Well I am still alive after the session with the personal trainer this morning – I was very proud of myself as I even managed to run (without falling over). I ache from head to foot – I was warned this would happen – but have decided I want to give this exercise thing a go and will be pounding the pavements again in the next few days. First I have to buy some running shoes with a proper bouncy sole. My old skool Adidas just don’t cut the mustard and I will do myself a disservice if I attempt anything more than a trip to the corner shop.
Ah yes. I’m now sitting here feeling very tired indeed, mindful of the fact that I have to write an essay for my MA Course on the economic and political forces facing the culture industries. I also have to predict future developments.
It’s tempting to be facetious and say we will all be wearing virtual reality helmets like they did in The Lawnmower Man (any excuse for a hoary old 90s pop culture reference; no one would ever guess that I spent 10 years making nostalgic archive based TV shows. Oh dear me no…)
Or to come over all tinfoil hat and say that there won’t be any cultural industries because of impending economic catastrophe/nuclear war/alien invasion.
However, based on the assumption that the future is usually a bit like now, I will be writing about the impact of neo-liberalism on the cultural industries. By neo-liberalism I mean the school of thought that says free market good – everything else bad. The “There Is No Alternative” mindset.
I will explain how the increasing concentration of ownership in the hands of a smaller and smaller number of corporations creates a media that reproduces those values and presents them as normal – even though those values may not be of any use to the consumers of that media. This is where the concept of hegemony comes in, something I shall return to in a minute.
As part of my research, I read a fantastic essay by Robert W McChesney called Global Media, Neo Liberalism and Imperialism.
Writing in 2001, McChesney explains:
‘Neoliberalism is almost always intertwined with a deep belief in the ability of markets to use new technologies to solve social problems far better than any alternative course.
The centre-piece of neoliberal policies is invariably a call for commercial markets to be deregulated. What this means in practice is that they are “re-regulated” to serve corporate interests”.
I really loved the “deregulated/re-regulated” paragraph as it nicely encapsulates that “the market” is not a force of nature like a tidal wave but the product of the collective actions of men (and government is never far away). Whether it’s setting up tax havens or cutting corporation tax, government is just as hands on in these market fixated neo-liberal times as it is way in the bad old days of anti trust laws, state subsidies and super tax. What McChesney seems to be saying is that neo-liberalism is about is a re-calibration of the rules, putting the boot firmly back on the foot of big business (and firmly in the face of most of us).
I enjoy reading about neo-liberalism as for many years I was fairly uncritical of it. Before I had dependent children I was a capitalist’s wet dream – a self employed, home-owning “knowledge worker” who had saw the world in a very “me,me,me” way – a fairly typical product of our culture. I believed that free markets were good – the “value” of my flat just kept on going up and the economy seemed buoyant for people like me – white, middle class, over-educated residents of South East England.
But since the boom times turned to bust and I began to experience the struggle of combining a career with family life in an industry where you basically have no employment rights, I have come to realize that there is no such thing as a free market and that a world that allows big business to do what it pleases is not going to do me (or many people) any good. That’s why I love the Occupy “We are the 99 per cent slogan” so much. Because it’s TRUE.
But why do so many people still buy into the narrative of free market = good (even if you are owned rather than the owner). Look at Ed Balls (do we really have to?) who I wrote about the other day and much of the Labour leadership (the story is obviously very different at grassroots level).
This is where the concept of hegemony comes in – the idea that the dominant class uses media and other cultural institutions (such as the education system) to convince us that its values are “normal” and that alternatives to the status quo are a load of old cobblers.
The concept of hegemony (is it HEDGE-EM-ONEY or HEG-EM-ONEY?) comes initially from Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Marxist with a spectacular head of hair.
The concept is central to the writings of cultural studies guru Stuart Hall, whose analysis is always spot on. I’ve read loads of Hall as part of my course recently, but I first encountered him in a Guardian article last year.
It’s called “The March of the Neo-Liberals” and is one of the clearest pieces I have read on the subject. Hall writes:
‘Hegemony is a tricky concept and provokes muddled thinking. No victories are permanent or final. Hegemony has constantly to be worked on, maintained, renewed, revised. Excluded social forces, whose consent has not been won, whose interests have not been taken into account, form the basis of counter-movements, resistance, alternative strategies and visions … and the struggle over a hegemonic system starts anew.’
In other words, hegemony is a process of struggle; for Hall, culture is a place where competing meanings struggle for domination yet resistance is always possible. Yet resistance faces being swallowed up by the dominant order – for example the counter culture of the 60s soon became another source of profit for the entertainment industry.
Hall terms this struggle for resistance – yet perpetual incorporation – articulation. However, this process does not negate resistance; what we have is an uneasy marriage of meaning, a constant struggle for domination.
Hegemony is about convincing us that the interests that dominate and stifle our very existence, that are taking money out of the economy and into tax havens, are our friends. Anyone who says they are not is a nutter. Hegemony sometimes allows other voices a look in but never for long.
It’s a perpetual struggle. It’s very tiring and thinking about it makes my head hurt. The trouble is, once your brain is tuned into this stuff, it’s hard to switch it off.
Time for a cup of tea I think….