Monday, May 25, 2020

mass culture appendix

I almost want to apologize in advance for this one.

This is what happens when I don't have the nine-to-five limiting the amount of time I can reasonably engage in dirtbag-intellectual snipe hunts, and when I've got a little too accustomed to talking to myself all day.

The context: a friend of mine read the previous post and emailed me some thoughts about it. My efforts to organize my ideas and answer her went completely off the rails. I've arranged some of my more coherent notes below, lubricated for your comfort with some pretty (but not remotely relevant) images from my camera. The sick thing is, this accounts for only sixty to seventy percent of the notes I took. I need a change of scenery.

Anyway, Claire writes:
I think the thought that I jump to after this is the question of whether "globalization" inherently means a cultural watering down. I know this isn't exactly the same thing that you're writing about, but there's that idea with "diversity" too that it essentially just means assimilation and whitewashing—that we think "inclusion" will lead to a more vibrant integrating of cultures when what it often means is that one culture drowns out the others and any "variety" is minimal or superficial. So, in order for us to live a connected existence (in the way the internet allows us to), will there also be a pull towards a single, dominant, location-less but probably "western"-influenced/dominated "universal culture" that people will come to see as their own more so than any location-based identity? (I guess we already have some language built for this with concepts like "digital native"...)

There were a few more paragraphs to the message, but this is more or less was I was ruminating over.

(I) I chewed on my pen for a moment after reading this, mulling over the phrase "watering down."

Elsewhere, we've pondered the rewards and risks of metaphor. Sometimes we can acquire a working understanding of an unfamiliar and/or complicated process—sufficient to allow us to get the gist of what a speaker is talking about so we can continue following along with her argument—by analogizing it to a commonplace and relatively simple event. A good example is the refrain "the Amazon rainforest is the Earth's lungs." It gets a point across: the rainforest is of global importance, principally because its flora carry out the complementary processes of cellular respiration and photosynthesis on a grand scale. But the statement distorts and oversimplifies the rainforest's role in the planetary ecosystem to a degree that one who argues (correctly) for the urgency of Amazonia's preservation may do so in ignorance of precisely why the rainforests are so important.

"Watered down" is such an ubiquitous and innocuous descriptor that we tend to overlook its metaphorical provenance: dilution with water. On the basis of everyday experience, watering-down is thought of as the addition of some neutral, inactive element to attenuate a solution's most salient characteristics. Adding water to whiskey to make it go down more easily. Mixing water into chunky sauce to make it less chunky. But when the metaphor is extended—such as when we apply it to a form of cultural activity—our conceptual shortcut obfuscates what we're actually looking at.

The metaphor fails because there is no such thing as "neutral" behavior or "inactive" culture.1 Neutrality does not exist in human affairs; there is no numerical pH scale on which the mixing of two volumes of culture with such-and-such concentrations of an operative element yields a purple litmus strip. The idea is patently ridiculous, but we're probably more guilty of thinking this way than we'd like to admit (and I do include myself in "we").

(II) Let's unpack another term: "culture."

In the essay we used as the vehicle for our last excursion, William Carlos Williams uses the word in the broadest sense: how a group of people behaves, what they believe, and what they think.2 His concern, with regard to the origins of American culture, was whether the determinants of a group's habits were immediate local factors or heteronomous agencies. When we use the word culture, we're likely talking about mass media artifacts, i.e. entertainment: television shows, music, memes, etc.3 When the same word has multiple meanings—all of them rather diffuse—we're prone to confusing ourselves through its usage. In describing the influence of a milestone film or television show upon people's attitudes or habits (for instance, The Matrix's role in introducing the adjective "red pilled" into popular political discourse), we can accurately (but muddledly) speak of "the impact of culture upon culture."4

The philological descent of "culture" from "everything a group of people does and how they do it" to "ritual, music, and art" to "entertainment" is a rabbit hole someone else will have to lead us down some other time.

Going forward, when we say "culture," what we're talking about are the structures of a social group's characteristic behaviors and their determinants. This includes language, dress, architecture, diet, and lifestyle. It takes into account the group's practices of sorting members into various subgroups, and also the relational framework between different subgroups. The ways in which the group regulates its members' behavior is considered. We also admit a group's cultural products and practices, perhaps with "cult" emphasized: religion, spirituality, art, music, and so on—what forms they take, what functions they serve, how people engage with/participate in them, how they are perpetuated, etc.

When referring to mass media "content," we will use the terms "cultural product" or "cultural artifact" instead of "culture." Let's defer for now from precisely delineating which kinds of products are "purely" cultural (i.e., is an Avengers T-shirt a cultural artifact, a usable good, both, or something else?).

On the provenance of culture: one needn't be a Marxist to see the truth in Karl's assertion that economic activity is the substratum of custom. The principal concern of any group, from town to tribe to nation, is keeping its members (or at least a certain subset of them) fed, housed, safe, and productively occupied. The way in which a group organizes itself to survive and (with some luck) prosper informs everything that comes afterward: how it preserves its cohesion, builds, maintains, and modifies its infrastructure, settles in-group disputes and mediates agreements, arranges its members (geographically and hierarchically), and provides the occasion for ritual, informs spiritual practice, and so on.

Beliefs and practices typically differ between ethnic, regional, or national groups, but to attribute the variances to ethnicity per se is to confound the incidental with the causal. The original independent variable was the conditions under which a group lived—starting with the characteristics of the landscape from which it was required to eke out its subsistence.

There are limits and provisions to this principle. For one thing, no group ever has or ever will enter into the world as a tabula rasa, spontaneously appearing in a certain place and waiting a few days or weeks for circumstances to decide its customs. Every generation is the product and inheritor of its parents' culture; old practices often resist extinction in the absence of the conditions on which they were contingent, and in spite of the prevailing features of a new environment (geographic, social, technological, etc.). Also, we cannot say that human culture is deterministic in the sense that an alien scientist could have visited Earth tens of thousands of years ago, tagged a particular tribe of hunter-gathers in East Africa, entered an exhaustive index of local variables into a computer, and predicted precisely how the tribe's descendants would be living, what they'd be doing, and how they'd conceive of themselves and their world a thousand years later. The evolution of culture, like ecological succession, is contingent, complex, and not at all straightforward. If the most salient features of a group's environment provide the template of its culture, the peculiarities of its character will be effectuated by successions of small, apparently random events.5 Over time, those peculiarities can effect changes to the template.

(III) Let's think about "whitewashing."

A tangent about the multiple meanings of "culture" was necessary, insofar as we should specify what exactly is at our metaphor's receiving end if we're talking about the "whitewashing of culture."

Regarding the contemporary products of the culture industry, the meaning of "whitewashing" needs no explication. That's what it's called when Scarlett Johansson plays Motoko Kusanagi in a live-action Ghost in the Shell film, when Matt Damon stars in a film about fighting aliens in eleventh-century China,6 and when white actors, writers, and directors disproportionately (compared to their share of the national population) occupy the IMDB pages of big-budget American movies and television shows. Is this a problem? Sure. But I don't think it's the problem.7

Can culture in general be whitewashed?

The sentence you are reading now is the beginning of my fifth attempt at answering this. Realizing that any definite answer I can come up with would need to be premised and provided for by a novelette's worth of notes, conditions, and definitions, I find myself concluding (A) that it's not as simple a question to answer as Twitter would have us all believe (B) that pondering extreme cases of "what if" is disturbing, depressing, and probably not productive (C) that it's the wrong question to be asking if the topic is mass-cultural standardization.

(IV) To my way of thinking, to say that global culture is or will be white- or Western-dominated, or follow primarily after white or Western habits, is short-sighted.

Cultural hegemony is adjunct to economic/political hegemony. The British Empire dominated the world in the nineteenth century, and the twentieth century was the Pax Americana. Since they were the orchestrators of international trade and existed at capital's geopolitical center(s) of mass for two centuries, it's tempting and not at all inaccurate to observe that transnational or "universal" culture is modeled after the values, customs, and popular arts of white Englishmen and Americans.8

But which white Englishmen and Americans? Probably not poor miners in northern England. Probably not the "I demand satisfaction, suh" patricians of Southern slave plantations. Probably not the Amish or Mennonites. Probably not the druidic revivalists of Wales. Probably not the English Romantics or American beatniks.

What about the affluent white people living in or around the metropolitan nodes of commerce and finance? Now we're getting warm.

The power of ownership over land, infrastructure, labor, business, and communications gives capital unparalleled leverage in determining a culture's ways, means, prohibitions, and incentives. Under the conditions of the capitalist state, the elements of culture most likely to survive and to be promoted are those that facilitate efficiency. Impediments to commerce (on terms favorable to the wealthiest participants) are either trampled over or gradually eroded.

Standardization is both a product of the permanent drive toward improved efficiency, and a vehicle for further improvements along those lines. Transnational homogeneity in terms of infrastructure, transportation, architecture, technology, commercial institutions, and (ultimately) lifestyles isn't "whitening." Capitalism's organizing principles don't target nonwhite or non-Western conventions for elimination, but those practices which stymie productivity.9

True, the beneficiaries of the system have historically been white men; the semiotics of "whiteness" (white privilege, etc.) and their real social effects are the legacy of the milieu in which the process of capitalist accumulation was catalyzed. But in the long term, the fixtures of transnational capitalist society—paved roads, cars, fast food, big-box retailers, television, fast fashion, convenience stores, on-the-go coffee shops, etc.—will be thought of as congenitally Western to exactly the extent to which we typically regard agriculture as a Middle Eastern institution.

(V) The United States' position at the commanding heights of the global culture industry was the result of favorable circumstance. It became the world's largest economy during the 1920s, when the electronic media revolution was in its first throes, and it was the prerogative of the enterprising bourgeoisie of America to devise the formal standards for film and recorded music. Not only were they empowered to sell these products at home and abroad, but to supply the demand for them.

The Western provenance of "global" culture's template is less significant than (A) the exportation of the conditions under which domestic mass culture industries could develop outside of North America and Europe (B) the burgeoning international trade in the products created (C) the standardization of the culture industry across "developed" nations.

Off the top of my head, I can think of a few fairly simple examples that touch upon the all three of these developments.

• Nintendo's international success was predicated on people living outside Japan owning TVs with cable jacks or A/V outlets, and having access to retailers supported by a supply chain that could efficiently receive and allocate cartridges shipped over the Pacific.10

• The Chinese app TikTok—the Gen Z sensation that's reshaping not only the landscape of social media, but of recorded music—required for its meteoric rise a global population of smartphone users, a universe of digital music, and an international cohort of showboats who'd received prior conditioning from YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, etc.

• When I miss 2-D fighters, sometimes I watch King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match rounds on YouTube. Usually, I'm viewing two Chinese players competing at a Japanese game,11 and the American corporations hosting this content on their servers and transmitting the data to my computer profit from my attention. For any of this to happen, the match video must be in a format that my HP laptop can run. The file, wherever it is actually hosted, has to be transmitted to my computer screen through the telecom grid, and that same grid has to be operational here, in China, and in the country where the person remotely viewing these matches is recording and uploading them to YouTube's servers.

Mechanized industry (and the mass production and sweeping distribution which it achieves) cannot begin without the preexisting accumulation and concentration of capital. A culture industry is no different, and it is no coincidence that the nations most capable of exporting their cultural products abroad are the wealthiest. Obversely, less wealthy nations tend to consume imported mass culture (on imported formats). Not all media is alike in this regard: the relatively low costs of producing and disseminating recorded music enable domestic artists to compete for attention with imported music, and homegrown, low-budget television sitcoms and dramas will be on the airwaves so long as there exists broadcast time to fill and products to advertise. For the foreseeable future, up-to-snuff film spectacles, "premium" television (say, Game of Thrones-tier), and A-list, must-play video games will be exclusively developed in and exported from only a handful of nations. If a resident of Baghdad goes to the theater or opens up Netflix, he probably won't be watching any movies filmed in Iraq.

But all mass culture is heteronomous.12 The distance is merely more pronounced in cases where people consume media produced an ocean away, and practically invisible when the formats or platforms themselves attain ubiquity.

(VI) If we're assessing mass culture dispassionately, I find it most sensible to view it through the stacked lenses of McLuhan and Marx. The medium is the message, and the medium belongs to capital and advances its program regardless of the "content" being consumed.

You're sitting on a bus or train; or you're walking down the street or sitting on a bench. You have your earbuds in. They're plugged into your smartphone and you're listening to a Spotify playlist.

It's worth thinking about some of the prerequisites of this event.

First, you'll need a smartphone. Let's say it's an iPhone: engineered, marketed, and serviced by a multinational corporation based in the United States, manufactured in a Chinese industrial park, and powered by batteries composed of cobalt (sixty percent of  the world's supply comes from Congo) and lithium (most likely mined in Australia, China, or Chile). You'll need a data plan; chances are, you're paying a fee to a multinational telecommunications conglomerate to receive and send data through a cellular network.

You'll need earbuds—same story, somewhat simplified: "Designed by Apple in California. Made in Vietnam." This neglects to mention that the minerals needed to manufacture the devices tend not to mined in the United States; the world's most abundant producers of copper and aluminum are Chile and Australia, respectively. (China is no slouch in the extraction of either, though.)

And then we come to Spotify (the eponymous multinational corporation is based in Sweden; as of this writing, its four largest shareholders are Baillie Gifford & Co., T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc., Morgan Stanley Investment Management, Inc., and Wellington Management Co.), whose existence presupposes (A) a mature recording industry (B) everything mentioned in the previous paragraphs. Spotify pulls in revenue through subscription services, advertising, and (naturally) selling its users' data so third parties can more effectively impress their goods and services on listeners' thoughts.

We should also consider what we're not doing when we're listening to Spotify: receiving auditory information and feedback from our environment. Talking to people. Listening to people. We're deafening ourselves to our surroundings; place diminishes in significance because we stop paying attention to it (or our attention becomes selective). To recur to Dr. Williams, we're devaluing what's immediate in our experience. If we want to hear music, we needn't learn to play an instrument, sing to ourselves, or seeks out a musician to listen to or people to sing with. If we're in the mood for amusing conversation, we no longer need to seek out actual people actually conversing.

Concerning the Big Picture, whether we're listening to BeyoncĂ©, Adele, Kanye West, BLACKPINK, Genocide Organ, or Lucky Dube is completely beside the point. This activity materially affects us by (A) delivering revenue to transnational capital, which will be invested in the development of new products and services to make the 21st century an even more dazzling paradise of "prosperity and technological wonder" (B) altering our day-to-day behavior—and to propose that it does this by, say, giving us new ideas is, to borrow a metaphor from Tolstoy, like watching a the smokestack of a moving locomotive and declaring "this must be what propels the machine forward—the smoke!" True, chances are that if you regularly listen to Sam Smith, your consumption habits (or "personality," or "identity," if you want to get sentimental about it) will differ from those of your high school classmate who's still proud of his Kid Rock tattoo. But the apparent diversity of choices does not mean our actual possibilities aren't circumscribed by lines drawn by multinational capital. Where the mass media is concerned, what matters is how our use of these standardized formats directly and/or indirectly shape our habits and our modes of social intercourse, which form the basis of "what we think."13

(VII) Social atomization is a textbook repercussion of the organization of a capitalist state. Community ties degenerate as dependencies shift from neighbors to the markets. An expanding portion of the individual's interactions with others assumes the form of impersonal transactions between a customer and a company representative. Relationships become shallow, instrumental, and oriented towards extrinsic goals; solitary pursuits overtake communal endeavor and ritual.  Et cetera.

The culture of "digital nativism" is a continuation and an exacerbation, as of a resonant amplification, of social processes that have been in operation for some time. It cannot be assessed as an extemporary shift that suddenly occurred during the early twenty-first century. The economic and technological paradigm of the Pax Americana provided not only the devices and the networks for the first generation of instant-messaging, forum-posting, fansite-building geeks, but the impetus to "connect" with others via the Information Superhighway. Gregarious folk with social obligations, full day planners, and active romantic lives, who had bowling league games to play, PTA meetings to attend, and church bake sales to coordinate probably weren't representative of the usenet newsgroup posters complaining about The Simpsons jumping the shark in the early 1990s. The internet into which new users wandered when cable modems, Napster, and Myspace arrived on the scene was terraformed by a milieu of pop culture obsessives who established a digital environment which incentivized pop culture obsession (much in the same way the the 2010s internet ecosystem incentivized outrage, virtue signalling, and the mobbing of scapegoats and heretics in addition to pop culture obsession).

Though my age disqualifies me from calling myself a digital native, I might be considered an early adopter. I first went online in 1995–6, when I was twelve years old. I spent so much time tying up the phone with modem signals that my parents had an extra line installed. I was online pretty much constantly after that. I remember the old internet, the "wild west" internet. I was a teenager who stayed at home, played video games, downloaded lewd fanart of video game characters, posted on message boards, blogging (though it wasn't called "blogging" back then), participating in fan communities, and so on, at a time when kids my age were more likely not to be perennially online. Any criticisms I have of mass/transnational media and the culture circumjacent to it don't come from a lifelong luddite, but from someone who grew up with this stuff, still has a very soft spot in his heart for it, and is too habituated (and too immersed) to quit it altogether.

Besides, it's fun.

(VIII) In one version of the story, consuming/participating in mass culture was liberating for me during middle and high school. I was a social misfit goth kid who didn't belong to any clique. I didn't have to make friends with people whose interests were at variance with mine; having a remote coterie of internet allies to relate to and video games to occupy my free time greatly reduced the urgency of learning to "fit in." Going against the grain (preferring video games to extracurriculars, not listening to Ricky Martin, not wearing Abercrombie, etc.) was made more comfortable by the knowledge that I was not alone, even if I was the only dude wearing fishnets and Marilyn Manson shirts at my school.

A more thoroughgoing examination would put a lie to the word "liberating."

Without attempting an exhaustive reconstruction of the fluctuating environmental manifold that put me in fishnets and Marilyn Manson shirts by age sixteen, we could say that I was primed by a lifetime of remote media influences and immediate social persuasions to become an eager adopter of a readymade "subcultural" identity. The cultural-industrial complex (A) delivered me the idea of "goth" (B) conditioned me such that thinking of myself a goth, seeing myself in the mirror looking like a goth, and doing things I recognized (and which would be recognized by others) as goth was pleasurable, self-affirming, or whichever finely-sliced synonym of "reinforcing" we care to use (C) provided the consumer products I required to be recognized (by myself and other) as goth.

One evening, I signed offline after reading about Marilyn Manson concerts on a Nothing Records news page and saying goodbye to Autumn (a girl my age I'd never met, but who had green hair and liked the music I liked, so I liked her), and went to the mall to buy a goth ensemble off the rack at Hot Topic. While I was there, I picked up a CD at the recommendation of a sales associate wearing the same outfit I was about to buy. (The sales associate, whichever particular one I met on a given day, was always older than me; I always thought he or she was just the coolest, and I really wanted him or her to like me.) After paying for my purchase with my mother's Visa card, I went to the food court to wait for my ride and eat Wendy's, patting myself on the back for being such a nonconformist, for mustering the courage to assert my own identity.

(IX) A common (and not at all unfounded) charge against small, insular communities is the scarcity of choices they afford their members. In such a milieu, the group determines your identity for you. You are expected to do A, B, and C, and forbidden to do D, E, and F. The standard to which you must adhere is unambiguous, and your fellow community members do not tolerate deviance. One of us might say, in a hypothetical rejection of membership in such a society, that we would hate not having any opportunity "to be ourselves." It would be awful to lose the "freedom" we enjoy in civil society. Can you imagine having so many choices curtailed? And so on.

But the fact is, those of us who aren't living in Amish country or a Hasidic enclave in New York are no more "free."

In a close-knit orthodox community, group practices are set in place to make members incredulous of outgroup influences and to foster a strong sense of responsibility to the collective. Permissible behavior in terms of dress, diet, courtship, etc. are intensively prescribed. Transgressions are harshly punished. In short, the methods of control are plain to see.

In the contemporary society of consumer capitalism, that control is concealed.14 Its sources are so dispersed, so impersonal, and so seldom employ direct punishment in shaping behavior, that one feels under no duress—and therefore "free"—when that behavior is enacted. The controlling agencies are not one's family members of neighbors, but the screen, the scroll, and the Buy Now button. The sheer diversity within the welter of content—and the somewhat arbitrary schedules of our exposure to different "brands," "aesthetics," "mythologies/ideologies" etc., their intersection with idiosyncratic patterns of interpersonal activity (say, "learning" to consume X type of music because it accompanies your experiences with somebody you like or admire; or conscientiously avoiding engagement with Y media product because people you powerfully dislike are effusive in their praise of it), and the geographical and socioeconomic factors which modify the probability of exposure or receptivity—means that the outcome in terms of what particular stripe of citizen-consumer we behave as is intricately determined and impossible to predict. But the difference is negligible, so long as we remain dependents whose every viable choice in one way or another enriches and entrenches transnational capital—a de facto cartel which thwarts egalitarianism while promoting conformity, insists and depends on handling people as movable goods, and is as structurally unendowed to proactively respond to the signs of an imminent ecological catastrophe as a moth is to avoid porch lamps.

We glimpse the outlines of a paradox: though the individual members of the small, rigidly conformist community possess less of what we might call "autonomy," the group to which they belong has far more than the disconnected mass of us floundering between an alienating workplace, the coffee shop where we answer our emails, and the couch where we watch Netflix and prepared meals delivered by a stranger representing Grubhub, while relying on thinkpieces to tell us what we believe we already know, Pornhub to experience titillation, and social media apps to deliver us the virtual currency of validation that help us feel like we're a part of something and that we matter.

1. Despite what Dr. Williams's use of the phrase "active strain" implies, a culture is never not active, just as human beings are never not behaving. He was clearsighted, but his metaphor is imprecise.

2. As an avid dabbler in radical behaviorism, I am obliged to point out that this sentence is redundant. "How a group of people behaves" encompasses "what they believe" and "how they think."

3. Back in my day, we made a distinction between "memes" and "image macros," but that fight is long lost.

4. I'm burying a quote from Leviathan down here because it's too pertinent to omit, and we've been seeing too much of Hobbes lately to bring him into the main text:
Seeing then that Truth consisteth in the right ordering of names in our affirmations, a man that seeketh precise Truth, had need to remember what every name he uses stands for; and to place it accordingly; or els he will find himselfe entangled in words, as a bird in lime-twiggs; the more he struggles, the more belimed....By this it appears how necessary it is for any man that aspires to true Knowledge, to examine the Definitions of former Authors; and either to correct them, where they are negligently set down; or to make them himselfe. For the errours of Definitions multiply themselves, according as the reckoning proceeds; and lead men into absurdities, which at last they see, but cannot avoyd, without reckoning anew from the beginning; in which lyes the foundation of their errours.
5. For example: the origins, spread, and eventual domination of Christianity in Europe. One could reasonably work his way backwards and show how the social organization of the Roman Empire prepared the soil for its flowering, but tracing the chains of contingency in cases like this would be just as tedious as asserting, through a profligate employment of the law of detachment, that the reason I woke up this morning is because an asteroidal impact event killed the dinosaurs sixty-five million years ago.

6. This will hopefully be the only time I ever have to cite a block quote from a GQ article:
To audiences in a Beijing movie theater, a white guy showing up at the Great Wall to fight dragons isn’t just one more in a relentless series of slaps in the face from a system catering to white audiences. It’s a sign of legitimacy, an awkward but not entirely unwelcome fist bump from Hollywood. Chinese ethnographer Christina Xu explains that the studio “correctly thinks Chinese people will be proud of the fact that Matt Damon starred in a Chinese movie, like Chinese parents are proud of your first white friend because it's a sign that you've been accepted into their society.”
7. All I mean is that I'm not certain we should take for granted that imaginary people (often "played" by obscenely wealthy real people) in fictitious spectacles, whose legal existences are as private intellectual property, should be our heroes, role models, objects of adoration, etc. More diversity would improve the industry, but the industry (and the consumeristic complex surrounding and interwoven with it) is inherently screwy.

8. Karl Marx:
[T]he cheapness of the articles produced by machinery, and the improved means of transport and communication furnish the weapons for conquering foreign markets. By ruining handicraft production in other countries, machinery forcibly converts them into fields for the supply of its raw material. In this way East India was compelled to produce cotton, wool, hemp, jute, and indigo for Great Britain. By constantly making a part of the hands “supernumerary,” modern industry, in all countries where it has taken root, gives a spur to emigration and to the colonisation of foreign lands, which are thereby converted into settlements for growing the raw material of the mother country; just as Australia, for example, was converted into a colony for growing wool. A new and international division of labour, a division suited to the requirements of the chief centres of modern industry springs up, and converts one part of the globe into a chiefly agricultural field of production, for supplying the other part which remains a chiefly industrial field.
We can forgive Marx for not foreseeing that (A) nineteenth- and early-twentieth epicenters of industry like England and the United States would de-industrialize, outsourcing manufacturing elsewhere while accumulating wealth through less direct means (finance, technology, development, patents, luxury services, etc.), becoming the rentiers, idea-men, professional mangers, and grubbing middlemen of the global economy (B) India and China would industrialize at the end of their colonial occupations, and the decades of colonial degradation left them with masses of people with no way to eat but to sell their labor for whatever price someone was willing to pay. (Incidentally: over the last decade, your eye may have passed over the occasional business news article about China outsourcing the manufacture of textiles and shoes to Africa, particularly Ethiopia.) The point is that the capitalist system of organization—and the social relations, lifestyles, and values it engenders—could not be quarantined by national borders, and would have already imploded on itself if it had been/could have been. (The previous entry—and, perhaps, Dr. Williams' essay—are premised on this fact.)

9. Instances where characteristically European or white customs have been sloughed off abound, if one cares to look for them in folk tradition. Many pertain to Christian observance. Though the "Protestant work ethic" is often brought up as a cultural accelerant of capital, the religion that supposedly inculcated this disposition in both labor and capital has been parasitized and vitiated by the creature it nursed. As often as Fox News dipshits and politicians receiving donations from Evangelical blocs declare the United States "a Christian nation," I can name very few businesses that typically close for Easter Sunday, the holiest day of the Christian calendar.

10. Tangentially relevant Wikipedia link: this summarized history of video games in South Korea is an interesting read, and touches on some of the market factors that set the juggernaut of Korean MMOs in motion, namely, a kneecapped market for games on Japanese consoles.

11. Actually, it's a Japanese remake of a Japanese/South Korean game. King of Fighters 2002 was made during the brief period when Korean company Eolith owned the intellectual property rights to the series; its producers and (nominal) director were Korean, but the programmers and designers were Japanese. Back in the day, I played King of Fighters 2002 on the Microsoft Xbox, but other home versions were available on the Sega Dreamcast and Sony PlayStation 2.

12. Theodore Adorno:

Interested parties explain the culture industry in technological terms. It is alleged that because millions participate in it, certain reproduction processes are necessary that inevitably require identical needs in innumerable places to be satisfied with identical goods. The technical contrast between the few production centers and the large number of widely dispersed consumption points is said to demand organisation and planning by management. Furthermore, it is claimed that standards were based in the first place on consumers’ needs, and for that reason were accepted with so little resistance. The result is the circle of manipulation and retroactive need in which the unity of the system grows ever stronger. No mention is made of the fact that the basis on which technology acquires power over society is the power of those whose economic hold over society is greatest. A technological rationale is the rationale of domination itself. It is the coercive nature of society alienated from itself. Automobiles, bombs, and movies keep the whole thing together until their leveling element shows its strength in the very wrong which it furthered. It has made the technology of the culture industry no more than the achievement of standardisation and mass production, sacrificing whatever involved a distinction between the logic of the work and that of the social system.
13. What's really striking about a show like Aggretsuko (there's a link to a clip somewhere in here) is how little seems to get lost in translation. Perhaps this is by design (Sanrio knows it has an international consumer base), but it's probably also the case that the experience of being a millennial woman working in a non-managerial position at a corporate office in a major city is fairly consistent on either side of the Pacific.

14. BF Skinner:
The fact that positive reinforcement does not breed countercontrol has not gone unnoticed by would-be controllers, who have simply shifted to positive means. Here is an example: A government must raise money. If it does so through taxation, its citizens must pay or be punished, and they may escape from this aversive control by putting another party in power at the next election. As an alternative, the government organizes a lottery, and instead of being forced to pay taxes, the citizen voluntarily buys tickets. The result is the same: the citizens give the government money, but they feel free and do not protest in the second case. Nevertheless, they are being controlled, as powerfully as by a threat of punishment, by that particularly powerful (variable-ratio) schedule of reinforcement...


  1. Welp, don't mean to go full Metal Gear, not sure if you played the series or not, but 2 did have a strong case about memes.

    Those who leave the lasting memes, are the stronger groups that can " plow" there preferred cultural whims through the weaker ones to take root, sort of.

    Though, its true that China and Russia don't have as many " memes" or cultural aspects that other nations want to emulate, because for as powerful as China is, compared to America, even now, they don't have the" Cool" factor compared to America, you know, there movies and stuff don't seem to inspire the world like say, Star Wars or Marvel's stuff has.

    I guess that's because China's not a culture that allows much freedom?

    What you say is true that we have much less freedom then most of us like to admit, but don't we still have more chances for freedom in America then places like Iran, Russia, China, and so on, that people as a whole, in theory, have more options?

    This is such a big one that I surely missed something, but I'll just lastly say, as the Corona Virus is making most aspects of life impossible for many, I do worry that if this lasts to long, its going to make conditions so bad that the digital world might be the only place were people can find any fulfillment because the real world has nothing for them, right out of stuff like Player Number one, the Matrix, and others.

    Lastly, if the world becomes locked down for to long and more and more middle class companies go out of business, and Amazon goes on its way to become a trillionare, I worry it could pull a Shinra, and it would be the culture of the mega rich companies that dominate the entire world, as nations get swallowed up by there power, even more so then most have been devoured by them already.

    Well, hope that makes sense.

    1. Though, its true that China and Russia don't have as many " memes" or cultural aspects that other nations want to emulate, because for as powerful as China is, compared to America, even now, they don't have the" Cool" factor compared to America, you know, there movies and stuff don't seem to inspire the world like say, Star Wars or Marvel's stuff has.

      True: but the United States got a very, very long head start in developing the machinery of its culture industry and exporting its products. China was too battered from occupation and revolution to get started until fairly recently. I'm not sure about the Soviet Union; to the best of my knowledge its "pleasure" industry never had the deep pockets of the USA's, and for ideological/economic reasons it didn't/couldn't throw gewgaws and feelies onto the free market. At any rate, it probably had to start from scratch after the 1980s and 1990s. (This is all just an educated guess.) At any rate, whatever their geopolitical positions, their cultural products (film, TV, music etc.) are basically like, I don't know, a Caribou Coffee trying to move into a city where there's already a Starbucks on every corner.

      What you say is true that we have much less freedom then most of us like to admit, but don't we still have more chances for freedom in America then places like Iran, Russia, China, and so on, that people as a whole, in theory, have more options?

      I'm pretty much a radical behaviorist: I don't believe in freedom. The feeling of freedom is absolutely real, and it's something to be acknowledged and taken seriously—but it's a feeling. On a personal level, it's the cognitive, functional, moment-to-moment experience of acting without any sensation of rough external compulsion. On the political level, it's simply what happens when we are controlled by means other than punishment. The difference between a place like the United States and North Korea is the difference between Brave New World and 1984. Both novels are about totalitarian societies where a regime keeps itself in power by controlling the populace. The difference is that one uses entertainment, recreational drugs, sex, etc. to compel its subjects to do what it wants, and the other uses terror and oppression. The people in Brave New World are having more fun, but they're no more free than the folks in Oceania.

      Lastly, if the world becomes locked down for to long and more and more middle class companies go out of business, and Amazon goes on its way to become a trillionare, I worry it could pull a Shinra, and it would be the culture of the mega rich companies that dominate the entire world, as nations get swallowed up by there power, even more so then most have been devoured by them already.

      Strap yourself in.