From Control Societies to Cultivation Industries

Doing a google for something else I just came across a very cool article by Maurizio Lazzarato entitled “Struggle, Event, Media”. Lazzarato is attempting to answer a question about why ‘representation’ is a problem for contemporary progressive and radical politics. It is an interesting use of the ‘event’ and very close to the way I have used it discussing ‘cultural franchise events’. However, Lazzarato suggests:

“These incorporeal transformations that come into our heads again and again like ritornelli, which are circulating all over the world at the moment, penetrating into every household, and which represent the real weapon for the conquest, the occupation, the seizure of brains and bodies – they are simply incomprehensible to Marxist theory and to economic theories. We face a change of paradigms here, which we cannot grasp starting from labor, from practice. On the contrary, it could well be that the latter supplies a false image of what production means today, because the process we have just described is the precondition for every organization of labor (or non-labor).”

Lazzarato’s basic argument: The images produced by the ‘enterprises’ do not represent the world, but effect incorporeal transformations of the world, thus producing it.

Why I looked at the time period between a movie and its sequel in my original paper on this stuff I wrote in Sweden, is that I realized there was a specific problem in comprehending what was at stake in the entertainment industries (the ‘enterprise’, see below) was not so-much the raw numbers of tickets sold in an opening weekend (in other words, a single historical event), but the process through which fan and enthusiast subjectivities were created. Specifically at stake was the way the ‘enterprise’ compelled consumers to continually return to a ‘franchise’ (be it a sports team, movie series, computer games, television series, book series, in other words, any commodified series). For example, this ‘continual return’ represents the ‘bankability’ of a commodity. Felix Guattari discusses related issues in terms of addiction.

So far I have focused on the process by which each ‘return’ actualises another dimension of the ‘cultural franchise event’. By this I mean a franchise is not constituted by a commodified series existing within a single genre of ‘type’ of commodity. So a commodified series may actually be constituted by a fast food ‘meal’ endorsement connected to a film series or a sports star endorsement connected to both a sports team and a clothing brand. Lazzarato introduces the entity of the ‘enterprise’ which is the (networked) site of production and location of the immaterial labour that produces these ‘incorporeal transformations’. By introducing the question of scale – cultural franchise event, which is owned by an enterprise as a trademark/brand/IP/etc (the ‘pure event’), versus individual actualisation of this ‘total event’, actual cultural commodities – we can focus more squarely on the problem that Lazzarato glosses: namely the emerging lack of distinction between advertisements and the commodities being advertised.

Others have looked at ‘high concept’ films as a specific localized example of this in the film industry. This is not sufficient in an era of synergy and technological convergence. It seems the key technological site of convergence is media delivery and distribution. As the tendencies of convergence increase, the distinctions between different medium will become arbitrary. Perhaps it is only the subjectivity required for ‘user’ status that will determine the medium in the future. For example, enthusiasts who produce new levels or ‘mods’ to video games are actualizing a different dimension of the commodity of the computer game. They cease to be gamers and become modders; yet they are both ostensibly consumers of the commodity. The extreme example of this are the gamer/modders who produce film clips of their games or even use the ‘game engine’ to produce animated films. There is a shift in the consumer again to that of ‘viewer’ or ‘spectator’. The interrelation of ‘viewer’ and ‘user’ poles of fan subjectivities as technological convergence collapses distinctions between medium will certainly need investigation…

In my paper on movie sequels I framed the ‘continual return’ of consumers in terms of a discussion of the temporal relation of the pre-personal fan-subjectivity and the (immanent) ‘anticipation’ experienced and (quasi-transcendental) ‘expectation’ projected. Here it is necessary to look at the link between ‘cult’ and ‘cultivation’ (thanks to Christian McCrea for pointing this out to me). Film is an easy example as the ‘main’ commodity is relatively monolithic and there are no immediate complexities derived from mass-production of the commodity only mass-consumption. (Although the shift from cinema to DVD-based viewing practices will soon complicate this further.) There has been a recent spate of academic papers and news stories investigating examples of the big media ‘enterprises’ deliberating drawing on the enthusiasm of fans and cultivating this enthusiasm in such a way to build anticipation for a film, such as The Lord of the Rings. The fans excite or dwell their anticipation according to the expectations they may have of the film (or particular actualisation of the cultural franchise event). Or for another example, think of the iPod as an exercise in the continual modulation and actualization of the branded ‘MP3 player’. The iPod is a cultural franchise event actualised across a diverse range of actual products, from the original iPod to the Nano-iPod. Apple does not own the design rights to ‘MP3 Players’, they own the cultural franchise event of the iPod. Brand names and trademarks are the ultimate cultural franchise events. Think of ‘Nike’ or ‘Coke’.

What Lazzarato overlooks in his brief analysis is that the difference between advertising and the commodity being advertised and the question of the subjectivity being performatively embodied: are you a producer, user, viewer, consumer? Lazzarato falls back on common sense distinctions between advertising and the commodity being advertised in his inferred assertion there is little or no distinction:

“Television is a stream of advertising that is regularly interrupted by films, entertainment programs and news programs. According to the way Jean-Luc Godard depicts it, if you take out all the pages of a newspaper that contain advertising, it is reduced to the editorial by the editor-in-chief. And radio is just as much a stream of advertising and programs, in which it is increasingly difficult to distinguish where one begins and the other ends.”

In an economy of pure circulation there is absolutely no difference whatsoever: every commodity is also an advertisement and vice versa. There are two dimensions of this. The first relates to the mass-produced nature of some cultural commodities. The best example I can think of is how a car or a can of Coke is an advertisement for ‘itself’. This is a simple point but requires further exposition as it has complex implications. The second dimension relates to the distributed nature of the cultural franchise event across a number of media. So, for example, in the case of the Matrix franchise event; it was actualised as two movie sequels, a video game, an anime DVD and so on. Each actualisation of the ‘total’ Matrix franchise event serves as an advertisement for the others and so on. Saturation marketing means that every where you (re)turn you cannot help but be in contact with advertising and so on.

What is owned by a franchise is in two parts. Firstly, what Ken Wark calls a ‘hack’ or the incorporeal transformation produced. However, the ‘hack’ is only another variation of iteration (‘differential repetition’ for the Deleuzians) of the ‘total franchise event’ often signified by the ‘proper name’ of the franchise, ie the ‘brand’. The ‘total event’ of the cultural franchise event subsists in every commodified actualisation of the franchise. So the second part of the intellectual property is this singular ‘cultural franchise event’. The value of the cultural franchise event is manipulated via control of the production of ‘hacks’. When control of ‘hacking’ is lost (anti-ads and so on) there is a modulation of the total ‘franchise event’.

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