MA Dissertation on “the convergence of the film and gaming industries and the future of interactive media in the context of an increasingly participatory contemporary culture”


Abstract: The following dissertation looks at the future of interactive media in the context of an increasingly participatory contemporary culture, dominated by the simulation and the video game. An examination of recent trends and developments regarding video recording technology, paying particular attention to the launch of 360-degree cameras and emerging possibilities to capture immersive fully spherical live action footage, will precede a thorough analysis of two opposing strands of narrative theory surrounding the concept of interactivity in films. These two strands of thought will then be compared with similar theoretical inclinations within video games theory. Taking this research into account, a conclusion will be drawn regarding the future of films and video games as converging forms of media and a new narrative art form that could potentially result from the convergence of both industries.

Read the full dissertation here.

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Excerpts from my essay on “storytelling in modern media and communication”

In the world of today our communication is defined by an abundance of possibilities and the plurality of media at our disposal, spanning from the use of the new and often digital to the established and tangible. Whilst some of these new media indeed serve to replace the accustomed, this replacement initially only happens in regards to the technology employed. A substitution in regards to the actual content and nature of the communicative process or the form of experience offered is not necessarily intended. The digital experience is instead meant as an addition to the already existent tangible experience and is so distinct from its nature that neither a Skype call could replace a direct face‐to‐face conversation nor a waving emoticon could replace a hug or a handshake. Generally, the character of digital media is simulative. It has grown into an additional form of production of experience but the experience produced is also of a different sort -­ a simulative type of experience. It is for the first time that simulation is truly presenting itself as a part of our reality and providing us with experience that we consider very ‘real’ -­ although ‘real’ in a different ambit. Instead of being compared with tangible representational media, digital and simulative media demand to be treated separately. Yet still, as technology of the past falls into disrepair and new forms of technology are popularised, the little details that characterised our communication under the precedent technology are also replaced and disappear -­ affecting our everyday life with subtlety but in more ways than we can imagine. For instance, the act of buying an envelope, a post card and a postage stamp, writing a carefully thought-­out letter and then taking it to the next post office, is becoming increasingly rare as we are confronted with the alternate options of digital communication. Even though the nature of the communication is in many ways unalike between the two and one should not substitute the other in the first place, factors such as convenience and speed have led to the near abandonment of the tangible letter. This subtle process of replacement over time is happening in regards to many established media and technologies and with it come many consequences that we are initially unaware of. In the example of the letter being replaced by the digital text, it is the ability to typewrite on a keyboard that is developed in its users as the ability to write by hand perishes, but also in regards to the actual content of a message, subtle changes originate owing to this technological transition. A letter contains the very own personal touch of the writer, the writer’s very own style of calligraphy. An e­‐mail instead ‐ with its restricted choice of fonts ‐ promotes homogeneity as it provides us always with the same default options. The choice is between Arial, Times and Verdana and for the most enterprising among us there are a few additional font types that do not deviate hugely either. Furthermore, with e‐mail communication an entire sense, that of smell, is neglected. It is not unheard of that, historically, those who were committed in long‐distance relationships, would often smell the letters their respective lovers had sent them from abroad. E-mails, however, do not smell of anything. The case of the letter and the e‐mail is only one of many examples of one of many new developments. As we can see from this example, however, it is true that every change in our communication induces or reduces certain abilities and capacities in our society and culture. If these changes and substitutions in our communication are so powerful yet subtle that we begin to notice them only when they are already thoroughly influencing our lives, then it is undoubtedly of great importance to analyse the effect any new technologies and therefrom resulting media could have on the nature of our communication in a timely manner. This is particularly important in this age where the difference between simulation and reality is becoming more and more evident, yet its potential blurring also becomes every day more dangerous.

In the post war period after World War I, it was the observation of a loss of storytelling ability in people -­ due to the shift from the story told to the novel written -­ that inspired Walter Benjamin to write about these changes in communication. In The Storyteller, Benjamin comes to the conclusion that the value of experience had fallen and that ‘counsel’ had started to disappear from communication. [1] With ‘counsel’ Benjamin means the contingency and relevance of the communicated content in regards to the situation the receiver of it is in. Benjamin states that stories either give practical advice, moral advice or a proverb or maxim to reflect on, but are always preoccupied with providing the reader or listener with something useful for their current situation. The novel in turn lacks this element of counsel in Benjamin’s eyes, as it can be read without an integration of the author’s or character’s experience into the reader’s own life. Benjamin adds that whilst storytelling is intended as a social activity, the novel is instead intended for isolated reading. Whilst these may be valid points to distinguish between the story and the novel -­ though controversial, if only for classic works like Don Quixote or Crime and Punishment, which certainly do contain counsel and advice ‐ one must not forget the importance of the historical context Benjamin was writing in. The fact that communication was inhibited and the ability to provide counsel and communicate experience was disappearing in Benjamin’s time can, as Benjamin himself admits, be traced back to the post war situation. The late 1930s were a time defined both by the recovery from the traumas of World War I and a looming World War II. It is logical in retrospective that during such a period, communication appeared to be less fruitful. After all, the human psyche had a lot to process and reflect on, and this was best done in isolation. None of this does however mean that counsel was or is disappearing from our communication in a continuous and ongoing process as Benjamin ultimately suggests based on this observation. During the post war period after World War II, for example, many a form of media took on a very counsel-­laden character again. Folk songs of the 1960s were abundant in moral advice and were generally consumed in social situations rather than in isolation.


Similarly, when we look at the history of cinema, we can see that many popular films were always concerned with the provision of counsel to the viewer. Indeed most were meant for isolated rather than social consume but they certainly were discussed and analysed in broader social settings.


Although sometimes disguised behind a character or protagonist, both musical & filmic works have often been based on personal experiences and therefore contain covert moral and practical advice regarding these situations.


Furthermore, one could even argue that factual programmes on television and documentaries are direct documentations of personal experience, which are of more use to the receiver than a story told. This is simply due to the fact that they depict reality whilst a story -­ although based on real events -­ will always contain some fantastical elements. The same can be said about reports and articles in newspapers that document the personal investigations and experiences of the journalist.


Neither moral or practical advice, proverbs or maxims, have left our communication and counsel is still highly appreciated. The ability to share experience is still equally cherished. Therefore, to base on the differences between the novel and the story, and on a temporary lack of communicability amongst people during the late 1930s, a continuous decrease of ability to communicate experience or provide counsel seems like a rather flawed argument when looked at from a modern perspective. However, Benjamin still develops many other arguments during The Storyteller that indeed suggest a decrease in the value of experience. He states that through our now purely factual and informative approach, our ability to use our imagination is suffering. The overflow of information in our lives erases the ability to interpret. Everything has an explanation, is documented in detail and is represented visually. Nothing reaches us without prior dissection. Benjamin describes boredom as the mental state needed to be receptive to communicable experience. As boredom disappears from our lives due to constant activity, the capacity to imagine and interpret subsequently disappears from our communication as well. Also our capacity to reflect on information suffers from this. Taking this into a modern context, one could indeed argue that Benjamin’s observation of a falling value of experience is still applicable as our own abilities to interpret and assimilate experience are in the modern day kept to a minimum. We receive all of our information documented in such explicit detail that no further interpretation is possible. What truly distinguishes the story told from a documentary or a report in which reality is visually represented in its entirety is that with the latter forms of media nothing is left out for our imagination to process. Everything already has a shape and image. As we are all connected 24/7, able to use the internet wherever we are and able to entertain ourselves in any situation at any time, we are also less likely to experience boredom or spend any of our time assimilating and processing information that requires effort to be deciphered. We are constantly entertained and our communication is constantly saturated.


The question is whether or not this transition to a more information­‐based communication can also be seen as a positive development. One could argue that it actually makes the content of our communication more accurate. It would seem ridiculous to say that a collection of stories such as the Schatzkästlein des rheinischen Hausfreundes by Hebel, which -­ as Benjamin states ‐ shows its counsel by “slipping bits of scientific instructions in it” has more instructional or useful attributes in regards to practical advice than a report or a documentary in which the scientific instructions are carefully depicted and analysed. [1] If only for the fact that the division between reality and fantasy is much clearer in the documentary than it is in the story told. Modern communication seems to try to abandon uncertainty and faith for a very exact and factual approach. I would argue that this is because humanity as a whole finds itself in the process of dealing with the age old questions of objectivity and subjectivity, with concepts such as absolute truth and reality. A story told is a representation of reality but not necessarily ‘actual’ reality and the experience it communicates is not verifiable. It has a magical element, which can seduce us to interpret and imagine an experience, but it is not a reliable source of real experience nonetheless. Maybe the only reason we are abandoning an age in which communication provided space for imagination and interpretation for an age in which everything is documented explicitly is because this age of information is in many ways an improvement. Although magical, the age of the storyteller was also one of misinformation and superstition and even though our need to explicitly simulate reality nowadays is not necessarily more accurate either, still at least our awareness of this allows for more scepticism towards reality.


We are now simulating reality in more ways than ever before but are therewith also drawing a line of distinction between the experience of a simulated or represented reality, such as media can produce, and the experience of reality, experience that is in no way communicable, also not through a storyteller. As a result however, it seems that we indeed have lost spontaneity, innocence towards some aspects of life and are also more estranged from one another. It is possible that we do not appreciate communicable experience as much anymore because we have recognised its flaws. One could say that we have stopped trusting the storyteller. As we restrict reality to only that which we ‘actually’ experience for ourselves as individuals, everything else, everything communicable, becomes only the experience of its simulation or representation. Where the human being stands in these modern times and what concepts such as ‘love’, ‘companionship’ and ‘compromise’ mean to us in this overly and increasingly sceptical and scientific environment is hard to say. In conclusion, whilst one could argue that the value of experience is continuously falling in our society, it is more likely that we are simply redefining the concept of “communicable experience” out of an epistemological interest. Ultimately, the value of experience is not falling. Instead, we have developed a form of scepticism towards what we consider ‘actual’ experience and how communicable this experience is. The French Philosopher Jean Baudrillard described in the 1980s our age as an age of simulation. He claimed that through significations and symbolism in our media and culture we are replacing all reality and meaning with simulacra. [2] One could argue that this development is something Benjamin noticed in its earliest phase when writing The Storyteller. Perhaps he even experienced the transition from ‘first order’ to ‘second order’ simulacra, whilst today we find ourselves in a transition from the latter to the ‘third order’. Reality and meaning have however never been very clear concepts and in modern times, we are only starting to develop the ability of simulating reality just as we developed the ability of narrating it. Therefore this age of simulation is a very important step for humanity. Although still removed from actual reality, simulation is an improvement to the mere representation of reality in the sense that simulation allows an insight into how reality is constituted that representation does not allow. Representational narrative remains opaque and is restricted to subjectivity and perception. The virtual reality that the digital age is facilitating is more transparent, it is the height of the age of simulation and out of this age of simulation we are now developing a new way of looking at communication and experience. It is possible that we are even abandoning the idea of communication as a way to exchange real experience and have instead accepted it as what it actually is, merely a way to exchange simulated or represented experience.

[1] Benjamin, Walter. ‘The Storyteller: Reflections on the works of Nikolai Leskov.’ (c.1936) pp. 143-165 in Benjamin, Walter. Selected Writings, Volume 3. (2006) Michael Jennings, Howard Eiland, Gary Smith (eds.) London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

[2] Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. (1981). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

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Excerpts from my essay on “craftsmanship in the new creative economy”

In his book The Craftsman, Richard Sennett redefines the figure of the craftsman, rendering it relevant and applicable not only within many different fields and industries, but also within culture and society as a whole. Sennett defines craftsmen not merely as those workers greatly skilled in a manual labour or craft, but as all those who perfect a particular skill for the satisfaction and joy the commitment to that skill provides in itself. In other words, a craftsman can be any worker in any field or industry whose primary drive is to excel in the practical aspect of a profession. Sennett argues that this obsession with practicality does not require external intellectual supervision, and that instead the craftsman will automatically reflect on the outcome of his or her work due to natural curiosity.


Sennett makes a distinction between what he calls the ‘head’ and ‘hand’ of a craft and argues that in the case of ‘good craftsmanship’, these two elements work together in a harmonious union, the former standing for the ideological and the latter for the practical and mechanical aspect of the work. Sennett proposes that there is no innate separation between them and that the process of making is automatically connected to that of thinking; a natural process, which he finds is only corrupted artificially in modern society. [1]

On the other hand, Sennett mentions figures like J. Robert Oppenheimer, the inventor of the atomic bomb who serves as real life example of a more unbalanced, corrupted type of craftsman: the naïve engineer who allows his or her genius to be misused for warfare rather than the progress of humankind. While it is perhaps this misuse of scientific craftsmanship that first springs to mind when we dissect the ways in which a preoccupation with technical virtuosity in combination with a disregard for the understanding of its actual application can be abused, there are also many other fields in which the craftsman faces the danger of deviating from his or her original potential. Sennett gives examples ranging from urban planners who forgot to test the functionality of their maps and designs thoroughly [2], to interior designers who become so obsessed with technical virtuosity that the result of their constant redesign ends up rendering the work rather clinical or lifeless. [3] In this sense – and viewing a good equilibrium between ‘hand’ and ‘head’ as a condition for a healthy relationship between technological progress and ethics; men and work – the craftsman is clearly a figure of relevance in all aspects of life, including the arts.

The arts have always been characterised by the close relationship between the artist and his or her audience. There is a sense of responsibility on behalf of most artists as their works are frequently produced with the intent to provide the audience with counsel and guidance of an ethical or philosophical nature. Indeed the concept of conveying a message to a wide audience is in many cases even the initial point from which the ambition and inspiration to complete or publish a work is drawn. It is also the audience’s natural assumption of an artist that if he or she is willing to publicise his or her works, this individual must have something to say; a statement to make and share with the world. Whether it is the case of a writer whose ethical views are incorporated into a novel via a skilfully developed storyline, or the case of a painter who has perfected his or her use of the brush to transfer an image from the subconscious to the blank canvas, ‘head’ and ‘hand’ are indeed naturally interconnected in the traditional production of artistic works. All creative work therefore involves in its authentic form a responsible use of technique, one that is in concordance with the artist’s own ideology and worldview. Truly artistic and creative work is a means of communication, and as such, is given attention that surpasses that given to a mere showcasing of technique. In Sennett’s eyes, the ideal of the ‘good craftsman’ as applied to the arts is this type of artist whose work is driven more by a need for self-expression and communication of beliefs and ideas to the world, and less on order or economic demand. Sennett states that the artist’s main characteristics are his or her originality and autonomy. These are the traits that distinguish the true artist – the workshop master whose work can’t be imitated – from the amateur – the workshop apprentice who is still imitating the former. [4] Therefore, when an artist has a client or commissioner for whom he or she produces works customised to this client’s liking, particularly when this work is used to develop or strengthen a particular ideology which is not the artist’s own, or when it is used to convey a message to the audience that the artist him or herself did not wish to spread, then one could argue that the artist turns mainly into a craftsman whose practical skills are exploited, while his or her ‘head’ – so to say – is eliminated from the process. In this scenario, the artist loses all of his or her autonomy and becomes subjected to authority.

Medieval and Renaissance patronage constitute early examples of the ways in which an artist’s craft can be put to use in isolation from his or her thought process. Of course not all sponsored art from those eras lacked the artist’s intellectual involvement and by no means was every commissioned work of art discordant with the artist’s own beliefs. Nonetheless, neither was the hired artist’s approval of the content of every commissioned painting or sculpture a necessity. The Catholic Church was one of the main sponsors of art at the time, meaning that the majority of artistic works had to contain religious motifs and remain compatible with Christian standards of morality. The artist was usually employed mainly for his skill and technique, having little authority in regards to the actual themes of the works that were to be completed. An example of this is the Renaissance painter Raffaelo Sanzio. Despite many of his most famous works being paintings of the Madonna – some of which were commissioned by high profile clerics such as Pope Julius II and Pope Leo X – he was according to his contemporary, the pioneer art historian Giorgio Vasari, what one would today describe as an atheist. [5] Richard J. Zeckhauser describes this relationship between patron and artist in the Renaissance from an economic viewpoint as a ‘principal-agent’ relationship, the ‘principal’ being the patron in charge of the subject and the ‘agent’ being the artist in charge of the craft.

“In the art commissioning game, the principal (patron) knew what he had to accomplish with the commission, but the artist had the skills required to produce the art and achieve the goals.” [6]

In its essence the model of commissioning and sponsorship in contemporary culture does not differ hugely from this model of patronage. If the church was the major force behind most Renaissance art and the artist’s role was to represent religious themes and motifs in a glorious fashion in order to strengthen the public’s faith in the Christian religion, then its equivalent in the modern creative economy is the corporation whose aim is to draw the attention of the masses to its products or services via artistic works. The new role of the artist in this relationship is that of strengthening the public’s belief and faith in the reliability and popularity of a corporate brand. Full blown capitalism equals religion, not only in regards to its cultic structure and its ability to instate faith in people, as Walter Benjamin points out in his essay entitled Capitalism as Religion [7], but also in regards to the usage of the arts as a medium to enforce and preserve its dominance. Also described in Benjamin’s short essay is the similarity of power relations between capitalism and religion. Benjamin compares the hostility non-earning members of society encounter with the bourgeoisie with the hostility the heretic encountered with the religious fundamentalist, but these power relations also translate within the realm of the arts, and the hierarchical economic relationship between patron and artist remains equally unchanged. Whilst art was judged and remunerated based on its ability to promote the Christian ideals, art is now judged and remunerated based on its ability to drive sales and promote a good or service. The corporate brands that require a popular singer or actress to be associated to their latest product, through the use of a song in an advert or a product placement in a film, retain the roles of the principal in the economic sense whilst the artist keeps on acting as the agent capable of drawing this attention of the masses to the brand. Particularly in an age where record sales and cinema ticket sales are constantly shrinking and the internet provides free access to most contemporary artistic works, advertising is an important element in the creative economy, linked in one way or another to almost all art forms contained in popular culture. This is the state of cultural production that Adorno described in his essay Culture Industry Reconsidered, a state in which the arts are only a mechanism of public relations and manufacture of goodwill. [8] If Adorno’s ideal of an arts world free from a culture that was through and through intertwined with the profit motif was already in disappearance in the early twentieth century, then now in 2014, it certainly is long gone. The line between arts and media, between artistic works and products or services is increasingly blurred. Today, in the new creative economy, the concept of creativity is associated less strongly with artistic value and increasingly with economic value. The arts become entangled with business. Creativity and artistic skill turn from a form of self-expression to a resource for business success, put to use with increasing frequency in the field of marketing and advertising. On one hand, we can witness this happening over indirect routes, in the sense that the traditional artist – whether he or she is a musician, a filmmaker or a painter – has become increasingly dependent on advertising revenues in the licensing and publishing of his or her works. On the other hand, artistic talent and creativity are increasingly put to direct use within businesses.


The new type of artist that originates from this mergence of business and artistic production and whose work, no matter how deeply artistic and creative it may be, is always in connection with business values has been unofficially baptised the ‘creative’.


One might argue that despite this, the figure of the creative seems rather harmless compared to the figure of the ingenious but naïve scientist whose potential is used for the creation of weaponry. Exactly how dangerous the creative can be when his or her potential is put to unethical use can however be observed by taking a simple look at the history of advertising. The first real advertisements that reached the level of psychological complexity required to manipulate the consumer in the way we are used to in contemporary culture were works of military propaganda in the early twentieth century. Public announcements to sell goods or promote products or services had existed before this, but it wasn’t until military strategists began recruiting for World War I that the skill of persuasion through the combination of illustration and need recognition truly showed its overwhelming powers. Progress in the field of behavioural psychology and conditioning experiments in the late 19th century brought previously undiscovered knowledge about human needs and desires to the forefront. The propaganda industry was quick to exploit these new findings through the use of the arts. The skills of illustrators and copywriters were soon sought after for the development of posters that would motivate young people to go to war for their homeland. Somewhere amidst the propagation of a distorted view of heroism and a conscious attempt to guilt-trip the youngest and most susceptible men into warfare, these posters depicted respected figures of authority pointing at the viewers and asking them to join the forces. In the UK, these posters depicted the famous British Army officer Lord Kitchener asking questions such as “Who is absent? Is it you?” and in Germany propaganda posters contained lines such as “Dein Vaterland ist in Gefahr, melde dich!”, which translates to “Your fatherland is in danger, report for duty!”. Meanwhile in the US, it was the patriotic figure of Uncle Sam – the very own national personification of the country – that pointed the finger at the public; the big bold letters underneath his image spelling out “I want you for U.S Army”. It is the man behind the latter poster who is perhaps the finest example of an advertising industry analogue to J. Robert Oppenheimer. This man is the designer and illustrator, and one of the first creatives of our times, James Montgomery Flagg. Plagued by remorse years after the war, the story of Flagg and his Uncle Sam poster is very much like that of Oppenheimer and the first nuclear bomb. Oppenheimer’s recital of words from the Hindu scripture Bhagavad-Gita “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds” in 1965, years after the Hiroshima bombings [9], is akin to the amount of self-loathing that Flagg also expressed years after the war had concluded. His guilty conscience about the fact that he had let his artistic and creative virtuosity be misused for the creation of war propaganda is easily deduced from one of his later speeches:

“A number of us who were too old or too scared to fight prostituted our talents by making posters inciting a large mob of young men who had never done anything to hop over and get shot at . . . we sold the war to the youth” [10]

Flagg is one of the first ‘creatives’ of the twentieth century and stands as an example of how dangerous imbalanced and corrupted craftsmanship can be – even when applied to a seemingly harmless field such as the arts. Flagg is a creative who offered his skills to an employer whose ethics he did not question because he intended to make a living from his passion. In the contemporary creative economy this is the danger every creative faces. Graphic designers, web designers and advertising practitioners all work predominantly project based, musicians compose jingles and filmmakers produce adverts on a freelance basis. The skills and techniques of the average creative are offered to anyone who can pay the right price for it. The work’s theme and content, once the artist has reached this point, becomes secondary.


It is very easy to condemn this work ethic when focusing on such extreme examples as Oppenheimer or Flagg, what one must however keep in mind at all times is that this situation does not ensue from particularly evil intentions on behalf of these craftsmen but that instead it is indeed the natural product of certain hierarchical work structures. The principal-agent relationship that rules the capitalist economy does not allow for more awareness or autonomy on behalf of the working artist. It is as inappropriate as it is unrealistic to expect an artist to voluntarily starve for his or her beliefs when tempted with the chance to earn a living by working on a project that he or she might not agree with to the full extent. If making a living in the arts world requires the artist to ignore, or even sacrifice his or her personal ideology for that of his or her employer, however, then it is clear that with this sacrifice the ethical responsibility that an artistic craftsman would perhaps naturally feel for his or her work vanishes. These power relations have existed throughout the history of the arts and artists have only very rarely managed to survive outside of the prevalent economic structure. The ability of craftsmen and artists to create work and simultaneously reflect on it is therefore indeed corrupted in our society. If no authority were employed over the craftsman at all, it would perhaps be a harmless figure. Nonetheless, for this a change within the wider economic structure is required.

[1] Sennett, Richard (2008). Prologue, In: The Craftsman. New Haven & London: Yale University Press. pp. 1-15

[2] Ibid. p. 42 (The Peachtree Centre)

[3] Ibid. p. 261 (Ludwig Wittgenstein)

[4] Ibid. pp. 65-66

[5] Vasari, Giorgio (2008). Life of Raphael In: Lives of the Artists, Eds. Julia Conaway Bondanella/Peter Bondanella. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 305-338.

[6] Nelson, Jonathan K., and Zeckhauser, Richard J. (2008): The Patron’s Payoff: Conspicuous Commission in Italian Renaissance Art. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, p. 18.

[7] Benjamin, Walter (1985): Kapitalismus als Religion. In: Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. 6. Eds. Rolf Tiedemann/Hermann Schweppenhäuser. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, pp. 100–103.

[8] Adorno, Theodor W. (1991): Culture Industry Reconsidered. In: Theodor W. Adorno, The Culture Industry: Selected essays on mass culture. Eds. J.M Bergstein. London & New York: Routledge, p. 100.

[9] Freed, Fred (Director) (1965): The Decision to drop the bomb [Documentary]. USA: NBC News

[10] James Montgomery Flagg as cited in Tungate, Mark (2007) Adland: A Global History of Advertising. London: Kogan Page. p.24.

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Excerpts from my essay on “the precarity of the new creative economy”

One of the main sources of existential anxiety amongst today’s creative and cultural practitioners is the precariousness of their work life. A casual job here, a casual job there; employment that – in the words of Angela McRobbie – is “permanently transitional” [1]. No pension, no benefits, no sick pay, gaps in the CV and periods of low income due to the irregularity of freelance and project-based work schedules, that’s what characterises the careers of the majority of today’s creative workforce.

To the outside however, and under the premise of freedom and happiness at work, the creative sector is a very attractive one and is therewith one of the fastest growing in the UK [2].


Many young people enter the sector with the hope of reaching a point where they can make a living doing what they love. However, in order to get there they endure long periods of intense (and often unpaid) labour, particularly in the form of what Lazaratto defines as ‘immaterial labour’ [3]. Often they try to “work their way up” with unpaid internships and work experience in their particular sector of the industry hoping that hard work will pay off and that through networking and continuous showcasing of their skills they will eventually be discovered. McRobbie notes that it is a sector in which everyone is looking for the single big hit’ that can transform the artist from an underpaid overworked multi-tasker into a well-paid professional overnight [4]. With this come options of financing and funding for the next project, a stable income through the collection of royalties due to intellectual property and more. However, there is no guarantee for this situation. One shall not dismiss the fact that for every artist who reaches a certain status and wealth, there are many others who spend their lives chasing after the same goals without success. Yet all artists – both the young workers at grassroots level and the more experienced artists who have found a way to sustain themselves – are invaluable contributors to the cultural and social life and the economy of the cities and countries they reside in. They are often enterprising entrepreneurs, start small businesses and therewith create job opportunities. Yet still, what they get back in return for their hard work – and their often self-financed projects – is usually much less than they had imagined upon entering the industry. Particularly as long as the “single big hit” is missing, their art is taken for granted as an act of nobleness that does not require financial reimbursement. All this occurs in a day and age where the arts play an integral part in almost all facets of society and the benefits of a creative sector are largely recognised in social and economic theory.

Many theorists have pointed out the importance of artists and creativity in regards to innovation and economic development. The urban theorist Richard Florida, for example, traces a clear correlation between a city’s active cultural sector and a city’s high levels of innovation, economic growth and high tech industry – proposing in his book The Rise of the Creative Class that for cities to grow economically, their priority should be to attract artists [5]. Similarly, the importance of a creative sector in regards to urban regeneration has been mentioned several times, for instance by Charles Landry and Franco Bianchini. In The Creative City they point out that an influx of artists into underdeveloped urban areas is a key requirement for the regeneration of these areas with the following words:

“The presence of artists and other cultural producers in declining urban areas helps restore vitality, develop a positive image, create additional employment and break cycles of decline. However, the risk is that in the medium term areas that artists have made fashionable may increase in value so much that they themselves are pushed out” [6]

The existence of a lively creative sector in a region is also recognised as an important prerequisite for social wellbeing. Charles Leadbeater describes the importance of ‘the independents’ (a group of artists turned cultural entrepreneurs) in regards to what he calls ‘social cohesion’ [7]. As one can deduce from these examples, the importance of the creative industries is widely appreciated in both academic and political spheres. Furthermore, on top of its social and economic benefits, it is also a very prosperous sector in itself. According to the Department for Culture Media & Sport, the creative industries are generating annual revenues of approximately £112.5 billion in the UK while accounting for over 5% of the GDP [8]. Nevertheless, at the base of the sector – among the artists and core creatives that make this industry thrive – a difficulty to make ends meet and an absence of any type of social security or protection in the workplace is still characteristic. The irony of the artist being one of the main contributors to economic growth whilst at the same time being a struggling figure of poverty, which – as Landry and Bianchini state – could be pushed out of an area because of gentrification [9], can again be traced back to the precarious history of the arts. Artists have to settle for low-income neighbourhoods where rents are cheap as their monthly income is in constant fluctuation. This situation poses the question: If the creative industry is so prosperous and beneficial to social and economic wellbeing, why are its workers not better rewarded? Why is it that most practitioners in the creative industries are bound to live so precariously nonetheless?

Initially this marriage between the artists and precarious lifestyles came about as a result of a voluntary rejection of capital, ownership and money in the realm of the arts, a rejection of capitalism on behalf of the artists themselves. Hans Abbing calls this “a denial of the economy”. He reiterates the point that the arts world is characterised by a nature of gift exchange rather than commercial exchange [10]. The idolised image of the artist is that of a creator devoid of any economic interests, pushed to create and produce art solely by muse and inspiration and a drive for self-fulfilment and self-realisation. An artist is considered to be more authentic when he or she is unobstructed by economic concerns, the more willing he or she is to sacrifice him or herself for the sake of art. To many it even is the lack of economic prosperity that signalises artistic integrity. If an artist does not adhere to this unwritten rule, he or she faces the danger that the rest of the arts world will see him or her as a ‘sell-out’. This hostile relationship between capitalism and the cultural sector developed initially from the intention to defend the arts and culture from the negative effects of capitalism. Art was seen as opposed to production line work. Artistic muse was regarded as unpredictable and so art was not compatible with a nine-to-five work schedule. Art valued experimentation and failure, things that were not well received in a capitalist economy at all. Additionally, this mentality was reinforced by the ‘revolt against work’ movement of the 1970s, which – in an effort to humanise and bring more personal fulfilment to the workplace – subordinated the importance of security, stability and a provision of guarantees in the workplace to concepts such as autonomy and flexibility.

While precariousness was in its beginnings an unavoidable result of this ideology, it is however also exactly the kind of artist that resulted from this ideology that is most attractive to employers nowadays as willing victim to be economically exploited. After all, little is more attractive in a business context than someone who works hard and attracts the crowds but requires only minimal financial compensation for it – sometimes none. Therefore, this willingness to accept precarious work among creative people in exchange for autonomy and creative freedom was quickly adapted by businesses for their own benefits. Precarisation turned from the artist’s voluntary reaction to capitalism and the type of production work that characterised Fordism into a general trait of the creative economy during post-Fordism. It is no longer a rejection of the economy on part of the artists but a way of integrating – without the deserved compensation – the artist in a neoliberal economy.


What results is a new relationship between artist and capitalism, a new role for the cultural producer in the neoliberal economy. He or she becomes the equivalent of a business that needs to deliver products for mass consumption. Time and people management, business acumen and networking skills have risen in importance in the creative world as the quality of the art itself has become secondary. The precarious artist is forced to adhere to the rules of the economy, leaving therewith little time for reflection on the art produced. Evidently, this also means that the artist is left with little time to reflect on what ‘culture’ he or she is helping to shape. Franco Berardi Bifo describes this new relationship with the following words:

“In the sphere of semiocapitalism artists are directly involved in the process of semioproduction. They are the producers of symbolic prototypes that semiocapitalism transforms into mass-production objects, they are exploited by the industry of info-production and subjected to precarious conditions of work and salary.”[11]

On top of this and as another consequence of this expected disposition to precariousness, a lot of creative talent is forced to withdraw from the creative industries. Not everyone can afford to take the risks involved in working in such an unstable environment in the long term and not every artist or creative has the required business acumen on top of his or her artistic and creative skills. Many a young worker can see no other way but to surrender to the economic pressure upon realising the precariousness of the creative sector and take on a different career or a day job in other industries that, unlike the creative industries, can ensure the safety of a regular economic compensation for their hard work. “Art for art’s sake”, the English rendering of the French nineteenth century slogan “l’art pour l’art” is in this day and age surely something that is facilitated only to a wealthy minority with time on their hands. For the rest, art remains a hobby or a part-time commitment. As McRobbie states, those who can’t handle a precarious lifestyle – whether out of the psychological need for financial stability or purely due to the unattainability of flexible working hours or the required degree of mobility due to factors such as age – are not able to withstand the pressures of the cultural industries in the long term [12].


Since artists do not go to work from nine to five their “business” has to be “open” all day. They are permanently on the look out for new potential employers, customers and opportunities. They read their e-mails and network twenty-four hours, seven days a week. As McRobbie states, a fusion between work and everyday life takes place under these new circumstances [13]. Furthermore, just as the relationship between different businesses is one of competition, so is the relationship between artists in this new setting. Berardo Bifo critiques and describes the results of this new increased competitiveness in the arts world with the following words:

“Competition and precariousness are provoking a wave of suffering and psychopathology, jeopardizing the very premises of social solidarity. The acceleration of the rhythms of the mind and attention stress are eroding the thin film of sensibility and empathy.” [14]

Other observations of this erosion of the line of distinction between work and social life and its effect on solidarity in the creative sector have been made by media theorist Andreas Wittel. Wittel noticed a transition from the sense of belonging, responsibility and trust found in past work relations to increasingly transient and temporary relations. He describes this as a commodification of social relations, the transition from the German term ‘Gemeinschaft’, the ‘community’, to what he calls a ‘network sociality’. As a consequence, a common history between the individuals involved in a project lose importance and people are measured by their amount of industry contacts and the required technical skills as long as they can prove useful for the limited time period during which they are needed [15]. Considering these observations by many scholars focusing on the changes that occurred in the past two decades in regards to the economic and social structure of the creative world, it is fair to say that precariousness and the work that results from it in form of freelance work and autonomous entrepreneurialism have greatly changed – not only the way in which art is produced – but also the lifestyle of artists. If an artist’s life is generally risky, induces insecurity and stress, is characterised by the convergence of social life and work life and is not lucrative enough in most cases to make a living solely with said art, then one question springs to mind: Do precariousness and happiness at work – which has been stated as a major reason to enter the creative sector in the first place – turn out to be incompatible contradictions in the new creative economy?

[1] McRobbie, A. (2011) ‘Key Concepts for Urban Creative Industry in the UK.’ In: Ingrid Elam, ed. New Creative Economy. Malmo, Sweden : Swedish Arts Council, pp. 22-42.

[2] Reid, B.; Albert, A.; Hopkins, L. [2010] ’A Creative Block? The Future of the UK Creative Industries: A Knowledge Economy & Creative Industries report’, London, UK: The Work Foundation, p.6.

[3] Lazzarato, M. (1996) ’Immaterial Labour’ In: P.Virno, M.Hardt (eds), (1996). Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

[4] McRobbie, A. (2007) ‘The Los Angelisation of London: Three short waves of young people’s micro-economies of culture and creativity in the UK’,

[5] Florida, R. (2002) ‘The Rise of the Creative Class’ In: New York, NY: Basic Books.

[6] Landry, C.; Bianchini, F. (1995) ‘The Creative City’ In: London, UK: Demos. p.47

[7] Leadbeater, C.;Oakley, K. (1999) ‘The Independents’ In: London, UK: Demos. pp.17-18

[8] DCMS (2001) Creative Industries Mapping Document 2001 (2 ed.), London, UK: Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

[9] Landry, C.; Bianchini, F. The Creative City. p.47

[10] Abbing, H. (2007) ‘Why Are Artists Poor?: The Exceptional Economy of the Arts’ In: Amsterdam, Netherlands: Amsterdam University Press.

[11] Berardi Bifo, F. (2013) ‘Why Artists?’ The New Mechanics Library. Available online at:…/Why_Artists_-_Franco_Beradi_Bifo.pdf‎

[12] McRobbie, A. (2002) ‘From Holloway to Hollywood: Happiness at work in the new cultural economy’, In: P. du Gay & M. Pryke (eds), Cultural economy.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Berardi Bifo, F. (2013) ‘Why Artists?’ The New Mechanics Library. Available online at:…/Why_Artists_-_Franco_Beradi_Bifo.pdf‎

[15] Wittel, A. (2001), “Towards a Network Sociality“ in Theory, Culture and Society, vol. 18, no. 6 pp., 51-77.

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My 10 “Monday Movie Tips” for Goldsmiths’ [smiths] Magazine (28th October 2013 – 6th January 2014).

The Fog Twelve Angry MenThe Elephant Man Screen shot 2014-08-29 at 03.06.55

smiths 5 charlie chaplin easy street Shining Movie Tip  Cinema Paradiso wondeerful life solaris


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Excerpts from my essay on “the political importance of culture”


Overly liberal systems seem to collapse, not due to the greed of the authorities – as it is the case in overly oppressive systems – but due to the greed of the public itself and its inability to assume responsibility in a society which expects each individual to contribute, without the need of force, as much as he or she has taken from it. Whilst the misuse of power in an overly oppressive model is comparable to parents letting their own children starve, in the overly liberal model the situation is comparable to a child who – because he or she is given the freedom to do so – consumes all of the food available in the household without leaving anything for the rest of the family. This results in the parents seeing no option but to exercise some form of authoritative restriction again.

In both types of system the public remains unsatisfied with its government, feeling that it can only either blindly obey or blindly rebel against it, never reaching however an actual in-depth understanding of the country’s political affairs for itself. This is comparable to how a child obeys or rebels against parents or teachers without awareness of whether or not the established rules within the family are necessary, good or bad for their own development. In order for a liberal, democratic model to function, it is essential for the public to realise that their own responsibilities and limitations within society are expected to be set by themselves, not by a higher authority. The public however expects this responsibility still to be in the hands of the government as it approaches the situation with the same passivity with which it used to approach dictatorships, oligarchies or any other type of system in which it had no politically influential role. The expectations the public has of the state remain unstable, continually increasing until they are impossible or too difficult to be met. The result being that the freedom of democracy is taken for granted as soon as the conditions of life in much more exploitative systems are forgotten once again. Even though democracy is a political and social model with a valid approach to human rights and individual development, these observations lead one to realise that it is a system destined to fall unless it is accompanied by an adequate culture which makes people aware of their significance in society and promotes self-control and self-awareness to complement its far-reaching freedom and liberty.


The essence of the failure of both overly liberal and overly oppressive systems lies neither entirely in the public nor entirely in its government. Instead it lies in the same mentality found amongst most members of society, a mentality passed on through our culture and education and characterised by a neglect of social responsibility. This neglect springs from a feeling of insignificance and inferiority to those who are considered to be more powerful. Whenever someone submits to another, voluntarily or involuntarily, the underlying emotion is a feeling of inferiority. Whether out of this inferiority grows a phobic passive and obedient attitude towards authority or a counter phobic passive-aggressive and rebellious attitude towards authority is mainly a question of how safe and comfortable the submitting individual feels. Authorities are obeyed if they are considered strong. However, they lose their support if they show weaknesses. As soon as the prevailing feeling of inferiority towards power is combined with a feeling of insecurity and dissatisfaction, this leads the passive members of society to attack it. The public desperately expects the authorities to appear stronger and to provide better social conditions again instead of taking responsibility for society itself. It is in this mentality where one can find the real danger this society is facing as there is a division of the members of society into active and passive parts.

Even though democracy literally means the rule of the people, the individual’s mentality has not yet adapted to that. The political system might be democratic – although this is also arguable – but the people are certainly not yet democratic at all. Members of the public still feel the existence of an external power, putting their trust into authorities regulating the political affairs both internally and externally. No system in which the population is segregated into two parts, one of which assumes a role of activity and responsibility while the other obeys or rebels without awareness of their own social significance should therefore ever be looked at as a permanent option of leadership.

It is the same case with the relationship between parents and children. Parents should not raise their children to keep them dependent forever and full of undiscovered talents but instead raise them to one day become fully independent and able to use their full potential.


In order to live in a true participatory democracy and to prevent the repetition of an oppressive leadership a culture must emerge that brings out the awareness of political and social significance in every individual from early on; a culture which makes people aware of their passivity and their own destructive psychological patterns and reduces feelings of insecurity towards authorities. This is only possible through changes in education and cultural life as this is where our currently prevalent feelings of inferiority towards power are in themselves generated. The desirable outcome of a cultural reform would then be an entirely active population without feelings of social inferiority and insignificance, which in itself would increase public satisfaction but also the sustainability of any social or political model. The need for a government enforcing anything would decrease as this mentality of participation and awareness would be passed on automatically through the educative and cultural goods we create. The increased capacity for moral reasoning amongst the public would also decrease the threat of a liberal system ever being corrupted again. However, for this to happen, culture needs to be educative, explanatory and informative and the use of authority to enforce morality or “correct” behaviour needs to be recognised as detrimental to the development of individual moral reasoning and social awareness. Instead, education through the simple exposure to the right cultural goods could provide the necessary amount of moral guidance to a child whilst allowing it to maintain its confidence at the same time. Ideally this would cause the child to grow up without developing a feeling of inferiority, neither towards parents nor the state or other forms of authority in human form. Culture is controlled by no one but by all of us; by anyone who communicates in society. The realisation of the individual’s importance in the context of society is therefore not only the goal of such a cultural reform but also the means to achieve this. If this cultural reform were to be initiated amongst the youngest members of society, an ability to successfully live in a direct participatory democracy is likely to develop. A democracy in which people are actively making decisions not on who should make decisions for them but actively making decisions on all sorts of political, social, legislative and economic interest themselves. This would require ongoing long-term reform, but it is in no way unrealistic when one realises that it is our capacity to perceive, understand & imitate cultural information which has led humankind to progress from the most primitive Neanderthals to the relatively civilised human beings we are today. The increasing possibilities of fast-spreading cultural information on a global level through digital media and the internet are just another facilitating factor for a cultural revolution of this sort in the future.

The cultural traits of a society are of utmost importance in politics and must not be underestimated. They are the most crucial elements in the maintenance of a free society as any generation raised in a culture that provides a sensation of insecurity and inferiority will stop supporting any political system at the slightest discomfort. Before the aforementioned authoritative tendencies lead again to the destruction of the European democratic spirit, a cultural reform is required. It should be crystal clear after all these years of alternating political constellations, social reforms and revolutions that the blame for the decay of a society can’t be found in these systems we have created to deal with the just administration of life in the big communities. It lies in the human psyche and our neurotic customs and education. There is no revolution on a social and political level which could lead us to any better living conditions as long as a revolution in our culture, and in our mentalities, has not yet taken place. On the contrary, a violent and radical change in government would lead us to the false impression that an ‘evil’ has been terminated. It would lead us to falsely believe that a change has occurred through the substitution of a government, masking again the true grounds of the ongoing misuse and exploitation of power and authority. It would be like exchanging the worn-down wheels of a car whose engine has long been broken.


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