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° Rubrique About The World

ABOUT The World ...  

Par Claude Chastagner, professeur d'anglais à l'Université Paul Valéry à Montpellier.

   Fan Power Battling for power on the Internet 

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This is where America's young consumers come in, in two phases. First by creating the files-sharing sites which challenge the majors' monopoly over content distribution; second by organizing the response against the transnationals' attacks. This situation indicates a shift in the status of consumers. They are becoming increasingly empowered not only as consumers, illegally swapping products intended for personal consumption, but also as suppliers of content, offering their own versions of various artistic works on the Internet. They can now choose how to consume the sounds and images available on the market and what to do with them. The cliché of the passive consumer no longer holds. 

Fans have always put sounds or images to uses not necessarily forecast by their original creators (cf, the pornographic parodies of famous cartoons such as Popeye, Betty Boop or Superman sold sub rosa during the 1930s); but computer technology has enabled ordinary consumers to compete on par with the industry. There is now no limit, in terms of scope and quality, to what one can do with cultural products, be it films, videos, cartoons or music. Even Hilary Rosen, the uncompromising president of the RIAA, acknowledged the consumers' increasing power, explaining how "in the future, the cycle [the electronic industry selecting a format to which labels would record, the consumers eventually buying the end product] will be working backward. Consumers will be dictating the business models, and we'll be adopting them,"9 an opinion echoed by Bertelsmann chief executive Thomas Middelhoff at a press conference in New York: "There's no question that files-sharing will exist in the future as part of the media and entertainment industry and there's no way to deal with this fact (other) than to develop a business model for files-sharing."

  The transformation of the way popular musics and images are consumed alters the nature of popular culture itself. Let me briefly recall a few concepts. Just as there is no culture in general, popular culture cannot easily be characterized by its essence or by a set of intrinsic qualities or characteristics. Rather, throughout the 20th century, popular culture has been defined in terms of a dialectical opposition to the dominant culture, the product of inequality, difference, and conflict. It has been described as resulting from a process of appropriation of economic and cultural property and from both symbolic and real reproduction and transformation (Canclini 21). But since people carry out these processes while participating in the conditions of production, circulation, and consumption of the system in which they live, popular cultures are constituted within two spaces: labor, family, media and communication, i.e., the various activities through which the capitalist system organizes the life of all its members, and the practices and forms that popular sectors create for themselves. 

It has been argued that such theories, which owe much to Gramsci, put too strong an emphasis on the opposition between subordinate and dominant cultures, whereas they also combine and are interdependent. It cannot however be denied that the weight of media-originated culture is today stronger than ever, imposing an unequal exchange of material and symbolic goods, and the struggle for the ownership and control of the means of production has not abated. Thus, to the question "do the categories developed for the analysis of classical capitalism retain their validity and their explanatory power when we turn to the multinational and media societies of today with their 'third-stage' technologies?", Fredric Jameson answers that "the persistence of issues of power and control, particularly in the increasing monopolization of information by private business, would seem to make an affirmative answer unavoidable" (xiii). Of course, the labor theory of value, with its emphasis on quantity (quantity of labor time particularly) may be difficult to reconcile with the very nature of cultural and informational commodities, which represent mental rather than physical products. Nevertheless, even the arguments Daniel Bell uses to evidence the end of capitalism, such as the primacy of science and informational technologies, can be taken as "indices of a new, original,
global expansion of capitalism"(xiv).

Culture plays a key role in the expansion of capitalism. If the social and economic structures of our societies are to survive, each individual has to assimilate as well as possible the social order and the dominant ideologies while those in control of the economy try to maintain the consensus in order to protect their privileges. This requires, in Foucault's analysis, the ownership of the means of production and control (the military, the police, schools, firms, the media) by the ruling class. 

Yet, generating consensus through training and repression only can be dangerous. This is why for Bourdieu the control of cultural institutions is of paramount importance: cultural policies legitimate the dominant ideologies, adapt individuals to the economic and political structures, while covering up the violence the whole process requires. Cultural power not only reproduces the sociocultural order but also presents it as necessary and natural, concealing the economic power on which society rests and to whose maintenance it contributes (Canclini 78).

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° Rubrique About The World