Sunday, July 5, 2020

Politics and Economics

The underlying problem for radical politics is that the people who follow radical politics don't buy anything.

The other shoe dropped on the fellow I was talking with - the one who believes every conspiracy theory and gets snagged in these shady financial deals.  He lives with his Mom. At age 50 or thereabouts, this is kind of sad.

But it got me to thinking, the crazy demographic isn't really a very marketable one.  Reddit finally decided to get rid of "the_donald" subreddit, as it was a toxic mess of misogyny, racism, brigading and whatnot.   People asked why it took so long for them to do this, but I think recent events may have spurred them on a bit.

(Another aspect is that many of the people in that subreddit were junior high students - not big consumers - or Russian Research Agency employees, which also are not a marketable demographic).

I think also, maybe they realized there was no profit in it - from a number of angles.  No one wants their products associated with fringe beliefs or hate speech.   Sure, Proctor & Gamble wouldn't mind if some vegan communist aura-reading nutjob bought their products, but then again, they aren't going to alienate their primary audience by buying ad space in the Vegan Times Monthly.   Besides, those sort of folks make their own soap out of goat's milk, yam lube, and their own underarm sweat.   Not a big market in there for "Corporate America" products.

Most of these fringe people - left or right - are living on the fringes or more specifically, in the margins.   These are not wealthy people, and often not even middle-class.   They don't have a lot of disposable income to spend (or "discretionary income" as they now call it). It isn't like the demographics of Out! magazine - young gay professionals who will spend every penny they have and borrow a dollar more just to look fabulous.

The guy burying old school buses in his back yard to build a bunker isn't shopping at your store.   Oh, sure, he goes to the gun shop and might buy Glenn Beck's gold online.   But odds are, he's shopping at some pretty odd places, and doesn't trust mainstream products and big companies.  And even then, he doesn't have two nickels to rub together in the first place - how much is he going to buy?   This is not to say the mainstream marketers ignore him - after all, the big-box stores do sell prepper foods by the pallet-load.

But again, there is no real need to specifically market to extremists, as they tend to buy basic staples like anyone else.  No need to go on some odious website or channel to hawk your wares to reach a tiny demographic - if it turns off a far larger audience.

And we've seen this effect in the past.  The Odious Glenn Beck lost his show and now is on Ham Radio, I think.  His only advertisers left are for penis enlargers, bankruptcy kits, and of course, his own gold.   Sort of paints a profile of the typical average listener, don't it?   Odds are, they are not in the market for a new Cadillac Escalade.   Sean Hannity seems to be suffering from a similar effect - advertisers are fleeing after he says outlandish things.  The advertisers are not endorsing his speech by placing ads there, nor are they damning it by removing the ads - they just don't want to be caught up in someone else's battle, when all they want to do is sell soap or cars or whatever.

And now Unilever is leaving Facebook and Twitter - at least until November.   Reddit is curtailing the worst of its subreddits and posting messages exhorting people to be nice to one another.  These online outlets are finding out that advertisers don't want to get involved in controversy.   Walmart may be run by a right-wing family, but they want their corporate image to be as bland and innocuous as many of their wares - something that appeals to everyone, doesn't generate controversy, and doesn't piss anyone off.  Failing that, whatever pisses off the smallest number of people.  Failing that, whatever doesn't piss off the people who spend the most money.

The revolution will not be televised, was the mantra of the 1960's radicals.  A catchy phrase, but I am not sure they really understood what it came to mean.  Sure, CBS will publish news stories about radicals and rioters - in 1968 - as it was good for ratings.  Today, it sells clicks and eyeballs.

But they aren't about to piss off Mr. and Mrs. Middle-America who buy all the crap their advertisers sell - and hence they cannot afford to piss off the advertisers.   The revolution gets co-oped by the unholy Gods of commerce.   Protesting becomes sanitized and made into an ad campaign for cigarettes - "we'd rather fight than switch!"  Or today, for Pepsi.

The revolution will not be televised, as it is not commercially viable. 

Maybe Pepsi jumped the gun here - there has to be a certain waiting period or else it is "too soon."  But it won't be long before ads show up where athletes "take a knee" for the new Chevy Suburban!  Black SUVs matter!   It's all in good fun, of course - and for a good cause!

There is nothing so sacred that American culture cannot commercialize, believe me.  And to some extent, this isn't a bad thing - it tends to attenuate and neuter the more extremist views in our country - or at least it did.  When I was a kid, growing your hair long like the Beatles was a thing - long shaggy unkempt hair.  By the early 1970's, even television news anchors let their hair grow long-ish, but of course coiffed into one of the new hairstyles of the era - feathered and blown-dry such that you had to go to the hair salon once a week just to keep it looking good.   The hair people weren't about to let the Hippies ruin their livelihood.    By the late 1970's, the entire hippie movement had been co-opted, and today it is just something that is caricatured on "1970's night" on the cruise ship, where everyone wears a leisure suit, a long wig and says "peace, man!" and "far out!" because that's the way it was in the 1970's, and I know because I saw it on a television show.

It seems hard to believe that today's extremist politics will be similarly neutered by commerce, but I suspect in a few years it will be, and in a few decades, maybe the cruise ship will have a "2020 night!" where people will dress up in Antifart costumes and shout "Black lives matter! - hey, is that shrimp they are passing around?"

But maybe by then, more progress would have been made, and we will look back at this era and romanticize it the way we do with past eras.  Hell, people make a game of re-enacting the Civil War, right?  It can't be much worse than that.