Archive for July, 2015

Brown Shirts Don’t Make It

July 25, 2015

The news of the past weeks was more of the new normal covered by this blog, 12-16-14 “The New Normal”. “Well over 10 percent of the U.S. population suffers from a mental disorder and owns a firearm” (approx. 30 million people). Discharging the effects of that illness through acts of violence has continued as one of their viable options according to their subjective interpretation. Sick, yes? But after all, it is an illness, and the availability of weaponry is much like that of large screen TV’s, automobiles, or cookware. It’s there, so why not use it? Flying low under the radar in all this, unnoticed and unreported, is the tacit acceptance and growth of the brown shirts. Brown shirts? Weren’t they the ultra-conservative, paramilitary political organizations throughout Europe (and to a limited degree the U.S.) during the depression years of the 1930’s? Indeed, it was so. Back then, war correspondence showed uniformed participants engaged in violent struggles in Ethiopia, China, Spain, etc. Brown shirts were called brown shirts because, well, they wore brown shirts to reproduce an appearance of uniformity. Today’s wars, it’s hard to tell whose side you are observing. For the most part combatants wear whatever street attire fashionable in that part of the world, with organized armies even attempting to blend in, be camouflaged. Gang colors are so yesterday. With the recent news events, Newark made overtures to being included with the bigs along precisely those lines. After one of the now “new normal” killing events, individuals with high powered firearms appeared at various shopping centers and storefronts; the same weaponry used by the perpetrators of the recent attacks. The attacks, one at a church, one at a U.S. military site, and the latest at a cinema (again) spawned these individuals to take it upon themselves to set up a perimeter to protect the U.S. military (who is there to protect the U.S.). Confused? Don’t be. It is part of being human to continuously repeat traumatic events in the hope they will dissipate, go away (grainy Pearl Harbor film, Edmund Pettus Bridge footage, Dallas assassination film, 911 video, etc.). What differs here is that the event is not being repeated through representations (narrative or visual) but through performance. The exceptionalism this performs is troubling. Carl Schmitt pointed out that “the political sovereign is the person who decides on the state of exception.” And exception to the 10% statistics previously cited certainly applies here (any grouping finds 10% of members owning firearms and suffering illness). This was witnessed by a shot being fired by a display of those volunteers doing just such “service” in Lancaster. In other circumstances, the news media would have described this as a shooting took place at the mall or gunman fires shots, etc. In this case it was quickly dismissed as an exceptional “accident.” According to the 10% statistics (borne out by recent events), the perpetrators of the mass killings were mentally, socially, emotionally ill individuals who responded to their internal torment through recourse to readily available means. Only in these cases it was with firearms. Statistically, the targeting of this disturbed response is as random and unpredictable as the individual perpetrators themselves – a school, a church, a cinema, a restaurant, a worksite, a military installation, etc. But the new brown shirts will address all that with the exception of themselves at the same time being not included in the otherwise indifferent 10% statistics. Perhaps in the future their interrogating gaze will be determining entrance and egress at day care centers, convenience stores or wherever else they are compelled to display their traumatic repetition performance. “The political sovereign is the person who decides on the state of exception.” Uniforms are so passé. Street clothes and camo are de rigueur.

Got News?

July 17, 2015

Recently (June 2015) the Columbus Dispatch announced the finalization of its sale to New Media Investment group, a holding company. Gatehouse Media is now the publisher of the Dispatch. Gatehouse Media used to be Liberty Group Publishing (sounds pretty liberating, doesn’t it?) until it went belly up (bankrupt) and became (reorganized as) Gatehouse Media. Confused? You thought New Media Investment “bought” the Dispatch? Don’t be. They are all just entities existing only in contemplation of the law (SCOTUS definition of a corporation along with now being persons). Liberty Group, or Gatehouse sell stock to raise capital to run their operation to make a profit to pay a dividend to the stockholders who supplied them the capital through the purchase of the stock. In turn, New Media Investment is likewise an entity existing only in contemplation of the law. However, New Media (a holding company) operates by owning and manipulating the stock of other companies (and the companies themselves), thereby giving them ultimate say through either “holding” the majority shares of stock or all the shares outright (“wholly owned subsidiary”). Their day to day work (if one dares designate it as such) is buying up cheap or undervalued companies, restructuring companies (reorganizing, regrouping, downsizing, selling assets, etc.), as well as selling/trading the acquisition’s stock, etc. (money making money). Such New media Investment is now doing with the Dispatch through their anticipated move to a smaller building and eventual sale of the archive Dispatch location (an expendable asset). Leaner and meaner in the digital age though the Wolfe’s retained control of their broadcasting subsidiaries (acting in turn as a holding company with majority interest in WBNS, etc.). Gatehouse, however, will be printing the paper not only for the Dispatch but also for the Advocate, owned by Gannett Company, Inc. Confused again? Don’t be. The Wolfe family sale was the last major city, family owned paper to relinquish control and sell out to a corporate entity (Liberty, Gatehouse, New Media, etc. are all corporations while the Wolfe’s were, like Buffett or Pickens, majority stock holders in their own legally defined entities). It is the new now. Although Gatehouse, like Gannett, will have a digital presence online, it will focus on paper. In the paperless age, how is this possible? Scott Timberg, author of Culture Crash (2015), quotes from Robert Levine’s book, Free Ride – “According to statistics from the Newspaper Association of America, a print reader is worth an average of about $539 in advertising alone, while an average online reader is worth $26. The money saved on printing and distribution doesn’t come close to covering the difference.” Hence, Gannett owns the small town central Ohio papers, Gatehouse likewise does The Other Paper in Cols. as well as the local weeklies. What does that have to do with the news? Afterall, newspapers have always relied on advertising revenue, even when family owned. The difference lies not with where the money comes from, but where the money goes. Family owned, or employee owned for that matter, implicates integration in the very fabric of the locality, city or region that the business draws its customers as well as its employees. Profits earned in the community, directly or indirectly, return to the community. Gannett Company, Inc., which owns the Advocate, operates no different than New Media Investment Group. Ditto moving the Advocate newspaper operation to a smaller facility in anticipation of selling off its headquarters building downtown (after liquidating its printing operation – selling off assets). Advocate profits ultimately go to the Gannett corp and the shares bought and sold in the financial districts of Wall Street NYC. Profits earned in the community leave the community. Investment in the community consists primarily in lip service. The what, where, when, how and why of news now becomes solely a function of advertising priorities. Hence the lopsided Advocate focus on business news and sports. State, national and international matters follow Gannett’s USA Today “journalism of hope” – rewriting press releases, “reader’s digest” USA Today rehashes, and anything/everything favoring business, local or otherwise. This is evidenced by the almost total absence of any local writing in the Op Ed section where a stable of syndicated “columnists” provide the tennis game at center court. Ditto “letters to the editor.” One is led to believe that there is an absolute dearth of critical thinkers, writers or scholars within Newark on anything pertaining to the Newark community. Newark must be dumb. Woodward and Bernstein would be hard pressed to find employment with the Advocate for they totally relied on the backing and support of their editor and publisher. Shearer and Gannett are completely committed to advertising. Got news?

Got Culture?

July 14, 2015

New publication (2015) entitled Culture Crash: the killing of the creative class by Scott Timberg is a worthwhile read. Through interviews, expose’s, statistics and critiques Timberg orchestrates an account of creative class exit. Akin to Hilary’s “It takes a village”, Timberg shows that “It takes a creative class” to have a culture. A coalescence of new technology, corporate capitalism and an economics of deliberate income disparity results in the loss of livelihood and future for innumerable artists, musicians, writers, designers, journalists, photographers, etc. Timberg maintains the creative class is more than these. It also includes the de facto curators, critics, creative savants, etc. found owning or clerking bookstores, record shops, video/movie/DVD outlets, clubs, media publications, etc. Anyone engaged by any aspect of art, production or reception, comprises what it takes to make culture. That group is disappearing. Aw, c’mon, new technology has liberated us so that greater and easier access to the production/reception of art has become a reality for all. And it has. Only that reality pays just shy of nothing. (““You know how many hits you need on Spotify to make the minimum wage each month?” the roots-musician and University of Wyoming economics professor Jason Shogren asked. “More than four million.” “The young, tech-savvy cellist Zoe Keating has done everything digital cheerleaders advocate: she self-releases her music, has 1.2 million Twitter followers, and, in 2013, between two million You Tube views and 400,000 Spotify streams, earned from both services a total of about $3,000”” pgs. 94-95). The handful of people owning the servers amass millions. Timberg describes this new bent displacing culture as “All or nothing.” Top sports competitors receive “All” while others who made the event possible by competing (the also rans) get “nothing.” Capitalism is competition. But art is not. Easel painting and golf may share being solitary endeavors. Who appreciates a painting on the lowest score (par, below par or over)? Remember, the culture critic has also been discarded as expendable, replaced by critiques of box office draw, marketing expertise, brand viability, number of likes and increasingly “personal “ algorithms (Timberg points out that within the entire U.S. there are only 2 dance critics employed by publications. Art students are instructed to create a brand for themselves.). This “All or nothing” economy results in deliberate income inequality manifested by superstar musicians, actors, journalists, and block buster ”hits”, top ten writings, songs, movies, etc. mostly by the same producers. Celebrity obsession displaces mega lotto dreaming with its Horatio Alger promise of being a winner (again, the mindset of all or nothing). Whatever happened to jazz, the great original American music form? Shush, no Ken Burns, please. Jazz receives no air play on corporate controlled radio (with predetermined play lists not compiled by the station’s DJ). It has vanished from accessible TV and film and is not covered by corporate media owned publications. Performance venues, like clubs, are few and far between. To be a young jazz talent today is to live out of your car. Marketing may have made P.T. Barnum a great circus impresario but it doesn’t make music. For Timberg, culture is the glue that holds a people together, gives them a commonality accessible to any and all, keeps them from the isolation that perpetuates social catastrophe.

This book is a must read for those troubled by 2015’s Newark Famfest (which, in keeping with Timberg’s insight, was never reported on after the event, never critiqued). Famfest embodied all the elements that Timberg attributes to the crash of culture and the demise of the creative class. Corporate executive committees determined production oblivious to the everyday workings of any pre-existing “creative class” (as though the class was guaranteed to manifest itself to ensure a success). Organization followed the deliberate income disparity economy of paid community leaders and “others”, totally promoting and relying on new technologies for event promotion, communication and coordination. Analysis agrees with Timberg – once it’s gone, you cannot create the creative class through some Donald Trump Apprentice program. Contemporary American culture was prefigured by the Grand Old Opry’s Minnie Pearl who made it a point to leave price tags on all that she appeared in.