Monday, March 24, 2014

Fetish Objects

Way back at the end of the last century, I happened to pass a book display at a quaint, old-timey "Booke Store" offering to sell me All!Four!Count!'Em!Four! "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" books as a set.  

Since I was not about to shell out one pfennig for the novelization of one of the shittiest movies of all times --

-- I had no idea why anyone would even consider asking the buying public to invest in a four-pack of such awfulness.  

Were there some interesting difference between them?  Alternate endings?  Some, subtle printing errata that would make such a thing valuable to a collector?

Nope.  Just the same, shitty story with four, different covers.  Mass-produced fetish signifiers designed by marketers to convince already-gullible fanboys to exchange a chunk of actual money for the privilege of displaying a matching, 4-volume set of booklike objects on his shelf  in order to further validate and underscore his status as a member in good standing of the club.

Might as well have been blank pages or a slab of  plastic for all the value they were supposed to hold as books.

Of course, Star Wars games and action-figures and sleeping bags and dildos will never die, but books are a different matter: no matter how rabid the fan base, eventually the market for identical, useless, pricey, book-shaped crap that performs no other function besides taking up space on an already-crowded shelf will start to collapse.

Bear that parable in mind as you read this:
Killing Conservative Books: The Shocking End Of A Publishing Gold Rush

A decade ago, mainstream publishers became convinced they could make millions by churning out books for the right — and now the bubble may be bursting. From Allan Bloom to Ann Coulter.

The conservative book business has seen better days. Ten years ago, the genre was a major source of intellectual energy on the right, and the site of a publishing boom, with conservative imprints popping up at industry giants like Random House and Penguin. But after a decade of disruption, uneven sales, and fierce competition, many leading figures in the conservative literati fear the market has devolved into an echo of cable news, where an overcrowded field of preachers feverishly contends for the attention of the same choir.

“I think the problems in the conservative publishing arena are more acute than in the rest of the industry,” said Keith Urbahn, former chief of staff to Donald Rumsfeld, who now runs a communications firm in Washington and works as a literary agent for conservative authors.
The challenges afflicting the market are varied, but in interviews with BuzzFeed, several editors, agents, and executives faulted the same trend they were celebrating in 2003, when mainstream publishers began elevating conservative editors, like Adam Bellow and Adrian Zackheim, and luring high-profile Republican figures like consultant Mary Matalin into the book business. At the time, many on the right welcomed this development as the sort of victory that had eluded them in Hollywood, academia, and the mainstream press — a mass influx of conservatives that would wrest the industry from the hands of liberal elites, and work to reverse the tide of the culture wars.

Instead, what followed was the genrefication of conservative literature. Over the next 10 years, corporate publishers launched a half-dozen imprints devoted entirely to producing, promoting, and selling books by right-leaning authors — a model that consigned their work to a niche, same as science fiction or nutritional self-help guides. Many of the same conservatives who cheered this strategy at the start now complain that it has isolated their movement’s writers from the mainstream marketplace of ideas, wreaked havoc on the economics of the industry, and diminished the overall quality of the work.

Editors at these imprints face unprecedented pressure to land cable news and radio provocateurs like Ann Coulter, rather than promote the combative intellectuals, like Allan Bloom and Charles Murray, on whom the business was first built. “You are left to rely completely on cable and radio [for promotion] and as a consequence of that, you have to provide those venues the type of material they want,” said Bellow, who runs Harper Collins’ conservative imprint, Broadside. “It’s become a kind of blood sport and the most ruthless gladiator comes out on top.”
The Conservative book publishing industry has always been one of the more painfully obvious Wingnut Welfare slop troughs. The quality of the writing generally ranges from dull, Soviet-style rote recitations of party-line propaganda, to just embarrassing, to poo-scrawlings on the madhouse wall, and on the rare occasions when the ideas manage to rise even to the level of cut-and-paste Republican bumper stickers from 1988 they are invariably touted as the state-of-the-art in cutting-edge Conservative thinking.

For the "author", cranking out a Conservative book means a payday, a free ride on the Mouse Circus  merry-go-round and a means to up your speaking fees.

For the "reader", buying such persiflage and stacking it on your shelf serves the same purpose as Rick Perry's suddenly-conspicuous glasses: a prop for stupid people to feel smart Because Books! 


ScottK said...

Every copy of one of those screeds languishing on the "Friends of the Library" dollar shelf is a little victory to savor.

Marion in Savannah said...

Jeez... Thanks for informing me that there were Star Wars dildos. Some things, having once been thought of, can never be "unthought."

I'm now going in search of brain bleach and great lashings of gin...

gratuitous said...

Oddly enough, it seems that the success of these useless books was the seed of their demise. Success is supposed to breed success, but there is apparently a finite market for this kind of nonsense.

Who would have guessed? Color me shocked.

Anonymous said...

Political books have always been just as much of a nightmare as cable news. Makes sense given that they are consumed by the same demographic.

Fucking old people. The only thing worse than their stench is their taste in entertainment.

JerryB said...

Had it not been for inflated sales numbers because of bulk purchases by every RW think tank and conservative front group this trend would have ended almost as soon as it started.

steeve said...

"right-leaning authors"

This lazy phrasing suggests that conservative authors have 30% more conservative thoughts than liberal ones, instead of the actual value of 100%.

Cliff said...

the market has devolved into an echo of cable news

How the market can devolve from being a roiling pit of rabid weasels, scientists have yet to explain.

Anonymous said...

Good morning, Mr. Glass.

Back in college, I recall somewhat liking the novelization of Phantom Menace. At least they explained in detail what the "living force" was, as compared to the movie.

Anyway, on the subject at hand, I got a Photoshop idea for you. It's a rightwing, teen romance novel called "One Shade of White".

It's about a young, innocent, first-time voter (T. Paw's "Barb"?). By voting to put a Republican into office, she unknowingly agrees to be beaten on a daily basis because that's how you inspire people to better themselves.

Enjoy your day.

---Kevin Holsinger

Sirius Lunacy said...

I'll see you on The Dark Side of Naboo.

Horace Boothroyd III said...

@Anonymous 3:37

With luck, you will be spared the agony of becoming old and stinky and tasteless.

deering said...

I've done book cover copy for years, and I thank my lucky stars and Ghu-the-Merciful I have never ever had to do one of these books. Woulda turned them down in any case...:)

Anonymous said...

Didn't I once read that most of the "offerings" were bought up on release by Koch Bro. like institutions to boost them into best seller numbers?
...and now they are noticing that it is a poor business model?
Their next major foray will be into pay for likes on Facebook....
At least those dollars aren't going into the usual smear the lefty media blitzes.

Anonymous said...

"Phantom Menace 1.1" was better, even though I got a crappy VHS copy. Lucas should be bludgeoned with a life-sized Jar Jar Binks.

Now, the fight scene with Darth Maul was pretty bad-ass.


Anonymous said...

"promote the combative intellectuals, like Allan Bloom and Charles Murray"

You wonder what's wrong with conservative books? In what world is Charles Murray an intellectual?

watchdog said...

"Many of the same conservatives who cheered this strategy at the start now complain that it has isolated their movement’s writers from the mainstream marketplace of ideas, wreaked havoc on the economics of the industry, and diminished the overall quality of the work."
They think there is quality in the writings of conservative authors?
They churn out an anti-liberal book nearly every month from some ass-hat who thinks they are brilliant. Rather than market the work as pulp fiction; it is passed off as non-fiction and placed in current events/social studies area. Other works of fiction get passed off as history books somehow when a "right-leaning" author decides to challenge reality with their world of make-believe. Sadly like most things they get their hooks into, they will continue to churn out their chum no matter how much money it will continue to lose for the industry.
If their wealthy benefactors stop buying in bulk and artificially inflating the books into bestsellers they will still continue to churn them out as if they were actually wanted.