Beyond Profits, The Corporate Period in the Arts, part 7

Some interesting effects occur when a company grows large and powerful or even hegemonic in a given market. You can expect it to exploit the lack of competition and raise prices for consumers, and perhaps also exploit labor with low wages if it is the sole employer in a given labor specialty or geographic location. This inverse is called a monopsony, a single-buyer situation.

However, for the purposes of the arts, the corporation becomes not just an economic force but a cultural force, and that draws certain people to it as well as allows for an approach to production that is not purely in the interest of profit.

One fantasy that affects both liberals and conservatives alike is that corporations “exist to make money,” and therefore, all that they do is directed toward a profitable end. The reality is more subtle. Since corporations are staffed by humans, they act out of many motivations besides maximizing profit for themselves (or for their company). The defining characteristics of the corporate period are the corporation-as-patron and the directing of artistic production toward market segments with a profitable end in mind. While that is how things were originally arranged and how the system developed for decades, that is not how things were destined to remain forever. Monopolies, of course, pervert incentives since the company has no competition. Similar problems happen in scale with oligopolies or hegemonies. One of the effects is that the company  no longer has to produce a product that meets the wants and needs of the market.

In the case of the arts, this means that the corporation can choose not to fund products the market wants but rather can give the market what the employees of the corporation want to give it. On the other side, it can also select artists for employment (or termination) according to employee whims rather than because it serves the business’s bottom line.

It is easy, when there is reduced competition, to decide that one should direct one’s publishing efforts toward what people ought to read rather than what they want to read—toward what kinds of stories people ought to watch or even what they ought to want to watch, rather than what they actually want. I coined a term for this: Bolshevik Marketing, since I found it similar to how the Soviet state and other socialist regimes approached all things. They made what they felt people ought to see; they funded art that supported the cause, that uplifted the worker, that forged the new man, rather than making what people already preferred. These works, by the way, could be artistically exceptional, like with the music of Dvorak, but they weren’t directed toward the market like the corporate model, and like with Soviet shoes, people bought whatever products were available to them.

When this approach shows up in an otherwise capitalist economy, that is Bolshevik Marketing. The problem is that in a capitalist country, even within oligopolies, people still have some options. The people who didn’t like fantasy and science fiction in the 2000s read older books or none at all. The old books didn’t evaporate just because publishers wanted to change what they offered. It could go the other way, too, as with the disappearance of the popular Gor books by John Norman, presumably due to feminist publishers who didn’t like the andro-centric and male-dominant erotic content of the books. They chose to stop publishing them even though there was demand and an excellent series sell-through rate, and the author had to wait until his rights reverted to revive them. This sort of thing was not new, nor was it limited to Cultural Ground Zero.

 In 1970, the “Big Three” T.V. networks (primarily CBS) instituted the “rural purge,” in which they canceled their most popular programs, shows like Dukes of Hazard and Beverly Hillbillies, and replaced them with more diverse shows aimed at an urban, rather than a rural (and white) audience. It took years for ratings to recover. The audience was either watching something else or filling their time with one of the many other amusements available to them. If the heads of CBS were fulfilling their “fiduciary responsibility,” they wouldn’t have canceled those popular shows, but as stated, corporations’ employees don’t always act with profit in mind. On a related note, take note of how rare it is for corporate leadership to be sued for not maximizing profits.

The “rural purge” was not a risk-free move, but one that likely could not have happened after the rise of cable and its dozens of alternatives to the big broadcasters. It would have, in my opinion, been too consequential after the mid-1980s. The cable period represented a temporary return to the market-based approach of the first half of the 20th century, where corporate art producers made a wealth of diverse programs for many different market segments.

Cable diversity was indeed temporary because, as stated, the tendency of the corporate system over time is to reduce competition, not to increase it. The Walt Disney Corporation would end up owning ABC and all its channels, ESPN and its channels, National Geographic channels, and 50% of Lifetime and A&E (the other half is owned by the Hearst Corporation, which was popularly the yellow journalism hegemon in the first half of the corporate period). It now also owns all of 20th-century Fox (minus Fox News). While there are many market segments under the Disney umbrella, they all report to the same place. I’ve seen estimates that it controls now 40% of the entire media market.

Disney is now the largest media company in history, and because of this dominance of entertainment and information, it is also the biggest powerbase for cultural influence in the USA and probably also worldwide. The only non-state organization with a similar potential effect is the Catholic Church.

The corporation is now a seat of power, not just a producer of products for people. Gaining control over this power, unlike in a state, is not a matter of elections but of mastering the bureaucracy that organizes the corporation. Placing oneself and one’s friends in management positions where decisions over content are made allows for a change in the political content of what is published. Vox Day details this process in the book Corporate Cancer. In brief, bureaucratic mastery by activists allows for the mission of a corporation to be changed from serving the market to serving ideological goals. In a media company, those ideological or political goals are served through the production of mass media products that include messaging in a particular ideological direction.

It is important to remember that artists, perhaps more than other people, are likely to regard the messaging behind their art as of higher importance than mere profit for the shareholders. Negative market signals that would alter a company’s decision-making are significantly muted in an ideological environment. If a movie bombs due to its ideological content, that is acceptable in the mind of the activists because changing the culture was always more important than increasing the value of the company’s stock. It’s the fault of the culture for the product’s failure rather than the fault of the artist, or so the reasoning goes.

As I write this, a $250 million Disney remake of The Little Mermaid featuring a blackwashed Ariel is in theaters, and the fan feedback is so negative that review sites like IMDB changed how they display ratings to hide the backlash while news companies attempt to spin the reviews as a concerted online smear campaign. If the movie is hated, it’s because the viewers are racists, not because the movie is a shallow and cynical remake splattered with obvious propaganda. A better term ought to be a demake, because the political point of all the race-swapping (from a Danish tale, no less) is to erase the original and replace it with a more “politically correct” version.

Disney has pushed live-action remakes of its classic animations for years now, a function of the Corporate I.P. Death Cycle, but political content still abounds. I remember one particularly silly scene in the Beauty and the Beast remake wherein a man comments that a woman ought not to be taught to read. The novel as an art form was originally marketed to women in the 18th century; it was women who taught the children to read prior to government schooling. The idea that women weren’t allowed to read or that men thought they shouldn’t be taught is absurd, but that doesn’t matter because the movie had an opportunity to make a feminist political point: men are no-good oppressors of women!

 The ideological content of Disney movies has accelerated dramatically in the decades since Cultural Ground Zero. In fact, it’s hard to find a blockbuster produced by them that doesn’t have at least a few moments of belittling men (Captain Marvel comes to mind, where the titular character assaults a man and steals his motorcycle for suggesting she smile), showing gay relationships, or isn’t race-swapping some white character for an African. Even movies that would typically be considered kids’ fare, like 2022’s Lightyear, contain gay relationships.

Disney is by no means the only company using its power for political purposes, and the movies are not the only form of media where messaging takes place. The publishing industry has been ideologically converged for decades to the point where I would advise a male writer looking to publish traditionally to utilize a pseudonym when querying agents to hide his sex and race. I suspect most imprints stay afloat by relying on back catalog sales of popular writers and writing off new books at a loss. If you don’t know how that last part works, basically, unsold books (which are most of them) are destroyed; the bookseller only ships back the dust jacket (they actually aren’t there for dust, but because they are cheap to mail), and the publisher takes a loss on their taxes.

Publishers and agents will be happy to tell you how much “representation” and “diversity” matter but won’t talk about how that benefits the bottom line and the company.

If you have noticed this ideological shift, you might wonder why it is always in one direction—to the left. This is because “conservatives” tend to be more rules oriented (hence they ship products that will make the company money), less tribal (they hire the best, not their friends), and more tolerant of diverging opinions. The leftists want to win and are willing to exploit the bureaucracy to do it; typical right-wingers, with their liberal values, just want to be left alone. Consider John O’Sullivan’s first law:

Any organization that is not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.

What we also ought to consider is the effectiveness of the cultural and political messaging in conglomerated media. If polls are to be believed, American society and the greater West is moving left. Clearly, even if there is an occasional market rejection of a product, the messaging has been effective, though mass media is also not the only set of institutions that have been converted to leftist ideology. The schools and churches are also powerful shapers of culture that have been pushed through their own bureaucracies to the left.

One Comment

  1. Reading this, I can’t help but think of the many “non-profits” today that are used to push an evil agenda while pretending it’s charity.

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