Borkowski Weekly Media Trends 22-04-22
Is indecisive Germany still Europe's top dog? | Coachella & the Corporatisation of Culture | Giuliani Unmasked | The beginning of the end of Netflix?
Once seen as the leaders of Europe – post-Merkel Germany is struggling to stay top dog
The war in Ukraine is barbaric and as we watch fresh, daily footage of war-torn cities, towns and villages destroyed and brutalised by the invading Russian forces, Western world leaders are clamouring to throw their support behind Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky. But the one nation lagging is Germany.
Unlike other European countries, Germany refused to send arms to Ukraine in the build-up to the Russian invasion and blocked German made hardware from being exported from other countries. Their long-standing policy of not exporting arms to war zones only ended when Russian tanks roared across the Ukrainian boarders in February. This move also looked set to spell the end of Germany’s years-long policy of closer trade and economic relations with Putin’s Russia but, perhaps fearing the financial consequences of such a separation, they have been slow to act.
Even now the German Defence Ministry won’t outline exactly what they have sent to Ukraine, and have ruled out sending heavy weapons, hiding behind excuses while far smaller countries lead the way in sending lethal aid to help the Ukrainian fightback.
It’s not just weapons where Germany has been slow; despite pressure to ease their reliance on Russian energy, they are highly dependent on Russian gas and their economy will be crushed in large parts without it.
Zelensky, an increasingly popular an influential international figure, has been highly critical of the German response and pleaded for the country’s leaders to put peoples live ahead of money when he appeared before their parliament, in stark contrast to his appearance in front of other parliaments where he was thankful and grateful.
This combination of events has undeniably tarnished Germany’s image as a strong, decisive, competent and principled leader among nations. Instead, the image is one of indecision, opacity, criticism from the hero of the brave resistance, and cowardly kow-towing in face of Russian economic threats.
Will Germany’s reluctance to go hard on Russia from the start see their influence dwindle in Europe? As reports of Russian brutality and war crimes proliferate, the West will need to muster an even tougher diplomatic and military response to its adversary, possibly including turning off the taps to their precious gas pipeline. But will Germany stand with the rest when that day comes? Will it take a definitive stand against the brutal terror of Russia before it’s too late or continue to burnish Putin’s bloodstained coffers by indirectly funding his war. Only this week the Bundesbank warns Russian gas embargo would cost the Germany Economy €180bn; is that a price really greater than the moral cost of inaction, or the loss of their allies’ respect?
Coachella and the Corporatisation of Culture
An excellent TikTok by Mandy Lee this week articulate something that those of us who work in the cultural sector have long felt; that aspects of the scene have been swallowed whole by consumerism, marketing and ‘content’.
Coachella was her chief target, noting that the ‘fun’ of the festival is essentially a way to lure people into partaking in capitalist excess, self-perpetuated by the added pressure to “perform fun on the internet” – hence our association of the festival with Instagram posts of girls in “Disco Bohemian in the Dessert” outfits, rather than live music.
It was a brilliant expression of something we’ve known for years, both those of us who are uneasy with the appropriation of culture as a consumerist status symbol, and those who see it as an opportunity to make a lot of money without offering very much in return.
It was telling that one of the big stories to come out of Coachella in the UK was the fact that the ‘random 18 year-old British fan’ pulled up on stage to perform Thiago Silva with Dave (a wheeze he’s pulled before) was none other than the aspiring-rapper son of a world-famous film director. Of course there’s a chance it was all a coincidence but the incident does not do much for the perception of the music at the festival being incidental to the opportunity for privileged aspiring celebrities to gain a few followers…
The perfect symbol of what happens when the status symbol swallows the cultural event entirely is still Fyre Festival whose spectre should be a warning to all impresarios not to set too much store by influencers and brand partnerships and to remember that the music comes first.
In the UK we’re seeing a trend in that very direction. While a few old war horses of the festival scene (often though not exclusively those involved in the early evolution of Glastonbury) grumpily bang the drum that the festival is the music and live entertainment, others are increasingly preoccupied with what drinks brand will sponsor their backstage VIP area and what radio presenter-cum-influencer it might help them attract.
This phenomenon is not exclusive to music festivals; the line is increasingly blurring between art exhibition and ‘selfie museum’ – a term coined (unfairly) to describe the clever and phenomenally content-rich experiences created by the likes of MeowWolf but then taken a bit too literally by an army of charlatans who forgot to include any art in their exhibitions.
Similarly, museums are desperate for partnerships that basically serve as adverts-in-exhibition-format for heritage fashion brands or beloved old-timey IP, or to make traditional art ‘immersive’ (read – better fodder for social media content but sorely lacking in substance). We are also seeing a trend for ‘immersive theatre’ that relies more on a couple of photo opportunities and a whole lot of product placement than it does on storyline or world building.
Culture is struggling back to its feet after the pandemic, and if the corporate world is willing to genuinely support it, that could be crucial to its survival, but not if the price of this support is to turn these events into giant adverts that serve only as fodder for influencers.
Stunning, weird TV: The Grand Tradition
No film captures better the funhouse mirror that is trash TV than The Hunger Games, where the star-obsessed madness of trash TV serves to obscure the violence taking place in the districts. Viewed through this prism, Rudy Giuliani’s on-stage antics as Jack-in-the-Box on the NBC’s The Masked Singer and the subsequent shock at his dramatic on-stage reveal might be seen as the ultimate distraction. After all, isn’t he being criminally investigated? Didn’t he support the ‘big lie’ and the insurrection?
Parker Molloy @ParkerMolloyWe really have failed as a society. https://t.co/vrvk66KWem
Mostly negative chatter on Twitter applauded Judge Ken Jeong’s walking off; ‘I’m done’ he declared, visibly upset and adding an element of realism to the stunt. Liberals on social media reprimanded the network for that ‘normalizing’ the controversial Giuliani, as if a farcical appearance as Jack-in-the-Box was tantamount to a Grand Jury acquittal. This elitist and very common view of ‘who we give a platform’ looks at all representation the same—as a kind of payment which rewards certain kinds of behaviour or action with the gift of our attention. It pays almost no notice to the substance of that appearance, and the fact that the figures so set up can be ridiculed.
We lose something by seeing every TV appearance as a redemption narrative. In his Masked Singer performance, Giuliani appears desperate, pathetically scraping the bottom of the barrel for any time in the limelight, clinging on to what vestiges of relevance he might have had. The producers of Masked Singer have brilliantly brought him, once and finally, into the funhouse he entered when he became Trump’s legal counsel.
There is a grand tradition of trash TV which is not merely a distraction from political events. Good trash reminds us that inside of every public figure there is the Chaplinesque clown. To take one example, Italian TV—which has perfected good trash largely because of Silvio Berlusconi—recently saw the appearance of Alessandra Mussolini, unapologetic grand-daughter of Benito who once said ‘better fascist than f****t’, perform a stunning rondo on Ballando con le Stelle. When a trans judge confronted her on her anti-gay remarks, it was an opportunity for this Mussolini to re-invent herself, a self-renewal forced as much by the narrative structure of the programs as anything else. Tears were shed. Apologies issued. Alessandra Mussolini said gay rights. It was great TV.
The empire of trash has no objective but to thrive parasitically off our cultural attitudes. In doing so, it brings everything into its scope and everything it touches turns to trash. If you are vulnerable to the Midas touch of trash TV, you are likely a phony. In doing so, trash does something political: it gives us a salubrious reminder us of the flimsiness of our culture, the abjection of our politicians, the overall corruption of our attitudes and how easily they can be co-opted. It is a clearing house for figures like Giuliani. And all it asks in return for this service is that we keep watching.
The End of Netflix and Chill?
Netflix has always been a disruptive force of nature, conquering competitors like Blockbuster by embracing streaming. Netflix's gamble to cut a large chunk of its library to finance its development of original programming was a masterstroke, paving the way for its expansion into international productions. Netflix is an undisputed global powerhouse, but are we approaching the beginning of the end of the 'Netlfix & Chill' era?
Despite an ongoing global cost of living crisis, Netflix's decision to hike prices has angered its customers, showing plenty of hubris at the top of Netflix's hierarchy. It's not 2020 anymore; Netflix's audience isn't stuck at home with disposable income to burn. After a reported 'Q1 subscriber slog' and shares plummeting by 35%, Netflix's obsession with growing its audience must take a backseat as they try and retain their subscribers.
With $50bn wiped off Netflix's value this week, the company’s shareholders are worried about their competition. And it's not just from the likes of Disney or Amazon, but big-hitting shows like Friends are now more likely to host content on their own platforms. As a result, consumers and market leaders alike are cursed with choice.
Has Netflix overvalued and overestimated its cultural significance, or is this a correction in great streaming wars? It's hard to tell, but Netflix must continue disrupting the market if it's going to maintain a semblance of dominance.
An addendum: if Netflix is struggling to survive in this current climate, a newly privatised Channel 4 is in for an almighty challenge.