Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Elephant in the Room

A random glance at the headlines of professional and trade papers, newsletters and online forums betrays the crushing weight of corporations and corporate interests on too many facets of daily life. Almost every week, I see articles from different sectors which describe some aspect of this overall trend.

Recently, I ran across two such items. There was a discussion on the destruction of academic tenure in favour of seemingly more efficient corporate-style production practices in tertiary education. And in the gross commercial cynicism that is DC Comics' new pairing of Superman and Wonder Woman (including the marketed retirement of their faux Match.com dating profiles), there was a brewing hubbub behind the scenes as successive creators leave DC due to Time/Warner's relentless corporate management of their ideas, stories and working conditions - going back to interviews like this one.
As I have argued at length on this blog, the seemingly irrelevant world of pulp fiction entertainment is actually fairly important because the comics industry helps define popular heroic values. When those values are shaped by corporate agendas, heroism decays, leaving behind a superficially moral shell that can be bent to immoral purposes. Departing DC freelancer Chris Roberson saw the irony of a company that stays on this side of the law, but does not know the meaning of the very archetypes it peddles to the public; as a result, those archetypes are being twisted away from their core meanings, which are eternally important in society:
[T]hat’s really one of the things about it that has rankled me so much over the course of the last months. Because the only defense that’s offered of things like either Before Watchmen or the counter-suit against the Siegels or any number of different things that have been done historically is that the company is operating within the bounds of the law. The company is doing nothing illegal. There’s no defense mounted to the ethics or morality of their actions, and in many cases they will make kind of passing nods to the fact that what they are doing might be interpreted as unethical, but that because it’s not illegal, you know, they’re going to do it. And seeing as these are companies, both DC and Marvel, that are built upon stories about paragons of virtue who stand for what’s right, not for what’s nitpickingly legal, that was really bothersome to me.
Corporations have become bloated monsters which are sucking up the world's creative oxygen; they also debase the moral standpoint founded on true creativity. Having discussed these themes before (here, here, here and here), I searched online for comments on the corporatization of culture.

The former editor of the Idler, Sam Smith, has a scathing diatribe on this topic. I quote the bulk of Smith's piece, The Corporate Curse, which calls for a reassertion of small commerce over corporatism:
There are plenty of worthy arguments to be made correlating the rise of business school culture with the decline of the our economy. For example, in the period that corporate culture has been in ascendance - roughly since the Reagan years - wages of lower income workers have declined, the ratio of executive to worker pay has soared, the real value of the minimum wage has fallen by almost a third, total hours worked has increased, percent of jobs with pensions has dropped, our balance of payments has become increasingly negative, the top 1% is back to getting 21% of all income and the age at which one receives Social Security has increased.

A few years back I put it this way: "A cursory examination of American business suggests that its major product is wasted energy. Compute all the energy loss created by corporate lawyers, Washington lobbyists, marketing consultants, CEO benefits, advertising agencies, leadership seminars, human resource supervisors, strategic planners and industry conventions and it is amazing that this country has any manufacturing base at all. We have created an economy based not on actually doing anything, but on facilitating, supervising, planning, managing, analyzing, tax advising, marketing, consulting or defending in court what might be done if we had time to do it. The few remaining truly productive companies become immediate targets for another entropic activity, the leveraged buyout." And this was all before the rise of the killer hedge fund. ...

[T]he business school influence has not limited itself to business. Far from it. Over the past three decades it has done an incredibly effective job of turning all America into just so many more corporate employees desperate for a strategic vision that will foster formulations of actions and processes to be taken to attain the vision in accordance with agreed upon procedures in order to achieve a hierarchy of goals. It has - with bombast, bullying and bullshit - convinced an extraordinary number of Americans that its childishly verbose and coldly abstract culture is transferable to every human activity from running a church to driving a tractor across a field. ...

At the time of the Enron collapse, I noted, "The last two administrations have been characterized by the invasive influence of an arrogant, autistic, and amoral class of late 20th century MBAs and similar members of the technocratic elite. This class has junked sixty years of social democracy, helped wreck the Russian economy, made every American worker a temp-in-waiting, carpet bombed the English language, trashed every moral concept in their way, and twisted reality so effectively they even convinced many that they were sex objects.

"And they are everywhere. You will find them running schools and universities and managing once great museums. They talk mush, think mush, market mush, report mush, and defend mush. They attempt to make up in certitude what they lack in wisdom; they can't tell the difference between a phrase and a product; and they create infantile and self-serving distortions of economic principles that they declare to be the only principles in life worth observing.
They are, in the end, just so many more televangelists, but with themselves as God. Perhaps worst of all, they are without the capacity for shame. Like other sociopaths, they are remorseless." ...

The result is a stunning lack of restraint. We find ourselves without heroism, without debate over right and wrong, with little but an endless narcissistic struggle by the powerful to get more money, more power, and more press than the next person. In the chase, anything goes and the only standard is whether you win, lose, or get caught.

Thus we find a new breed of mayors and governors who think they are running a large company. They think they should have the power of a CEO and the obedience of those below them. Citizens have become mere customers and urban policy is reduced to economic development, frequently just a synonym for payoffs to big time campaign contributors. ...

The corporate virus even affects the arts, that supposed haven from our lesser selves. Watch American Idol, for example, and count the number of times corporate interests intrude on the proceedings - from the participants taking part in a loudly cheered automobile ad to a handful of listener questions that serve no purpose other than to promote a phone company.

You think you're above American Idol? Think again. More votes were cast in a recent American Idol poll than Bill Clinton got the first time he ran for president. Even if we hate such manifestations of corporatized culture, we can't hide from their effect. ...
Weekly articles I see describe the corporatization of culture in terms of a crushing corporate agendas. That viewpoint oppresses corporations' employees, as well as its customers, with monolithic, power-hungry and cash-hungry rationales. Corporate collection and manipulation of consumers' private information through social networks to serve branding and marketing is particularly insidious.

The more one-sided this corporate dynamic becomes, the greater the need for new institutions to supplant corporations. It is not enough that rebel whistleblowers seek to carve out new areas of debate by challenging corporate hegemonies. The entire environment requires a new way of thinking about mass culture, mass government and mass economies.


  1. Amazing post. Brilliant. It would be a tragedy if the comic book heroes were banal, homogenized corporate products.

    I love new patterns of communication that bypass the "entertainment" monoliths. Peer to peer, many to many.

    1. Thanks for your comment Fifi. I think comic books, at least mainstream ones are already banal homogenized corporate products, and have been for some time. The problem is that comics, as I have said several times on this blog, peddle eternal human symbols of good and evil - whether the editors and creators fully get that or not. My sense is they simply think of sales and gimmicks to drive sales. They don't understand that they are holding heroic archetypes in trust.

  2. Great post, ToB! In a similar vein, have you seen the Milwaukee Police Dept's website?


    Who is designing this stuff, Bruce Wayne? I think Frank Miller has a boner right now.

    1. LOL that's quite a website, Paul. Frank would love it.

      I think it goes a long way toward proving my argument that we are getting mixed up between reality and the media depicting reality. I liken the rampant spread of onlne media to the entire globally connected population over the past 15 years suddenly becoming addicted to a perception-altering drug. We're so entranced by this new technology that we don't see what it has done to us, what it is doing to us.

  3. I really admire your voice. This post is another example amongst many that I hope others think on, observe, and then act. Wonder Woman had a huge impact on me as a child. I shudder to think of what her portrayal would be like today, and no longer follow comics to know any more about them than I read from your blog.

    Beingan artist, I personally feel as if the corporate world has taken the word "creativity" and is using it against the creative themselves. No longer are people learning skills and discovering new methods of sharing their creative voice. No! Instead every Tim, Dave, and Susie is being brainwashed into thinking that buying a prepackaged product and sticking it together via instructions provided by the company who sells it or someone who is compted for providing instructions suddenly makes them a creative genius. Give me a 3 year Old's finger painting, a 5 year old's wild crooning, or the decadent assortment of mud pastries created by those same children over the picture perfect atrocities consisting of one finished, predesigned piece glued to another.

    Don't get me started on the "kill kill" mindset of imaginary playtime. When I was a child and we pretended to be super heroes, we were trying to save the world and help Janey get her cat out of the tree. I won't even share my nephew and friend's idea of how things should play out. Not that those areeven scenarios they would come up with.

    My grandparents had a lot to say about the changes in the world before their deaths. To have went from a time when a handshake and a man's word was all one needed to the practices of the 21 century. I am a gen x'er. What will things be like when I reach my sixties or eighties? I always thought and told them that I would be knowledgeable and hip to the latest technologies. My grandmother refused to cook in a microwave or use a dishwasher. I thought that crazy. She claimed to use it was lazy. Prepared food was a bignono. And yet she was loyal to one brand of "soda pop" and wouldn't allow another in the house all because my grandfather had once worked for the compatible. She had definitely bought into the marketing spills of different products, for why would they lie?

    As I grow older I find myself stepping away from society more and more. Choosing a way of life not so common place around me. I keep up with things so as to be informed and not become lost songster the racket, but I don't use, participate, nor strive to be or have the best of anything. The complex life I once yearned to live would be a nightmare to the simple living, appreciative soul I have become. Political practices and the mindset of our younger generations do give me a little anxiety when I think of the elder years for my generation.

    The brave new world that Star Trek: the New Generation had me yearning to boldly go now gives me pause, for the ship I boarded is fading from view. A good enough ending for my unintended semi-rant. Who knew blindness would become a pandemic, huh?

  4. Thanks very much for your comment, Anon. I have similar worries about what will happen in Gen Xers' old age. Part of getting older involves a deepening of perception, at least we hope that will happen. That reconsideration of priorities depends partly on harsh lessons and tough experience. I understand my grandparents' attitudes more now because of the Great Recession.

    In a recession, it becomes more and more difficult to take things at surface or face value and believe in ads and marketing - about ourselves, others, products, or political 'marketing' about groups, interests, issues or and countries.

    Some people still do believe the hype. The troubling thing is that if you still believe the superficial messages, the economy and society will reward you. You can still ride the wave of consumption, even now in a bad recession. Also, there are lots of people around right now who are saying: Recession? What recession?

    It has not touched them, and consequently the soul-searching, introspection and caution that arrived with the recession has not touched them either. You still see loads of economic commentators complaining about the crisis of consumer confidence; they keep trying to prod people to borrow money to buy disposable crap they don't need. Industrialists could turn to improving manufacturing so that products don't have obsolescence built into them. But that won't happen, because of the huge emphasis on consumption as a core driver of the economy. A fateful and wrong decision IMO.

    This means that the financial sector fundamentally did not learn the lessons of the 2008 recession. They want the recession to end so they can get back to doing what they did before. That means the recession did not end at all (technical definition or no technical definition) and is still ongoing. The recession reflects a gap in our values.

    I think, however, if personal experience through hardship forces one to see through the hype, it becomes impossible to go back. You just can no longer buy into the illusions pushed by global consumerism and fake demands of managerial competitiveness. After seeing through these surface messages, it is easy to fall prey to disillusionment and lose hope.

    In fact, there is a way through, and that is the creation of new institutions, financial models, and economies, new power bases and new ways of doing things, hinging on the explosion of technology. And by that, I do not mean iPhone5. We have not reached the point of seeing a major overhaul of our economic model because (a) there are still plenty of people profiting from the old economic and political power structure, who don't want things to change and (b) those same people are trying to manipulate the new technology so that it serves old purposes, not new ones. Facebook is the prime example.