Media Startup

So, you want to work in the media? Really? Hopefully it is not for economic gain. No, you are doing it for alternative economies of value, what the weekend broadsheet magazine insert feature stories call ‘lifestyle’.

Online entrepreneur magazine Startupsmart has an article posted today listing ten startups that can be started for less than ten thousand dollars. I find this exciting as I have been thinking a great deal about using my skills and starting my own company. It seems to me that the future of the media for the majority of practioners will be as sole traders or small media production companies.

Note I haven’t been talking about journalism. Journalism is something else and quite rightly. What I am talking about is closer to a media ad agency mashed with the everyday production activities of a digital native. That is, the skills of photography, video production, writing and social networking that I take for granted as an ‘expert’ user all packaged as a service and sold to (mostly, small) businesses. This is very different to the anaemic ‘branding’ activity of actual media ad agencies as there is a level of intimacy that they could never capture.

Branding is about telling a story you want consumers to believe in and experience so they want to exist in the world of the story by consuming whatever is on offer. I am talking about isolating whatever is already of value in the activities of the business and representing it as part of a world that already exists. Rather than an imposition of a world, it is an exposition of value. We already do a lot of this in niche magazines as each magazine functions to service part of a scene.

I need to increase my skill set further and then test my business model to see if it is, firstly, sustainable.

On the Flip Side of Exposure

It is late when I am writing this, so hopefully I do not make too many gaffes. I may fix it up tomorrow.

Most professionals and amateurs working within the creative industries have recognised that there is a somewhat dubious payoff for keen amateurs and early career professionals for submitting free work that would otherwise demand payment and that is exposure. ‘It is a good way to gain exposure’ or ‘Make connections’ say many senior professionals to juniors and amateurs. What this produces is a hub-and-spoke type network arrangment where one senior professional gets to choose what work by certain juniors or amateurs gets further exposure and perhaps ultimately some kind of financial reward. The point of ‘making connections’ is that eventually you come to be seen as someone who is a hub and has the power to shine the quasi-transcendental beam of ‘exposure’ upon others.

There is a flip side to this logic of exposure. Jason Potts, Stuart Cunningham, John Hartley and Paul Ormerod co-authored a journal article published in 2008 on the concept of ‘social network markets’ as a general concept that should replace the ‘industrial’ era concept of the creative industries. Social network markets, as a concept, hasn’t really taken off, although I have not read everything in the field, so maybe it has.

They define the creative industries “in terms of the system of activities organized and coordinated about flows of value through the enterprise of novelty generation and consumption as a social process”.
Furthermore, the creative industries are “properly defined in terms of a class of economic choice theory in which the predominant fact is that, because of inherent novelty and uncertainty, decisions to both produce and consume are largely determined by the choice of others in a social network”. People choose to consume based on the choice of others. The weakest version of this was identified by Adorno who wrote (as I have recently noted) that in “Amercian conventional speech, having a good time means being present at the enjoyment of others, which in its turn has as its only content being present”.

They run through a series of descriptive postulates:

1) The set of agents and agencies in a market characterized by adoption of novel ideas within social networks for production and consumption
a) The CIs are not about the allocation of resources: they are about the creation of new resources. “The core business of the CIs is, after all, the representation and coordination of new ideas”, because “the origination, adoption and retention of novel ideas is the primary cause of economic growth and development”.
b) The CIs are not about mature technologies; they are about the evolution of new technologies. “In essence, design is the new engineering, but between physical and social technologies.”
c) The CIs are services; specifically, services to the growth of knowledge and economic evolution.

2) The creative industries are the set of economic activities that involve the creation and maintenance of social networks and the generation of value through production and consumption of network-valorized choices in these networks. “In turn, the new cultural industries, both historically and contextually conditional, are rightfully included as their production and consumption is heavily influenced by social networks for the simple reason that their value is uncertain.”

I think this work is fantastic and I am annoyed to have largely missed its development. What it certainly needs however is a bit of a Marxist and even a Foucaultian shunt.

If there is an upward pressure from these amateur and junior professional practioners regarding the production of new cultural commodities, then surely the hub-exposer senior professionals experiences this pressure as a threat to their position? No. Well, sometimes. What happens more often than not, the hub-exposer only selects ‘ideas’ that conform to the existing ‘correct ideas’, which may have originated from… the hub-exposer professional. This reproduces the heirachical distinction between hub and spoke, exposed/exposer and exposee. Hence, there are micro-power relations in effect visible in the discursive fabric of innovation (ie the ‘stuff’ creative industries/social network markets produce). This is the Foucaultian bit.

EDIT: There is something else going on here regarding the shaping of markets and the labour required to massage communicative action. Here is an example that just popped up in my Facebook stream today about Ferrari.

The Marxist shunt is a little bit more complex. It revolves around the recurring problem of ‘value’. Firstly, I don’t want to get into a stoush with quasi-classical economists about where value is located within a market or at what point is it realised. Having said that however, I argue that the creative industries turn enthusiasm into a resource. It is not ‘ideas’ that are a resource of value (just like it is not a commodity as the originator of value), but the labour required to produce them. Within the emergent social networks of the creative industries, the social network markets organise around enthusiasms. Crowd sourced valorisation is derived from a subjective appreciation of an impersonal and collective enthusiasm for various challenges that define a given cultural formation. For example, car enthusiasts are not into cars per se but the socio-technical challenges that the car represents. I have rendered this concept and process and explicit at the magazine publisher where I work when training new writers. They don’t write about the car as an object but the car as a project, the narrative of which is determined by the challenges faced by the enthusiast.

One last point. The authors write: “The standard (DCMS) definition of the CIs is based on an extension of the cultural industries, and so inherits a propensity to view CI policy in terms of market failure in the provision of public goods. […] The domain of policy is radically shifted from a top-down re-compensatory model to a bottom-up model of experimental facilitation and innovation.”

Indeed. What I find very exciting about all this research is that I very closely examined the last three decades of a single cultural industry and uncovered precisely this shift in the composition of the cultural formation itself and the function of the creative industries and role of government in them (ie. what Foucaultians call the dispositif or composition of power relations). I now have a very powerful way to frame my research.


The first post in a series on The Affective Cycle of Popular Culture on Boredom.

General disclaimer: It is the basis for a lecture on the topic. It is note-based without substantial examples and without any context-setting work for the readings (e.g. who is Kracauer and what was the intellectual context of his article?).

The two main readings for this fortnight are Siegfried Kracauer’s 1924 article “Boredom” espousing a ‘radical boredom’ and Paul Corrigan’s 1975 chapter in Resistance Through Rituals “Doing Nothing”.

Siegfried Kracauer’s 1924 “Boredom”
Kracauer is concerned that “the world makes sure that one does not find oneself”:

[O]ne’s spirit — which is no longer one’s own — roams endlessly out of night and into the night. If only it were allowed to disappear! But, like Pegasus on a carousel, this spirit must run in circles and may never tire of praising to high heaven the glory of a liqueur and the merits of the best five-cent cigarette. Some sort of magic spurs the spirit relentlessly amid the thousand electric bulbs, out of which it constitutes and reconstitutes itself into glittering sentences.

Kracauer raises the brief examples of the movie theater and radio as examples of activities whereby participants are occupied, but do not occupy their own will. “Silent and lifeless, people sit side by side as if their souls were wondering about far away. But these souls are not wandering according to their own preference; they are badgered by the news hounds, and soon no one can tell anymore who is the hunter and who is the hunted.”

Kracauer’s logic is thus: If you find yourself the object of boredom, forever trying to occupy yourself with something or another, to ward off boredom, then you are the subject of interests that are not your own. This is not an ideological struggle, although it may be expressed as such, it is primarily an affective struggle over one’s interest.

The only proper response then is to welcome boredom through an act of patience, “the sort of boredom specific to legitimate boredom”. Then, Kracauer argues, “one experiences a kind of bliss that is almost unearthly”. The world is transformed and you begin to notice that the landscape is populated in ways that you had not previously perceived. As a result your soul swells with a “great passion”.
Kant would’ve called this a mode of the aesthetic sublime and a product of supreme disinterested interest; an affect when joined with the idea of the good, or ‘enthusiasm’.

Paul Corrigan’s 1975 “Doing Nothing”
Corrigan’s chapter in Resistance through Rituals begins with a different set of problematics. During his fieldwork he discovered that the principle activity of ‘British subculture’ is in fact ‘doing nothing’. There are a number of components of “doing nothing”:

1) Talking. Firstly, the most common form of talking is the story. Stories are recounted following one of Sartre’s definitions of ‘adventure’ (from Nausea), where an adventure is defined not merely by the randomness of events or the level of excitement induced by participation in particular activities, no the criterion of adventure is that you do something worthy of talking about as a story afterwards. Most consumers are convinced that the world is full of such ‘adventures’; hence with the advent of social media such ‘talking’ has migrated online and we are inundated with regular people offering a running commentary on their everyday lives.

Secondly, Corrigan argues, the purpose of the talking is not so much to communicate, but to communicate the experience of talking. It is the act of telling the story that is important, not the subject of the story (which of course matters, but it is secondary). In Theodor Adorno’s infamous essay about the Culture Industry in which he attacks Jazz, he also notes a similar shared dimension of consumption that was not so much about being linked to a specific commodity, but more about ‘sharing good times’. The burden of exchanged-based valorisation versus aesthetic efficacy implicit in his infamous critique of commercial jazz – that “it is fine for dancing and dreadful for listening” – needs to be inverted by combining it with another of his observations in the same essay. He writes that in “Amercian conventional speech, having a good time means being present at the enjoyment of others, which in its turn has as its only content being present”. Adorno acknowledges, albeit in a dismissive fashion, the necessary role of affect in its movement across the bodies of others as being colloquially realised as ‘having a good time’. The more interesting observation is the relation of alterity implicit in the experience of a ‘good time’, that is being present at the enjoyment of others.

To shift registers from the interesting to the critical, the point is that through story telling the people taking part of the story telling event experience a sense of belonging; they were within this virtuosic dimension of the story telling and witnessed this virtuosic dimension mediated through the reactions and implication of other bodies in the event. It is what Brian Massumi calls becoming-together.

Notice how there does not have to be a commodity present here? One of the current functions of the marketing industry is to implicate commodities in the everyday adventures of consumers so consumers will tell stories about them, ie Word of Mouth advertising.

2) Weird Ideas. That major component of ‘doing nothing’, Corrigan (following his research subjects) calls ‘weird ideas’:

It is the ‘weird idea’ that represents the major something in ‘doing nothing’. In fighting boredom the kids do not choose the street as a wonderfully lively place, rather they look on it as the place where there is the most chance that something will happen. […] The weird ideas then are born out of boredom and the expectation of future and continuing boredom, and this affects the sort of weird ideas they are. A good idea must contain the seeds of continuing change as well as excitement and involvement.

Like Adorno’s consumers who ‘have a good time’ by ‘being present at the enjoyment of others’, Corrigan’s working class kids told stories to pass the time. Time, when “doing nothing”, is a burden as it populated with the expectation of future and continuing boredom. They go out looking for interesting things to occur — “we are not talking about boys going out on a Saturday night looking for milk bottles to smash, rather it is a purely interesting thing that occurs.” What is the relation then between interest/interesting things and the qualitative dimension of time? How interested do you have to be to have a good time? Or is it simply a case of being able to experience another person’s interest that makes the time good?

For Corrigan’s working class kids the alternative to ‘doing nothing’ in the street is staying at home with “Mum and Dad in the front room” or going to a venue like the Youth Club. In other words, activities that are sanctioned as morally appropriate by adults. Unlike Kracauer’s proto-consumers of the culture industry, Corrigan’s working class kids do not have access to cultural commodities that would be of interest to them. Undoubtedly, if there were interesting things to do then kids would not be hanging out in the streets. And yet, they do, because there is nothing else. They are not constrained by a cultural landscape saturated by advertising, which sends consumers off on a maze constructed by the expectations of others’ enjoyment; rather, their maze is overdetermined by their material conditions of existence.

The Affective Cycle of Popular Culture

I would like to teach a course called the “The Affective Cycle of Popular Culture”. Most courses on popular culture are organised around a particular segment of popular culture, such as an industry or particular form of cultural commodity, and then the cultural dimensions of this industry or cultural commodity. I would prefer to follow the ebbs and flows of engagement and disengagement of consumer subjectivity and the structural conditions that coalesce to produce such affective effects.

I am aiming to write a substantial blog post on each of the below topics, hopefully once per fortnight. The posts will not be complete lectures, for example I will not engage with any substantial examples, but they should communicate the substantial points for the given fortnight.

Boredom 1 February, 2011
I engage with Siegfried Kracauer’s 1924 article “Boredom” and Paul Corrigan’s 1975 chapter in Resistance Through Rituals “Doing Nothing”.

Distracting Interests (TBA)

Anxiety and Depression (TBA)

Enthusiasm (TBA)

Anticipation (TBA)

Nostalgia (TBA)

Events and Non-Events (TBA)

Differential Repetition (TBA)

Loyalty (TBA)

Politics (TBA)