Wednesday, November 30, 2022

So Much For The Iran Nuclear Deal

 Sorry you have not seen me here for awhile. My laptop on which I am able to post here was out of commission, but now has been fixed.

Well, it was not the US beating Iran in the World Cup. It is that the Europeans, especially the British, French, and Germans, have had it with Iran over the combination of their bloody attempts to suppress the ongoing demonstrations over the law that women must wear the hijab, as well as Iran's overt supplying of Russia with drones to attack Ukraine. They have now come to oppose further negotiations with Iran over the JCPOA nuclear deal.  I do not see this changing barring major changes in the current situation.

Frankly, I think the leaders in Iran could just bend on this hijab law. Heck, it is not something in the Qur'an. But an Iranian friend of mine says they view this as a slippery slope situation. If they give on that, then they will just lose total control.

I think Biden could have just gone back in to the deal when he first got in to office, although there were some details that needed to be straightened out, given that the Iranians had also eventually gotten out of compliance. But I think it could have been done, with Biden being too cautious and looking over his shoulder at Congress. Once they got in to dragged out negotiations it just all went to heck, never could pin it down.

Of course, the underlying problem goes back to Trump withdrawing from the deal when Iran was adhering to it. He claimed he would get a better one, but, of course, did not do so.  The upshot was the replacement of the more moderate government with the current hardliners who are convinced they cannot get rid of their silly hijab law.  Bah!

Barkley Rosser

Sunday, November 20, 2022

The Anti-Racism of Fools

Antisemitism has long been intermingled with movements against injustice and elite control.  This is because the most widespread image in the mind of antisemites is the existence of a secretive cabal of Jews who control global finance and promote liberal-sounding ideas only because it serves their nefarious goals.  Hatred of Jews therefore deflects radical inclinations that might otherwise fuel movements against real domination.  This understanding was summed up in the expression that “antisemitism is the socialism of fools”, often voiced in socialist circles in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Now that class is no longer regarded as the ur-oppression from which all others stem, new reservoirs of fools can be tapped to keep antisemitism in business.  This is apparent in the ongoing wave of anti-Jewish bigotry that masks itself as anti-racism.  Ye and Kyrie Irving are relatively easy examples to point to, since their foolishness is on display.  But even a much cleverer Dave Chappelle illustrates the anti-racism of fools trope.  Watch his recent SNL monologue closely, and you can see all the elements there—not only the winking references to Jewish collusion and control, but also the way sly attacks on Jews become a substitute for identifying and challenging the control of cultural institutions, and most of the rest of America, by the ultra-rich, who, for historical reasons, are nearly entirely white.  Like, why should the livelihood of any artist, which of course includes satirists, depend on patronage by corporate moguls?  The fool part is thinking you’ve pinpointed the problem by fantasizing about a conspiracy of Jewish moguls.

Being smart is not a defense against being stupid, and bigotry is always stupid.

Friday, November 11, 2022

The Audition Commodity

Richard Serra and Carlotta Fay Schoolman produced the video, "Television Delivers People" in 1973. It manifests a critique of television mass media that was subsequently defined by communications scholar, Dallas Smythe as the "audience commodity" but the outline of which had already been presented by him in 1951 in the Quarterly of Film, Radio and Television:

The troublesome fact is that under our uneasy institutional compromise by which the stations are publicly licensed and commercially operated, the effective, if not the legal, responsibility is divided. And the voice which speaks most often to the consumer is that of the advertiser. Is it any wonder that the consumer is confused and inarticulate in trying to express his judgment as to how these media should conduct themselves? Is it any wonder that our traditional view of our cultural values, including freedom of speech and freedom of the press, may be reshaped increasingly into the likeness of the cultural values of the advertisers?

Smythe's point was not that advertisements occupied the majority of the air time but the it was the advertiser who dictated what kind of programming was most conducive to attracting an audience that would respond positively to its commercial message. Advertisers would not settle for just any audience, but sought an audience of consumers -- consumers of its products. The exchange value of an audience would thus be determined by its propensity to consume the products advertised.

I'm not really interested in subsequent criticisms and defenses of Smythe's formulation because they are mostly concerned with minutiae over whether or not Smythe carried his analogy between audiences and workers too far (which he did, in my opinion, but that doesn't discredit the larger picture). In a 1977 paper, Smythe asked, rhetorically, "Am I correct in assuming that all non-sleeping time under capitalism is work time?" My answer to that would be no, but because it was a rhetorical question, there really would be no point in answering.

I briefly mentioned Smythe's audience commodity in talks I gave in the summer of 2021. I would like to go further now to articulate what the 21st century version of that audience commodity looks like. While there is still a traditional mass media component, a new element of media has emerged since the mid-1960s that has a "do-it-yourself" flavor of "pseudo-activity" -- to use Adorno's terms. The most recent iteration of this activity is so-called social media.

The sourcing of content is the most obvious feature of social media. Millions of amateurs crank out content for twitter, tik-tok, instagram, etc. daily in the hope of going viral and potentially monetizing their social media presence. The prospects of success in this effort are mediated by algorithms that are oblivious to the artistic or intellectual quality of the content that is promoted.

Although social media emerged in the period following the Indian Ocean Tsunami of December 26, 2004, its features evolved over the previous four decades and are discernable in, for example, motivational training, multi-level marketing, and academic publishing and conferencing. In all of these enterprises, participants perform work and/or produce content for no compensation other than the prospect of self promotion. Often they pay fees or costs to participate.

Like television broadcasters, social media platforms sell an audience to advertisers. Unlike television broadcasters, they do not produce content to attract that audience but instead provide an outlet for some portion of that audience to produce its own content, the bulk of which disappears into the virtual void. Alongside and augmenting the audience commodity is what I call an "audition commodity" of content producers throwing content against the wall in the hopes that something sticks.

In contrast to Smythe's audience commodity, the audition commodity does perform work albeit largely of the socially unnecessary kind. A small percentage of Twitter accounts are responsible for a large proportion of tweets and consequently of media views and advertising revenues. In 2019, Pew Research reported that 10% of tweeters are responsible for 80% of tweets. Nevertheless, it is the banter -- retweeting, quote tweeting, and commenting -- that lends an interactive patina to the medium.

Eighty-four percent of Google Scholar articles since 2021 mentioning audience commodity also mentioned social media, although those mentioning audience commodity constitute less than a quarter of a percent of articles that mention social media. Over three times that many articles pair social media and town square and over six times as many pair social media with marketplace of ideas and 50 times as many pair it with public space, albeit sometimes ironically or critically.

To recycle a paragraph from that year-old post about the marketplace of ideas:

Social media has created the illusion that anybody can become a celebrity in a viral heartbeat, as if the circuits of social media amplification were not as dominated by advertising, propaganda, and entertainment as any television network. What the competition of the market tests, though, is not the "truth" of ideas but their marketability. That is to say, their superfluity relative to truth.