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Re: <nettime> The fiction of the creative industries
Florian Cramer on Sun, 2 Oct 2011 14:08:56 +0200 (CEST)


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Re: <nettime> The fiction of the creative industries


On Sat, Sep 24, 2011 at 11:25 PM, Matze Schmidt <matze.schmidt {AT} n0name.de> wrote:

> Since the Creative Industry is not just the fiction or fantasy of some
> governmental managers and think tanks it will be and is a centralised
> action as re-action and in answer to the economy crisis today.

The best debunking of the "Creative Industries" I have come across so
far has been written by Chuck Kleinhans for the Jump Cut review of
contemporary media
<http://www.ejumpcut.org/currentissue/kleinhans-creatIndus/index.html>.
With his permission, I am posting the text here (but it should be also
read on the web site because of the image material that has been left
out here):

Creative industries,”
neoliberal fantasies, and the cold, hard facts of global recession:
some basic lessons

by Chuck Kleinhans

Author's note: This article should be read in conjunction with Jyotsna
Kapur’s, “Let them eat cake! neoliberalism and the ideology of the
aesthetic,” in this issue of Jump Cut. Also in this issue, I’ve
written a resource piece on Media Art and Economics that surveys the
recent critical growth and development of the subject and details some
things mentioned here in passing.


Overture: neoliberalism in your face

In Fall 2010 the long running Fox TV show The Simpsons began one
episode with a two minute opening sequence revised by the street
artist Banksy.[1]
Several usual scenes are trimmed out, and a few are changed, such as
Bart writing all over everything in his after-school detention for
graffiti.
When the family assembles to watch TV at home, a new space opens up,
revealing the behind the scenes manufacturing of The Simpsons. With a
change from the bright upbeat music that accompanies the family
assembling, we hear a dirge and see a dismal hellish factory where
workers slave away at making the shows cel animation frames.
Children are exploited working with toxic chemicals.
Live cats tossed into a wood chipper make the fur stuffing for
Simpsons' toy dolls.
And a unicorn is chained up and starved while his horn serves to make
the hole in DVDs of the show.
The camera pulls back to reveal the location of the underground
sweatshop: a 20th Century Fox prison.

Banksy’s nightmare vision of globalized “creative industry”
manufacturing serves as a bitter ironic comment on offshore labor in
the arts. But it also combines the iconic horrors of late 18th and
19th century “dark Satanic Mills,”[2] with today’s popular imagination
of child labor, animal abuse, and pitiless exploitation in the
developing world. The Simpsons' animation labor is actually done in
South Korea, while the “creative” work is done in the United States.
Aksom, the Korean animation company, has responded that its workers
have clean, efficient, digital workspaces in downtown Seoul and are
well-paid by Korean standards.[3] (They are paid one-third of what
U.S. people doing the same job would be paid.)

Banksy’s imagination touches on some of the best-known aspects of
global capitalism’s miseries: symptoms of a deeper set of conditions
and a political-economic policy of neoliberalism. As a social and
moral philosophy as well as a set of economic and governmental
practices, neoliberalism — with its standard claims of freeing of the
market while, in fact, accelerating the exploitation of humans —
describes contemporary global capitalism.


Capitalism: hard facts in tough times

Let me tell a true story. It illustrates a key point in what follows
and is foundational to the rest of my analysis. The story: in Ronald
Reagan’s early years as President, the country experienced a severe
economic recession. I was visiting New York City and met up with an
old professional acquaintance. In the late 1960s and early 70s this
woman worked as a filmmaker in San Francisco. There, at a time of
changing censorship, she found a niche market shooting 16mm hardcore
pornography, locally produced and locally exhibited in little
storefront porn theatres. The bill changed weekly to keep the regular
customers coming back (pun intended). So there was a steady need for
making quickie films. Being able to work quickly and cheaply was not
just a plus but essential to remaining in business. Later she decided
to go to grad school in film, received a Ph.D. and published her
dissertation as a significant book in the field. However, she had not
secured a regular tenured academic position. It wasn’t clear to me
that she really wanted that. As an adept experienced filmmaker, she
tried making a living as an occasional film/video editor in NYC.
Clearly she enjoyed living in a big city.

Having left academe and already familiar with the porn world, she
ended up working as a writer/editor for several downscale porn
publications: “men’s magazines” to use the then-current euphemism. By
that time, these periodicals had descended from the old Playboy model
of nude glamour pictures mixed with lifestyle features, respectable
fiction, and nonfiction.[4] The new norm centered on the Larry Flynt
Hustler franchise, featuring increasingly explicit and sexualized
depictions of women’s bodies mixed with gross-out humor. The
publications my friend worked on were at a cut-rate end. Mostly the
layout was just photos of bare babes and their private parts printed
rather cheaply on a fairly porous paper. (Hustler had the pretension
of using high quality paper stock and excellent printing with a glossy
hard finish, nicely bound.) Even within this low end of the porn
market, there was product differentiation. While showing me some
copies of recent issues, she explained that recently she had been
promoted to editor of several magazines. She now had the innovative
idea of returning to the post WW2 men’s magazine which combined sexy
glamour babes (now completely undressed with genital display) along
with violent action/adventure.

Late 50s men’s pulp magazine cover featuring the American white male
adventurer set on rescuing/protecting the captive white woman from the
menace of “Arab” harems: "I fought the white slavers of the Middle
East." Wildcat Adventures printed an excerpt of William Burroughs’
first novel, Junkie. For more info, see the excellent blog,
www.menspulpmags.com.

However, just as this new career opportunity opened up, and her
excitement about doing something new and implementing her ideas
skyrocketed, it came crashing down. The publications went out of
business. The market was contracting; she was out of a job. The main
reason for this had to do with the market and consumption. People
(obviously mostly men) were not buying as much pornography as in the
1970s. In a severe recession, rather than buying the newest thing,
people tend to get along with what they already have: you get the car
repaired rather than buying a new one; you wear the clothes you have
rather than purchasing a new season’s wardrobe; and (in the
pre-internet era) you hang on to the collection of pornography you
have rather than getting the newest magazines. Even the fact that
these magazines had a price point advantage (some consideration in a
recessionary economy with high inflation) didn’t help.

With the drop in newsstand sales and reduced ad revenue, the publisher
decided it was better to cut losses and end the publications than to
try to weather the storm. My friend lost her job. While this was the
immediate cause, it was only at this point that she found out the
larger picture. The actual owner was not the magazine publisher as she
thought, but an international company that mostly operated abroad. The
core of that capitalist project was that they had secured the rights
to cut down huge forests in the Philippines. The resulting timber was
turned into paper. Originally it was profitable to turn that paper
into porn magazines for sale in the United States. But as the market
changed, it turned out that more money could be made by transforming
the product into toilet paper for the Japanese market. The executive
decision was made: drop the porn magazines; ramp up the ass wipes.

There are some interesting lessons here. First is that in the
marketplace both commodities (porn and toilet paper) are connected to
commonplace activities involving human private parts. With porn,
representations for a male audience; with toilet paper, practical body
use, primarily for women (since women consume more toilet paper than
men). Second is that capitalism thrives on imperial conquest (while
exploiting a natural resource of the Philippines, the company was not
a Philippine company) and along the way produces environmental
destruction and global warming as a side effect of unregulated
accumulation. And third, it is the nature of capitalism to change
forms: the capitalist corporation in this case simply sought to
maximize profit, to do as much as it could with the resource of which
it had taken control. What nation was the source of the wealth was
unimportant, what nation was the final market was irrelevant, what
marketable product was produced was insignificant — the only thing
that mattered was that capital could be more efficiently expanded.

The big lesson here, especially for communications and media folks, is
that we need to understand capitalism from the point of what it is
fundamentally about. And that is not about specific services,
products, or ideological representations (what we usually study), but
about expanding and maximizing capital itself. We should not give up
analyzing products, services, and ideologies, but we need to see the
material foundation of the larger system of circulation.

Thus my friend, a classic “creative industry” worker, lost her day job
and had to patch together short term jobs editing video and picking up
some adjunct teaching of media making skills. She became a flexible
citizen in the middle of a recession: without healthcare, without job
security, put in the position of having to cobble together a
livelihood from her toolkit of skills. It’s not so much different than
the situation many of us face today, 30 years later. This is to say
that precarity, an economically precarious life, is a familiar
condition for many of my readers, even if they are not fully aware of
it. In fact, students are one group that actually often pays money
(tuition) to be super-exploited in “student internships” and “student
apprentice” programs.[5]


Precarious times

The term “precarity” has come to refer to insecure employment in the
neoliberal era. Precarious work describes non-standard employment that
is poorly paid, insecure, unprotected, and that cannot support a
household. In European policy discussions, the term “atypical work” is
often used; in the U.S. we’re more likely to hear terms such as
“casual labor,” “flexible work,” “temporary labor,” “contingent
labor,” “part-time,” “adjunct,” “intermittent work,” “freelance,”
“self-employment,” and “home-based work.” And for out-of-work
executives, “consulting.” The vast majority of such workers work for
low wages, on a temporary basis, without benefits and pensions, and
are often (in the best of times) immigrants, and/or undocumented, and
especially women. In the worst of times, with high unemployment, the
formerly middle class gets pulled in. Service work is often and
typically precarious. In the United States, without universal (“single
payer”) healthcare, and with severely limited unemployment benefits,
precarity is much more precarious than in Europe.

Globally, the increase in precarious labor is often linked to
globalization, information technology, and shifts from manufacturing
to service economies. However, we need to be careful here. Precarity
is not a necessary result of these changes. Rather, it is a deliberate
policy and aspect of neoliberalism in its relation to the labor force.
Such a policy aims to make the situation of owners, of capitalists, of
employers (even non-profits like many colleges) more flexible. Rather
than full-time, continuous work, of indefinite duration, protected by
labor unions and government regulations, with standard hours, social
benefits, and a social wage (that is one that allows you to support a
family), precarious work goes in the other direction. Even the core
labor force falls prey to this kind of insecurity, with deunionization
(such as the recent attempt in Wisconsin and other states to end
public employee collective bargaining), cutting of pension and
healthcare guarantees, and deregulation.

Somewhat new is the increasing inclusion of information or creative
industry workers in the precarious category. While everyone has heard
of the decline in print newspaper circulation and revenues, fewer
realize that jobs in journalism have drastically declined. And they
have not been picked up in the New Media sector, which has also shed
regular jobs while trying to change to amateur or volunteer labor for
content.[6] [open endnotes in new window] Even when precarious workers
are paid, they make far less than what a regular employee does and
they have no job security. For example, some of the most poorly paid
high-school graduates in the United States are graduate students
working as teaching assistants, as well as ABDs and PhDs who work as
adjunct teachers on a semester by semester basis. The deliberate
erosion of tenure and tenure track positions in U.S. higher education
(now only about one-fourth of all teaching is done by “regular”
faculty) gives employers maximum flexibility and classroom teachers
the most tenuous employment possible.


Creative workers and creative environments

When I first thought of this article, I had a fairly clear idea how it
would proceed. I wanted to take a very skeptical look at much of the
“creative industries” hype. By that I mean especially the sales
pitch/ideology that the information and new media industries in
capitalist countries are a pathway to national economic advancement
and provide the resourceful and satisfying creative jobs that we
should be training our students to handle. I thought that it would be
interesting to see how that mantra, that’s been active in the United
States for the past 10-15 years, compares to what actually happened
when the 2008 Great Recession hit. I thought I’d be able to come up
with a good set of data to challenge the notions of authors such as
Richard Florida, who writes at the more public and popular end and
John Hartley, involved at the more academic and university
administrative end, who posit that encouraging the “creatives” was the
best approach to future prosperity.

But as I looked into employment figures (and unemployment figures)
related to the U.S. version of the Recession, I realized I couldn’t
really get very far in terms of an empirical analysis.[7] Part of this
is due to the particular way “creative industries” are marked off by
economics and labor. In Britain, where the pioneering work on the
concept has been done, the category covers design, advertising,
theatre, dance, music, visual arts, creative writing, crafts, plus
museums and galleries. On the ministerial level it also includes
leisure, entertainment, tourism and heritage industries, and sports.
The situation in the UK, in particular, is quite different because
throughout the 1990s to the present, “creative industry” has been a
government-established, recognized, and practiced category for
government policy and administration. In the United States, in
contrast, the terms “creative industries” and “culture industries” are
rarely used outside academic circles. The term “creative economy” does
appear in some policy discussions and documents on a local and
sometimes regional level. The most far-reaching use I’ve found is a
plan for the State of Colorado.[8] In other cases, the terms
“information economy,” and “intellectual property” are the common
framing concepts and cover the effort to control and efficiently
commodify creative material, especially in its intangible forms.

If we look at the large categories of the U.S. Bureau of Labor
Statistics for the United States in relation to unemployment during
the Great Recession, we find that the largest areas of job loss are
construction (1.9 Million), manufacturing of durable goods (1.6 M),
professional and business services (1.5 M), retail trade (1.1 M),
financial activities (628 K), and so forth, with information losing
about 300 K jobs. In fact the only growth areas were government (200
K) and education and health services (883 K). At the time of writing
(last spring 2011) the reduced revenue flow hit state and local
governments hard. Otherwise-essential jobs such as police, fire and
emergency responders, teachers, and so forth have been downsized or
are facing immanent reduction. Along with this, many communities
report increased crime. Homelessness expands as mortgage foreclosure
increases and social services for the most vulnerable decline.

In general, the current recession began by first hitting industrial
jobs, where men predominate, and only more recently service and
administrative jobs, where women are more prevalent. To refine this a
bit more, the advertising and media industry cut about 10% of its jobs
since the recession began in December 2007. Newspapers cut the most
jobs (as we pretty well know), but so did media companies (112 K),
advertising/marketing services (76 K), radio, magazines, and broadcast
TV. The only growth was in cable (added 3%) and Internet media
companies (added 7%). For a longer view, since the beginning of the
Millennium in 2000, the entire advertising and media industry has lost
about 20% of the jobs it had at the turn of the century.

In short, then, because of the way labor and employment data is
collected in the United States, it’s hard to break down employment by
actual job types. Thus the decline in media employment includes not
just the “creatives” but also the security personnel, clerks and
bookkeepers, and other employees. Were there fewer jobs for web
designers or video editors? The simple answer seems to be “yes, but.”
In-house designers were likely to be cut, with temps hired for
short-term projects. Outside subcontractors who might take over the
necessary work typically pay much lower wages and offer no direct
benefits such as healthcare. Some of the work can be offshored, with
people in the Philippines or India doing the work at a fraction of the
cost.[9] At the same time, with constantly changing hardware and
software development, designers or video editors are pushed to spend a
great deal of time learning the newest, constantly changing tools, at
their own expense. In contrast to the previously dominant system of
employers conducting their own on-the-job training, or paying for
special and specialized courses, or assuming employees would be paid
during a apprenticeship leading to full career employment (practices
still familiar in the military, police, and some civil servant jobs),
corporations have shifted the burden for training to the individual,
or to programs in schools. The burden then falls on the employees to
pay tuition and maintain their living while upgrading their skills to
get a better job or to just keep their present job. Increased
unemployment typically results in increased enrollments in higher
education as people who’ve lost their jobs hope to gain more salable
skills in the interim, awaiting economic recovery. Taxpayers are
expected to keep the instructional institutions running. And students
are expected to debt-finance their education.


Speedup and creative jobs

Speedup was the common term in traditional manufacturing to describe
the technique of the employers increasing productivity by increasing
the pace of an assembly line. It can also be applied to an employer’s
forcing increased productivity on creative or intellectual workers in
less mechanical but still effective ways.

Personal computers and mobile devices make it easier for employers to
expect or demand 24/7 availability. Whereas in the past it was assumed
that only the most crucial professionals such as surgeons would have
to expect their family or leisure time to be interrupted by an
emergency call, today a creeping intrusion creates the expectation
that creative workers should be putting in additional hours outside of
the office. But why do workers go along with such speedup? In part
their acquiescence is a response to management’s creation of a
“crisis” atmosphere. A fiscal crisis is announced, some cutbacks such
as letting staff go, not filling vacancies, closing or decreasing the
funding for departments and programs, and so forth create a climate of
fear and anxiety. People hope to keep their job, even if others are
losing theirs. Work harder, show you are a team player, increase
productivity. Of course there is a cost: as productivity rises, wages
do not keep up.

This pattern also contributes to a dialectic of personal concerns
interwoven with institutional constraints. In a well-known study, the
Dutch economist (and artist) Hans Abbing asks, Why Are Artists Poor?
He points out that the economy of the arts defies one of the basic
postulates of mainstream economics. Orthodox economics would assume
that individual laborers would choose to leave a field if they
couldn’t make a good living. As indeed we see with internal and global
labor migration, career changes often follow when jobs are outsourced
or technological change makes some work redundant. But by and large
artists don’t follow this logic. They tend to continue in their
artistic activities, though they might need to supplement their income
with additional jobs or have a day job to support their art making,
performing, etc. In the large overview, the whole art sector is often
subsidized (particularly in Europe) which allows for maintaining a
relatively large group of underpaid artisans. Why are artists the
exception to the stern rule of labor economics? As Abbing’s research
shows, they largely find the activity so personally satisfying that
they are willing to trade economic security and success (except for a
small number of celebrity artists at the top of the pyramid). This
applies not only to visual artists, but also to musicians, writers,
actors, and other artists. The satisfaction of doing what you like
doing is so strong that many will forego job security, a higher level
of income, and a more stable lifestyle for the freedom of creative
self-determination.


Creative industries

When the concept of “Creative Industries” first developed, it brought
together two essentially political motives. First was the desire to
develop and enhance particular national or regional (within a nation)
sectors that could make up for economic sectors in decline: typically
manufacturing, but also areas such as had exhausted natural resources.
In the UK, with the first big push, to promote creative industries was
seen as playing up and building on acknowledged strengths that already
had international recognition such as design, fashion, heritage
tourism, museums, music and performing arts, etc. Promoters assumed
that given established recognition, government intervention could
support and subsidize new growth in these areas, creating jobs and new
tax revenue. Industrial factories might be closing, but new jobs could
be created in cultural innovation.

Second was the desire to get away from a much more critical view of
mass culture, generally discussed under the term the “Culture
Industry” which itself had roots in Theodor Adorno’s left-wing
critique of mass culture, mass communications, capitalist ownership,
and ideological control. The Culture Industry critique’s inherent
pessimism hardly fit in with a desire to expand and renovate the
entertainment and culture sector. Also, using the term “culture”
immediately brought along the baggage of the conservative ideal of
High Culture and its entrenched and reactionary views of preserving a
legacy, adherence to the recognized classics in the arts, and
resistance to the popular and mass consumed. By phrasing the change as
“Creative Economy” and “Creative Industries” one could compliment
existing capitalists and financiers by recognizing the validity of
“industry” while using the term “creative” to make it seem something
brand new was going on. At the same time, the creative branding of
cultural production allowed this economic sector to seem important,
perhaps potentially on a par with science, technology, engineering,
and medicine — which were certainly aided and abetted by changing
strict regulations and subsidizing useful infrastructure and
innovation enterprises. If you accepted the neoliberal logic of
Thatcher’s “There Is No Alternative” (TINA) which could be roughly
translated as, “Capitalism is in charge, get used to it,” then culture
— rather than having a critical relation to society in the sense of
providing an alternative, a critique, an radical difference — could be
reformed in the neoliberal order as “creative,” contributing to the
economy by being on board, and happily industrializing those cultural
areas that were formerly seen as a drag on growth and innovation.

At this point, local/regional bodies had an opportunity to get some of
the new money to increase and improve, especially if it could be
argued the result would produce a profit. The education system could
also be brought in, and subsidy money could flow to centers and
individuals with proposals to aid and abet this acceleration. What
followed was enthusiastic promotion of a general overview with
publications such as John Howkins, The Creative Economy: How People
Make Money from Ideas, which argued, using the tone of a motivational
speaker, that the “new economy” would raise all boats and you just had
to rid yourself of old-fashioned ideas. It also meant that by creating
something “new” one could escape the restraints of existing regulation
and vested interests such as unions, or renegotiate them. Just as the
financial services sector was now surpassing the old manufacturing
arena in inventing new ways to make money, the creative culture sector
could potentially change and expand. New forms of information and
communication promised new ways to monetize necessary activities.

This line of thought spread in different ways. In the United States
some enthusiasm flowed into and around the “dot.com” boom in the 1990s
and was part of the neoliberal Clinton administration’s camouflage for
pushing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) while slashing
social welfare programs. Politicians promised that “retraining” in the
new digital world would make up for the hit that the traditional
Democratic Party base would take as manufacturing jobs moved abroad.
It never happened. And the dot.com bust at the turn of the century
called for retrenchment on all fronts.

Probably the most successful of the creative economy salesmen was
Richard Florida, a city planner, who pointed at the transformation of
Pittsburgh PA from a classic rustbelt disaster to a revivified
regional financial and education hub within a massively cleaned up and
remade central core. As decades of grime and soot from the steel
town’s industrial roots were sandblasted away, a clean lighter city
emerged. Florida said that “creatives” now wanted to live there, and
with an arguable sleight of hand came up with a model for other cities
in distress. Make them attractive to “creatives” and those folks will
come and innovate and that innovation will jump-start your ailing
urban economy.

The appeal was obvious: for politicians it meant adding low cost
amenities such as bike lanes, more trees, flower-filled traffic
dividers, farmer’s markets, summer music and art festivities, etc.
rather than adequately funding city schools, making major
infrastructure improvements such as roads and public transport, and
improved housing for the lowest income citizens. For the professional
middle class, the “creatives,” this change could translate into
tangible things they liked: creating a pleasant cultural ambiance,
validating connoisseurship and consumption. The apparent results:
transport that served them well such as light rail from the suburbs to
downtown, specialty consumption sites such as wine bars, new music
club venues, and bistro food. You could shop at a Whole Foods big box
store instead of a Wal-Mart big box store, and go to an art house
cinema instead of just the multiplexes.

Florida’s counterintuitive imagination reverses the commonplace wisdom
that improving the economic base of a city will lead to a better
cultural superstructure. Instead the order is reversed: change the
cultural environs and an economic miracle will follow: “Build it and
they will come.” Of course there are some jolly things here: Florida
actively argues that being queer-friendly brings more “creatives” to
town, which sticks it in the eye of Christian fundamentalists and
Republican Presidential aspirants by promising the gay goose will lay
some golden eggs. And what self-respecting professional wouldn’t like
having one or more alternative live music venues in town, with an
organic locavore restaurant nearby, and ready parking places to plug
in your hybrid auto?

But the downstream version of these unexamined myths are even more
distorted. Case in point: The June 2011 issue of Wired magazine
includes a Special Report done with National Public Radio’s Planet
Money project. In a “case study” of Omaha, Nebraska, the article
claims:

“It’s only the 42nd-largest city in the US, but over the past two
decades, Omaha has been transformed into one of the Midwest’s most
vibrant cultural hubs. Here’s how the rebirth happened, starting in
the ‘90s. Phase 1, 1991-1994. It all started with better food. For
decades, Omaha had few gourmet destinations aside from its musty old
steak houses. In the early ‘90s, though, new restaurants — and a
revitalized farmers’ market — brought foodies back.”[10]

This analysis, and the adjoining one on the Planet Money Blog, fit
reporters’ details to the Florida thesis template. But the problem is
that the model isn’t sufficient to the data. This flaw becomes
immediately apparent when Omaha people start adding comments to the
blog, pointing out faulty facts, inaccurate histories, and major
misinterpretations. A little more probing about the recent history of
Omaha (on Wikipedia, say) reveals that changes among the city’s major
businesses and real estate trends offer a much better explanation for
the urban boom. In other words, the Florida thesis, though flawed,
directed the journalists’ interpretation. But to make big decisions,
be those life decisions for individuals or policy and implementation
ones for cities and institutions, we need to get beyond wishful
thinking and fanciful but flawed suppositions.

Others have built on Creative Industries optimism, which can take many
different forms. In my personal experience it appears regularly in my
now hometown of Eugene, Oregon. Endless proposals for creating a more
vibrant economy appear with the promise that if we just make the
community more amenable to “creatives” milk and honey will flow. More
bike paths, more playing fields in the parks, fewer playing fields in
the parks so we can have wilderness and wetlands restoration, more
food carts, more parking garages downtown, closing off the main street
downtown to make it like a walking mall, ending the blockage of the
downtown walking mall so more vehicles can get there, more parking
meters so its easier to park, fewer meters so its more welcome to
park, and on and on.

For intellectuals in higher education the seductive power of Creative
Economy and Creative Industries thinking has inspired new initiatives
which sometimes short circuit a more rigorous analysis. An example is
John Hartley’s recent work. His anthology Creative Industries puts
forward a strong argument for moving away from an older model of
Culture Industries analysis and seeing universities (in particular) as
key points for contributing to this new economic and industrial
formation. While his introductory essay to the collection works its
way through alternative views, overall it tends to dismiss any
skepticism. In this it reads like a brief for increased government,
industrial, private and nonprofit funding of university work in this
area. Of course this is exactly the kind of strategic plan and vision
statement that is needed to sell the idea and gain concrete support.
Hartley argues that there’s an opportunity (specifically in Australia
where he was Dean of the Creative Industries Faculty at Queensland
University of Technology), and with more resources he and others can
run with it.

Seeing Hartley as an administrator pitching growth for his academic
unit, the enthusiasm is understandable. But the
let’s-build-something-new impulse quickly diverges from the
foundational intellectual task of looking at something thoroughly and
critically. Is it more complicated? Is there a downside? How does the
promise hold up against the test of time? In that frame, intellectual
inquiry begins with skepticism. And the point I’ve been trying to
raise here is that the Recession of 2007 provides one stress test for
the Creative Industries argument. And it seems to show us that the
larger forces of neoliberalism, such as speedup and outsourcing even
“creative” work overseas, are more decisive in shaping the actual
creative work climate and the possibilities that individual face as
employees than the wispy utopianism of turning on the creative faucet
to get a stream of new jobs, opportunities, and adventures.

For the individual, swimming in or possibly drowning in the sea of
change, it’s hard to see the big picture. You need a job, you want a
career. You’d like to fulfill the promise of training in art, culture,
and imaginative thinking. That’s the promise of freedom, determining
your own work patterns, and so forth. As Abbing points out, lots of
people are willing to give up security, or prestige, or high pay to
get the flexibility. Some of this same logic famously infused the
Silicon Valley and dot-com businesses that grew rapidly in the 1990s.
In a series of articles and books cultural analyst Andrew Ross studied
this phenomenon and pointed out the trade-off of “freedom” in the
digital workplace for labor exploitation. Ross has continued
investigating labor conditions and in his most recent book, Nice Work
If You Can Get It, examines precarious work as endemic to the present
moment. While Creative Industries boosters such as John Hartley spin
precarity as needing to prepare students for a career in which they
will be changing jobs frequently, adapting to different projects and
technologies, skeptics like Ross look at the actual U.S. official
unemployment rate (9.2% at this writing) and the actual unemployment
rate (more like 16% if you include the drastically underemployed, the
erratically employed and long term unemployed — that is one-sixth of
the work force).

To turn this back to the start: some of these Creative jobs were in
fact outsourced and off-shored (the animation factory in Banksy’s The
Simpsons intro). And the scrambling response of the “creative”
workforce has been to try to do something within the new breakout.
Thus individuals are living on unemployment (if lucky) while trying to
catch the golden ring by creating another iPhone app that will
instantly catch on, or trying to find ways to make social media
profitable, such as hyper-local newsblogs (with a little army of
“volunteer” writers—read unpaid journalists).

We have our own ideological fantasies about this new world of work. A
good indicator can be found in the blockbuster success of The Social
Network: from creative individual (however obnoxious) to
multi-billionaire in a few steps and a few years. Or the Ironman
franchise: the genius entrepreneur/inventor as wiser and more
benevolent than any government: actually like Faust (that is in
Goethe’s Faust part 2) on superhero steroids.

[The article ends with "Heroes and collectives: a visual essay" using
stills from several mainstream movies,
http://www.ejumpcut.org/currentissue/kleinhans-creatIndus/4.html , and
concludes: "These disparate films indicate there’s another set of
fantasies too that compete for the space in our heads, and I’d like to
point that out as a marker of resistance. That’s the fantasy of
collective action by the dispossessed, who, acting together for the
survival and common good manage to turn the tables on the powerful,
the corrupt: that’s the terrain of Toy Story 3, with the band of
misfits and rejects and over-the-hill toys finally triumphing. Or
Robert Rodriguez’s Machete, with the undocumented and their partners
and supporters overthrowing the racists, the capitalists (both
corporate and drug cartel types) and corrupt politicians who are
trying to keep them down. We need those myths too, even if we also
know that the slogans are not sufficient. Especially after 'Obama:
Change We Can Believe In' has worn very thin indeed. We need to look
behind the screen, behind the visible if intangible form of our
creative culture, and bring it back to understanding capitalism
itself, and from there, how we might effectively challenge it and
change it."]





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