Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. Musings from someone who sees stories everywhere.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Commercialization and popular media

Have you ever wondered at the declining standards of popular magazines and newspaper supplements? You know the kind of writing I’m talking about; the stuff you flick through while waiting at the dentist’s or for a haircut?
I keep meeting folks who dismiss this kind of reading as ‘utter crap’. So why are these publications seen and read just about everywhere?

The criteria for judging writing as trash is purely a matter of perspective. Those who love the popular magazine type of fare with their morning cuppa may dismiss my writing as so much paper fit to be rolled up by the toilet side. One man's meat being another man's poison, blah blah, yadda yadda.

That apart, the secret to the success of such publications is advertising sponsorship. Don’t miss the never ending cornucopia of 'articles' in such papers, which eternally harp on the benefits of certain lifestyle products like wine, botox treatments, etc. Take any popular commercial publication. They cater in varying measures to commercial lobbies, whether for promoting beauty or lifestyle products, or other consumerist fare.

Botox and sugar substitutes are perfect examples of what I’m talking about. Doctor friends tell me that these substances can be downright harmful. The label on a popular sugar substitute prominently displayed on local supermarket shelves reads; endorsed by WHO studies. What the label doesn’t say is, which year that study was undertaken, and whether there were subsequent studies not only disproving those claims, but also showing some dangers in continued use of the product.

So do you get my point? The manufacturers of such products have their lobbies and push, directly and indirectly, to have their products 'endorsed' by 'experts' in articles. Articles targeted at suckers with fat wallets who flick through a popular glossy magazine while being chauffeur-driven to work.

Similarly, the photos of the evening's happening events (read pubs, bars, restaurants) would probably have a deeper significance. Offer the media persons their beer and freebies, some other benefits to the publication, and you have some lovely, convincing indirect advertising.

A win-win situation for all concerned. Even for you, because you get so much extra paper to line your kitchen shelves and sell to the raddi walla.

IMHO, the magic of popular publications is to dumb themselves down to appeal to the masses, who constitute their huge readership and also keep the advertising-consumerism chain rolling.

The 'low level' articles with surrogate advertising appeals not only to the mass readership, but also very much to the advertising lobbies and the newspaper itself. It is they (the advertisers) who pay for the newspaper we get.

The actual cost price of the daily newspaper would be around Rs 10-15 but we pay only 2-3 rupees. The advertisers bear the burden, and that is why the managements of papers support them.

As for 'high level' writing, I wrote this 4k word long literary story about a guy who collects newspapers (ten years' back copies) as a means of coping with personal tragedy. That story is doing the rounds, getting very encouraging feedback from editors, but it is still unpublished.

If I write another article extolling the virtues of botox treatments (which doctor friends tell me might cause more harm than good, besides being frightfully expensive) the article will be lapped up and I will be paid for it.

That is the system. Money talks.

An American writer friend tells me things are not much better with the consumerism driven mass media in her own country.

The fact is, give people the world over their pubs, malls, fast cars and movie gossip, and they are too happily engrossed to care for much else. Those concerns are best left to the miniscule minority of 'losers' who probably live in ivory towers or idealistic erewhons.

IMHO it always has been, and probably always will be like this. Most people will accept anything that is fed to them with a spoonful of sugar or money. It is difficult to think, harder still to think in a sustained and sustainable manner and dig deeper into things. It also doesn't pay ;-) so even some of the few who can, do not care to.

I am not being judgmental. Money drives the world. Many of us here scream ourselves hoarse because writers are not being paid enough. Many of us seek money, and consider only getting paid well a mark of success.

Similarly, money drives what is being published, what is being dished out to the consumer. Oops, sorry, reader. We consume/read whatever someone chooses to subside for a commercial purpose.

The popular publications and other forms of mass media do not care for, are not looking out for, serious investigative work or serious literary work.

Nobody paid Vincent Van Gogh for his art, though he is today, long after his death, considered one of the all time greats. But the ad whizzes get paid piles for all those brilliant, cool, sexy ads which sell more shampoos, luxury cars, soaps.

Nobody pays those who try to create art with words. But you DO get paid for churning out reams of not all that well written or intelligent stuff which sells, to consumer /readers, a certain lifestyle. Popular mass media basically needs an endless stream of ‘copy’ to accompany those glossy ads on the adjoining page about snazzy cars, beauty products, botox, etc,

The media needs and encourages articles which will appeal to the reader without taxing him intellectually. The article must not outshine those masterpieces of artistic creation; THE ADS.
What is mass produced is a total package of articles/stories and ads targeted at the reader who will drool over the glossy pages and rush to buy more, more, more.

Entertainment, dumped down to cater to the needs of various consumerist lobbies, SELLS.
I say this having written nearly a hundred articles for various commercial publications. It was fun while it lasted, but I don't do it any more and choose to remain 'invisible.

Guess why.

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