Zero Marginal Culture

A long running gag in popular culture is one where the adults complain about the fads popular with the younger generation. Adults supposedly have been complaining about the kid’s music since the birth of pop culture in the 20th century. The same is true of clothing styles and haircuts. Of course, part of that is the marketing of popular culture. The people peddling this stuff try to feed on the normal youthful rebellion, so an ideal result, if you’re in the business, is for the adults to really hate it. Then the kids will love it.

The assumption underlying this gag is that there is no objective difference in quality between pop culture trends. The perceived quality is relative. From the perspective of a teenager, the new thing is useful because it translates to status within their peer group or allows them access to a desirable youth subculture. For adults, these new trends have no social value. There may be some small value in hating it, but since all adults are tuned to not like teenage fads, the value in not liking it is minimal.

The makers of pop culture made up for this lack of qualitative difference in fads by maintaining a monopoly on the supply. Hollywood was controlled by a small clique from the start and remained a family business of sorts until recent. Music was similarly controlled by a relatively small number of record companies. Read the book The Wrecking Crew and you see how this used to work. This bottleneck on the supply side allowed the makers to keep down costs and therefore maintain a profit margin.

Technology has made it much more difficult for the people controlling the supply side to maintain this bottleneck. That’s mostly because technology has lowered the barrier to entry into pop culture. A great example of this happening in front of our eyes. Talk radio became a thing in the 1980’s. Conservative Inc. controlled middlebrow conservative opinion by controlling the radio networks. If you wanted to talk politics on the Right, you had to play ball with the people controlling the talk radio industry.

Today, some of the most influential voices on the Right are podcasters and live streamers. If you’re under the age of fifty, you’re probably close to abandoning the old radio model entirely, maybe listening to some of the old guys on-line. The audience for Rush Limbaugh is half of its peak now. Most talkers have seen their audience shrink and they are now seeing competition from below. People like Stephan Molyneux can produce high quality, professional content, from their home and reach a broad audience on-line.

The thing is though, supply does not create demand. Just because you can now produce your own music from a home studio, it does not follow that you become a pop star. That old assumption about there being no qualitative difference in trends works in the macro sense, but talent still counts. The fact that young people may prefer pop music from their grandparent’s generation suggests there is a qualitative difference in this area. To these young ears, that music is better, so they prefer it over what the style makers produce.

Alternatively, another way of looking at this phenomenon is that like the consumer electronics business, pop music is now fully commoditized. There’s little or no value added to the music from the producers and creators, so the only thing that matters in the music market is price. Since streaming is the platform of the future, producing new music makes less sense, when there is this vast library of existing music. The kids have not heard these old songs, so selling them the old stuff is possible.

Another aspect to this is the cultural one. Pop music had a peak in the 1970’s and has been in decline ever since. This tracks with the overall decline in the culture. This turns up in per capita music consumption. The aberration was the introduction of the CD, which had everyone re-buying their catalog of music. Otherwise, Americans have listening to less music than fifty years ago. Young people may simply prefer that which was created in peak America over that which is produced in post-America.

Putting aside the cultural angle, which is not unimportant, the economic issue raised by trends in popular culture is how does a market economy work when everything is a commodity? If technology makes it impossible to create bottlenecks and control artificial monopolies on supply, how can concepts like entrepreneurship and market competition still exist? After all, business is about creating scarcity and exploiting it. What happens when the Peter Theil model is no longer possible?

It sounds fanciful, and maybe it is, but it is worth thinking about, as the people who rule over us are thinking about it. The author of this book on the subject is an adviser to the European Union and is read by the western political elite. They are not worried about a world of zero marginal cost. They want to create it. The world of zero marginal cost is also a world of zero marginal culture. More precisely, it is post-culture world, in which things like pop music are simply things supplied by the system on-demand.

129 thoughts on “Zero Marginal Culture

  1. Less music is listened to now than thirty years ago because there are more choices available to people but NOT more time in a day. We see the same thing with TV, movie theater attendance etc. More choices means finite time gets spread more widely between those choices with the effect that each choice sees fewer people availing themselves of that choice and for less time when they do. Cost is another factor.
    Spend $300 a month on cell phones, data plans internet access etc. and there is less left to spend on older entertainment choices.

  2. Years ago it was all about going on tour to promote the album. That’s where the money was. Now it’s the complete opposite .The music is almost worthless monetarily and touring is where the money’s at.

    Don’t really have an ear for country and its popularity is a bit baffling here in the Northeast. It was only until I attended a country music fest that it became clear. White people wanted a place to go where they can simply just be white people.

    While I get Tammy Wynette and Hank Williams are traditional country the latest infusion of country and rock is nothing new . Southern rock was huge in the 70s and 80s.

    Black music seems to have suffered the most. It’s shocking when you think of Motown and now the crap they put out as rap music. Although there is some talent still alive in R&B.

    Really miss heavy metal . Thankfully my Viking cousins are keeping it alive 🙂

    • The thought of rap as a replacement for motown is pretty tragic IMHO. I’m pretty aggressive in finding my new music from scouring all new releases to instrument themed mags to college radio play lists. I’ve only recently found a version of country music that I really like but so far as the marketing of the ” industrial music complex” … They’ve worked it like a rented mule and it’s dead to me.

  3. I think what has done in guys like Rush (and the rest of syndicated talk radio) is the infuriating content to advertisement ratio. I’ll listen in the car but I change the station once the fifteen minutes of ads begins.

  4. What do you do in a world where all the interesting ideas have been tried, the great songs have been written, and the great art created?

    You make a bucket list, and you start enjoying it all. Give me something “new”, and I can find an old fart who will tell you they loved doing that back in 1953.

    Pop culture has always existed to sell us stuff. Fads change because you can only sell so many powder blue leisure suits. So, the fad changes to something new that we can buy.

    The Green New Deal is a great example of this. They basically took all the Socialist pipe dreams from the past 120 years, added some hipster lingo, and handed it to arguably the stupidest Twit-wit in modern political history. Voila! It’s refresuingly bold! It’s new! It’s batshit crazy!

    And you know what that means?!?!

    It means been there, done that.

  5. There is no doubt that the internet and other technologies have created many industries where the development costs are upfront and the cost of producing another unit is essentially zero. Once a CD is ripped and re-encoded and uploaded, ALL can have access for free. The price is now zero, and there should be no incentive to produce more music. However, it does seem to me that the market has come up with clever solutions around this problem: music subscription and Netflix — it makes it so much easier, people just pay rather than seek out pirated versions.

    Now to the article about 70s – 90s music. Back in the those days, most artists wrote their own songs, with help from a producer. Nowadays, the “artists” are just a front for the producer. Most popular music now is some form of Hip Hop or Rap, and I just assumed that it was another example of young people embracing black culture. It is interesting that they actually seem to like the old stuff better. Maybe these producers aren’t actually giving the market what it wants. Seems odd, but hell, look at ESPN and what Disney did with Star Wars.

  6. “The fact that young people may prefer pop music from their grandparent’s generation”

    Not their Grandparents, least white generation remember.

  7. The idea that music peaked in the 1970s is an interesting one. The whole history of Pop music starting around 1910 and going through the mid-70s is one of black’s creating different types of music by adding more “beat” and de-emphasizing lyrics. And so we go from Ragtime to Jazz to Swing to R&B and to Rock n’ Roll to funk/disco. Of course, the white musicians are following in the black’s wake and adding their own wrinkles and variations. However, the devolution into punk, hip-hop, rap, etc. seems to be a bridge too far for most white people, which is why they prefer older music. I mean once you’ve gotten rid of the melody and gone back to Tom Toms – with explicit “Hey I want to beep you” lyrics – what’s left? You’ve reached a musical dead end.

  8. One bright spot is the development over the past 20 years of the audiobook industry. This was once referred to as books on tape. But the digital revolution completely changed the industry. Unabridged works of classics like Homer, Virgil, Milton, Gibbon, Dickens…you name it, you can now just download this material to your device. If you enjoy listening to quality material and you’re stuck in your car a lot, this is a very positive development. You can escape to Western Civilization and hear something worth listening to.

    • “You can escape to Western Civilization and hear something worth listening to.”

      You can, and not only listen to classic works, but hear them read by distinguished actors. And it seems some people do, or there wouldn’t be a thriving market in audiobooks. A light in the gloom.

    • The down side of this is the continued decline in reading comprehension across society. Most of Twain’s book are unintelligible gibberish to people under 45. I read Moby Dick over the summer and it’s sad just much of civilization has been lost already.

  9. They are listening to much less music. At least if you mean something that has Melody, Harmony, and/or Rythm.

  10. In a properly functioning evolutionary paradigm, culture is simply the dominant and persisting behaviors that contribute to the survival, fecundity, and robustness of a particular population in a particular environment. In this model, cultures vary because environments vary. That was then, but now the evolutionary paradigm is broken and cultural vacuity is a symptom the pathology that has come to pass. This is not a trivial thing. We’re treading water on the inertia of affluence, but that bubble will burst eventually.

  11. When the corporate giants had a monopoly on music production and distribution, profit margins were high enough that some genuine art could slip in around the edges. A&R people had a big enough budget to nurture bands that would never be mass market hits, because everybody was making so much money it didn’t matter.

    Now, ten plus years after the collapse of that business model, all you have left is formulaic pop and urbanized hip hop. Even country is being fused with ghetto black music. There will never be another Nirvana. Most independent labels of the 1980s and 90s are out of business now. Why bother cultivating a music scene when all anybody needs is ProTools and Youtube? Why even bother with that if there’s no money to be made?

    In once sense it’s good–denying the Rootless Cosmopolitan Elite one of their methods of social programming. But it’s sad too. Or perhaps I’m just being nostalgic.

    • Rap is to music what rat poison is to rats. Every music genre it touches, it turns to crap.

      It’s cultural poison to whites. Seriously you can measure a culture’s decay by how much rap has penetrated it. And who promoted it? Big Music and Hollywood that’s who. They wanted a replacement for Pop Music(and Motown) because they weren’t making the money they used to.

      • When I was first exposed to rap back in the eighties, I thought to myself, “Finally! These fools have taken black culture to a place where very few whites will follow!” Wrong. Never underestimate the damage which can be inflicted on whites with average IQs.

        • My first exposure to rap was seeing LL Cool J on a late night music program in the early 1980s. I assumed it was some kind of poorly executed joke. It took me a long time to accept that people expected me to treat this stuff as actual music.

          It’s jarring to watch younger white nationalists proudly announce that Eminem, a white guy, is the best rapper. I guess it’s like some white kid in the late 1960s proudly announcing that Clapton is the best blues guitarist.

          • Well, I was a white kid in the 60’s, and Clapton actually was the best blues guitarist. Jimi Hendrix was better overall but he was mostly known for rock.

            But Clapton’s whiteness was not all that interesting back then as there were still many white people making popular music. And even lots of NBA basketball players! And, unbelievably, NFL cornerbacks!

      • Rod, indeed. But I see that the Chinese government has recently reinstated Chinese “rap” after banning it for a time. What gives? Surely the Chinese understand (and count on) Western degeneration?

        • Eventually, Nazi Germany allowed jazz music (tacitly), after branding it degenerate. Even totalitarian regimes figure out that you can’t ban popular genres, so they allow them and tame them. No one mounted an effective anti-Nazi movement based on jazz, and no one will rebel against the regime in China because of rap…

    • I’m an XM listener. I like new stuff, variety, and have always sought out the college stations down at the bottom of the dial.

      When Trump was elected, the DJ’s of an enjoyable alt-rock channel decided we needed enrichment, and started playing more and more gorilla vibrancy. Delightful as their hourly anti-Trump meltdowns were, I moved a channel over to blessed relief.

      The DJ’s were uniformly of a particular ethnicity from Brooklyn.
      Fuck the demons, they’ve destroyed black American culture, the Snakes have whispered into Woman’s ear, they turn everything they touch into perfidy.

      Hint: the rap industry was taken over in its infancy; the criminal ‘producers’ are rewarded middlemen. Hip-hop fashion didn’t become a global phenomenon because of its quality.

  12. This commoditization of music has fascinated me for years now. I have young teenage children and most of what they listen to is music from my younger life: 50’s rock to Bowie to Punk Rock. On the one hand, it’s comforting because we listen to the same stuff. On the other, it’s strange to me that outside of a few outliers, they don’t bring a lot of new music to the table.

    They also don’t identify with the various sub pop teen cultures that my generation did back in the 70’s and 80’s. I never understood this before except as a function of the vast quantity of content available on the internet, but still I never thought of it as a supply and demand exactly thing before.

    Pop music and culture are indeed commodities now. Interesting. I think I understand my kids a little better now.

    • “They also don’t identify with the various sub pop teen cultures that my generation did back in the 70’s and 80’s. I never understood this before except as a function of the vast quantity of content …”

      Daddy-O, They don’t like 70’s and 80’s teen music because you like that era, which was probably your era. Nothing to do with commodification of content.

      • I’m not sure I understand what you are saying. Is that music if that era was objectively better?

        What I was trying to say (probably not as clearly as I should have) is that in addition to listening to 50 years of music more or less equally, is that they don’t self identify and divide up into sub pop cliques as much as we used to. Back in the day, that was an important part of identity. For example, one of our friends in my own sub pop punk circle decided to go “mod”; she changed her dress and music choices and then later said she was glad we could all still be friends… I don’t see that happening with my children and their peers today. I think this may me another part of the commoditization of pop culture.

  13. Peter Thiel is an overrated character, just like everyone else in Silicon Valley. A lot of people work very hard in their lives, but only a few work hard in the right area at the right time. I do give him props though because he at least seems to understand that something is fundamentally wrong with the US and the Western World, but he’s too deep in Boomer/Gen X thought.

    Also great link to Slate Star Codex, just started reading some of his stuff and its pretty good.

    • I’ve checked out that site a few times. Sometimes when flirting with a girl at a bar and she asks my name I want to say Slate Star Codex. Sounds cool. I don’t know what it means. Probably something dorky.

    • Edit on Slate Star Codex: Its just a bunch of trans humanists and nerds, never mind. I can’t stand geeks I swear!

  14. Pop music is still great. More varied than ever. You guys are like a guy who just read People magazine then declares that magazines suck. There’s different popularity levels of pop. Just below the most mainstream levels is where much of the creativity happens. And it’s all around and easily accessed. Pop is not JUST what you overhear on the radio. Which has always been 80% drivel. Anyway, not gonna bother arguing. Here’s a song that encapsulates this thread. It’s a reimagining (remixing) of Bobby Vinton by the great electronica artist Roykstopp. I imagine it’s what your slow motion bad dreams sound like when you guys dream about pop music sucking now. It’s even got tape warp, which we all remember fondly.

      • Just seems that people here think artistry can die. It can’t. It’s not humanly possible for men to stop being creative. No matter the impediments that the Powers that Be put in their way…artists ALWAYS have gotten their message out. Their novel out. Their pamphlet out. Their painting out. Their song out. This whole post and comments section is Reactionary thinking at its worst. Jesus Christ, just say, “I don’t get modern music”, and be done with it. Don’t try and make a virtuous argument out of it.

        • Frip, the argument is simple: you claim such work is creative, we do not. At best it is a adaption of a creative work, not origination. There is a difference.

    • I guess I don’t understand your point. How does this link demonstrate that the creativity of modern music is alive and well? It blends a 1960’s Polish singer, you might even say it doesn’t do anything except include some hipster name-dropping, with some mid-90’s “Gregorian chant” into synthesized repetitive drone reminiscent of the disco dance music from the Gil Gerard’s “Buck Rogers” TV show. I kept waiting for Pricess Ardala to show up in one of her sexy gowns…

      Anytime you read the word “reimagining” in entertainment, it means somebody lacking new ideas has decided to plagiarize from the past.

      Seems to me, if you wanted to make your point, you would link to music that is genuinely creative and good instead.

      • If I am going for reimagining, give me Samantha Fish’s “I Put a Spell on You”. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins rocked it first, but Sam puts out, so to speak.

      • Celebrate, hokkoda, poor kids are plagiarizing our rich heritage because we have one!

        They’re fighting back, culturally, against the stultifying ‘enrichment’ of our masters.
        Their weapons may be poor, but they at least are trying!

      • The old aphorism by W.H. Davenport Adams about poets applies – “That great poets imitate and improve, whereas small ones steal and spoil.” Of course, Eliot reversed it: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal”.

        There is truly nothing new under the sun.

    • Frip—bullshit. All that has been done here is to place a beat to a love song not necessarily produced to be danced to. Big deal. The musician here can do the same to Beethoven and produce “dance” music. As stated by other commenters, this is not the epitome of creativity. Indeed, the opposite.

      • Yes. I chose that song, as I said, because it blatantly does what you guys (wrongly) criticize modern pop for doing, which is not being original. If you really know your music, nothing is “original”, it’s all just creative variations on what’s come before. Your brains are attuned to economics, gears and manifolds, not music. Why am I arguing with former Marine Corps sergeants about music?

    • Gotta agree with Frip! The new alternative music is as great as the old alternative music-
      Alternative is what White kids do!

      Even the Latinos, Indians, and Koreans are picking it up now.
      Juice-controlled rap is as ugly, destructive, and global as are so many other efforts.
      The Indigenous fire rises!

    • Frip (shouldn’t that be “Fripp”?),

      I listen to a lot of music (old and new) and I’m afraid that I mostly disagree with you: pop music is in a period of decline. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t some good stuff. I heard this the other day and thought it was pretty great:

      Charlotte Gainsbourg – Such A Remarkable Day (Official Live Video)

      (Charlotte is the daughter of Serge and Jane Birkin – you boomers will know who I’m talking about.)

      And there was this from last summer:

      L.A. WITCH – Drive Your Car (Official Video)

      (A rarity in this age – a guitar-driven all-female trio from LA playing a kind of surf noir that looks both backward and forward.)

  15. The ‘golden age of music’ thing is just Boomers Boomering. “See our kids like our music too!”

    • Some would maintain that very little good music was written after the death of Schubert. I think that is a radical statement. It died with Brahms.

        • Yes, I’m sure an analysis by future musicologists of the sheet music of Bach and Elton John will elicit exclamations of mutual admiration.

  16. Humor aside, choice is an interesting phenomenon. We humans are apparently wired for an optimal number of choices: too many and we balk with analysis paralysis; too few and we feel deprived. See, for example, the famous “jam study.”
    I suspect that the hyperproductivity and efflorescence of choices in the consumer-driven economy have compelled the rise of ubiquitous advertising and rapidly changing cultural fads. They are a hack to focus the mind of the consumer, overcome the signal-to-noise problem, and force one to actually choose. The regret in the aftermath is an added bonus, urging another round of trial and error in the quest for a “better” choice. Rinse, lather, repeat…

    • Apologies, but I am one of those technophobic Boomers, so I don’t know how to make the link active. But if you search for “study jam choices” you’ll get plenty of articles exploring the paradox.

  17. Authoritarian societies recognize that cultural choice is counter productive. When I was in parochial school in the late 60s and early 70s, you could wear any trousers you wanted as long as they were salt and pepper courduroys. Ditto white, collared Oxford shirt. Comrades, in glorious future of Amerika you can have any gin you want as long as it’s Victory Gin. Market economies driven by consumer “choice” are reactionary, bourgeois, at least passe. Visionaries like AOC recognize that command economies are the way foreward. Like pop music, everything old (enough) will be new again. As always, HEY YOU KIDS GET OFF MY LAWN!

    • You lost me at “…visionaries like AOC.” And from the upvotes most others as well. AOC is a person of extreme limited knowledge and I strongly suspect intellectual ability. In other words a good representative of her ilk, but that is different than a “visionary”. But perhaps I misunderstand the essence of your comment.

      • Apparently I should have put the /sarcasm after my quip about AOC. I am NOT a fan. I think she is an idiot. My point is that she is the new, hot pop it girl covering the moldy oldies of Marx.
        I just have to accept that this crowd doesn’t get my brand of humor. I’ll never make it onto the top 40 playlist…

    • “Hey!
      Get offa my lawn.”
      I love it, it’s new, it’s old, and it’s got legs, baby!

      • I said, “Hey, you, get off of my cloud
        Hey, you, get off of my cloud
        Don’t hang around cause two’s a crowd
        On my cloud baby”

        everything old is new again, innit?

  18. The “music” today is mostly crap, that goes without saying. But other pop culture trends are less easily dismissed. When I was younger and someone wanted an identity, perhaps they became a “burn out” and wore jean jackets and smoked in the restroom at school. Or later they donned black clothing to go Goth or emo. But now they are mutilating their genitalia and taking dangerous hormonal treatments so they can have an identity as “transgender”. This stuff is permanent, you can take out a nose ring but you can’t regrow your pecker. Things are clearly accelerating in a downward trend and that is not just being an old fuddy-duddy complaining about kids these days.

    • Yeah, when the tattoo fad started getting really big, I had my doubts.

      But we’ve gotten so “non-judgmental” it’s ridiculous.

      I criticized the appearance of a girl who was featured in a video on a gun blog I frequent — normally a pretty conservative space. She would have been an attractive girl, but she’d just gone off the deep end on tattoos and piercings — massive facial tattoos, other public space tattoos, tattooed pretty much everywhere you could see and no doubt everywhere you couldn’t, more piercings than you could count, and ear gauges literally the diameter of chicken eggs. Can you imagine what her ear lobes would be like after that? She’s going to look awful when she’s older — and not that much older — and the tattoos have faded and blurred.

      I said something like I wish we still did have public shame so that girl would have known better than to do that to herself. You’d think I’d called for her death the way people blew up at me for daring to criticize her.

      • I tell my teenage children that the only acceptable tattoo is an anchor with the name of the ship you serve on.

        • In the 90’s, when I lived in New York, Lionel had a local show on WABC. I remember him saying that only people named Sarge had tattoos.

      • The people who blew up at you weren’t really non-judgmental. They just reserved for themselves the right to determine what could be disapproved.

      • Vizzini, I have found there is a tendency for conservative sites to embrass everyone and anyone who smacks of even the slightest conservative leaning. Such is our desperation. Your anecdote does not surprise me.

      • As you have notice the “we’ve gotten so non judgmental” thing is very one-sided. It is perfectly okay to be judgmental about certain topics. Just not the freak shows. You can’t judge them.

        We will look back on hormone treatments to help children “transition” as child abuse in a few years.

        • Here’s a riff on non-judgmentalism: I believe it is hardwired into us as a survival and protective mechanism. In the way back era, after experiencing over deep time other tribes aggressively warring on us, we learned to war back or avoid them as a survival mechanism.
          In today’s modern world, Western Civilization is committing suicide because the Lefty PC culture beats on us to not see reality, do not make judgment, or the wrath of the Left will fall on us as they rush to destroy all tradition to usher in their utopia. We are cowed not to see nor judge, to just shut up.
          Here in Utah, a similar version of non-judgmentalism is in effect. The church inculcates to love your neighbor as thyself and to not judge another. This may have been effective for a small tribe 130 years ago, but is now destructive as the naivety of Mormons works against their safety, leaving them sitting ducks. I have warned Mormon friends to consider not vacationing in San Francisco and taking BART because of vast amounts of needles and turds on the sidewalks, the great number of psychotic dangerous people roaming the streets, the probability of a car burglary/window smash because the police investigate no crime under $1,000. They go deer in the headlights on me, wander off and ignore my warnings. No one likes a Cassandra. Utah is in full grovel guilty mode because black people weren’t allowed to join the church until 1978. Utah has thrown open the floodgates of diversity to make up for being bad whites. The state is rapidly changing to vibrancy and violence. And Mormons don’t get this at all…big deer eyes and hand wringing and throw more money at it. Last week, a young Salt Lake real estate agent served an eviction notice on a Hispanic gang creep and was promptly shot dead leaving a wife and 3 little kids. Must have created a lot of cognitive dissonance for Mormon good whites. The state is in decline for the unique reason Mormons have been taught not to judge another therefore currently risking their own survival. Making judgment is imperative for a tribe to survive.

          • I moved to the region 14 years ago for work. Having lived and worked in the NYC area, Memphis and New Orleans I remember my first time in Salt Lake City. Walking in SLC at night I realized something was wrong. I was relaxed. The hair on the back of my neck was not standing up. I sensed that the threat level was much lower than I had experienced in other cities. Of course the demographics have changed since then.

    • There is more great music now than ever before. Yeah, you have to dig for it and they won’t play it on the radio. Sure, pop sucks, but pop has always sucked, going back to the most overhyped pop boomer crap, The Beatles. John Lennon was a blithering idiot.

      • I couldn’t agree more, about the music being out there or that overrated shit Lennon.
        For you doubters, tune in or stream college radio and if you can ignor the poz, public funded radio. Try download sites other than iTunes and risk a few bucks on something unknown. It’s out there, but now it takes a little effort (and we want to turn the tables, eh?).

        • I discovered the indie channel on XM, XMU (Ch. 36?ish).
          “Old school” is 10 years old.
          Our musical fashions change, thank goodness; even my punk faves have been heard thousands of times.

          I love what the modern white kids are making.
          It’s pretty, at times gorgeous.
          It’s pleasant, creative, and a wee bit fascist.

          Best is that it’s very, very White.
          I love the sound and soul of Our voices most of all.

          • Mitsky (anything she does)
            Beach House
            (Live at Royal Oaks MI)
            Missio (Bottom of the Deep Blue Sea- lyrics only version)
            Soccer Mommy (Cool)
            Suzy Nova (old school)
            Grimes (We Appreciate Power)
            Father John Misty
            (Chateau #4 for virgin strings)
            Alvvays (Archie, Marry Me)

            XM ch. 35, ch. 36 Alt Nation got pozzed

  19. There are whole new areas of entertainment opened up by the zero-margin, on-demand culture. Old books, music, and movies are out there for the taking, and very cheap or sometimes free. They have entertainment value all their own, and many of them offer interesting glimpses into the culture of the day they were produced. There are Easter eggs all over the place, waiting to be found. Just yesterday, Lileks posted a mocking piece on some bad music sung by a woman named Judy Henske. It turns out she was a helluva torch singer and surrounded her act with fun and randy banter. Toured with Lenny Bruce and Woody Allen, and was the singing inspiration for Janis Joplin, who didn’t do the gig nearly as well.

    Or you can watch the Super Bowl halftime show, your call.

    I’m a car guy, and occasionally do the car shows. New cars? Meh. Old cars, you need two things. You need a car few people have seen before (you can keep your Z28s and Mustangs), and you need to let the kiddos climb all over them. Bring something a bit beat up, but different. Then people are entertained and have a good time. If people get excited about it at the gas station, they will get excited about it at the car show. That’s the test.

    There is little new stuff out there that is worth a damn. But there is more good old stuff (and drecky old stuff that can still be fun) than a lifetime will allow for. Once you start going back and digging around, there is more good stuff than you will know what to do with.

    • “Old books, music, and movies are out there for the taking, and very cheap or sometimes free. ”

      Amazon lists nine versions of the complete symphonies of Bruckner on CD for $35 or less, new. Average customer rating is 4.5 out of 5.

      In a some ways, this is a golden age for classical music fans. Of course CDs, well into obsolescence now, will be completely replaced by interweb rentals as progress progresses on.

      Get ’em while you can, if you’re a fan.

      • Inevitably, as soon as CDs become “obsolete,” a new generation will “discover” them, just as the hipsters convinced themselves that there was something magical about LPs. Streaming is here to stay, but a significant number of people who are more than casual consumers of music will find that they appreciate having physical media not subject to what happens to be on a server somewhere.

      • You are right! I just picked up a new, eight-CD set of Giulini (!) conducting the Vienna Philharmonic (!) in all four Brahms symphonies plus Bruckner 7, 8, and 9. Cost — wait for it — $21.67. Some canny companies are remastering older recordings from the vaults at 24 bits/96 kHz with an amazing increase in fidelity. Try getting that kind of quality from downloading. This is a golden age for those of us who still like CDs.

    • Judy Henske. Huh I knew about her because of the Andrew Vachhs Burke novels .

      Looked her up on YouTube and a while back and she was a lot smarter lyrically than Lileks thought

      As disruptive as this technology is, it does have some upsides, with effort its quite possible to discover all kinds of interesting things, music , hear rare languages , spoken and the like

      Downside it appears to be making most of the human race sterile and only the people who want nothing to do with it will be having kids

      Future generations will be partying like its 1699

      Ah well, Que Sera Sera

    • The Classic Cars thing reminds be of the short-lived sitcom Better Off Ted. The company decided that everyone could express their individuality using only company-approved themes: Cats, Space, Classic Cars, Green Bay Packers. I’ve worked with at least 3 of those 4 people at every office. Sometimes all 4.

  20. Pop culture and high culture have also always influence each other.

    Most of high culture has become either log rolling among mediocrities or a deliberate spit in the face to tradition and intellect.

    The pop culture of the 60s and 70s borrowed heavily from many aspects of our cultural past and from some of the high-brow contemporary culture.

    Today, it’s all uhga bhuga.

  21. “More precisely, it is post-culture world…”
    Isn’t this what Oswald Spengler called “the winter phase” of a culture, i.e., no more innovation, just reexamination or re-working of forms and concepts that are already well known?

    • That is what I had in mind. Yes. The end phase of culture is like the end phase of a man’s life. It is about reliving the old times.

      • When bell bottoms came back in the early-mid 90’s that was the end. If someone died around 1999-2000, and came back today, he wouldn’t have missed anything. Just a few tech devices and faster internet. People are hard on millennials, but they’re really never known a country that was alive at one point.

      • Old man here. No large disagreement with your conclusion Zman, but I’d say my reliving the past is more in the realm of “reanalyzing”. I find I have a tendency to rethink where we’ve (I’ve) gone wrong. Impossible to change things, but certainly not impossible to pass on such observations to some of the younger folk I encounter. They certainly won’t find these things out on their own. Nor are all the observations/knowledge passed on are of “…the 21st century sucks…” type. All depends what areas are being discussed.

      • Yes and no. I’m sure nostalgia is part of it. But I also think there are only so many paths or threads to follow. Humans have been sculpting since before the Greeks. Every idea has been tried, there are no more threads left. Same with music. There are a finite number of ways to arrange music that the human brain finds interesting. Same with painting and all the rest. Human society has mined every tunnel. It’s a bit like the human genome project. Well, now we’ve got all this stuff, what do we do with it?

        There are no more cultural frontiers on this world. So, people go looking for frontiers by finding old things that are new to them. My kids teased me one summer for going on a Tom Petty binge. I told them, “There’s so much music there that I never got to hear as a kid because I didn’t have the money to buy his records. I only heard the radio-friendly stuff. It’s old music, but it’s new to me.”

        I think a lot of what we’re seeing today is like people going back to an old gold mine and finding all the gold the previous miners left behind because they didn’t have the technology to access it. Like fracking.

        I mean, how much natural gas have humans just burned off over the last century to get it out of the way. Today, we’re like, “Hey, bottle that shit and sell it!” You never know when something old of no value can become something new of great value.

  22. how does a market economy work when everything is a commodity?

    It forces “re-invention.” The commodification of the service industry began in the early-mid 1980’s. At that point, personal connections, rather than quality, became the critical selling point. Lacking those, businesses failed, but even with them, price deflation happened and “out-of business” signs appeared. E.G., the retained search business shrank by about 50% between 1980-1990. Re-invent to some new “shiny object” or perish.

    Same thing is now happening in retail; it’s largely price-driven, meaning that quality of service is not really a factor, particularly with customers under 40 years of age. Older people still value service with loyalty. Millennials and younger? Not so much.

  23. >>>a world of zero marginal culture…. in which things like pop music are simply things supplied by the system on-demand.

    And the Ministry had… to repeat the whole operation at a lower level for the benefit of the proletariat. There was a whole chain of separate departments dealing with proletarian literature, music, drama, and entertainment generally. Here were produced rubbishy newspapers containing almost nothing except sport, crime and astrology, sensational five-cent novelettes, films oozing with sex, and sentimental songs which were composed entirely by mechanical means on a special kind of kaleidoscope known as a versificator. There was even a whole sub-section – Pornosec, it was called in Newspeak – engaged in producing the lowest kind of pornography…

  24. Great article. I have so much to say that I’ll just say nothing! I’m not so convinced that economics explains everything however. There is a general falling off of craft in many orbits. Motion pictures for instance. The economic structure is still there for that, but look what we have, how bad they are. I feel the pathology is deeper.

    We seem to have entered in age characterized by nostalgia, looking back at the great art of the past. Indexing and availability of past great art are at a peak though.

    • What I’m getting at is that I believe art flows from pride and a desire to beauty the house we all live in. No one plants gardens in a prison. The chief creators of great art, white people, feel a sense of shame and a dark outlook on the future. At some level we all feel that it is not ours and we don’t have a drive to beautify it. The art and creativity that is shown is used to express the grievances of nonwhites in someway, like the black lives matter hoaxes etc. etc. All corporate or government art must present the shame of whites and the civilization they created, so no one can really make it in earnest, even those who buy the myth.

    • Of course it doesn’t. Otherwise there wouldn’t be a thriving secondary market in films like those that are played on the black-and-white movie channels.

    • Not nostalgia. There’s so much of history’s best art, music and literature still available that new work must be very good to compete with it on merit. Artists just gave up on even trying in the early 20th Century. By the 1950s we got the likes of Jackson Pollock who got famous, not for the stuff he produced, but for rich people talking about it. That’s been the case with art ever since. It was hopeless for John Cage to measure up to J.S. Bach, so he convinced critics that his weird noises were worth listening to and wannabee sophisticates listened to the critics. There’s a couple millennia of the human race’s best writing available, so why bother with contemporary fluff?

      • Artists took the easy way out. Instead of doing something good, do something “different” or “Interesting”. But there are exceptions: Andrew Wyeth, Edward Hopper, Georgia Totto O’Keeffe, Grant Wood, Norman Rockwell (don’t snicker).

  25. Since Goethe provoked my awareness with the statement that all genius is provincial, I haven’t seen one thing to contradict that in thirty years. Homogenization, the most essential element for Universalism, is the soul robbing antidote to creativity.

  26. I no longer listen to music because, when I was eighteen, it was still lawful for persons eighteen years old to buy and own handguns — and concern for hearing protection was much less than today. I had a pistol expert rating before I was twenty-one. Now, ironically, I have not discharged a firearm since the last proficiency test before I retired. I am sure my skills have atrophied.

    • “… Now, ironically, I have not discharged a firearm since the last proficiency test before I retired. I am sure my skills have atrophied.”


      What is the point of that post, other than to humble brag about yourself?

  27. The recurring pattern in Western culture is: a crude but amusing folk practice is created, and for a while it’s an amiable, crowd-pleasing time-waster. Then some of the more skilled practitioners figure out how to turn it into High Art, and this gives it solidity and durability, for a time.

    Thus we see the blood-and-gore “Revenger’s Tragedy” morph into “Hamlet”. “The Great Train Robbery” turns into “Apocalypse Now”. Souped-up whorehouse music turns into John Coltrane and “Rhapsody in Blue”. The witty, amiable Chuck Berry turns into John Lennon and Brian Wilson.

    I don’t know much about video games, but I’ve noticed at least one game making the reach to become Art. (“Portal”). No idea if this is possible in hip-hop, because I can no longer understand it. Same thing with auto-tune monotonous pop music. People tell me Taylor Swift has made a move to maturing this stuff, but I can’t be arsed to investigate.

    We may just be living in a transition phase. Poetry, the novel, painting and the AOR rock album are all effectively dead. But sooner or later, somebody will find some dopey pastime ( like, say, the blog comment!) and find a way to turn it into Art. Me I won’t see it, or if it happens I won’t notice; I’m just a grumpy geezer with his Ramones records and his Krazy Kat.

  28. “The system on demand,” couldn’t possibly produce culturally bankrupt and subversive content better than the aformentioned diaspora media cartels.

    • There’s a great Tom Petty quote that goes something like, “Country music today is bad rock with a fiddle.” I just read a Linda Rondstadt interview in Rolling Stone where she also said that country music hasn’t been very good since the late 70’s early 80’s.

      I still remember back in the mid/late 90’s when Shania Twain was getting popular, and her albums were produced by Mutt Lange … same guy who produced Def Leppard, Bryan Adams and many others for awhile. When I saw that Tom Petty quote, this was the first thing that came to mind for me.

  29. Business isn’t about creating scarcity and exploiting it. That’s rent seeking. Given our current economic situation, it’s natural to think that the economy functioned better with middle men. Cigars are a perfect example. I can go to a local cigar shop, with its limited selection, and pay a few dollars more per stick, or I can go online and get a much better deal. My life is improved. The cigar shop owner is not improved, but the cigar mega-store merchant across the country is also improved. So you have two improved vs one loser. The loser has been looking around lately, and adding marijuana related paraphernalia to his shop. It’s likely selling given the popularity of this newly legal recreation. Some of those bongs look like art vases. They’ll likely be collectors items years from now (side point).

    The thing about business is that you know within months whether it’s making a profit or not, and you always have to be fine tuning to the needs of the customer. You may end up with a business that’s totally different than when you started it, including the clientele, as it is the customer’s need that creates value. Steve Jobs flipped this on its head and said, “I’m giving you this phone and you’re going to love it.” But that was because Jobs knew that after customer had smart phones, they would then need them, and badly.

    Comcast on the other hand…

    We have two big problems with our economy at this point. If you let cigar-megastore grow until is creates a cartel, I then begin to lose, so you have two losers and one winner. This has been happening with every industry from airlines to banks to media. It’s the cartelization of the country, and this is where libertarian theology is failing in the biggest way. A libertarian will say, well, they’re the natural winners, they get the spoils, and are utterly tone deaf to the constricting supply and increasing costs. Suddenly, libertarianism looks quite fascist. Rent seeking is an end result of great success, and must be challenged at all times. A libertarian will write a white paper on why Standard Oil was doing great before the mean interference. Price gouging in areas where it had 100% control was just the perk of success.

    We need aggressive anti-trust enforcement in all industries. This hasn’t happened on a big scale since MCI and Sprint were created in the early 80’s. Most people under 30 don’t even know what a long-distance rate or a local tolling zone was. Ma Bell would have been horrified. Obviously, immigration is the other big issue, a whole other topic, where the very same cartels (and libertarians) are pushing for wage slavery, and succeeding, as orange man flapped his gums about “legal” immigration during the State of the Union.

    • We need aggressive anti-trust enforcement in all industries

      Yah, well, first we need law-makers who actually write the laws, instead of handing off the task .to lobbyists for the various cartels.

      • True. Politicians are whores. We need to treat them like whores. Over 80% of then are lawyers. What does that tell you? We need lawyers, they’re part of the system, but they need to be hit in the face every so often. When a Senator drops dead after raping us for decades, the people who don’t feel aa sense of relief are the problem. The people who looked at the TV, watching McCain’s funeral and then saying, ‘he was a good one, war vet., patriot etc.” Those people are the real enemies of the country. Stupidity and apathy. I hope they starve to death in ditches when we hit our economic blip. Miss Piggy Megan McCain won’t. She’ll be behind gates in Sedona eating Creme Brulee.’ .

        • I never got the constant Boomer chant of “McCain’s a War Hero – how dare you criticize him”. Every internet discussion of a McCain back-stab or blunder would result in some boomer charging on thread and bringing up his war service. I mean, when you’re constantly bringing up something that happened 40 years ago, then something is wrong. Imagine someone in 1968/1972 saying, “How dare you criticize George Wallace/George McGovern, he’s a war hero!”

          • In the WWII generation, there was a lot less hagiography of war heroes because almost everybody had served in the military in some capacity. A lot of Boomer’s worship of McCain is displaced guilt over Vietnam, and how guys coming back from there were treated. My WWII – veteran Dad hated McGovern, he didn’t give a rat’s ass how brave he might have been.

          • T.C.
            Agree with your assessment re displaced guilt over Vietnam leading Boomers to defend McCain’s continuing perfidy against his own voters. For those of us who *did* participate (not ‘in-theater’ in my case) in the best’ and brightest’ excellent SE Asia adventure the picture of his heroism is somewhat clouded.

            1. McCain *did* volunteer for a highly dangerous career as a US Navy carrier pilot. Every cruise, something like 1 – 3 pilots out of 90 or so setting out never came back due to accidents alone.
            2. All officers had to sign a (stupid, Pentagon ass covering) pledge/order to disclose nothing to an enemy if a POW. It also forbade taking any special favors from captors.
            3. Enough torture and enough time will enable as barbaric an enemy as the NVA to break anybody. The NVA had McCain for 6 years.
            4. It’s pretty clear McCain broke. His camp nickname was ‘songbird’, after all. But he was far from the only one to break. A few stalwarts among the ~900 or so shot down *did* hold out for long durations. I am eternally grateful to God that I never had to find out for myself if I could have done so.
            5. McCain *did* refuse special treatment. But he technically could have been court-martialed had he accepted, since he was under orders not to.

            So, Vietnam Hero_???

            In any event, Pres. Nixon wisely declared a general amnesty for all POW’s, officially closing the subject of anybody being disciplined for cooperation with the enemy. Further, there was an unofficial general agreement among the 600+ Vietnam POW’s who finally returned (the rest died at some point) that what went on in the Hanoi Hilton stayed in the Hanoi Hilton, a mutual non-disparagement agreement if you will. Very few of the 600+ survivors traded on their POW status. McCain was the exception.

          • McCain is still being brought up—perhaps rightly so. However, as a long time AZ resident, I can tell you that his stature as a politician was limited. Especially in his later couple of decades. His wins were narrowly decided—especially when one considers his red state and who the Dem’s ran against him. The state and everyone else is better off without him. His daughter is a no talent horror as well.

  30. There’s also the philosophical angle: “intellectual property rights.”

    This is totally counter to our monkey-see, monkey-do hardwiring. In the Current Year, it is also a weapon of the enemy.

  31. Well, I don’t know much about marginal costs, but that line juxtaposing “peak America” and “post-America” was like a punch in the gut.

    I think I will spend much of the rest of the day engaged in hauntology.

      • Yep. Aging gadfly John Derbyshire may currently enjoy the position of the Dissident Right’s chief Gloom-meister, but you have your innings, Zman!

  32. Just imagine how much more post-culture we will get once the computer algorithms get good enough to write hit music, and the CGI gets good enough to create true virtual celebrities and actors.

      • “Isn’t that already true in Japan?”

        Not really. The Billboard charts are almost always filled with humans. Japan tends to follow the same model in the US and (I presume) Europe. The music is all manufactured by a tiny group of persons and the J-Pop boy bands are all vat-grown clones. Maybe same difference? The crowds who swoon to Miku-chan are equivalent to the folks you’d expect at any given Comic-Con in the States. Not really the drivers of mainstream music.

    • Already here buddy and CGI isn’t required. Deepfakes are AI algorithms that do the heavy lifting for facial mapping. You can take a person who looks ‘a bit’ like someone famous and map the face of the famous person onto it and you get a fairly undetectable replica that can say any manner of things you want. As for machines writing hit music, it is so formulaic now that we should have no issue doing that to. Today’s music is a dumpster fire so how much worse could a machine do?

      • The future could be one where in-person interaction for important business will be *required*, since you cannot trust that you’re not talking to a liar on the other end.

    • Pop culture flatlined with the introduction of Rap. You can’t get any lower than the gutter.

      What remains of Pop music is now written by 5 men. No AI needed.

      The reason why the younger people are now going back to Pop’s golden age for listening music is simple. It’s qualitatively better and more pleasant to listen to.

      • Years ago I did a post on this. Once you net out the re-buy from the CD innovation, the decline in per capita ,music sales correlates with the rise of hip-hop.

      • If you want to see the progressive enstupidification of American culture in general and african-american culture in particular, look at the steady regression from stuff like Coltrane’s Giant Steps to any hip hop swill. Jazz is musically complex and requires musical knowledge and musicianship. Rap is literally just a chant set to a beat.

        • Even comparing 60s and 70s R & B acts, like The Spinners, Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, etc to today’s rap is depressing. Back then they were talented, performed with class and dignity, and the love songs were sweet, instead of today’s “songs” about ho’s and bitches.

  33. Thank God I now don’t have to read Rifkin’s book. The 1-star reviews on Amazon (some of them are pretty funny) are enough. Another child-in-a-man’s-body heard from. It’s just a cut and paste (and lucrative) gig for him.

    • It’s clear that Rifkin has never had to hire a plumber or have his car fixed at a autoshop. Same with medical services. Services are not going down in cost at all – at least the important ones are not. And when they do go down in terms of cost the quality of service takes a shit.

      So instead of getting Bob from Kansas for customer service, you get Peekachu from Bombay who knows nothing and you spend a half a hour wasting your time.

      Yeah the one star reviews and the one from Forbes is enough for the me to ignore Rifkin. The guy is mostly a fluff and hype merchant.

    • James;
      From the blurbs alone it is clear that Rifkin’s mind has been poisoned by Marxism. Strict Materialism a priori excludes any but material causes or processes is one of Marx’s core tenants. How anybody sharing ideas over the webz can hold to strict materialism is one of the wonders of this modern world.

      Perversely, the *only* products that could conceivably be driven to 0 marginal costs are IM-material, information based ones, such as technical data, specs, software, a musical score, tunes, movies & audio books delivered as a bit stream, etc. They all require material means of storage and transmission but they are not those means. IOW, they are what’s on the thumb drive but they are not the thumb drive itself. They are the genes that are coded in the DNA but not the DNA chemicals themselves.

      All other products, services, even living beings require raw materials and energy to make them real (i.e. material) from the information that is needed to direct their production. So Rifkin is completely wrong. Any *material* product or service can *never* be driven to 0 marginal cost. Lower, sure, but never to 0. No point even worrying about this.

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