Exhaustion of generic raw material

From Fredric Jameson, “Realism and Utopia in The Wire” (pdf)

Jameson points out how formulaic pop culture is losing some of its vitality with the reduction of all possible motives to one: greed. Capitalism, presumably, persuades us all that material advantage is the master motive: follow the money.

But we must also enumerate the shrinkage of motives for that indispensable ingredient: the murder. Not only did there used to exist an interesting variety of motives, they could be investigated by an interesting variety of private detectives, a species that seems to have become extinct. Social respectability — that is, the possibility of scandal and its damages; family structure and dynastic or clan systems; passions and obsessions of all kinds, from hatred and revenge to other complex psychic mechanisms—these are only some of the interesting sources for motivation that have become increasingly irrelevant in the permissiveness of contemporary society, its rootless and restless movement and postregionalism,
its loss of individualism and of bizarre eccentrics and obsessives — in short, its increasing one-dimensionality.

Thus today, paradoxically, the multiplication of consumer niches and the differentiation of “lifestyles” go hand in hand with the reduction of everything to the price tag and the flattening out of motivations to the sheerly financial: money, which used to be interesting in the variety of its pursuits, now becoming supremely boring as the universal source of action. The omnipresence of the word greed in all national political vocabularies recently disguises the flatness of this motivation, which has none of the passionate or obsessive quality of older social drives and the older literature that drew on them as its source. Meanwhile,
the psychic realm has also been drastically reduced, perhaps in part as a result of the omnipresence of money as an all-purpose motivation, perhaps also as a result of the familiarities of universal information and communication and the flattening of the individualisms… society today is one from which, for all kinds of reasons (and probably good ones), difference is vanishing and, along with it, evil itself.

This means that the melodramatic plot, the staple of mass culture (along with romance), becomes increasingly unsustainable.

Evil becomes inconceivable because greed is all too conceivable, and is written into everyone’s character to varying degrees. Some will obey the rules placed around when and how to rationally pursue one’s advantages; others won’t. As a result, pop culture becomes increasingly unable to deal credibly with moral subjects.

It never ceases to startle me that a brilliant thinker can be such a bad writer. It challenges some of my preconceptions about language and thought.

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