On my way home from work today I saw a man watching a bootleg copy of National Treasure on his portable DVD player. He seemed quite pleased with himself, showing off how up to the minute he could be, but not as pleased as I was to be noticing him, and drawing my little conclusions about how the movie’s content itself was entirely insignificant to the viewer, what mattered was that we registered that he was somehow above the law, in having the pirate DVD and in cranking its sound up on the subway car. It was the allure of novelty, the essence of consumer capitalism, pushed to a new extreme, thanks to technology.
Of course, it would have been better for him to have an advance screener to play on the subway before the movie was even released publicly. Then he could advertise his special access to everyone, like I do when I occasionally read a book in bound galleys that comes to the office where I work. When I am reading such a book, its content is secondary to the message I’m using it to send, that I can get things before everybody else can. It’s fun to take such books home on Thanksgiving vacation, say, and see how intrigued people are at the machinery of promotion. Of course, you can always go to the Housing Works bookstore on Crosbie Street (among other places) to get bound galleys to impress your own non-NYC friends. You don’t need to be a magazine grunt.
Lately, though, that thrill has worn off, and I just feel entitled to seeing such books for free, ahead of time. At a certain point, it just comes with the territory, and you begin to pretend its fundamental to your being able to perform your job, to know what’s happening a few steps ahead of the reading public who you’re supposed to serve. At that point, you’ve been hopelessly co-opted, and you’re another cog in the culture-industry machine, facillitating the unnecessary flow of commodities, keeping people preoccupied with trivia. Accepting promotional materials makes one complicit with the whole process; you don’t beat the system because you are supposed to feel special for getting it for free. There is no scoreboard to be had here.