Political Economy and the Creative-Industrial Complex

Joshua Clover
UC Davis

Michael Szalay
UC Irvine


Hannah Appel
UC Los Angeles

Evan Buswell
Cultural Studies
UC Davis

Eleanor Kaufman
Comparative Literature, English, and French and Francophone Studies
UC Los Angeles

Colleen Lye
UC Berkeley

Stephen Shapiro
English and Comparative Literature Studies
University of Warwick

Andrew deWaard
Cinema and Media Studies
UC Los Angeles

This research group sought to understand new conjunctions between mass-produced culture and finance. It was interested in the the changing economic logic of the culture industry in the era of finance capital, more so than the interpretable character of cultural products. Equally, the group was interested in reading the regime of finance and its political economy through the optic of industrial cultural production. That its inquiry traveled dialectically in both directions was itself an indication of mutations in the relation between culture and finance.

The U.S. culture industry, for so long understood as society’s dream factory and ideology machine, seems to have achieved a provisionally new status: in its gradual and debt-driven retreat from the wave of conglomeration that peaked with the AOL-Time Warner merger in 2000, it has undergone a real restructuring polarized by financialization and globalization, two predicates of the post-Fordist economy and its regime of dematerialization. At the same time, as companies like Netflix, Amazon, and Google have begun producing traditional television content, distinctions between new and old media seem increasingly beside the point. Indeed, in light of the manner in which “creativity” has come to function as a central paradigm for the generation of profit within a range of information and knowledge industries not directly involved in the production of entertainment, the culture industry might be understood to name something at once specific and pervasive. In the process, it has also become synecdoche for a provisionally new U.S.-centered capitalism, insofar as it promises a version of what financial institutions affirm: money for nothing, or at least, money without the kind of durable commodities which launched two industrial revolutions. For a thinker like Paulo Virno, for instance, the culture industry is “an industry among others” and, at the same time, “the industry of the means of production“-that is, the industry whose “linguistic cognitive competencies” make possible wealth creation throughout the economy as a whole. This is a way of naming the novelty of our moment: the culture industry seems to have become both an ideal and a central engine of finance capitalism, and thus a crucial locus within the regime of financialization described by Fernand Braudel as an empire’s “sign of autumn.” The promises of a New Economy characterized by finance and ostensibly creative forms of immaterial production must be approached skeptically (the facticity of crisis provides one immediate counterclaim). It is precisely for this reason that the culture industry provides a singular lens with which to assess the viability of a regime of finance capital generally.