Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Profit, Intention, and Quality

A few weeks ago, I read this listicle of ways in which dog breeding has ruined dogs. This morning I realized that this idea gives structure to some nebulous thoughts I've had about media in general and the Internet in particular.

Sometimes when some ancillary product of behavior becomes the intentional product, that kills the product itself. Sometimes in class I tell students that the "animal spirits" idea of economic recessions is like when you're learning to ride a bike; the first time you are actually riding, things are going okay until you think, "Holy smokes, I'm doing it! I'm riding a--" and then you crash. It was the conscious verbalization that killed it. That's why you can say "banana" every time you need to until you need to say it 15 times fast.

Dogs owned by associated people would breed, and this produced breed variation. But when the breed variation became the focus, all hell broke loose. We used to watch a Saturday-morning show about dog breeds that would describe the breed, tell what made them desirable, and tell what health problems they had. And every segment would end with our family saying, "Let's not get one of THOSE!" Did you know that pugs can have their eyeballs FALL OUT OF THEIR FACES?!?!?! (Warning: that link has a stupid video that plays with sound.) I guarantee you NO pug owners knew that before getting a pug!

There have always been people trying to monetize media, but that didn't make it bad. In fact, that made it awesome. Because people will provide services to you if they think that there's a benefit for them in it. But I feel there's a distinction between "I run a radio station because I want to make a profit" and "I make a profit and my particular method is running a radio station." In the second case, the ancillary product has become the intentional product. When this happens, when a suitcase manufacturer, for example, becomes a suitcase-themed profit manufacturer, quality declines and customers become frustrated. The brand has "jumped the shark."

So this is why the Internet of 2009 was superior to the Internet of today. Sure, in 2009 there were people trying to monetize the Internet, but because they didn't quite know how to do that yet, they were trying a bunch of different things, providing a huge range of services and information. But now profitable things are behind paywalls and non-profitable things are neglected.

It's not just the Internet this applies to. People have drawn attention to Hollywood only rebooting franchises and making sequels; others have shown that popular music is homogenized; the rise of reality TV is another example. I once read an article from a long-time TV writer who said people complaining that prime-time TV is over-sexualized aren't realizing that sex jokes are all TV writers are allowed to make anymore because of political correctness. Recently Jerry Seinfeld has complained that PC-ness has weakened all comedy in general. And while it might seem these anti-PC arguments aren't related to mine, I believe they are, because the automatic compliance with the tenets of PC-ness is a result of the "don't f*** with the formula" outlook of modern media. Everything has to be something that a corporation would feel comfortable sponsoring, which means it all has to offend no identifiable group, which means it has to be saccharine and repeated.

A few weeks ago, I went grocery shopping with my wife. When we turned off the car, the radio was playing a song. When we returned to the car maybe 90 minutes later, the radio was playing the same song. The same station was repeating a song within two hours. This process ends in everyone listening to "Everything Is Awesome" and watching "Where Are My Pants?" ad infinitum.

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