Read Jonathan Taplin: “Sleeping Through a Revolution”

I know I’m a little late to the party in featuring this article by Jonathan Taplin, but anyone who has not yet read “Sleeping Through a Revolution” should find time to do so. Taplin is a former motion picture and music producer and has for the last 12 years been Director of the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab. This article is certainly among the best summaries of the challenges posed by the digital age — creative, economic, ideological, social, and existential.  As others have done, Taplin emphasizes the point that the creative class is merely the proverbial canary in the coal mine, already passing out in an increasingly poisonous economic climate. Citing some chilling data, like the fact that wealth consolidation among the 1% is now more acute than it was immediately before the Great Depression, Taplin very efficiently paints us a comprehensive mural depicting the state of affairs. Unfortunately, it’s kind of like “Guenerica” if all the figures were holding smart phones. Writes Taplin:

“… within 20 years, starting with Peter Thiel’s cohort at Stanford University, the organizing philosophy of Silicon Valley was far more based on the radical libertarian ideology of Ayn Rand than the commune based notions of Ken Kesey and Stewart Brand. Thiel, the founder of PayPal, early investor in Facebook and Godfather of the PayPal Mafia that currently rules Silicon Valley has been clear about his philosophy.

He stated, “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible”, his reasoning being that “Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron.”

One theme I’d like to highlight from Taplin’s article is the way he introduces the piece, citing a period in the late sixties when he says the most “critically acclaimed movies and music were also the best selling.”  This has been a big theme of mine since starting to write about these issues.  Because my own opinion is that Hollywood’s real golden era occurred between the late sixties and roughly the catalyst we call Star Wars. This was a transformative time when the movies that had the big runs, made the most money, and earned all the award nominations were the kind of films that today we would describe as “indie.” Obvious examples would be Woody Allen’s Annie Hall or Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver.  It was a time when mainstream, American film dealt with sophisticated material in a way that created great works of art that also dominated at the box office.

Hollywood studios and audiences moved steadily away from that kind of mainstream fare, which is not to say that everything big studios produce today is “bad,” but it’s certainly different.  The many reasons for the shift in material, at least initially, have little to do with the post-Napster market forces that have since exacerbated the problem by devaluing works across the board.  But I think the point Taplin is making is not to decry the fact that today’s Annie Halls aren’t box-office leaders, but that they face limited opportunities to survive at all.  And we can easily imagine that destructive model replicating across multiple sectors, as what used to be the middle of the economy is subsumed into the struggling 99%.  In keeping with Taplin’s sleeping metaphor, I find it interesting that the “revolution,” which gave us the shorthand 99% and 1%, was typical of our times — just a little trend that made money for social media companies but that anyone in power could safely ignore.

Read “Sleeping Through a Revolution” by Jonathan Taplin on Medium.

© 2015, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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2 comments

  • From the article you referenced.

    I do however think that Google might alter it’s “Don’t be evil” motto to “Don’t enable evil”.

    That is not their job.

    And pretty much everything else he decries illustrated why I loathe both academics and liberal ideology.

    Why is it that so many people assume that income is a zero sum game? That by nature of being rich or successful, that person(or company) is somehow stealing from the mouths of babes?

    Big budget movies make money because a lot of money is spent on them. When they don’t make money it is because the consumer has no interest in whatever tripe is being pushed in their faces. The Taylor Swifts of the world make money because lot’s of money is spent on them. When they don’t make money, it is because the consume has no interest in whatever tripe is being pushed in their faces.

    I love when people talk about a loss of privacy, or whine about how much influence a company has over policy. The same people, BTW, who tend to ignore how the media outlets(primarily controlled by people like Taplin) are far more insidious when it comes to using their reach to influence and manipulate.

    If you have 1 apple, and there are 10 people. How much that apple is worth depends solely on how much those people are willing to pay. If everyone wants a banana, that apple, even though it is the only one, ain’t worth shit. In addition if there are 100 people with 1 apple each, your apple’s value is also influenced by how much the other people with apples are going to charge. And if some of the people(any more than 10) decide to give their apples away for free, your “product” becomes essentially worthless.

    That has nothing to do with the greed that may or may not exist in the ranks of apple sellers. It has nothing to do with the quality of one apple over another. It does however have everything to do with how the consumer base perceives the product. And no amount of regulation or control is going to change that.

    So while it would most certainly suck to have been the guy with one apple and 10 customers now that the market is flooded. You can’t really blame the consumer or your competitor now that you are unable to sell your apple.

    My point is that both increased competition and consumer perception are key factors in navigating the digital age. Lambasting tech companies, regardless of the validity of your arguments, will only have a limited impact. And while you may think this should be countered through regulatory measures and/or legislative intervention, the two core issues will remain, and they will consistently outweigh any gains you might make towards controlling the Google’s and the FaceBook’s of the world.

    Google should not filter results. They CHOOSE to filter certain things that they deem reprehensible, and they very well may allow others that they don’t like as well, that is their prerogative. Facebook might someday sell your data to the highest bidder(they don’t actually, but that is only because they profit more by using it themselves), but they are under no obligation to you or anyone else to keep the shit you post safe. None. The fact that they do have privacy controls, while somewhat mandated by various laws, is more or less completely at their discretion. “Privacy” is a marketing tool used to retain users, nothing more.

    We the people still do have pretty much all of the power. The fact that most choose to ignore that fact is not the responsibility of Google, or Facebook, or twitter, or Amazon, etc, and it never will/should be.

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