Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Core Response #3: Exploring Late Capitalism and Audience Fragmentation

Sarah Banet-Weiser's "What's Your Flava?" invokes a lot of difficult questions, namely one that I've struggled with recently: what are we to do with countercultural movements that, because of the salience and public value of their ideology, are eventually co-opted for capital gain by the very forces they seek to dismantle? This phenomenon certainly isn't new - there's an interesting article here at Jacobin about how something similar happened to the riot grrl movement - but with the immediacy and accessibility of the Internet, the speed at which conscientious citizens are able to find an issue to mobilize around and at which corporations are able to channel said mobility into a marketable corpus of material self-expression has essentially leveled out. A brief survey of tags on Tumblr related to diversity or social justice, for instance, uncovers a huge pool of politically galvanized consumers, over half of whom are between the ages of 18-34. [2] Much like television's strategies of narrowcasting, any sizable group of people with clearly differentiated interests represents a heretoforth untapped direction for the flow of content generation to follow, and the emergence of a new niche demographic that falls into a traditionally lucrative age range is cause for pursuit. This isn't just unique to film and television: the Jacobin article points to music's struggle to keep counterculture and capitalism apart, and in video games it can be seen as recently as 2014's Social Justice Warriors. Because gaming is still in the infancy of its social consciousness, it remains to be seen whether questions of social justice can be matured and extended beyond superficial satirical treatments, but considering the medium's tendency to stumble into the film industry's problems in its historically blind attempts to copy it, I am rarely hopeful.

Banet-Weiser's identification of Dora the Explorer as a political figure employed strategically by Nickelodeon to diversify its market profile and increase its cultural capital by representing a programming model that is both inclusive and "good business". The show is laden with a wide breadth of Hispanic and Latino tropes that are unified, incompletely and unconvincingly, within the marketable and panethnic Dora; culture is respected and "difference" is "embraced" [1], but only in unchallenging ways, because to have Dora speak to children at their level about race doesn't fit into the "market imperative". In this state, the show is simply another example of careless narrowcasting that aggregates the supposed representational wants and needs of an audience typically shortchanged in the politics of visibility and molds them into a product that fits with this wide market concept of diversity but is unable to extend its treatment of the demographic beyond familiar cultural stereotypes. Are counterculture and market diversity doomed to cannibalize themselves infinitely under models of capitalist content creation, diluted continually in an attempt to reach a growing and thus increasingly fragmented audience? Is there any way to avoid this model's transformation of signifiers of cultural difference into stereotypes meant to assure us of our own belonging?

Works Cited

[1] Banet-Weiser, Sarah. “What’s Your Flava?: Race and Postfeminism in Media Culture.” Interrogating Postfeminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture. Eds. Diane Negra and Yvonne Tasker. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.
[2] "Infographic: Who's Really Using Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram in 2015". January 12, 2015. Adweek. Web.

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