Naomi Klein writes:
>The mergers have bred a monster race of slick and safe entertainment
>caricatures. Through carefully timed releases of movies, magazines, video
>games, CDs and CD-ROMs, they can now hijack our culture on every front and
>feed all the profits into the same pockets.
>In this era of so-called information choice, synergy has emerged as a means
>of controlling consumption so thoroughly that choice is practically taken
>out of the equation.
I'm always intrigued to read criticism of one medium by another--as in news
stories *about* news coverage of sensational trials or Naomi Klein's
analysis in the TORONTO STAR of the web woven by Time Warner around its
release of SPACE JAM (thanks to Chris Worsnop for reprinting it for us).
Klein's piece charts one example of contemporary intertextuality and media
commerce and I enjoyed reading it for that, but I also am wary of newspaper
articles that attack film and other media industries as if they [newspapers]
were somehow separate from those industries and could not be tarred by the
same brush. Is the TORONTO STAR itself not owned by a larger media concern
(this is not a wholly rhetorical question; I really don't know)? Why are
newspapers left out of her list of "carefully timed releases"? Could the
TORONTO STAR not be liable to the same sorts of criticism as Klein levels at
the "Time Warner-Turner empire"?
In her efforts to chronicle the inner workings of this empire (a term with
interesting connotations of imperialism and colonialism), Klein overstates
her case with regard to ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY's participation in the SPACE
>The current issue of Entertainment Weekly - owned of course, by Time Inc. -
>plugs the Space Jam website and the Warner Music Space Jam soundtrack. An
>interview with R. Kelly, who performs on the album, asks such hard-hitting
>questions as: ``So what does R. Kelly have in common with Bugs Bunny?''
>The fawning review declares that the soundtrack ``is more than just another
>all-star Jam session - it's a play-by-play of contemporary R&B.'' It's a
>bold musical claim, considering that the disc contains a song by one Bugs
>Bunny, making his debut as a gangsta rapper.
I hesitate to defend EW (which aspires to be a media watchdog, but clearly
is not), but I do want to point out that its following issue (22 November
1996) contains a review of SPACE JAM by Lisa Schwarzbaum that excoriates the
film. She rates it a D+ and ends with the following:
"This mediocrity disguised as entertainment, this greed promoted as
synergy--this, to paraphrase that seminal media study, BROADCAST NEWS, is
what the devil looks like. It's Tasmanian and it's coming to a multiplex
My point is not that EW--"owned of course, by Time Inc."--is free of
corporate hegemony, of helping to "control consumption." Clearly it is not.
However, I think that a more accurate view of the mediasphere must allow
that "synergy" does not control consumption and eliminate viewer choice, as
Klein maintains. Rather, synergy fits into certain media discourses and
that those discourses frequently contain *contradictory* values. One week
EW validates SPACE JAM, the next week it attacks it.
The viewer/reader's consumption is not fully determined or controlled by
these discourses. Instead, his/her viewing/reading is a process of bringing
his/her discourses into contact with the discourses of the text--as Stuart
Hall and other ethnographers would put it. In this manner, values are
constantly negotiated and re-negotiated.
The mergers of media giants are dangerous things, I believe, and can have
very real effects on texts, values and discourses--as when mogul Ted Turner
steps in and stalls the release of Cronenberg's CRASH (reported,
incidentally, in EW--owned of course by Time Warner-Turner)--but it is
dangerous to presume that financial mergers necessarily lead to discursive
ones. Ideology, as Althusser maintains, has a life of its own even though
it's bullied around by economics.
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