Normative Analysis and Political Economy

Alisa Perren has launched a new and promising blog on the media industries titled, appropriately enough, Media Industries (and other stuff). In a recent post, she takes up the looming crisis of the "big media" corporations:
....the writers' strike combined with the larger economic crisis has moved much of the talk from anxiety to calamity..... 

An initial response for some might be to say "huzzah! bye bye big media!" However, as someone soon to speak to many an undergraduate eager to make a living in a world in which downsizing and bankruptcies are the new state of being, I can only feel distressed by the emerging state of the media world.
Alisa touches on a couple of issues I find worth reflecting on. First, pedagogically, what adjustment should a scholar make in teaching in a pre-professional context. I teach in a production department, so I'm always wondering how much an instrumental context alters the pure scholarly pursuit of knowledge.

Second, she opens up the question exactly what our attitude to media companies should be. In some ways it's a moot point, since those media companies are going to live or die or meet whatever in-between fate despite our hopes, scholarship, or teaching. But political economy critique does have a heavy normative undertone (starting with the Marxian codeword of "political economy") alongside any descriptive analysis. It's worth asking what the normative attitude should be.

I, too, resist a simple "bye-bye big media" attitude, though for slightly different reasons. My main concern, normatively, is for the industry organization that encourages the maximum creative expressive and entertainment capability and an ideological disposition closest to my own. It's hard to be a scholar and a fan of classical Hollywood without being aware of positive feedback loops that large companies, monopolistically organized, can provide (and here I'm swayed by Thomas Schatz's "Genius of the System" argument). And one need not be a corporate-cheerleader to recognize that massive capital and resources go to providing American audiences well-made entertainment television on a weekly basis. Of course, there's plenty to chafe at with the current media oligopoly  - not least their predilection for rigging copyright law in their favor over that of any other stakeholders - but I myself would prefer a political economy critique that would specify what industrial conditions enable as well as foreclose.

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