Creative destruction in the media industries: Adam Carr on the fall and rise of New York media

The New York Times‘ media writer, Adam Carr, has a great column in the Times about the “fall and rise” of Manhattan’s once-great media empires, like Conde Nast and the Times itself.

Beginning with a parable of the golden olden days of media work, he points out that the new landscape emerging is flatter, more diverse, riskier and more opportunistic:

Historically, young women and men who sought to thrive in publishing made their way to Manhattan. Once there, they were told, they would work in marginal jobs for indifferent bosses doing mundane tasks and then one day, if they did all of that without whimper or complaint, they would magically be granted access to a gilded community, the large heaving engine of books, magazines and newspapers.

Beyond that, all it took to find a place to stand on a very crowded island, as E. B. White suggested, was a willingness to be lucky. Once inside that velvet rope, they would find the escalator that would take them through the various tiers of the business and eventually, they would be the ones deciding who would be allowed to come in.

As we all know, those times are over. Continue reading

Consumption through the looking glass: a post on consumer culture theory

A Buy Nothing Day poster from Adbusters. It's not a logo, per se, but it's certainly a symbol

“Consumer culture” – let’s loosely define it as the enjoyment of shopping and the positive identification with the acquisition of consumer goods –  has generally not got the greatest press in recent times amongst progressives, liberals and left-wingers. It’s fair to say there is an ambient suspicion, disdain and even fear of consumer culture amongst many cultural theorists, commentators and academics that dates at least as far back as Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment and indeed clearly earlier. In more recent times, the likes of Naomi Klein, Thomas Frank, Kalle Lasn and Joel Bakan (writer of the documentary The Corporation) have waged full-frontal assaults on the consumer behaviours associated with market capitalism. The political slogans advanced with these agendas include attacking the brands of corporations, and their symbolic expression, logos, as well as the act of consumption itself (“Buy Nothing Day“).

The reason I mention all this is that it mystifies the academics who study consumer culture in business and marketing schools. In fact, many cultural theorists may be surprised to discover that there is a sophisticated literature exploring what Eric  Arnould and Craig Thompson, in a 2005 review article on the subject in the Journal of Consumer Research, describe as “a flurry of research addressing the sociocultural, experiential, symbolic, and ideological aspects of consumption.” Continue reading

Farouk Hosni, Egyptian culture minister, for UNESCO boss?

At Global Post, Theodore May has a piece about the Egyptian Culture Minister, Farouk Hosni, who reportedly is a good chance to be elected the next director general of UNSECO. Hosni’s candidature has stirred considerable debate, not just because Egypt has many censorship laws, but because Hosni himself has censored and banned films and books. Hosni also got himself into trouble with Israel after reportedly making a comment about burning Israeli books.

In 2001, Hosni frustrated the liberal elite for banning three books that some complained were risque. The incident sparked outrage and debate in the country. Continue reading

Great books about sickness

You might have noticed, dear reader, if you are even out there (!), that I’ve been rather silent for the last week.

Unfortunately, I’ve been sick as a dog fighting off a nasty version of one of several nasty Melbourne flus. So, to celebrate my lengthy convalescence, here’s a post on some of my favourtie books on sickness and ill health:

1. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann.

One of my favourite novels by one of my favourite novelists, this interminable mediation of the sickness of Europe is in some ways an instantiation of Jung’s dream, on the cusp of the First World War, of a Europe filled with blood up to the level of the alps. This book deals with the refugees from that holocaust. Marooned in a Swiss santorium, they have nothing to do but talk, which they do, incessantly. One of the truly great, strange achievements of modernism, this is often considered one of Mann’s more difficult works, but also one of his greatest.

2. Illness as a metaphor and AIDS and its metaphors by Susan Sontag

Michael Ignatieff says it best in this short review on Amazon, in which he he comments “Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor was the first to point out the accusatory side of the metaphors of empowerment that seek to enlist the patient’s will to resist disease. It is largely as a result of her work that the how-to health books avoid the blame-ridden term ‘cancer personality’ and speak more soothingly of ‘disease-producing lifestyles’ . . . AIDS and Its Metaphors extends her critique of cancer metaphors to the metaphors of dread surrounding the AIDS virus. Taken together, the two essays are an exemplary demonstration of the power of the intellect in the face of the lethal metaphors of fear.”

Thanks Michael. I like your criticism much better than your political philosophy.

3. White Noise by Don DeLillo

One of the greatest US novels of the late 20th century, perhaps of the 20th century in general, this witty, poignant and sad novel probes the sickness of the spirit as protagonist Jack Gladney, a successful academic who suspects he may be an intellectual fraud, confronts the psychic perils of late modernity and utlimately his own fear of death.  Featuring such timeless set-pieces as the “airborne toxic event”, the Department of Hitler Studies and the Most Photographed Barn in America, this is DeLillo at his crackling best.

4. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

Faulkner. If you love him, as I really do, then this is one of his best works. All the famous motifs are here: multiple narrative voices, Southern Gothic, race, pride, violence, family, heat.  I really love Faulkner.

5. The Vivisector by Patrick White

A thoroughly nasty novel about a thoroughly nasty man. This a work about a different kind of sickness, a sickness of the emotions, of the artist as monster, and ultimately about the horrible things White did to his many lovers. I would not recommend this except for its narrative and linguistic mastery, which shows again why White is such an important and poorly understood Australian author. The final chapters are the best, because they are the worst.

Philip Schlesinger on think-tanks and the policy process

From Philip Schlesinger, Professor of Cultural Policy at the University of Glasgow, comes a fine paper on think-tanks as cultural and policy institutions: “Creativity and the Experts: New Labour, Think Tanks, and the Policy Process.” It’s published in the January 2009 issue of The International Journal of Press/Politics, 14(3): 3-20.

This enviably well-written article looks at the phenomenon of UK think-tanks specifically from a creative industries perspective: an important topic, given the vast influence exerted by institutions like Demos and the Institute for Public Policy Research on the Blair and Brown governments.

Those who work in think tanks, as policy advisers or consultants, are a tiny and select segment of the university-educated
intelligentsia. They operate within elite circles where the costs of entry to
knowledgeable policy discussion are high. Their exclusivity — or as Pierre Bourdieu (1986) would put it, their “distinction” — is based in the claims to expertise made by the ‘thinktankerati.’

Those who work in think tanks, as policy advisers or consultants, are a tiny and select segment of the university-educated intelligentsia. They operate within elite circles where the costs of entry to  knowledgeable policy discussion are high. Their exclusivity — or as Pierre Bourdieu (1986) would put it, their “distinction” — is based in the claims to expertise made by the ‘thinktankerati.’

Continue reading

Williams and Currid’s “2 Cities, 5 Industries”

CORRECTION: In the initial version of this post, I wrongly confused Sarah Williams and Ezliabeth Currid’s paper “2 Cities, 5 Industries” with their “Geography of Buzz” paper. Thanks to Elaine for pointing out my error.

With that in mind, this post is about Williams and Currid’s new paper “Two Cities, Five Industries: Similarities and Differences Within and Between Cultural Industries in New York and Los Angeles” is marked “Do Not Cite Without the Permission of the Authors”, but as it is online and as Sarah Williams was interviewed by the New York Times today, I think it’s worth a look.

Currid and Williams drill down literally to street level to examine diaggregated data about the cultural industries in New York and Los Angeles. In doing so, they are able to generate a far more fine-grained analysis of cultural industries location and co-location that previous analyses: Continue reading

The First ISA Forum of Sociology in Barcelona: some interesting abstracts in the sociology of the arts

Last September saw the first International Sociological Forum of Sociology held in Barcelona.

It’s a sobering excercise to examine the 8Mb PDF that contains the many hundreds of abstracts presented at he conference. It must have been a weighty tome when printed.

But contained in this document are a number of fascinating abstracts in the sociology of the arts.  Below the fold, I’ve reproduce just a few that caught my eye:


Continue reading

What’s new in the International Journal of Cultural Policy: Parker and Parenta on Australian film policy

I’ve been busy lately with my NEAF ethics application, but after emailing that off to Elaine earlier this week I thought I’d spend some time today on some close reading of a recent journal article on Australian film policy. In doing so, we might be able to draw out some of what I think are the antinomies between the way academics and practitioners write about cultural policy in Australia.   Continue reading