One of the downsides of the period of transition from the Industrail Money Economy to the Attention Economy will be a civil war of sorts. As old paradigm gives way to new paradigm, people who align more with one side or the other will ‘choose sides’, based largely around the value they attach to money, primary tool of the ‘old way’. ‘ What is the old way? The old way is the economic system created by Industrial Capitalism, with its emphasis on the power and importance of the obtainment of money. This obtainment would come – for most – through work, trading one’s labor (time) for a wage or salary. Trading time for money meant that people in industrial, factory production (the pinnacle of capitalist expression) had very little time to think about much else than the basics: work, home life (rest) , reproduction, and (sometimes ) recreation.
At some point beginning in the 1950’s, this old, slow, dimwitted approach to living life – created by the lack of having time to think – began to give way to a work life and culture much different from the ‘sweat-house’ , production-based labor period of the earlier twentieth century. The shift of labor-focus from production of ‘things’ to the production of ‘consumers’ , meant that to work and to think, or to work while thinking, or to have one’s thoughts be the basis of one’s work, gained in importance. This period, fattened by the dogged over-production of mechanically-fabricated (speed) goods seen in the previous epoch, emerged as a means to now off-load the produced goods. But to whom?
Enter ‘the consumer’. Enter the age of ideas. Enter the television. Enter Don Draper.
The ‘advertising age’ is what this stage of Capitalism shall be called. This is the time at which advertising of all sorts, across all media took center stage, and the big, old, ugly factory was relegated to the edges of town, literally and symbolically. The ‘buy, buy, buy,’ message necessary for late -stage Capitalism – Consumerism – to generate the ‘production’ of an economy riding on the confidence of people to churn money through the selling-stations (stores), had to be created. Don Draper had to come forth, and sell ideas to Americans, ideas that could create the appetite to buy.
This meant entertainment, and entertainers. Commercials are very short movies, nothing more, really. Commercials hire actors to play out various smart or stupid sketches, with the placement of some product/service being hawked to pique the interest of the fans, the television viewers. The small-screeners.
The ownership of a small-screen was essential to disseminate the commercial propaganda to as many people as possible. The little box with a screen and an antenna was absolutely central to trasmitting the overt and covert messages through the symbolic play of characters – tv shows – and products – commercials – to the minds of Americans. If the message was ‘buy’, then there would have to be more money in the hands of the American public for which to purchase the always-new items of desire the market economy had created.
Capitalism needed ‘fast money’. But the only way to create fast money was to bypass the old ‘cash’ system of the factory age, with it’s paper currencies and heavy metal coinage. Capitalism needed money that was as light, and as thin as air. Capitalism needed credit.
Which is short for credibility. What was the easiest way to gain credibility in this new ‘ad age’? A name in good standing, that’s what. Or, better yet, a famous name. Consumer capitalism, with its non-stop advertisment, created stars – the carriers of its propaganda to buy – as fast as it created trinkets and services for those stars to hawk. At some point, through constant exposure, the stars themselves became the ‘ad’, the product more desirable than the products consumer capitalism would have them try to sell. The star was what people wanted to……….
Buy? My goodness, but how much does a star cost?
That’s just it; stars are priceless. The Star, who now had more or less outgrown the need for the money system at all, could trade for ‘stuff’ – the luxury items consumer capitalism produced – on his or her status as recognizable entity alone. This increasingly meant that the value of stars increased exponentially, simply as a symbolic representation of their worth vis-a-vis everyone else, the non-stars. This meant money had to be synonymous with endless credit. Endless credit meant that one needed the ability to just ‘add zeroes’ to the figure of value conjured up in the brains of accountants and PR people. Money had to go digital.
Is it not the ‘Black Card’ by American Express, that is today the representation of true stardom? Endless Credit is equal to endless stardom, or endless credibility.
But credibility is never endless, as saga of the late Joe Paterno shows. Has anyone ever heard of a star having his or her Black Card revoked? I doubt it. After all, as long as an entertainer can continue to hold the attention of his or her fans, they should remain credible, correct?
Not if the credibility is continually tied to selling products. commercial artists – the most popular artists today in terms of fans – still exist largely to sell products to consumers. They tarvel the world, decked out in this or that outfit, the names of which cannot seem to be kept out of their song lyrics anymore, subtly inducing their fans to identify with this or that brand. But at the same time, these same artists fail to realize that their fans cannot afford the things they can. So it is increasingly hard to align minds to these corporate mc’s. The era of the mega-star, which took over from the ‘ad age’ around the mid 80’s , is in its final stages in 2012. The old small screen that is TV, is rapidly giving way to the new small screens of laptops, desktop pc’s, tablets, and mobile devices, all connected to the galaxy of digital data called the internet.
And the internet killed Capitalism. Because if we look back on the progression of Capitalism step-by-step, it looks something like this:
- Stage 1: Hard Labor (1800s to 1950)
- Stage 2: Soft Labor (1950 to 1995)
- Stage 3: Labor as Leisure (1996 to present)
Stage 3 was the ‘age of credit’ , which we can say ended in 2008, when it was revealed that Capitalism is a confidence game through the Global Financial crisis. This shadowy world of Patrick Bateman – the financial shaman – was brought into the light during this period, and the dream life of money had slapped Americans awake. The financial crisis showed Americans that the best way to get paid monstrous sums of money (credit?) was to just create it.
Scams. Schemes. Games. Stage 3 could also be called the ‘media’ age. In stages 1 and 2, the news was simply an update service to show images of events from far away to Americans. In stage 3, as the global telecommunications apparatus expanded, news was in over-abundance, and could now be selected from the general wire, depending on the whims of the producers. The news had become entertainment, another TV show.
Reality television, really. From wars, to terrorist attacks, to mass murders on American soil, the news of today exists to entertain Americans.
Therefore, you get shenanigans such as this:
In a summertime wave of gun violence, the latest is the ‘Texas A&M shooting’, brought to you by a one, Mr. Tres Caffall. The story itself is a short-waver: another man at the end of his rope goes out in blaze of short-lived glory. Caffall aint the story, the news is.
Blink and you’ll miss it, but the ‘Texas A&M shooting’ has nothing to do with that public university in the Texas state system. But this is what people are typing in on Google: Texas A&M.
And that is the genius of the media and its savvy attention scamming: they know how to entertain the public. The media know that ‘Shooting in College Station, Texas’ is not nearly as juicy as ‘Shooting near Texas A & M’ for a headline. It’s not as juicy a headline for attention. Attention of any kind.
Goldhaber has an excellent post in which he asks whether or not there is a such thing as ‘bad attention’. Here are some excerpts:
“…..Of course, as in more positive forms of attention seeking, one has to stand out to get any substantial notice. Mass murderers, serial killers and the like, daring daylight bank robbers, daredevils of all sorts have to perform more strikingly than the previous case to get much press or appear on the nightly news.”
“……Let me add that in discussing these various instances of bad behavior I am merely trying to understand how they work. I certainly do not endorse them, nor do I think that anyone is better off for such sliding into the depths. But given that attention is intrinsically limited, we must face the fact that inevitably some who feel left out, or who blunder into these things, such as Lohan, presumably, will take what advantage of them they can. Had we a press, along with reporters and bloggers, that did not attempt to gain attention through other people’s bad acts (even terrorism) this would not be a path to attention for the perpetrators either.”
The media know very well that, by now, Americans have basically had their fill of these ‘gun massacre’ events, and will be willing to devote less-and-less attention to them, especially as the ‘new year’ of Fall commences, and all other sorts of distractions occupy people’s minds. And since they are in the busincess of entertainment nowadays, whatever will entertain, will be shown. Period.
A bizarre event that happened in my hometown occurred this past weekend. It is not trending on Google. But it is trending on Youtube. In short, a mentally-disturbed individual was shot and killed by New York police in Times Square, the tourist capital of America. As a lark, I decided to see if this event might have been captured on video. To my surprise, it was:
So, while a man was in the process of being killed by police, a number of people in the crowd were following the action, some recording it in real time. A man about to be killed in public was a tourist attraction; a performer. This was some of the only video shot – by an amateur – of this event, but that did not stop it from appearing on the local news’ broadcast.
An eagle-eyed viewer will notice that the video pops up wrapped inside a cute graphic of what is supposed to be an iphone-like mobile device. The second screenshot clearly states the fact that this video is the work of an amateur. Whether or not the video was sent to the ‘news’ directly , or pulled by the networks off of Youtube is unknown. It is probably the latter, since that is the path that digital amateur video usually takes: from device to Youtube. Because it can come from anywhere, amateur, often anonymous video has been incorporated into the nightly news ‘shows’ as a means gaining access to content it is otherwise too slow to capture itself.
The oddest thing about this event (which for me was local news) is the ‘theatrical’ feel of it. There are clearly many issues that come up due to this event, but there is very little time or desire to ‘go there’ with the Times Square shooting. In the media age, there is simply so much news to pick from, that everyone knows that, despite a very rare and slightly-troubling event occurring in the heart of Manhattan this past weekend, it will be forgotten in no time. There is nothing to be done about the man’s life, and there are so many other things to pay attention to. The killing of Darrius Kennedy joined the ranks of other gun-related stories as the latest special-of-the-week brought to you by ABC. The ‘Texas A&M’ episode, with its slick attention-scamming headline, was hyped as a summer special , brought to you by CNN, and Huffpo. These two events, which happened thousands of miles from each other, were linked through the media because of on thing: the media know a good bloodbath when they see it…………..