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.

And Now a Word FOR Our NON-Sponsor

TCT does not accept advertising, and never will.

Nevertheless, John Sayles is so awesome and his forthcoming movie is sure to be so roastingly, epically good, I have to take time from our core endeavor — exposing corporate capitalist cultural engineering — to mention it.

amigo sayles Originally titled Baryo, the film, now called Amigo, is Sayles’ historical dramatization of the first* large-scale act of U.S. overseas military imperialism: the invasion and occupation of the Philippines.

I can all but guarantee you that this film is going to rock your socks all the way to the toes. Just as Matewan is far and away the best labor film ever made by an American, I expect this will be the best anti-imperialist movie to emerge from our culture. Sayles is that talented and well-informed.

And, most of all, the facts of the matter are that profound and worthy of recall.

McKinleyPhilippines

I’m beside myself with anticipation!

*The first domestic act was King Philip’s War. The first overseas act of military conquest was the seizure and annexation of Hawai’i, but that was small, in terms of actual combat.

Why (Most) Movies Suck

The market totalitarians who call themselves “conservatives” are messing their drawers over the very idea of adding $50 million to the laughably puny $145-million annual budget of the National Endowment for the Arts. “Conservatives,” you see, say they think the NEA is a boondoggle.

Contrast this sense of where boondoggles come from with the excellent recent reportage of New Yorker critic Tad Friend on the workings of the corporate capitalist movie studios — where $50 million, by the way, is less than half of what gets spent there on a single movie, a.k.a. “property,” according to Friend.

As Friend reports:

“Studios now are pimples on the ass of giant conglomerates,” one studio’s president of production says. “So at green-light meetings it’s a bunch of marketing and sales guys giving you educated guesses about what a property might gross.

This, of course, means that:

Marketing considerations shape not only the kind of films studios make but who’s in them—gone are lavish adult dramas with no stars, like the 1982 “Gandhi.”

Even within this situation, which is well-known to industry insiders, if not the general public, there is no doubt what corporate capitalist movies are:

Marketers and filmmakers are often quietly at war. “The most common comment you hear from filmmakers after we’ve done our work is ‘This is not my movie,’ ” Terry Press, a consultant who used to run marketing at Dreamworks SKG, says. “I’d always say, ‘You’re right—this is the movie America wants to see.’ ”

Friend finds the resulting imperatives “unexpected,” but nonetheless does a great job listing them.

Read moreWhy (Most) Movies Suck