Thursday, April 12, 2007
Don Imus: where the cultural and financial economies converge
Cultural theorists have written about two economies, one financial and one cultural. But I wonder as with the current controversy surrounding shlock jock Don Imus whether or not we can really separate the two. Within the financial economy at least three advertisers have announced intentions to withdraw their advertising support from the Imus program: Procter & Gamble, Bigelow Tea, and Staples office supply chain. As MSNBC decided to suspend airing of the program we could also say that General Electric owner of MSNBC also has for the time being withdrawn its economic support. The economics of syndicated radio are more complicated than this simple scenario for advertiser withdrawal suggests; there are plenty of advertisers, for example, including General Motors that have not as yet withdrawn their advertising from the program. Sometimes pop culture transcends the financial economy as controversies like the one Imus finds himself involved in enter the cultural economy. Think Calvin Klein Kiddie Porn, Heroin Chic. Think Benneton. One could suggest, perhaps, that within a capitalist economy there is a self-correcting mechanism: if demand for Don Imus remains strong then he will probably survive either over the airwaves or on satellite radio. However, if his listenership wanes or if the intensity of his current fan base lessens continuing interest on the part of advertisers may also become depleted. When it comes to culture we can see the cultural economy play out like a marketplace, although instead of trading shares on the New York Stock Exchange, trading in the “cultural shares” of Don Imus take place in the Blogosphere, talk television like The Today Show, among others as well as traditional media like magazines and newspapers. Day after day we can see in these various venues trial by pop culture. However, I do not think the financial economy operates separately from the cultural economy. Rather, I think they work together, not necessarily in tandem, but they reflect the complex nature of the players in this game of culture both corporate and political.