Monday, October 9, 2017

Politicizing Entertainment

It was a bad idea to personalize politics. It is a very bad idea to decide who to frequent based on political zealotry. The worst is to turn your business into a propaganda organ. Such is the strategy now at work in Hollywood and in certain parts of the NFL. 

Totalitarian dictatorships politicize the arts and culture. Democratic nations, or nations that want to remain democratic don't. The message has not gotten through to our media and intellectual elites.

These latter believe that they are leading the Resistance. They believe that they are leading a cultural revolution. In truth they are politicizing entertainment, and thus losing their audience. So says Joel Kotkin. By his lights, the marketplace will eventually pass judgment on this folly.

Keep in mind these are serious thinkers. And yet, how much brainpower does it take to know that it is bad business to force your political views on your audience.

Kotkin says:

America’s seemingly unceasing culture wars are not good for business, particularly for a region like Southern California. As we see Hollywood movie stars, professional athletes and the mainstream media types line up along uniform ideological lines, a substantial portion of the American ticket and TV watching population are turning them off, sometimes taking hundreds of millions of dollars from the bottom line.

This payback being dealt out to urbane culture-meisters by the “deplorables” are evidenced by historically poor ratings for such hyper-politicized events as the Oscars last year as well as this year’s Emmys. The current controversy surrounds the NFL player protests, which are lowering already weak ratingsdown 10 percent since the national anthem protests, as well as plunging movie ticket sales. The oddly political sports network ESPN has seen declines close to catastrophic, although how much their often strident “resistance” turns off viewers is widely debated.

Sports and entertainment draw an audience because they eschew politics. Now, however, in the name of diversity, they have alienated large segments of the public. They have become propaganda organs, spewing out ill-informed opinions, and demanding adherence. Their version of diversity insists that people be of one mind:

… with the rampant politicization of culture, sports and information, the notion of a common cultural market has all but disappeared.

Among those in control of mainstream media culture — newspapers, magazines, movie studios and television networks — attention is focused on an affluent, progressive audience concentrated in urban centers. The ignored, or disdained, are not just the roughly 46 percent of voters who voted for Donald Trump, but a wider section of middle-class America.

Purveyors call it niche marketing:

Large cultural companies see their future not so much as appealing to the mass audience, but to a large, often wealthy, audience that shares their increasingly homogeneous world views. The rise of Trump has been a huge boon to “resistance” media like the New York Times, MSNBC, late night talk shows and Saturday Night Live, all thriving from those millions who can’t get enough anti-Trump.

Some have been making money off of their resistance to Trump. But, Kotkin continues, how well do they understand their audience? Do Clinton voters really form a wealthy intellectual elite:

The big open question is who will capture the 40 to 50 percent of America that the mainstream media finds “deplorable.” This alternative audience is not made up entirely of repulsive alt-right white nationalists and is clearly underserved in our mainstream media. They may not be generally as erudite as readers of the New Yorker or the New York Times, and perhaps less attractive to the luxury advertisers who sustain those publications, but they are not necessarily illiterate dopes. In fact, the average Trump voter appears to have been wealthier, and even better educated, than those who voted for Hillary Clinton.

Having descended into nonstop propaganda the mainstream media has also lost its credibility. Fewer and fewer people trust them to present objective facts. Of course, they have done so in order to fight what they called President Trump's loose relationship with facts.

It is not going to be that easy to recover it:

Today only a small part of big media, notably talk radio, as well as Fox News and other outlets of the Murdoch empire, have targeted this audience. In addition, the conservative mainstream has spawned such alternative voices as Pajamas Media, Breitbart, The Federalist, the Daily Caller and a host of other small web-oriented publications. The growth of these outlets reflects how many Americans no longer trust the established media as being either objective or sharing their values.

Attacking patriotism might play well on the Upper West Side. In the rest of the country it is divisive. If we do not have a strong sense of patriotism we will never unite the country.

Kotkin remarks:

The likely winners in the new media landscape will be those who can carve out a strong niche capable of supporting advertising or gaining sufficient eyeballs. Sadly, this tends to weaken any sense of national unity. Rather than a moderately liberal mass media that at least pretends to respect differing opinions, we may see a cultural landscape that more resembles competing armies or football teams, and forget the nuances.

We have reached the point where national debate are being led by stand-up comedians who are not even funny. They are backed up by ignorant celebrities who command space in the tabloids. Kotkin is not very impressed by President Trump’s tweets, but then again, most of his supporters aren’t either:

It’s not pretty. We see conflicting outrage from both the unhinged man in the White House and his claque, and an endless stream of drivel from almost embarrassingly ignorant celebrities, including that intellectual icon of our age, Kim Kardashian. The real loser is our democracy, the quality of information and largely unrepresented, less politicized Americans, often stuck between two sets of hardened partisans.

It’s not just the propaganda. The American mind is being systematically dumbed down. With any luck the market will bring them to their senses. Otherwise, we are in big trouble.


David Foster said...

Life in the Fully Politicized Society

Ares Olympus said...

What's the saying? Right, taboo topics in polite company are Politics, Sex and Religion.

But isn't patriotizing entertainment also about politics? It makes sense at events like the Olympics to play the national anthem, but why do it at a domestic sporting event, EXCEPT to prop up whomever is in power at the moment?

Of course the national anthem ought to be unifying, and what isn't more unifying than a song about a time when our collective freedom was in danger? And it makes sense that external dangers do help us find our collective interests to work together against an external threat. But we all know, when the external threats disappear, internal divisions reappear, and no side ultimately "owns" the whole, even if every side would try to make the claim.

So then it seems patriotism is used for a different purpose. It is used to promote status quo, and silence any minority within the collective that has any problems with the way things are. And since we all try to get along, most of us would prefer to agree with the majority report, and ignore the uncomfortable minority, so patriotism clearly works.

At any rate, we know politics divides us, and if your entertainment business is about making money, it makes sense you don't want to point out differences that may offend half your potential customers, UNLESS the country is divided to a point that sports itself can cater to only half of the country that believes in a certain side of the divide.

Pence walking out of a football game due to kneeling players is itself a political statement, and so the battle is on for the heart and mind of the country. The illiberal left is trying to shut down free speech on the right, and the patriotic right is trying to shut down personal silent protest on the left. It looks like a fair fight overall.

Sam L. said...

The right is not trying to shut down silent protest on the left; it's refusing to pay for being insulted.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

I blame the Fourth Estate for not doing their jobs. "Journalism" today is a collection of lazy, mealymouthed, wannabe poets with a keyboard and/or a camera. They don't command any respect because they no longer adhere to a professional code that warrants respect. From that void we get wannabe political thinkers from every other televised profession masquerading as journalists. There is very little real reportage or meaningful analysis going on today. And what accounts for "analysis" today is not about ideas -- it's a horse race commentary that offers no value judgments or facts that roll-up to what might be best for the country. If this is what mainstream news outlets are trying to defend, it's no surprise that their audience is contracting. If this contraction makes democracy unsafe, the people doing the loudest campaigning on the issue are the most to blame. The complete abdication of journalistic standards creates a vacuum for supposed poseurs -- including brilliant minds like Kim Kardashian, and dashing sports analysts on ESPN -- who fill the void. The net result is that news outlets are no longer taken seriously, and entertainers feel entitled to play phony news commentators. The mainstream news media is a rotting corpse.

As for this modern "disaster" of fragmented, tainted, partisan news outlets, our republic has survived decades and decades of these supposedly horrible things, going back to its earliest days. When was this golden age of journalism? It never was. Consider that it wasn't really until after World War II and the advent of television that we saw emerging professional standards for journalists. These standards are hardly considered anymore. As media consolidated, the vetting and credentialing of these "professionals" was conferred by fewer and fewer schools like Columbia and Missouri. So now we have fewer pro journalists with ever-narrower perspectives, largely supporting a single political party. That's a recipe for monolithic reporting. And THAT kind of broadcast groupthink is bad for democracy. But again, we've survived journalists and media outlets being slanted throughout United States history. Somehow I think we'll survive despite further consolidation, credentialing and myopia -- provided that alternative sources aren't wiped out by Google and Facebook, who share the same groupthink worldview. Just don't expect journalists to tell you so.

Maybe life is so politicized because of the LACK of political and educational plurality in big media, rather than the imagined abundance of it. Let's be honest... the Fox News of today bears little resemblance to the Fox News of just 4 years ago, and it's certainly not more conservative. Why is that? The Murdoch kids, that's why. James Murdoch went to Harvard. Lachlan went to Princeton. Elizabeth went to Vassar. Prudence went to an Ivy League-prep school in Manhattan, and didn't go to college. Yet they still have to go to cocktail parties and be questioned about the horrid political leanings of Rupert's media properties. This can be stressful. Better to change the golden goose recipe than face the peer pressure.

trigger warning said...

"Journalism" was always a hack craft populated by gossips lacking real literary talent. Witness the ridiculous stories written about Western criminals in the 1800s, the sob stories about murderers in the Depression, yellow journalism, tabloid journalism, and barefaced lying in the NYT about communist crimes.

But "journalism" changed when journalists brought down a President. Hack writers for major news outlets began to fantasize about being the next Savior of the Republic, and the craft slid even further down the slippery slope of outright lying, so-called "fact checking", and slander.

The "mainstream" press, which is anything but, can be safely ignored.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Sam L. is spot on.

The other commenter's mentions Pence walking out of a football game as a political statement. Yes, well, he's a politician.

As for NFL players making a visible protest, they're employees who happen to be football players (the silence of their protest is irrelevant, as the value of their labor is established by watching them actually play the game).

My goodness, if a waiter went to every customer's dinner table and started the evening by them he thought Hillary should be president, he wouldn't have a job very long.

What makes football players so special in protesting the anthem, flag and country? Because 75% of them are black, cloaking it in a baloney BLM-driven claim? Please. Let's go back to the beginning. Here's what this whole thing is about, from the NFL's own reporter:

The NFL is screwed. The owners believe they have to stick by the players, because the players are the product. And the players know their fortunes are tied to collective bargaining, funded by media, ticket sales and merchandising. Both ownership and labor are on a collision course with the source of their livelihoods: the fans.

Yet most of the discussion has little to do with the fans.

Most of the babbling has to do with a conscience/protest claim by NFL players. These players have a year-one minimum salary of $465K, a median salary of under $1 million and average of $1.9 million per year for all players, $27 million for the highest-paid player, $8 million for a head coach and $3,500 for a cheerleader. These players are employed by billionaire owners. Average 2017 NFL ticket price $172 per game, an increase of 6% year-over-year. With 8 home games, that's an average of $1,376 per season, plus the ridiculous same prices for pre-season games. That's a lot of money, and it's optional.

I remember in the late 1980s here in Detroit, when we had a newspaper strike. I remember an interview with a man who knew a few things about the industry, and gave an ominous warning: "Newspapers are articles of habit. People receive them for years on end, every morning/afternoon, unquestioningly. When you interrupt that habit, and people realize they can get their information from somewhere else, you never get them back." This was prophetic. The Detroit newspapers have still never recovered their subscriber base.

I suspect the same thing is true for the NFL.

I don't think Trump/Pence can lose on this one, and it's on message. This is tied everything Trump talking about: the forgotten American who makes this country work, and is getting screwed. People have options, and they are exercising them. The longer this goes on, the worse it is for the NFL. But the NFL can't stop, because they believe the product on the field is the players. That is a gargantuan error, and billions of dollars of value are at stake.

Sam L. said...

If the NFL just slowly deflates itself, a bunch of cities will be stuck owing money on the stadiums, I figure Green Bay can and will survive, but how many others can? Particularly those teams that have moved twice or more. Raiders? Rams? (OK, those are the only ones that come to mind.)

James said...

I believe you are right IAC. Sam L. you too.