It’s not for you

This is something that some people, usually but not always “pop culture nerds,” say when they have become emotionally attached to a particular piece of Hollywood intellectual property that targets a market segment with which they identify. If a critic of the IP is not recognised as a target of that market segmentation technique, then because it is not “for them,” that criticism can be easily dismissed, perhaps even framed as an attack on the entire market segment.

This is funny because it’s true. One way it’s true is that large producers do spend a lot of time and money creating these market segments, analysing their weaknesses, and tailoring particular brands, products, and IP assets to respond to those weaknesses. In terms of entertainment IP, usually referred to as “pop culture,” the weakness is always, in one way or another, alienation. Loneliness, self-hatred, feelings of worthlessness and disposability, powerlessness: these are more or less generalised symptoms of life these days.

Producers have learned, quickly, that a shortcut to creating affection for and attachment to their IP is to affirm whatever characteristic particular market segments are primed to believe is responsible for their feelings of alienation. This kind of divvying-up of common experiences into particular groups, into which people mostly self-sort, is a kind of socially harmful psychic predation that I don’t feel generates the feelings of horror and revulsion in a lot of people that it does in me. A lot of, perhaps most, maybe even all, of what is ‘culture’ now, is this.

It doesn’t matter whether the operative characteristic confers “real world” disadvantages or not; it works either way. Suburban middle-aged men are primed just the same as young queer female urbanites. A “core identity” is introjected based on which flavour of IP flatters your ego and defuses your most shameful neuroses in exactly the right way. At the very pointy end you have someone like Donald Trump, who is so personally important that there are sufficiently good incentives for “Donald Trump” to be his own market segment. Donald Trump watches TV that is specifically made to keep the “Donald Trump” market segment happy.

When someone you don’t recognise as having been primed to respond emotionally to a particular piece of IP criticises that IP, it is painful. Of course they don’t understand; their alienation is not wrapped up in this specific characteristic, so for them to criticise it just illustrates they are unwilling to demarcate the limits of their own experience. It is perceived as arrogant, dismissive, and sometimes aggressive. It’s true: it’s not “for them.”

The second way it’s true is a bit more expansive: none of this stuff is “for” anyone. It’s for itself. It’s self-expanding value creation. It’s M-C-M. The strong emotions that these commodities trigger inside consumers is their UVP. It’s also a clever little technological innovation that creates taboos against criticising these commodities too openly or strongly, and allows them to become incredibly pervasive and powerful without any real checks and balances.

All the vociferous defences of these emotional commodities resolve down to: ‘this makes me feel something’. It’s a cruel world, and I need those feelings of recognition and belonging to salve the wounds I have from living in a world that only values me instrumentally. I need this. I really need this.

But because it’s not really “for” anyone, only for itself, the emotional commodity only gives you enough to keep doing what you’re doing. It gives you a tiny window of respite that enables you to go out and continue reproducing the conditions that make you need it in the first place. It doesn’t help you imagine something different. It doesn’t, of course it can’t, criticise itself; that would defeat the purpose. It helps you tap into reserves of courage and strength so that you can go out and continue enduring your punishment.

The experience you have while consuming the emotional commodity, especially when it feels most meaningful and profound, like you are being spoken to personally, is utterly instrumental. There is no magic behind the screen. You are being given a band-aid by someone who is hard at work breaking your legs with an iron bar. You are grateful because you are starving and you need scraps.

I find this nexus of desperation and manipulation skin-crawling, nightmarish, and disgusting. Everything about it disturbs me. I find it increasingly hard to talk to other people about pop culture because of this, which is difficult, because it’s everywhere and everyone loves it, loves some of it. I love some of it. Yuck. Jesus. It’s so gross.

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