04 July 2011

Optical Delusions

(Continued from yesterday; the Monday link sausages are all destined for the barbecue as my kids do the Caucasian-American rain dance, since the vegetarian crawled out of the marinade again this year.)

Reflexiveness. Reflections (and refractions). Optical delusions and illusions and "Real America" and marketing wisdom. Yes, there is a reflected image still in that fun-house mirror that goes a long way toward explaining how this all fits together. It's not just the ends and means that have been improperly conflated by the intermediary classes; more damagingly, those intermediary classes really believe that their images in the fun-house mirrors represent not just themselves — that is, the intermediary classes — but the entire public, whether considered as a body politic or a body literate.7

One of the best examples of this phenomenon began bubbling up from the depths almost exactly forty years ago. Admittedly, things were a little bit different in mid-1971: The campaign for President of the United States was just beginning to get underway among the intermediary classes; nobody knew (yet) about Nixon's dirty tricks; and nobody had yet identified that the political wing of the intermediary class was no longer exclusively fifty-to-seventy-year-old white Protestant men. In short order, this resulted in the "Canuck letter" that knocked the candidate with the best chance of unseating Nixon out of the race... primarily due to an expansion of the intermediary class to include a younger demographic, which exploded at the 1972 Democratic National Convention and resulted in the extreme arrogance of the disastrous McGovern campaign and a subclass of intermediaries that still doesn't believe it lost the election.8

The Democratic Party leadership in 1972 became the model for today's intermediary class. Ironically in some ways — but entirely predictably to anyone who looks at actual voting and policy patterns in nation-states that suddenly change from nonrepresentative to representative governments, in particular those of Europe during the Age of Revolution (roughly 1785–1853) — the change from "smoke-filled back rooms" to "party primary elections" as the means of selecting candidates for major office has resulted in less-representative candidates for those major offices, particularly in linked tickets (usually President/Vice President and Governor/Lieutenant Governor, but sometimes extending to legislative posts, too). How else to explain Geraldine Ferraro, Dan Quayle, and Sarah Palin, and more other "ticket-balancing candidates" with little obvious qualification for the respective offices than I can count? This occurs largely because the intermediary class — for this purpose, party leadership and activists — honestly believes not just that the body politic should accept intermediary-class leadership and policy preferences... but that it already does, and just needs a little bit of sales to help it understand that it does. That is, the intermediary class believes that what it sees in the fun-house mirror isn't just the intermediary class, but "Real America."

Also in the 1970s. we began seeing much the same thing happening in various parts of the entertainment industry. In 1973, a major popular-music record label selected a new president from its marketing staff who had only a few months working in A&R (the then-equivalent of the editorial department at a publisher), and the news was all over the industry rags. Today, it's news when a label president is not either a marketing expert, the founder of the label (usually a "renegade" recording artist), or a manager for a recording artist. Similarly, in the early 1970s virtually all film- and TV-studio heads had substantial experience themselves as producers and executive producers; today, that is extremely rare. The publishing segment has certainly not escaped this trend, with both conglomerate presidents and those with the title of Publisher predominantly coming from the sales-and-marketing part of the business (PDF).

Of course, none of this is limited to party politics, nor the entertainment industry; recognition that "banking" is inherently not productive, but an intermediary, seems to have escaped most commentators who decry the loss of American manufacturing capacity and "good jobs for Real Americans." Where party politics and the entertainment make excessive influence of intermediaries even more dangerous, though, is in the outsourcing of the intermediaries. In politics, this is toward powerful private citizens outside of government, who are not accountable to either government or the citizenry, but nonetheless have inordinate influence over both policy and who gets to take up the banner as a "policymaker."9 In the entertainment industry — and in particular the publishing segment — this is toward the increasingly powerful indirect distribution segments. The big distributors and chain stores have inordinate power now... and, ultimately, are at the root of the whitewashing problem,10 and arguably at the root of the glass ceiling for editors.11

Just like "the map is not the territory," "the intermediary is not the market" — whether it's a market of ideas or whatever. Too bad the intermediary class seems unable, or at least unwilling, to acknowledge that; it explains far too much about the Mad Tea Party, and about James Patterson, and about Danielle Steele, and...

  1. Cf. Luigi Pirandello, Così è (se vi pare) (1917), sub. nom. Right You Are (If You Say You Are).
  2. Id.; see also Benjamin Whorf, The Relation of Habitual Thought and Behavior to Language (1939).
  3. See, e.g., Linda McQuaig & Neil Brooks, The Trouble with Billionaires (2010); The road to plutocracy, The Economist (blog entry 13 May 2011).
  4. See C.E. Petit, CoverFail Revisited, Scrivener's Error (blog entry 10 May 2010).
  5. Use of the gender-discrimination-charged term "glass ceiling" is with malice aforethought, particularly when comparing the demographics both (a) within editorial departments to the publisher as a whole, and (b) now and in 1975.