Im back with a new set of study blogs :) These ones will be focusing on Critical Inquiry, the title of the unit. I hope you enjoy, with this blog, and blog post B, looking at definitions of popular culture, and the culture industry!
A Critical Analysis of the "Banksy Opening" to the 2010 Simpsons Episode
“The culture industry”. A term coined by critical theorists of the Frankfurt School, such as Adorno and Horkheimer, which refers to the mass production of art and culture for the purpose of capitalism. They theorise that the production of culture is standardized, that “Films, radios and magazines make up a system that is uniform as a whole and in every part” (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1993), and that this is thrust upon the consumer as “the man with leisure has to accept what cultural manufacturers offer him”.
The result of this, the cultural product, is popular industry. An industry filled with deviations and reflections upon “popular” products. John Story theorises that popular culture is culture that:
37 seconds into the sequence, we see a room filled with identical workers, greyscaled, producing iterations upon the lounge room scene from earlier in the video. The room has militaristic guards, meshed windows and cracked and broken walls. The overall impression given is of dank oppression, with the “Simpsons” art standing in stark relief.
There are two areas I wish to address in relation to this scene; the first looks at the caricatures in this scene as a single entity, without individualism working to create a commercial product, the second looks at them as separate entities, all highly influenced by a singular product and seeking to emulate it for personal gain.
In the first, we see an assembly line of drones, all working on minute pieces of the presented whole. We are influenced by the greyscale appearance of the workers to view them as dull, without life. I extend this meaning to “without inspiration, or creativity”. We are shown the production of a product made without meaning excepting that derived from monetary gain.
In the second, we can look on the workers as representative of different agents within popular culture. With “The Simpsons” being presented as a standard of successful culture (within the monetary context, at the very least), we see the room as derivative creators, struggling to achieve success by creating variations upon the formulae that “The Simpsons” has presented.
Before I explore further, I would also like to point out Banksy’s use of the Asian stereotype as the workers. Due to overpopulation, Asian countries such as Japan, Korea, China and India have developed stereotypes of countries driven by industrial techniques such as mass population assembly lines. A good example of this is the “50 Cent Army”. These were a collection of Chinese children employed by Chinese political parties to post propaganda online supporting the various agendas. Each child was paid 50c per post for this task. This technique was only viable due to the sheer number of workers available for the task.
Anthony Fung explores the effect of the labour intensive Asian workforce on the culture industry, stating that “… it is a strategy for big transnational companies to search for the cheapest locations to ‘Manufacture’ cultural products using low cost” (Fung, 2016). I believe that in this section, Banksy is attempting to bring to light the poor conditions many of these workers are subjected to.
Further into the sequence, we see the produced slides being taken and dipped in toxic liquid. Near the toxic liquid are piles of bones, and the liquid is obviously handled without care, as many barrels are leaking. This could be symbolic of a few things, such as the integration of “toxic” ideas into mainstream media (homophobia, sexism/male gaze, racism, discrimination, etc), or even a comment on the work conditions that members of the creative industries are subjected to in order to meet deadlines and goals within a commercial context. An example of this within the game development industry is “crunch culture”. Recognised as a problem facing a large portion of the industry, it has become commonplace for a game developer to be forced to work large portions of unpaid overtime in order to meet deadlines set by the company. A recent example of this was the closure of TellTale Games studio. This studio forced employees into “20 hours a day, up to 100 hours a week” (Farokhmanesh, 2018) consistently, with the pervasive threat of being let go if they refused. This is only a single example of the many toxic elements that creative practitioner work through.
Finally, the camera moves down a hole, through a series of underground shafts. Pervasive through these shafts is evidence of merchandise manufacture, culminating in animals being shredded for stuffed toys on the bottom floor. Adorono and Horkheimer portray culture as something that is thrust upon the people for passive consumption. “The man with leisure has to accept what the culture manufacturers offers him”. This is evident in this production. There is Simpsons music, Simpsons plush toys, Simpsons blankets and Simpsons house decorations. All in an effort to surround the consumer, to overwhelm them, within the sea of this product.
I do not believe this to be wholly true however. With the advent of the Information Age, society began to both create and consume. They learn the tenets and formulae of artistic creation, and dissect the pieces that are provided. Thus does the culture industry lose an element of its control, as the public begins to understand the tools of manipulation. Yes, trends will still occur, but when everyone may create, not everyone will blindly follow the popular movement. Many will instead experiment will areas hitherto discarded or given little importance. The regeneration of the Virtual Reality trend was seen as foolhardy until its success. The Battle Royale genre was only seen in “indie” games and mods such as H1Z1 (H1Z1, 2018) until the success of PUBG (PLAYERUNKNOWN: BATTLEGROUNDS, 2016), leading to world wide phenomenon Fortnite(Fortnite, 2018). These events provide proof that the individual may still diverge from the influences of mass culture. It would have been difficult for Adorno and Horkheimer to forsee this reality without knowledge of future events, such as the advent of the internet, its social trends, and the tools and information it would provide to anyone with a handheld device.
20th Century Fox. (2010). Simpsons [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DX1iplQQJTo
Adorno, T., & Horkheimer, M. (1993). The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.
Daybreak Game Company. (2018). H1Z1 [Windows/PSOS].
Epic Games. (2018). Fortnite [Windows/Mobile/Xbox/PS4].
Farokhmanesh, M. (2018). Toxic management cost an award-winning game studio its best developers [Blog]. Retrieved from https://www.theverge.com/2018/3/20/17130056/telltale-games-developer-layoffs-toxic-video-game-industry
Fung, A. (2016). Precarious Creativity: Global Media, Local Labor (p. 15 Redefining Creative Labor: East Asian Comparisons). California: University of California Press.
PUBG Corporation. (2016). PLAYERUNKNOWN:BATTLEGROUNDS [Windows/XBOXONE].
Story, J. (2014). What is Popular Culture?. Cultural Theory And Popular Culture: An Introduction.