Capital is eyeballin’ you

Since being back home I have been cranking the pay-tv my folks have. I caught _Dog Soldiers_ this morning, dang, that is a cool movie… Anyway, on the Cartoon Network they have this promotion running at the moment called _Eyeballs 2_. Here is the login page.

Fly Buys points and all the other consumer incentive programs operate as an apparatus of capture for networks/circuits of consumption. That is, they simply do not encourage people to buy something from one shop, they commodify entire chains in the networks of consumption. Capitalists call this ‘synergy’. The clearest example of this in Australia is the relatively recent melding of petrol/service/gas stations with supermarkets/grocery stores. It is recent because it didn’t exist when I worked at a service station up until early 2003. Spend a certain amount ‘here’ and you get money off your fuel bill at the linked servo ‘there’. I think these circuits of consumption are very interesting as commercial interests are not simply investing in your patronage, but they attempt to commodify a massive chunk of your life. Your lifestyle becomes a resource – a resource that is strip-mined for everything your got and don’t got (via credit).

They sucker you in with the only simulacra that exists anymore with any meaning (ooh, the paradox): the ‘bargain’. The logic of the ‘sale’ or the ‘bargain’ motivates consumers to lease out their lifestyles – represented as circuits of consumption – to themselves so commercial interests can accrue rent, i.e. produce surplus value, over a network of consumption rather than a single point transaction. The bargain is a simulacra in one of Baudrillard’s modes (I can’t remember which one??). It is the logic that fools people into believing they are producing value by spending money. Is that retarded or what? Advertising seduction merely prompts consumers to desire something. The recent developments in consumer incentives organises this desire into seemingly self-perpetuating locuses of consumption.

Getting to my point, the model for this is not some fantastic business venture schemed up to rip multi-millionaires off. I argue the model is derived from children’s television programming. At some point in history the story became subsumed to these networks/circuits of consumption. The circuits of consumption were once derived from the fandom generated by a show to become the motivating force behind the show. So now these circuits of consumption organise fandom. Disney has been on the ball for years, it never really made the final step though… There is a dialectical tension between the principle of organisation implicitly promoted by the commercial interests and the organisation of fandom immanent to itself. I talk about this in my thesis with the car dudes and their enthusiasm. Some fandoms/enthusiasms are more autonomous than others. For example, computer game modders probably have more autonomy in terms of im/material production that sustains their fandom than does, say, an eight year old kid playing with his Pokemons.

Perhaps the best example of this is the US re-produced Japanese anime that was known in the US and elsewhere (including Australia) as Robotech. The fellows at Harmony Gold (US re-production house) had the genius to reconstruct three separate anime series from Japan into one massive show. They could do this because all three original series were made or influenced by the artwork of a single Japanese anime artist. Anyway, the deal would only be struck to make (or reproduce) the series as Robotech if they could guarantee sales of merchandising for toy maker Hasbro. The link between the show and the merchandising was intrinsic to the development of the show – the proof is found on the DVDs in the seven Robotech boxsets (I own them all, suckers!). There are a number of voice-overs and interviews that explain the relationship between Harmony Gold and Hasbro was essential to the re-production of Robotech and therefore, I argue, Robotech fandom.

The next stage in this commodifcation of networks of fandom is not modelled on television programming, but major league sports. Pay per view. With media on demand only a few dreamy sleeps away (like christmas!) the congruence of medias will herald the congruence of lifestyles, production and fandom – the biopolitical production of the perfect consumer.

What spawned this post is the now-running incentive program on the Cartoon Network called _Eyeballs 2_. It connects with Johnathan Beller’s argument regarding the ‘cinematic mode of production’ and check out a response to it also. Through what Beller calls the “labour of looking” kiddies collect ‘eyeballs’ and trade them in. The Cartoon Network is doing a massive favour to tomorrow’s business.

The ‘eyeball’ itself is interesting. It is not the ‘eyeballs’ of the kids (or big-kid PhD students) watching cartoons, but the eyeballs of capital. They are multiple and are only defined by their number – deterritorialised multiplicities. The qualitative differences between cartoons don’t matter. What matters is how many ‘eyeballs’ you have. You are defined by your ‘eyeballs’, or, rather, how many ‘eyeballs’ have you. They call it an ‘eyeD’ card.

The recent furore around mpeg music and movies online gains a different importance. It is not only the labour of looking that is being lost – the pay-per-view factor. What is also lost is the ability to manipulate consumers into circuits of consumption. The crucial scripts that determine the organisation of fandom are taken out of the hands of synergised media conglomerates and back in the hands of consumers. It is a bit like when car enthusiasts go street racing, there is no need to go to the drag strip…