Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Weekly Standard propagandizes for Big Media

I like the Weekly Standard, often described as the fountainhead of neoconservatism. So I was taken aback when I read this essay by contributor Andrew Keen. The argument he makes is that Big Media is good, and bloggers collectively are bad, because Big Media provides a better system of producing elite artistic and intellectual achievement. Here's the money paragraph:

"Is this a bad thing? The purpose of our media and culture industries--beyond the obvious need to make money and entertain people--is to discover, nurture, and reward elite talent. Our traditional mainstream media has done this with great success over the last century. Consider Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece, Vertigo and a couple of other brilliantly talented works of the same name Vertigo: the 1999 book called Vertigo, by Anglo-German writer W.G. Sebald, and the 2004 song "Vertigo," by Irish rock star Bono. Hitchcock could never have made his expensive, complex movies outside the Hollywood studio system. Bono would never have become Bono without the music industry's super-heavyweight marketing muscle. And W.G. Sebald, the most obscure of this trinity of talent, would have remained an unknown university professor had a high-end publishing house not had the good taste to discover and distribute his work. Elite artists and an elite media industry are symbiotic. If you democratize media, then you end up democratizing talent. The unintended consequence of all this democratization, to misquote Web 2.0 apologist Thomas Friedman, is cultural "flattening." No more Hitchcocks, Bonos, or Sebalds. Just the flat noise of opinion--Socrates's nightmare."

Bunk, bunk and more bunk. Nonsense cubed, too. Mr. Keen is using anecdotal evidence - the success of Hitchcock, U2 and an obscure writer - to justify Big Media's virtual monopoly in an industry that used to have much higher barriers to entry. What about all those outsiders who started outside the Big Media of their day? Motown, Chess, Sun Records ring a bell?

Mr. Keen laments that barriers to entry in the media market have been reduced to virtually nothing (witness this blog). What he wholly discounts is the effect of the consumer's choice. All the big blogs of today were started by individuals or small groups with nearly no notariety, but through their skill and hard work gained the trust and support of readers who came back for the quality of the product. Bloggers like me who post infrequently (though my quality is first rate) don't get the traffic. This is what Capitalism does. This is why markets are better than central planning. When consumer choice determines what succeeds, rather than the central planners who thrust product upon the powerless masses, that is what produces more elite achievement. The more centralized and planned a system is, the less it maximizes the talent pool.

Here's the real history of Big Media. For every genius it has nurtured and given voice to, it has turned away another genius. The key point is that a small, insular industry (especially one dominated by people of the same philosophical/political persuasion) could effectively keep out talent for reasons unrelated to talent. When any and all individuals, including talentless individuals, have the same playing field, the talent will rise to the top as it will be rewarded quickly and efficiently by consumers. We do NOT need a filter of Big Media deciding for us in movie exec offices, recording studios or book publishing offices, what is "good." We can do that for ourselves, thank you very much. What is good gets rewarded easier with better technology and access to the market than the old dinosaur ways.


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