New entertainment

So I was thinking of Colbert’s latest “call” to the nation, namely that people should send in why David Geffen deserves the job as an intern at the Colbert Report, in 8 words or less (supposedly you’re supposed to Email him at with a response).

Anyway, it got me thinking – part of Colbert’s humor is getting the audience to do whatever the hell he wants… tonight he asked for those “letters” and to make his audio-clip of his recent White House speech the #1 seller on iTunes (it was #5 during the show, as of now still is) – and I dug up from memory the Wikipedia elephant thing, the naming a bridge after him thing, and probably a crapload of other stuff.  And people do it.   And it becomes part of the overall humor/satire of the show.

Also, the recent Cartoon Network/[adult swim] campaign which backfired comes to mind – not quite the same thing, of course, but in a way events themselves become part of the joke, not just a satirical retelling of them.

Anyway, these aren’t really coherent thoughts but hopefully I can get across my point that perhaps more than ever before, the “audience” is on display as well as the performer, and to some extent in on the joke.  This can’t be a new thing – stuff like audience-participation improv, the premise behind “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and the like, etc. etc.  But more than ever, the audience produces as well as consumes the entertainment.

But it does bring to mind the deceptive, in my mind extremely deceptive, idea of “the power of you” as shown in the TIME person of the year thing, citing YouTube and the like as somehow “empowering.”  It’s still, for the most part, consumption, people.

You can customize the soundtrack to your life by making your own iPod playlists?  … You still bought an iPod and acquired (legally or otherwise) other people’s music.  And judging by what sells, other people’s rather formulaic and market-driven music.

You can text message your vote to choose the next American Idol, or in a nightly news poll?  … You still just paid a cell phone company probably $3 to “make your voice heard” on shit that doesn’t matter.

You got to build your own bear? … You still just paid a lot of money to put together a simple toy kit, using outfits already designed for you.

You can customize Windows Vista, your Nintendo Wii character, your TiVo choices, your cellphone ringtone, and your Fridays dinner menu to what YOU want?  … You still bought it.

You get a nice selection of about a half-dozen gift card designs at Target, from a birthday cake to a flower?  You still bought a freaking gift card, so someone else can buy more stuff.

Bottom line, “the power of you” is to some degree a deception.  I’m not a Luddite, but I do think hidden in the customization and personalization is some degree of homogenization and still consumption handed down from the top.  I’m not saying everyone is a mindless consumer here.  I’m just saying that it’s good to take a step back and take a long, healthy look at what you’re really buying into.  Don’t let freedom of choice alone lull you into a feeling of real individuality.  Who is giving you these choices, and what do have to consume in order to have the option of making them?

In summary:  consumption.  We can’t not do it; but sometimes it’s good to think about what and why we consume so damn much.


3 comments so far

  1. Curtis Plowgian on

    This post reminds me of my conception of free will. I believe in free will, but at the same time I believe that our free will is always very limited. Often our choices are between two alternatives (i.e. should I do this thing or not do it?), and while we sometimes get more choices than two, we are rarely free to do whatever the hell we want (i.e. we can’t shoot fireballs from our hands because it’s physically impossible). To use a more real-world example, when the slaves were emanicpated in 1863 (1865?), they were technically free from slavery, but they were not yet free from indentured servitude, racism, Jim Crow Laws, etc. We take what choices and what freedom we can get. Thus, “customizable” products are appealing, because we have more choices, thus we feel more empowered. Programs like TFA are appealing, because they hypothetically empower (via education) the poorest members of our society. Whether this power amounts to anything in the future remains to be seen, but it makes us feel good in the meantime. People who really want tangible power (i.e. ambitious people), either work their butts off to affect change in the world, or burn out while trying because the change they want to make is not within their power.
    A side note: as an iPod user, I’ve gotta say it’s really freakin’ convenient to be able to fit your entire music collection in your pocket. Likewise I would imagine TiVo is convenient because you can watch the programs you want at the time of day you want. I don’t know if those points are relevant at all (they probably aren’t), but I figured I’d throw them out there.

  2. zozer319 on

    That’s true – I am rather critical of the i-Phenomenon but I don’t think music players, even those, are inherently bad. I just think they’re an indication/example of that larger move toward “customization” but still mass-marketing. I mean, I don’t have an iPod per se but I do have an mp3 player. I wanted to comment more generally in my post on consumption patterns and the phenomenon of “YOU!” (i.e. user-powered). A lot of times it is marketed to present the user/consumer with choices.
    But yes, the free will connection is an interesting one. : )

  3. Alex on

    Thank You

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