Disciplined by democracy

Once upon a time, the culture industry was fraught with difficult decisions about which people to push as stars — who to cast in films, whose records to produce, whose books to publish, and so on. But if the current trend in reality programming is any indication, those dismal days of potential failure are over. What, with the American Idol shows, and Project Runway, and similar shows dealing with the fine arts in production, the culture industry should never again have to make something that doesn’t come with a readymade audience. In fact, they never should make something like that. That would imply some kind of elitism on the part of our corporations, whose duty is to cater to and flatter those tastes which already exist. This flourish of ersatz democracy in the realm of culture, where home viewers vote for what they want before the industry has to go to the trouble of producing and distributing it seems a perfect panacea. Why shouldn’t the majority rule in terms of what art our society makes? Why shouldn’t artists be disciplined by democracy? And think of all the money industry will save not making products the market rejects.

It used to be that part of what a consumer paid for in an album was the cost of the label tracking down talent and functioning as a filter. But we’ve grown beyond that as a people and we don’t want filters anymore. Now what we pay for in an album is the privelege of having a tangible souvenir of all our wise cultural taste and wisdom that went into it. What we want is cultural product that glorifies ourselves. The genius of American Idol is that we have made the record and the actual singers, well, their sort of incidental, our raw material.

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