Industry indeed

A friend responded to my post yesterday that he couldn’t imagine a star being made without an industry. I agree. Today, they need each other more than ever.

In the pre-industrial age, fame used to be directly related to merit. Think Michelangelo. Sometimes fame would follow merit with years of delay. Think Mozart, Rembrandt, van Gogh, Robert Johnson. But some people actually used fame to promote. Benjamin Franklin, in his role as ambassador to France, and his fellow Founding Fathers believed that the fact of Franklin’s image appearing on fashion items, fans and perfume bottles would help to attract interest in and spread the ideas of the new born nation. The first man who combined people’s fame with industrial goods was Josiah Wedgwood, who came up with the idea of making collectible portrait medaillons of “Illustrious Moderns” like Voltaire and Rousseau. (Interesting read: Star Crazy, section 2)

What all the people have in common is that they were only known to a comparably small circle of people. Entertainment was only for those who could afford it.

Then came the invention of free time. This might sound a little crazy, but before the industrialization, there was no free time as such. And it made perfect sense, because people needed time to spend the money they earned in the factory. Which allowed more industries to spawn. And so forth.

Next step: cinema. And this changed everything. Within a few years, film producers figured that people were not only into films, but also into actors starring the movies. Hence a perfect cycle could be set up: People go to the movies, papers print news about the stars, people notice and tell their friends, more people go to the movies. Easy as pie. All you needed to do was printed your actor’s name on the poster promoting the next movie. And the second best thing was that everybody could afford it.

The best thing about all this was that it educated people into a reverse logic: Publicity equals merit. You don’t get in the paper for nothing, do you? And so whatever you wanted to promote, all you needed to do was to make it appear it on billboards, in newspapers and magazines, radio and finally TV. And entire industries could sell their products riding on the back of the celebrities.

Now, what happens if you want to sell more products? You need more stars. This is the race we’re still running today. There are ever more celebrities because there is ever more stuff to be sold, and the diversion of interests and markets produced space that needed to be filled with more faces to put ads next to.

What’s critical now is to estimate whether this will go on, because people are so much int the reactive mode of consuming that they won’t take the time to ask themselves what they care about, what matters to them, and start following their passion. I don’t believe that people are passionate about consuming. They just keep telling themselves they don’t know what to do other than that. What gives me hope that this can change is the fact that it took almost a century to educate people to behave that way, so obviously it’s not part of our nature. The cavemen didn’t have to keep up with the Joneses, neither did a pre-industrial person.

What I wanted to point out 2 days ago was that you don’t need an industry to make a living by making your art. If you want fame as in “as seen on TV”, you still need the industry, as of today. And you need to sacrifice your art, round off the edges in favour of being more average. Not totally average, but to a certain degree. The reason why Cannibal Corpse were not featured as being outrageous on German TV, but Berlin rapper Sido was, is simply because he’s more average in terms of language: my grandmother can understand his swearing, but not Chris Barnes’s or George Fisher’s. That’s media business. An industry indeed.

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