Neocon globalism will stifle every attempt by capitalism to recreate itself. If allowed to continue, it will destroy both ethics and creativity.
“There’s nothing good on the telly any more” is often thought to be the ultimate Grumpy Old Man cliche, but being a cliche rarely means that such remarks are inaccurate. We spent Christmas with friends this time, and New Year in the Alps. Both venues had an enormous state-of-the-art television available. Throughout the entire season I watched one news bulletin (all of which I’d read already on the Net) and a Sky Channel US sitcom…which people tell me is funny, and I thought well-scripted but formulaic.
During Christmas and New Years’ evening, the sum total of things I wanted to watch consisted of a BBC2 special interview with Mikhail Gorbachov. Until about fifteen years ago, there would be at least an hour on both those evenings when the whole family would gather to watch either a Christmas Special, a movie, or a Dickensian drama. None of us (and this sample consisted of 19 people of all classes and ages) asked at any point, “Right, what’s on the telly?”
There are various reasons for this. One increasingly disturbing trend is for everyone under the age of 25 to stick something over their ears and listen to digital music/watch a movie online/surf various sites/play with a game console. This could be the subject of another article entirely, about how long hours and technology are destroying family life. But the main reason for the telly gathering dust at family get-togethers is that it offers, on the whole, 24/7 crap.
“Choice,” yelled all of Thatcher’s vegetables during the 1980s. Bollocks. Choice is a tyranny when there are 300 channels available, of which 100 are about jewellery, 30 are about Mammon, 120 are about God, and the rest are showing repeats or third-rate made-for-TV movies. Britain’s mainstream televisual media today represent a microcosm of what we’ve all gradually been fed since around 1990: lower standards.
Dumb game shows, talent contests for the untalented, live sport, and generic news for dementia sufferers are all there as palliatives to help dull the pain of poor educational levels, neurotic HSE harpies, gender obsessives, religious nutters, sporting failure, rising violence, ludicrously inflated expectations, widespread commercial crime, bloated salaries for the few, poorer local services, and snailbrained politicians on the take.
The main problem with the strategy is that, having competed so long for ratings under the neocon principles of ‘never mind the quality – feel the width’, nothing new or vital has been introduced onto our screens since Only Fools and Horses and Have I Got News for You. But this hasn’t mattered, because the lowest common denominator educational robotic production line of correctness and half-baked understanding – plus freely available alcohol, and more anti-depressants per head than anywhere except California – has delivered the perfect audience for this tepid, instant porridge of on-screen banality.
These – and the usual narrow, bright-young-thing Oxbridge management-consultant berks commissioning programmes – are the major things I’ve encountered personally and professionally in relation to UK television contractors. And they largely explain why there is never anything stimulating, new or interesting on the telly. Because they are all driven by the twisted, parallax, patronising view of ‘mass’ media as interchangeable with ‘idiot’.
As you might imagine, this is a vortex down which all programmes, viewer discernment and (ultimately) ratings will dive unless somebody reverses the flow of ‘logic’ that lies behind it. This is a serious problem for television contractors – and the Beeb – because if they’re not careful, in the emerging age of infotainment fusion, the money for genuine cutting-edge programming will drift inexorably away from them….followed by those advertisers marketing middle and upmarket products.
Unfortunately, this is the quick-returns, Bourse-pressure, 25% growth per annum model that pertains in our culture – and it applies to the Arts as a whole, performing or otherwise. If you think there’s nothing on the telly, then trust me, there’s very little worth watching on the Stage – unless you like crossovers, musicals, revivals, rock band tributes and some truly awful permutations of two or more of them.
We live in an arts environment dominated by bums on seats thinking. But bums-on-seats are a cul-de-sac: a dead end in English – or your arse in a sling in French – it makes very little difference. With ticket prices going up and quality going down, come the next stage of the recession a lot of theatres will be in trouble.
The idea that art can flourish in a ‘wash-your-face’ economic context is puerile, and an example of Thatcherite thinking at its most shallow. The last thing I want to have is a Socialist-heroic model, but somewhere between these two extremes is a happy medium. Since time immemorial, rich philistines have acted as supporters of artistic proteges, while salons used to exist until the mid 1920s, nearly always run by wealthy libertine ladies keen to bonk slim young poets and writers. As they grew older and learned more, the ladies in particular dispensed shrewd and invaluable advice to the likes of everyone from Victor Hugo to Ernest Hemingway. What Hugo would make today of the long-running Les Miserables production is hard to imagine.
Publishing today is a crypto-xerox marketing farce in which everyone follows and few diverge. Most chicklit is beneath contempt, and if I read another novel written autobiographically about a ‘caring’ bloke getting in touch with something or other, I may have to bring down Dad’s RAF service revolver from the attic and shoot the agent involved….because this is a large part of where the problem lies.
The rapid (and worrying) emergence of Amazon as an eclectic online retailer moving up and downstream in books and remote online reading is, nevertheless, collapsing the narrow writer/agent/publisher model. This may yet be a blessing for fresh writing, because it offers an almost risk-free form of market testing to judge a writer’s appeal. But even that will not solve the ultimate dilemma between short-termist commerce and art: most creative people take a while – sometimes years – to get into their stride when it comes to an appealing and original style.
You can watch this process in disastrous close-up in my former profession, advertising. Manufacturing – and especially retail – clients increasingly want instant results…because they too are under the cosh of half-baked remote shareholders demanding their pound of flesh. But the reality is that the best long-running ‘brand asset’ campaigns start off at a medium pace, those behind them gradually working out how and why the advertising works – and then using this input to make the ads both more effective and more engaging. Ironically, a greedy emphasis on short-term returns destroys what is worthwhile even in its own House of Mammon.
This process has accelerated dramatically since an enormous slice of advertising tranferred online and into ‘viral’ – another daft misnomer for the age-old principle that good products and clever media choices create word-of-mouth. But most online advertising has no cult status, very little meaning – only the ill-mannered ethics of our knackered culture: it is rude, crude, crooked, invasive, insistent….and makes little or no effort to persaude with subtletly.
Even worse, it is already developing its own mindless shiboleths and mumbo-jumbo about hit rates, positions, shapes and general approach. The hits-total claims in particular are shot full of holes, and already seen by the wiser minority of clients as complete hokum.
The overall process I’m describing in the preceding account is not just a rambling rant about nasty business and lovely arty-farty flim-flam: quite the opposite. It is, rather, a plea for those who want a vital form of capitalism, as opposed to a fearful, protectionist form of monopolism. And it is at the centre of most things The Slog goes on about.
Put the accountants, bankers, bourses, politicians, pinstripes and millowners in charge of capitalist invention – be that R&D, advertising, better media environments or solving the problems of changing lifestyles – and you will get Rupert Murdoch’s paywalls, rubbish television, formulaic literature, news without analysis, Ice-skating portayals of Auchwitz, and advertising that people despise and ignore.
Most important of all, you will remove any consumer aspiration towards something more fulfilling – beyond the latest android app or the smallest Ipod station. It is a neocon myth that materialism can drive economic growth on its own….as we are seeing with every passing month. Driving growth through repurchase of badly-built technology and cosmetically changed cars is a dead end. Driving margins up through cheating simply produces an increasingly cynical and unwilling consumer.
The biggest single growth patterns of the last thirty years have been in information gadgets that perform better in more places, and the two most successful brands have been Amazon and Apple – who invented, and then took a risk on, the i-series and Kindle. The next most powerful growth-curves came from the game-changing digital wireless technology behind the mobile phone.
Without such creativity, capitalism is no better than soviet central-command economic ideas. Neocon capitalism has become more and more monopolistic over time, and in doing so, it’s desperation is there for all to see in the actions of everyone from Verizon to Newscorp. Its failure to assist the creative process pushed the responsibility for wealth creation towards bankers. They too lack any practical creativity, and have succeeded in having only myopically bright ideas with disastrous outcomes.
These involved in particular the insanity of notional money and derivative resale; but they are the predictable products of arid minds who can see no point to existence beyond money and power. They are the solutions of crooked protectionists, not risk-taking wealth creators. Far from distributing a wider enjoyment of wealth, they look as if – the way things are going – they will dissipate all wealth everywhere.
When the headless chickens in government have run out of turning circles, the bankers have run out of feasible excuses, and governments have run out of money, then we might – just – come to a realisation that slower growth via more vital companies and inventive economies is the way forward. That big is bad and small is more nimble. That remote shareholders are an intrinsically bad idea, and the bourses they obsess about are neurotic children. That the banker’s job is to finance capitalism, not aid the spread of monopolism. And above all, that bean counters never invented anything. They are nothing more than the blokes in the score-board, keeping the score. We, the entrepreneurs, the socially responsible, the creatively led, and the problem-solvers, are the men who score the winning innings. Only when every last one of the anal numbers trawlers and lightweight observers are back safely inside that scoreboard, will capitalism develop in an entirely new direction – for the good of everyone.