10 September 2008

"We're in the stupidity delivery business."

The very impartiality of market forces with regards to the intellectual quality of goods and services is a serious flaw with dire consequences. Letting the bottom line ultimately decide what is best for people leaves us all vulnerable to the psychologically toxic effects of mental trash peddled as harmless fun. We grossly underestimate the influence that market culture has on public tastes. If public preferences leaned towards intelligent, complex and (gasp!) challenging products for the mind, we wouldn’t have celebrity tabloids outselling newspapers, news weeklies and serious magazines, or reality TV outrating educational documentaries and incisive current affairs programs.

For all its promises – some admittedly delivered to the betterment of many people – the free market is a wild beast that needs to be restrained with public reins if it isn’t to trample down the intellectual progress of humanity. Pure, naked economics doesn’t guarantee a healthy society, not in any humanistic sense. Any crass, ignorant, bellicose philistine can fork out money to buy the sort of puerile dross which appeals to his base tastes, which are largely shaped by the prevailing culture. His contribution will be gratefully received by the junk purveyors, for he thereby validates their cynical appraisal of him. The economic engine will continue to chug along merrily. It’s a marvelously efficient organism, unfussy about what sort of food it consumes. Even if the stuff is tainted with fecal matter.

It is because it’s far easier to inculcate mediocrity, superficiality and a disposition for cheap titillation in people that the market has an innate bias towards products that achieve this end. The market is a Taoist; it takes the path of least resistance. Given this, the push for intellectually stimulating goods is a task undertaken up a steep hill by discerning consumers. The idea of free markets allowing players to compete on a level field is disingenuous nonsense. The ‘level’ field is really a heavily inclined slope, one with a gutter of pop sensibilities at the bottom filled with celebrity ‘journalism’, fatuous self-promotion and vapid entertainment.

I anticipate the day when neuroscience has advanced enough to convincingly demonstrate the physical harm caused by stupid-inducing products. When scientists can actually provide quantitative data showing the causal relationship between, say, the amount of celebrity gossip Person X consumes and their correspondingly higher risks of developing Acute Inanity Syndrome (AIS, or ‘air-head’ in the vernacular), then there would be good grounds – not to mention a moral imperative – to prosecute producers of such tripe. It happened with Big Tobacco.

But if the media CEOs were to stand trial, they’re likely to take a leaf out of their ‘nicotine delivery system’-flogging comrades’ book. Straight-faced, they’ll lie under oath as they drawl, “Ah belieeve that celebrity culture is not addictive.” Not addictive indeed. The legions of celebrity-goss junkies around the world attest otherwise. Someday hard scientific evidence will substantiate the insidious activity engaged in by mental trash dealers. Culture critics call it ‘mindfucking’.


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