Market Molds the Matter

Edward Jay Epstein has written two of the very best structural analyses of the media. One in the beginning of his career (News from Nowhere, still valid in form) and one a few years ago, the best overall view of the biz (The Big Picture).* I thought I would share a recent tight and taut example of his devil-in-details analysis of why comic book characters and extravagant violence are so prevalent strictly from structural business models.

I am not being facetious when I say this analysis applies, mutatis mutandis, to the popularity of Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, Newt Gingrich and other comic book characters in politics, particularly for cable and the broadcast news biz. Flawed though he was, the very savvy star, Schwarzenegger (the Thinking Man’s Reagan) could not lose because he was a living Action Figure just as Jesse Ventura [the Poor Man’s Ahnald] managed to be elected Minnesota Governor at least once (and sued anyone who used his action figure without permission). He may have been the inspiration if not the embodiment of the often used “TV politics is to politics what TV wrestling is to wrestling.”

Epstein points out that marketing is often at least half of the total cost of a movie and that the marketing is crucial to success. The most efficient way to market a movie is through tv. Research, he continues, indicates that their target, Frequent Movie Goers, are teenagers, then young adults and both groups often have the tv on all the time but with the sound off. This accounts for the high violence content of commercials for movies, which in turn accounts for the high violence of the movies themselves. The tail wags the dog.

This same method applies to election campaigns which spend most of their money on tv and thus emphasize visuals with flags and other simple symbols. This marketing method accounts for much of the actual issues that politicians address. The marketing tail wags the political discourse and technical means swamp democratic ends for plutocratic goals.