The Internet Destroys Culture

I read the piece, copied below the fold, in todays WSJ and it got the wheels turning. I am not sure I agree with Elizabeth Wurtzel’s argument in whole. I do understand the exportation of American Pop culture and its effects around the world and how it has helped America “conquer the world”, but I am not sure that decreased profitability for music and movies translates into a loss of American Popculture.

The argument that music producers are honing in on one-hit-wonders because people buy music or steal music a-la-carte via the Internet does not resonate with me. I have no doubts that album and music sales are less profitable today then say 10 or 20 years ago. However to translate that idea into the argument that producers are focusing on one-hit-wonders does not make sense to me. Have you ever heard of a concert comprised of just 1 song?

For what album sales lack in profits producers and artists can make up for in ticket sales. Use music as a marketing tool to sellout concerts, in compilation with memorabilia etc.

Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead understand the “new world order” and are currently trying to figure out what works, not by fighting the tide by but utilizing the tides momentum to catapult theirs brands and art into another dimension.

This brief rebuttal to Wurtzel’s agrument is aimed to generate thoughts from YOU.

Do you think the internet is destroying American Made Entertainment? Blast some knowledge in the comments, or in a blog post of your own.

The Internet Is Ruining America’s Movies and Music
By ELIZABETH LEE WURTZEL
August 9, 2008; Page A11

Pete Yorn is a Los-Angeles based rock and roller with a gold-record career and Jesus of Nazareth good looks. His songs have appeared in “Spiderman” and “Me, Myself and Irene,” and his album’s have reached No. 18 on the Billboard charts.

If this were 1978, Mr. Yorn would be a multiplatinum artist living in a Malibu mansion with mountains of cocaine on every horizontal surface, lithe, hippie-ish blonde groupies with names like Veruschka and Christie lining the hallways, and ridiculous Larry Rivers paintings on the bathroom walls. But as it is, he has a cultishly loyal following, solid sales, a long-term recording contract, and a pretty darn good life — as good as it gets in today’s music industry.

The old-fashioned rock star has gone the way of the dodo and the dinosaur. Never again will we have another crazy-as-all-getout Axl Rose, another Jim Morrison who mistakes himself for a poet and has the hypnotic ability to convince a substantial audience it is so, or another Bob Dylan who changes the way a generation sees itself and the world.

Today’s music industry is either moribund or dead, depending on whom you ask. Downloading has destroyed it, and no one in the business is smart enough to figure out how to fix it.

You may feel that this is no great loss. But these rock stars were fun, larger than life people with real talent — and bad habits. Now all we’ve got left are the bad habits. All we’ve got left is Britney Spears.

In the era of the online music store — even if you buy from iTunes rather than stealing from LimeWire, the problem is the same — no one knows how to listen to a complete album anymore. Everything is slanted toward the hit single. This means that the music industry is oriented toward one-hit wonders rather than consummate musicians, and talent development is just not worth the trouble.

The one thing the United States exports with serious success is our popular culture. We have conquered the world not with our weaponry, but with our music and movies. If these industries suffer, so does our economy. We are already in trouble abroad as a producer of raw materials, light and heavy industry, and most manufacturing. But people still clamor for our imaginative inventions, our artistic output. Internationally, American culture outsells our aircraft, chemicals, food and motor vehicles.

In Italy, people still learn English by listening to Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde.” Germans still discover our language through the subtitles in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather.” In fact, 47% of our gross domestic product involves intellectual property (IP) transactions, and about 6% of our national worth — $626.6 billion annually — is from our copyright businesses. These are the segments of our economy that are suffering, or stand to do so, as a result of the Internet. The Internet, glorious as it is, should be thought of as the plague of postmodernity.

Entertainment is such a crucial part of the American way of life — because of the jobs it generates, the fun it engenders, the goodwill it creates world-wide — that the potential for its undoing is a national emergency that ought to at least merit a congressional panel or governmental alarm. The U.S. was meant to be a nation of commercial creativity. It is our birthright. It’s what we do.

It’s not just the music industry that has fallen apart. Hollywood’s motion picture factory is also blundering.

We tend to think of Hollywood the way immigrants envision America — as a place where the streets are paved in gold. Movie stars might continue to trip the life fantastic, and indeed there are plenty of Bentleys lining the parking lanes of Rodeo Drive. But a November 2007 report, published by the data analysis group Global Media Intelligence, informs us that: “Making movies — as distinct from owning libraries of fully-amortized films that continue to throw off sizeable profits — has gone from a modestly profitable activity to one that now generates . . . substantial losses over the initial release of films to all worldwide markets, a period of roughly five years.”

It’s hard to work up a lot of pity for the overpaid film world. But between Internet piracy, the fact that huge markets like China tend to disobey IP protocols, and a foolhardy tendency of studios to make unwise, profit-sharing deals with bankable talent, movies are not making money the way they used to or the way they should. And now that any old anybody with opposable thumbs can operate a digital camera, international markets have found they favor the locally produced fare over yet another sequel to “Rush Hour.” Bombay prefers Bollywood to Hollywood.

Hegemony is over. The days when everybody rushed out to Sam Goody to buy the new Beatles album as soon as it came out, the days when lines formed around the block at New York’s Ziegfeld Theater because the latest installment of Star Wars had opened — the days when certain cultural moments captured everybody together as if we’d all been granted a brief furlough from the prison house of reality — live on only in mild forms. That would be in crazy Harry Potter fans, in those of us who will still preorder a Bruce Springsteen album from Amazon.com.

Today there is far more excitement at the introduction of a new Apple product — look at how people flocked to get their iPhones! — than over anything artistic. The one creative area hardly affected by the encroachments of technology, at least insofar as its market has not caved, are fine arts like painting and sculpture. At a Sotheby’s auction in autumn 2007, Jeff Koons’s nearly two-ton, nine-foot, hot-pink stainless steel sculpture, “Hanging Heart,” fetched $23.6 million, a record for a work by a living artist. In November, Sotheby’s and Christie’s reported a return of $1.7 billion for that single month, up 24% from the previous November.

You cannot, after all, download a painting or a sculpture. The thingness of the thing itself — all that stuff Heidegger talked about when you read him in college — cannot be translated, even if an exhibit poster will do for poor college students and poverty-stricken bohemians looking for kitchen decorations. But the rich will still pay for the actual original.

This is antithetical to the American mission. I have nothing against all the great fine artists this country has produced, but they are a carryover from Europe. They are Old World. We’ll never overwhelm the planet with brushes and clay and pencils the way we did with celluloid and vinyl and acetate. If our most original painter was Jackson Pollock, he was still no Picasso, and we all know it.

Our movies and music are America. And the day the music dies, the party’s over.

Miss Wurtzel, an attorney, is the author of “Prozac Nation” (Houghton Mifflin, 1994).

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2 responses to “The Internet Destroys Culture

  1. i think the internet is a good rally cry for quality control. because music and movies were so profitable the profit became the only focus. entertainment lost itself in its own commerce. instead of integrity the goal was sales. but america has always had a great counter culture and will continue to do so. there is still plenty of decadence (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGIr6cyMdAE), drama (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zOA8i9UnEQ), and sincerity (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1kgZLgWpb8) in music today, you just have to keep your ear to the ground to find it. and if it doesn’t turn a profit, well there’s always the arm race.

  2. Could it also be that a market once monopolized by big American companies is now being infiltrated as anybody with an idea (be it musically or whatever) and a keyboard can have instant worldwide access?

    It could also be that people are waking up and realizing the rubbish that has been spewed out over the last two/three decades and are seeking their culture elsewhere.

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