The advertisement in capitalist societies is that anybody can make it. Certainly, it is true that anybody can make it. However, they fail to tell people that not everybody can make it. Initially, the common misconception used to be that only those do not make it who are lazy. But, we all know that this is just not true. There are many talented people in life who are relentlessly trying to make it, but they always fall short of it. For example, there are plenty of very talented writers who never make it. Why? Why do certain people such as great writers have difficulty succeeding in life?
The great writers produce wonderful, often thought-provoking pieces of work. They really are smart, educated and relevant. They have the ability to contribute to society, shaping and forming it to benefit the people in it. Yet, they fail to make it.
What is the problem? The problem is that people do not buy these books. As Theodor Adorno, one of the great philosophers of the 20th century, argued, the culture industry is tied to the capitalist market (Adorno, 1997). The culture industry is dependent on mass production. It produces and reproduces what sells. So, what sells? People buy whatever conforms to their predetermined capitalist dreams. They are born into a system that feeds them a vision of a good, materially-based life, that dominates in society. This type of life limits their vision and it forces people to reproduce the same type of work of art that reflect the system. As Adorno says, “the details are interchangeable. The short interval sequences which was effective in a hit song, the hero’s momentary fall from grace…, the rough treatment which the beloved gets from the male star, the latter’s rugged defiance of the spoilt heiress, are, like all other details, ready-made clichés to be slotted in anywhere…” (Adorno, 1997, 125). The system allows movement only within its confines, forces people to think within its borders and limit their imagination in it.
The consumer’s limited imagination means that the producer, the artist, has to fulfill their demands of limited imagination. For example, Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James, became a best seller because it was a modern version of sleeping beauty. The sleeping beauty was awakened by a wealthy prince who whisked the beautiful young princess away to live happily ever after, with a twist of having great sex while being rescued. The story moved within the confines of the stereotypical sleeping beauty.
Imagine that this story unfolded differently. For example, the rich prince finds sleeping beauty. But, instead of waking her up, he climbs on top of her to take advantage of her while she is asleep. Then, he collects her belonging, sells them on eBay, buys a yacht and entertains high-priced prostitutes on the princess’ money. This version would not have been a best-seller, would it?
The point is that people like clichés. It makes them feel at home because they exist in their limited world. If a great writer comes along to produce a work that does not fit into people’s capitalist dreams, they reject it. They do not buy it. The work makes them frightened of the unknown world of the writer.
The same way, publishers do not take chances. They say they want unique work, but they really don’t. They want a uniquely fitting work that fulfills people’s expectations. But, they do not want anything that breaks out of the confines of the expected. They know that people might reject it. So, they hire editors who fit them into a “mould” to shape it to the market’s needs. In other words, they dumb it down. After all, the truly great work that broke all the rules may not sell to the masses who might reject it, if it is too far out of people’s comfort zone.
Since the product has to sell to make money, the publishers do not take chances because they suspect that the readers are uninterested. Hence, the truly great writers either fail to succeed or they are forced to accept the fate of having their work “dumbed down” to have a chance to be a best seller. If they walk through door number two and accept the compromise, they have to make peace with the idea of being less than a great writer to be able to make a living. Therefore, great writers have great difficulty succeeding in the culture industry that values their work very little.