The (Further) Demise of Content

sponsored_life Leslie Savan, TCT‘s favorite advertising critic, once wrote that, if you want to understand advertisements, one of the major principles to bear in mind is “follow the flattery.” Ego strokes are often used to build brand affection and loyalty.

Of course, as we TCTers know, marketing is a core part of the overall corporate capitalist order, and, as such, faces constant pressure to refine and extend itself.

Hence, is it any surprise that the premium on flattery is devouring more and more of the “content” (aka programming, aka “shows”) in commercial media? Content, after all, is merely secondary advertising, something that exists to attract eyeballs and eardrums to advertising/marketing (aka unintentional shopping).

Exhibit A: The new television program “Up All Night,” the plot of which is: two new, first-time parents attempt to care for their baby, with supposedly inherently hilarious results. Is it funny, or just an attempt at flattery? Judge for yourself:

Exhibit B: The new motion picture, “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” the plot of which is: a woman holds down an upper class “job,” while also trying to be a wife and mother. This one is also a load of undisguised, straight-up button-pushing. It is, in Tasha Robinson‘s apt phrase, lifestyle porn:

Such is American culture these (late) days. Hilarious, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, for those of you wondering how Hollywood movies serve as marketing vehicles, two words: product placement. “I Don’t Know How She Does It” features not one, but two Product Placement Coordinators (look under “Other Crew”). During its filming, one product placement expert described it thus:

Sarah Jessica Parker leaves her character of bad girl from New York upper class to become a London City broker. In this case she is even a mother and has to conciliate these two roles. The comedy is based on the best-seller by Allison Pearson, who will be out in February with her second novel “I think I love you”….The shootings will begin in London in January. A product placement fit for high fashion Companies, accessories, and baby products. A rare occasion for products for kids; the premises fo this movie seems to be in fact really good.

2 Replies to “The (Further) Demise of Content”

  1. So, I have been stumbling across your blog while performing research in what impact consumerism and namely deskilling of society has for cultural values and value of object/products alike. Although you know how to break down other people, in the end I’m not sure where you are going with this blog, what do you want to achieve.

    Although I am aware that as an Industrial Designer our profession has been a catalyst for mass production, marketing and ‘globalisation of capitalism’, I would like to ensure I am bound to search for a new path, away from green movement initiatives that are merely supporting the rate in which products are burned through now.

    That’s why I would like to find out whether local communities can create sustainable local economies by reintroducing crafts and artifacts that bring value to their lives, rather than introducing new meaningless practices and junk to sell to people.

    Personally, I am a big fan of practice theory, of which you can read more about in the book ‘the design of everyday life’ which advocates how and why people use tools in the first place. The author derives this in 3 parts, Norms, stuff & skill.

    Reading your posts I read, on regular basis, that you speak of people who misunderstand ‘culture’. Could you maybe elaborate that for me? What is misunderstood about culture within the people that you describe?

    (Please be aware that I am not American, so I do not understand the situation of green shopperism in the US)

    hopefully you are willing to spend some time on my naive understanding of your subject. Thanks in advance!

  2. Hi, Nick, and welcome to TCT. You ask excellent questions.

    The immediate purpose of this blog is to show people how corporate planners (on behalf of wealthy shareholders) manipulate “free time” experiences and choices, and to demonstrate that corporate capitalism requires this manipulation, on an always-expanding basis.

    The secondary purpose of this blog is to get people to think about how radically unsustainable this arrangement is, and to encourage movement toward a decent alternative. The work you are doing sounds vital and utterly important to me. My only complaint about local solutions is that many of their architects tend to forget about the larger levels of reality. But that is certainly not a necessary part of making new local arrangements. And any macro-level changes are certainly going to require radical reconstruction of our towns.

    As for my objection to the way people talk about culture, those are of two kinds. First, a great many supposedly radical thinkers begin from a sophomoric and unscientific definition of the word. Culture, properly defined, if the set of learned habits and behaviors prevailing among a population. As such, it is a very large-bore concept, close in scope to “society.” Meanwhile, many “cultural” theorists use it as a stand-in for one part of life only — free time, or personal life. Often, they shrink it even further to mean merely entertainment. In making that move, they build their attempts at explanation of reality on quicksand.

    My more specific complaint about culture is that it is so often twinned with the bias-word “consumer,” to make the doubly stupid concept “consumer culture.” Social science (and the humanity and democracy it exists to serve) demands that its practitioners take care to make their concepts and data as free from bias and as descriptively valid and neutral as possible. To accept the word “consumer” as a valid equivalent for product-using human beings is to forgo the possibility of powerfully and accurately describing people’s product-related activities.

    “Consumer” is a capitalist’s narrow view. It is a rank and destructive bias, poison to objective description of reality and its determinant institutions and processes. It is an ongoing tragedy that social science has swallowed it, without so much as a hiccup.

    We live in a capitalist society and a capitalist culture. To choose to call it a consumer society and a consumer culture is to deny the cardinal facts and confuse and insult the potential audience.

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