gary indiana on consumer capitalism & cultural flotsam

In this chapter from Do Everything in the Dark Gary Indiana muses about popular music — that old leitmotif of Theodor Adorno — to show the totalizing commodification of mass culture in twenty-first century America (not surprisingly, Indiana is an accomplished social and artistic critic in his own right): 
 
                                               33
 
Malcolm sits in Union Square Park, on a bench facing the white tent tops of the farmers’ market, braced for another day of floor-walking at the Virgin Megastore. People buying music and video DVDs fall into a trance induced by clustered rows of monitors, clashing streams of music, and a huge Orwellian video grid strategically placed to lure shoppers down to Level One, where three items or two items or four items of the same kind of thing are forever on sale, but never displayed in close enough proximity for the sensorily battered to distinguish two for one from three for two or four for three. The calculated illogic of everything sends thousands each day into transports of credit card abandon that move a Niagara of cash around the world.
       He’s recently read a news item about the millions in bootleg CDs that funnel through Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, along with trucks stuffed with counterfeit Marlboros, real marijuana, and heavily disguised convoys of depleted uranium, stolen fuel rods, Kalashnikovs, any species of unthinkable thing desired or sold by shadows traveling under the rose.
       At the Megastore, all is legitimate, flawlessly manufactured, factory sealed. Its revenue spills cleanly into the raging river of cash and credit and digital wealth, spinning numbers in and out of corporate bank accounts. Somewhere, no doubt, this river sucks up the tributaries of loot generated by the inauthentic, the counterfeit, the Jennifer Lopez knockoffs. A spike in the current from the world’s numberless laundries sends it all rushing faster to the Falls.
       Malcolm doesn’t have to persuade people to buy things. They can’t help themselves. He merely has to interpret, a few times a day, the sometimes fractured language of the customer’s desire, recognize the piece of music or musician whose name they’ve forgotten or can’t quite bring to mind, or figure out from froggily hummed signature riffs what album by which performer a song they want appears on. The gross abundance and variety of music and books and movies stimulates an epidemic wish to own a copy of everything. As customers dawdle or race along the wide rows of product bins, their eyes snag on reissued memory tracks, groups they’ve read about in magazines, music they might not like to hear but which is thought to define the present in an important way As each moment passes, by the time they get this music home to their audio systems, other, newer music defines the moment they’re listening to these acquisitions, and still newer music will nail down the moment that replaces that moment. All these moments eventually condense into a boxed set as the perfect past, the sound of an era. Memory becomes the sound track of perfection.
       Malcolm is most comfortable working on Level One, handling DVDs: every week, eons of long-forgotten films fill shelves in reformatted special editions, their sound tracks digitally scrubbed, with clickable sidebar interviews with directors, even the original trailers, optional commentary from stars, material that sparks Malcolm’s interest. Shanghai Express, Eyes Without a Face, Bunuel, Godard, Fassbinder, Dracula’s Honeymoon, Porky’s, everything from the moronic to the sublime returns from the grave in suavely designed, oblong snap-open cases, even the silents Malcolm cherishes. The only aspect of this eclectic, bonanza resurrection of every movie ever made that irritates him is that they’re grossly overpriced compared to the vanishing videotape format. However, he gets a substantial store discount. He also steals copiously Even Anna doesn’t know Malcolm hates music. When he moonlights as a DJ, he wears earplugs that virtually deafen him.
 
— from Gary Indiana, Do Everything in the Dark
 

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