Production is the Issue

Like the book from which it springs, this blog is called “The Consumer Trap.” By this phrase, I mean several things at once. Corporate capitalism is, I contend, a giant historic trap. That is the deepest claim.

But I also mean to protest against the foolish Frankfurt School suggestion that, under our epoch’s over-productive economy, the main strategic locus of politics and society somehow shifted from the boardroom to the bedroom — that we are somehow in an era in which “consumption” (meaning the ways we acquire and use commercial products) is the great question of our age.

This is a rather dull reaction to actual institutions and affairs. Our problem is no less one of macro-choice and investment (aka production) than it ever was. A sea of stuff, non-stop corporate entertainment, and increasingly commercialized off-the-job habits are all trends that emanate from elite dictation, not popular preference. But that is news to Herb Marcuse, who argued the opposite (without ever actually looking).

All of which brings me to this photograph:

That is the back of last night’s pizza box. It is one example of what’s wrong with talking about “consumption.” The manufacturer of this box is, no doubt, one or another major timber-and-paper conglomerate. That entity is certainly all too aware that greasy food containers DO NOT recycle. Yet, as we see here, that knowledge doesn’t lead to retraction of this dishonest little message. Why miss a chance to suppress and combat your customers’ actual concerns?

Corporate product producers are always biased in favor of lying and tricking and cheating to achieve their aims. Until we get back to studying how and why this happens, we will continue to chase our own tails in circles.

Commodifier of the Year

Procter & Gamble, the world’s 53rd largest publicly-traded business corporation, has been named Advertising Age‘s Marketer of the Year for 2019.

According to Ad Age, P & G has re-dedicated itself to out-marketing its competitors. As a result of its search for “work that has more impact,” “P&G has,” Ad Age reports, “gained share in most businesses this year, posting 7 percent organic sales growth the past two quarters.” This “rarity for any big company” has pushed P & G’s “stock price up more than 30 percent this year and 65 percent from recent lows in May 2018.”

Okay, but what is the material basis for such stellar work on behalf of shareholders?

Things like this:

That is new Downy Unstopables, which is apparently perfume you add to your laundry.

The logic of such a breakthrough is reported, with TCT’s emphasis added, by Ad Age as follows:

Such ads, which aim to encourage consumers to use products more often and successfully, are part of an effort…to focus less on taking share from rivals and more on growing or creating categories. 

One example is Downy Unstopables scent beads, a business with more than $750 million in global sales that’s moving the brand from fabric softening to adding lasting fragrance to clothes.

No word, of course, on what happens to all those new plastic bottles.

Victoria’s Demise

Despite the unrelenting flood of elite-sponsored nationalism, militarism, and commercialism, many areas of on-the-ground American culture have been improving rapidly. Sexism, despite setbacks like the Madonnian faux feminism that took hold in the 1980s and continues to work its evil ways, is one of the great social sins we the people have been chipping away at, despite our confounding institutional order.

TCT mentions this because there is important news on this happy front: Victoria’s Secret, the corporate lingerie pusher that has always sold its wares via dangerous sexist “aspirational” images, seems to be dying. In the climate that now seems to be solidifying, VS can apparently no longer run its hateful “fashion shows.”

According to Advertising Age:

It’s official now: There will not be a Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show this year. At a time when many other lingerie brands (like Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty) are celebrating real women’s bodies, some consumers found Victoria’s Secret’s display of thin models strutting in lingerie and stilettos to be backwards and off-putting.

TCT looks forward to the day when we no longer let people call us “consumers,” a label that only a capitalist should ever embrace. But, meanwhile, it remains important to count our wins, along with our struggles and losses.

The Engine of Idiocracy

tv idiocy

Here is an unsurprising headline:

Netflix is making a fourth ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ movie

Despite its superior emotional power – i.e., the main reason for its current ascendancy – video, as a medium, is quite narrow, as it lacks the capacity to bear much nuance and variation, compared with print and live interaction.

Add to this generic defect the fact that corporate capitalism imposes strict filters on media content, not the least of which is the crowding-out effect produced by its relentless multi-trillion-dollar flood of very pointed marketing-based sponsorship.

The overall result is a media ecology with an outflow every bit as shrunken and predictable as was that of the terrible old Socialist 1.x regimes.

It is pathetic, if not tragic — and also, of course, entirely undiscussed.

The Age of the Floss Dispenser

In an essay titled “The Tyranny of Small Decisions,” none other than Alfred E. Kahn once noted that

[m]onopoly elements may cause the buyer to be presented with excessively narrow choices that do not correctly reflect that actual costs of the competing alternatives; and the result may be an uneconomic spiral of product quality changes over time [and] so-called ‘product inflation.’

In order to keep the money flowing, in other words, big business interests “may” use their clout to ignore and suppress achingly obvious macro-choices, while pushing increasingly trivial micro-choices.

Behold, then, this:

That, friends, is one of our glorious economic system’s newest offerings. It is a $20 dental floss dispenser.

Nuff said.

Our Media Catastrophe

The Reagan Revolution will go down as one of human history’s most successful elite schemes. As its remarkable run nears the half-century mark, it still shows precious few signs of even being politically named as a problem, to say nothing of actually being reversed. At this late date, what passes for a left continues to wander around in various self-referential circles grasping (perhaps) at micro-straws (including plastic straws) while mumble-ranting about stillborn, punch-pulling neologisms like “neo-liberalism” and “intersectionality.”

One important sign of the continuing addlepated weakness of the forces of reason and survival is their lack of alarm about the fact that, by this point, all the major outlets of public communication are in the full control of the corporate capitalist machine. As folks like Bernie Sanders labor to get civilized medical insurance mentioned within the Democratic Party branding operation, this issue, along with the other unmentioned whopper of one-person-one-vote, lies all but untouched, despite the paint-peeling facts-at-hand, which now make the institutional landscapes enumerated by Herman and Chomsky and Bagdikian look like the epoch of Common Sense and the committees of correspondence.

To wit: In any democratic society, this “news story,” which NBC News, the child of the Comcast theft-empire, would not only have cost Comcast/NBC its broadcasting licenses, but would be Exhibit A in the long-overdue move to democratize and diversify the U.S. communications infrastructure.

As it is, such shameless self-advertising propaganda by the single greatest opponent of universal media accesss goes by completely unnoticed.