It worked briefly in the 80s, and that’s all you need to know
Matt Yglesias found what will probably end up being my favorite example of the relentless wingnut need to make everything about them and their obsessions, at least for this week: Cato’s Ilya Shapiro using Jackson’s talent to argue against non-existent communists about the glories of capitalist art.
The King of Pop’s creativity allowed him and his family to make hundreds of millions of dollars, yes, but it also created thousands of jobs in the music and marketing industries and brought joy to fans around the world. Whatever his personal eccentricities — perhaps, in part, as a result of them — Jackson represents a capitalist success story.
No central planner could have invented him, and no government bureaucracy could have transformed pop music in the way he did.
Where to begin? I wasn’t aware that there was any suggestion that a government bureaucracy to develop pop stars was being kicked around by anyone. I think Shapiro might be arguing against the commies in his head, who think America should have a system where we employ artists and musicians to glorify the struggles of the working class, and where other messages (particularly the “get up and dance” kind that was the message of Jackson’s best music, even those tunes with different lyrical themes) are verboten. I say this, because as far as I can tell, the commies arguing this in the real world amount to a big, fat zero.
Of course, those yuks aside, this argument is sad because it diminishes the reality of musicians’ relationship to music, even if they’re overtly seeking pop success as much as Michael Jackson was. I just can’t picture Jackson and Quincy Jones conferring in a world with higher marginal tax rates and saying, “Eh, does the bass line of ‘Billie Jean’ really need to be that awesome? Not if you’re going to have to pay 10% more on your royalties.” Even Britney Spears isn’t that mercenary and soulless, but putting that on Michael Jackson, who brought some serious enthusiasm to his work, is completely unfair.
But what’s really fucking awesome is that Shapiro is trying to defend the magical hand of capitalism by invoking the record industry. Think about that for a moment—the industry that’s failing so bad that they’ve resorted to suing the fans in a desperate move to save themselves is supposed to be the crown jewel of this argument about the wonders of low tax rate free market capitalism. Sure, it all sounds great if you reference someone who made all his money 25 years ago, but it’s not so brilliant now. If only the march of history could have stopped in 1983, right? What’s the next argument? Pointing to the remarkable success of the SUV as rock solid evidence that capitalism is never wrong?