, but I've found enough to make tomorrow interesting. I'll keep studying this culture, these people, and most importantly myself. Eventually we will confront our problems or have the consequences of those problems confront us.