There seems to be a conflict of interest between that which is highly viewable and that which is highly illuminating.
– William F. Buckley Jr
Why do we keep giving you garbage? Because you keep eating it, haha.
– Entertainment Industry
The clearest way to understand a culture is to study its tools of communication and its art, through which the zeitgeist of society is expressed. Film, radio, literature, visual art and music act not only as a barometer that signal society’s prevailing attitudes, but also function as a mirror that people use to adjust everything from their fashion to their personal identities. With the arrival of the Information Age and the ascendance of consumer technology, entertainment has been given a greater place of importance in the world, bringing with it a deluge of media that drowns out pertinent issues in a sea of disposable “content”. This excess of images and sounds has left the world under the influence of Hollywood, ad agencies and PR companies who work collectively to undo our capacity to assess things. The result is a world represented by pictures whose likeness to reality becomes confused with reality itself. By making us over-reliant on such images, the above-mentioned culprits help to devalue what lies outside the world of appearances, making the media the new authority on how to orient oneself, rather than first-hand experiences of the real world. Now a slave to this milieu of their own making, mankind throws themselves into their pop culture far too easily, perhaps in order to avoid staring their own existence in the face – they yearn for something that endures, but can only fill their minds with entertainment in the hope of keeping their footing. One can wonder how effective of a solution this has been.
For every new form of communication that develops, mass culture is recreated to accommodate the transition. From hieroglyphs to the alphabet to television, each medium provides a new orientation for thought and expression. Prior to the rise of
mass media in the early 1900s, popular culture was formed through direct interaction with people and the environment. Social connections, vocational life, religion and art were some principal ways to expand on the notion of human experience. People’s ideals, however misguided or otherwise, were grounded in their tangible experiences with a physical reality – but no longer. Art and media have now coalesced into the monolith known as the Entertainment Industry, which acts as a mirror that reflects people’s identities, aspirations and values back at them. The more they come to identify with this complex of images, the less they understand their actual selves and desires. Over time, the individual’s gestures cease to be his own and become more like what he sees on screen. First-hand experiences of the real world regress into an abstraction as it becomes natural to interact with the world through tele-visual platforms. Social life, which now doubles as a shared virtual reality, becomes an artificial imposition that entraps its subjects,
and the result is a formulaic world where people no longer talk to each other as much as they entertain each other, exchanging not so much their own ideas, but images loaded with the ideas of others. As seen on today’s social media platforms, people do not argue with propositions so much as they do with memes, quotes, emojis, good looks, likes, and followers, all of which come filled with premises of their own.
From the latest Netflix stream to inescapable YouTube videos and mobile gaming, the allure of media from behind a screen is that it can be very emotionally expressive whilst making no clear attempts at a straight-forward communication. Think of George Bush, Michael Jackson or Angelina Jolie, or even Albert Einstein, and what comes to mind is not so much their quotes or speeches, but an image – a picture of their faces. It’s no coincidence that as time passes. a limited number of these pictures are put into heavy rotation to act as a shorthand for whatever message they’re packaged to convey, as exemplified by the printing of Che Guevara and Bob Marley images on every commodity imaginable. This kind of communication points to the difference between thinking in an image-based culture versus a text-based culture, where in the latter you learn how to better negotiate the world of abstractions. Prior to the primacy of images, a salesman or print ad had to use words to explain the advantages of a product in an appeal to your intellect, not just your emotions. While such words take time to convey and require attention to parse their meaning, the impact of an image is immediate – it bypasses your critical filters and conveys a multiplicity of messages in an instant. But ultimately, the idea of being “intelligent” implies that one can do some degree of mental work without the help of pictures, using abstractions and generalizations. Thus we can see that not only has image-based culture become a centerpiece of Western pastime, but that entertainment has become the natural format for the representation of most experience.
Prior to the advent of radio, print publications served as the mass media, an altogether different format than the audio-visual one of today. Printed media highlights a definition of intelligence that prioritizes ordered, rational content. By its very nature, reading is a serious endeavor where you approach a text with your intellect alone, unaided by moving images or sound. Your mind is forced to rely on its own powers of contemplation as it follows the line of thought put forth in the text, requiring you to categorize information, make inferences, and use your rationale to detect abuses of logic. For this to be possible, the reader must maintain a certain detachment from the words on the paper,
which is in fact encouraged by the distant, static text. But not so with tele-visual media – their way of communicating is antagonistic to typography’s way of communicating in that the bias of the technology itself promotes narrative inconsistency. It speaks primarily in one unrelenting voice: the voice of entertainment. After all, we rarely talk about television, but rather about what’s on television. The medium itself is poorly understood, whereas its content is obsessed over, as if the latter were not reliant on the former for its expression. The metaphorical nature of image-based media has meant that TV, computers and smartphones, with their very particular logic, have found their way into other areas of cultural life, bringing with them their message that not only is all the world a stage, but that the stage might as well be located in Las Vegas, one of the centerpieces of our
mile-wide, inch-deep culture.
For all its economic and military power, America’s greatest tool of influence is its
visual culture, without which it would never have dominated the globe:
kinetic, vibrant, rebellious, happy, sexy and “free”. In other words, Hollywood.
With its insistence that all achievement be measured in human happiness and a movement towards whatever idea of “progress” is in fashion, Hollywood has transformed Western culture into a factory-house for the industrialization of enjoyment. It works tirelessly to reconstruct the world into a universe of spectacle and triviality, one full of pseudo-needs and false desires, propagated in no small part through movies, photography and music. This tactic of turning art into advertising may be great for Madison Avenue and its PR adjuncts, but has given us little in the way of transcendent media programming. It begs the question: is a world where PR professionals are more productive and influential than artists a more desirable world overall? Are the objectives of public relations companies the objectives of the world in general? Apparently, they are. It would seem that society has become so censored so as to not know difference between what’s merely a part of the pop culture dummy-load, and what is actually worth consuming to edify oneself.
During the cultural shifts of the 60s and 70s, as well as the digital revolution of 90s and 2000s, the technologists and counter-culturalists promised the world that life-changing art would accompany our portable consumer electronics. But well into the 21st century, we’ve mostly been given widely-panned superhero movies and disposable pop songs,
as the world of art suffers from a collapse of critical standards both at the level of creators and consumers. In fact, we’re in an age where banal mediocrity is prized above all else. The things which are the most adored and hyped are just boring mirror images of what you can see or hear anywhere. And this is despite the fact that the entertainment industry takes itself very seriously as “Art” – as stories of empowerment, individualism and heroism. Therein, however, lies a problem: entertainment as trivial as it is today is at its most dangerous when its aspirations are so grandiose, when it arrogantly presents itself as a carrier of important cultural conversations. But ironically, this is the role that the liberal elites, public intellectuals and cultural critics are constantly urging Hollywood to play: create movies, music and art that are “necessary” for the times. But the result is less passable as art than as mere content for distribution, which only makes a sham of tackling the complexities of human behavior. What it does do extremely well, however, is to applaud itself for its own immediacy, importance and moral virtue, even as it underwrites its creative process with money from advertisers and foreign investors. Such parties play the role of dispassionate shareholders with a greater interest in spreadsheets and quarterly reports than in creative endeavors. Thus, to talk of contemporary art as having the same gravitas as classic art like the Mona Lisa or Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 would be sillier than talking about the eternal virtues of Burger King or Walmart –
they simply don’t exist.
This article is less about polemicizing the pursuit of pleasure than it is about what society has become at the insistence of an industry whose inner workings are poorly understood, even by those who work within it. Escapism has its place, and we all build castles in the sky when we feel like it, but the problems come when we try to live in them. The issue is not that mass media presents us with entertaining subject matter, but rather that all subject matter is presented as entertaining. The thrust of this industry is the universalization of amusement, however vapid, at the expense of contending with sophisticated ideas and pressing issues. In deference to such a goal, the West cannot be expected to voluntarily shut down any part of its entertainment apparatus, and to suggest they do so is to make no suggestion at all. But while we sit back and observe how the amusement industry continues to ramp up its production of content, there is no shortage of chuckles to be had at its foibles and pretensions, which at least provide us with many occasions for mockery, scorn and satire. At the very least, art and entertainment can be used as effective propaganda, which is not a complete failure of its potential.
Entertainment has colonized our culture, transforming it into one giant arena for show business and marketing. But it appears that in the end, most of us have found this to be quite delightful. Never mind that the ideals and behaviors being marketed will ultimately cripple us all. But until then, one can perhaps find solace in the words of one of the leading critics of modern mass media, George Orwell: “At least we still have some time to take advantage of the fact that radio and television stations are not yet guarded by the army.”
Greekspeek for thought
Of course Hollywood can’t make good movies anymore.
Just look at the 21st century. It’s because of the audience that they’re accommodating; that’s why the movies are crap.
Why is Hollywood always releasing factually incorrect films?
Because if they were forced to show what really happened, then the audience wouldn’t recognize what they were seeing. Imagine if they made a movie about how World War 2 really ended.
Pop culture and real history don’t mix. If you’re into one, you’ll be averse to the other.
The entertainment industry is made up of stupid people making content for other stupid people, ie, the public. If it was about smart people making stuff, then at least they’d inject some quality into their work for the sake of those who aren’t stupid. But do they?
No. So it’s a dog chasing its tail. The smart people don’t even get involved, because they know the whole industry is incorrigible.
Sure, anyone can make art; just make bad art.
After the age of 12, most people have become automatons.
That’s why we have an entire subculture called “kids culture” that’s meant to prolong that infantile mindset for as long as possible.
If you don’t think pop culture is structured by PR companies, advertising agencies and marketing firms, then you need to start doing better research.
It seems to me like today’s art is coming from a hive mind.
It has a gradient to it that expresses where it came from, and you can tell that if the artist tried to express any real artistic freedom, they were slapped down and restricted, and the art reflects their torment.
What the public doesn’t realize is that contemporary art started off as something internal that was being made for its own community of artists. Their aesthetic had become desensitized from the pleasant, and in their attempt to regain some measure of sensitivity, they veered off into the perverse. It’s like when you eat so many sweets that they don’t taste the sweetness anymore, and so now you need stronger sweets. So the early artists were doing it for themselves in order to satisfy their wayward sensibilities within their own culture. But when today’s public sees modern art, they’re afraid to look ignorant, so they pretend to enjoy it.
The way that Hollywood depicts reality is often the opposite of how it actually is – just look at their fight scenes. In reality, some people walk away from knife fights with fingers missing because they chose to grab the blade and pull the knife away from their opponent, rather than risk getting stabbed in an organ.
Sure, it could cost you a finger, but at least you’ll live.
Does Hollywood ever show fight scenes with that kind of outcome? Nope. They just zoom in on close-ups and show fancy maneuvers. Here’s another example: when you light a cigar, you should hold the flame about 5cm away to avoid burning the tobacco and turning it rancid. But Hollywood invariably shows people putting the flame on the end of the cigar. You’d be laughed at by cigar connoisseurs if you did that in real life. It means you let yourself be educated by the movies.