Sunday , May 22 2022

Doc On Star-Making Machinery

If you have been reading this site carefully, you may have noticed that I have been going through the archives of my old site for material that deserves a another look over here (all Blogcritics are encouraged to do the same).

In June Doc Searls wrote a brilliant essay on the commodification of celebrity and its ramifications for the future of the Internet and the entertainment industry. It deserves another look:

    On the phone yesterday, Howard Greenstein and I recalled a line from the old Joni Mitchell song, “Free Man in Paris”: …stoking the star-making machinery behind the popular songs.

    We realized that star-making machinery was what the DMCA was built to protect, and what the CARP/LOC processes have loyally served from the moment they began.

    That machinery (let’s call it SMM) is not what Internet radio is about, and it is not what the Internet itself is about. But it is what both threathen, and that’s why there are veins in the teeth of the RIAA.

    Today in the mail we got the latest Biography magazine. As usual I couldn’t bear to to look at it; but for the first time I understood why: because it’s so obviously part of the star-making machinery. It’s less product than factory: one more way the machinery makes its sausage. Realizing it was part of the SMM made me feel like I’d just found a body-snatcher pod in my mailbox.

    My stars are in my referers logs. They’re in my email, on my blogroll, and in everything I look up on Google. They have everything to do with intrinsic value, with authority, with the possibility I’ll be enlarged by getting to know them better.

    They have nothing to do with celebrity. They are outside the SMM. And I’m not unique in that respect. The same is true of most of us here in the blogosphere. I suspect it’s true to a huge and growing degree in the mass market as well.

    On the GeekCruise we took last month, we got to know the actor John DeLancie (at least as much as one can over a few meals and a few more hours of hang time). Before the cruise, we’d never heard of him — a fact that astonishes our friends who watch Star Trek or who have had other opportunities to sample John’s work, which is surely is no less terrific than the delightful readings he treated us to on the cruise. But we didn’t connect around any of that. We connected around personal shit — some of it funny, some of it painful, all of it deep. We came away liking the guy in ways that are not only outside the scope of celebrity, but excluded by its nature.

    Celebrity involves disconnected veneration, adoration and other forms of subordination to elevated status. We’ve made an industry of it, and that industry has caused massive economic distortions that cannot help but collapse — undermined by nothing more than what in Cluetrain we called “networked markets” that are “getting smarter faster than most companies.”

    (Add to that most governments, schools and other institutions that thrive to any degree on our inability or unwillingness to inform ourselves.)

    Over the past couple years we’ve all bashed dot-coms for their insane excesses; but that’s nothing like what we’ll be doing once we get some historical distance on the very similar kind of insanties that have been pro forma in the entertainment industry for the better part of a century.

    The entertainment industry is fundamentally about making stars. In spite of its name, it is not about entertaining people, except as an effect of the star system, which is really about entertaining mass quantities of people. SMM manufactures, packages and delivers celebrity as a product. It works to cause appetites for it, and to deliver mass quantities of stuff made appealing by it, for as long as any variety of it might last. And since celebrity is perishable, the machinery keeps doing it over and over and over again.

    Nothing wrong with that, by the way. Just something wrong with nothing but that.

    That’s why the CARP/LOC ruling is so awful and wrong. It’s about maintaining the star-making machinery that starts with the recording industry and works its way through commercial broadcasting, mass market advertising, arena performance events, cross-promotion and all the rest of it.

    Music file sharing was the listeners’ way of working around the failure of commercial radio to serve any form of passion or connoisseurship about music. When the RIAA killed Napster, it was understandable to the degree that Napster conceivably threatened the very revenues on which the industry depended.

    Internet radio is also a way listeners, as well as professional broadcasters, can perform that same work-around. But this time the RIAA’s attacks are not in self-defense. Through CARP/LOC, the RIAA and its allies are viciously and murderously attacking something that not only fails to threaten them, but actually serves the very artists they pretend to care about.

    Internet radio is actually good for the record business. But that’s not the issue here. Control is. Internet radio isn’t an industry. Mostly it’s personal. And it’s completely out of anyone’s control, like the rest of the Net. The entertainment industry can’t tolerate that…..

See the rest on Doc’s site, and think deep thoughts.

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About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected],, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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