Wayne, M. (2003) 'Post-Fordism, monopoly capitalism, and Hollywood's media industrial complex', in International Journal of Cultural Studies, Vol 6, No 1: 82 - 103.
Postfordism has been popular as a general concept, although analysts of contemporary media organisations do not seem to use it. Instead, many writers deploy the 'Three Cs Thesis' [hereinafter the thesis] that media industries show 'trends towards the concentration and centralisation of capital' (83). Yet there have been changes in corporate structures, driven by cultural change and globalization. These can appear to have challenged the thesis but, but they have only taken on a surface 'appearance form '. Thus there can be an appearance of more competition and product diversity, while concealing a 'tendency towards monopoly' . Nevertheless, simple marxist theory can miss the important 'cultural change, cultural dynamics, cultural contestation and cultural contradictions' (83) which are also responsible for change. At the same time, cultural studies tends to focus on these factors alone. To break through this apparent opposition, it is possible to 'argue instead that the new corporate structures are characterised by a decentralised accumulation, where the dominant logics of capital are mediated through a multi-divisional corporate structure in combination with a web of subsidiary and sub-contractor modes which give the appearance of plurality and autonomy in the marketplace' (84).
In most marxist accounts, the tendency towards monopoly is stressed while for postfordists competition has increased. However, competition is one end of a pole with monopoly at the other rather than acting as stark alternatives. Competition affects even the most stable monopolies, if investors decide to sell stock or support takeovers. At the same time, competition can be managed, limited and reduced, by driving competitors out of markets or taking them over. For the media, monopoly has dominated the last 20 years -- the number of media corporations has shrunk to 10, big companies have merged, such as Time Warner and AOL, Bertelsmann and Vivendi [German and French respectively] have grown, partly by developing 'networks of joint ventures and to the buying of shares in other companies' (86). However, there is still competition within these 'oligopolistic structures', but it is competition for market share or competition to raise profits, and it takes place 'Within the severe limits imposed by accumulation' (86).
Postfordist have argued that the trend towards monopoly has been 'effectively reversed by changes in corporate structures and practices, by new technologies, by changes in cultural markets and by global market exchanges' (86). There are differences among the postfordist school though [and Amin is cited as a commentator]. However, while some analyses still stress the importance of accumulation, and thus 'exploitative, antagonistic social relations', others are far more optimistic. This was partly due to them assuming that Fordism was the same as monopoly capitalism, instead of just one of its forms. It is now possible to see both Fordism and postfordism as 'denoting contingent features... different modes of development' (87). In particular, many of the features of postfordism can best be seen instead as 'informationalism', a characteristic of advanced capitalism for Castells.
Thus capital can still be concentrated, and the thesis can still be seen as the best description of trends. In the film industry, production costs require still more amounts of capital, for example. This keeps out competitors, but it also leads to some decentralisation -- the overall amount can be spread around different companies or family members in networks. There are similar tendencies in the banking and industrial sectors which have become 'increasingly intermeshed with one another' (88). Onto this underlying structure or trend, it's possible to distinguish contingent features of Fordism and postfordism -- for example, at certain stages the concentration of capital permits mass production which generates further economies of scale and control, and the vertical hierarchy or bureaucracy of Fordism. As nation states were the main focus for economic activity, big corporations could combine with the state to produce welfare and economic planning. However, international competition was a major destabilising factor, especially as global transport and communications developed. Cultural and political changes led to differentiation in consumer markets as well.
For postfordism, flatter management structures and a greater use of microprocessor technology seem to dominate [but see below]. New regions of economic power seemed to arise as well, especially in the 1980s with the rise of the south-east Asian economies. Whether these really were able to challenge US or European economic dominance is far more debatable, and Japanese economic dominance never led to Japanese cultural dominance. There has been some genuine cultural interchange, such as the rise of the Mexican Hispanic cable television industry, or even al-Jazeera. Yet this is being uneven -- Hollywood still continues to dominate film production, and has increased its penetration of foreign markets 'over the past 25 years' (90). For the UK, for example, Hollywood films provide about 80 per cent of box office revenue, even allowing for the apparent revival in British film-making.
The same reservations apply to corporate restructuring. Rather than a binary distinction between for distant postfordist types, there may well be three forms: 'The U-form is a single unitary hierarchical structure... the H-form is that of a holding company which comprises an unco-ordinated group of companies falling under a single financial entity... the M-form... was the multi-divisional structure'(92). The last one offers a degree of decentralisation with overall control by higher management. Divisions may have some autonomy as 'profit centres'responsible for particular commodities. None of these forms are particularly new, but the M-form has now come to dominate. Sometimes, this takes the form of further decentralisation via outsourcing and the development of a web-like structure. This kind of decentralisation is a check towards more optimistic versions, such as 'New Times', where it was assumed that 'capitalism could now be reconciled with cultural difference, innovation, creativity for workers, collaboration and even greater democracy at work' (93). Capital has become decentralised, but mostly in a geographical manner -- this is a surface appearance which does not threaten the concentration of capital in the sense of ownership or control.
Hollywood is another example, where the vertical studios were forced to parcel out work to independent producers. However, distribution remained highly centralised, and is still the 'key strategic point of control in the film industry' (94). It is better to describe Hollywood as 'at the centre of a multi-sector and integrated culture industry'. Media corporations now take four major forms -- vertical integration; horizontal integration (different companies within the same sector of the industry); cross-media integration; cross industry integration (media companies are part of much larger corporations -- NBC is owned by General Electric).
Disney is a good case study. Its decline in the 1980s arose from the unfortunate legacy of Walt Disney and his business ethos, which restricted marketing and commercial development, often not wanting to overexpose the family name [This is a recent controversy too, with Roy Disney accyusing Eiasner of weanting the fast buck]. Eisner's arrival led to more modern marketing techniques, such as raising the prices at theme parks, expanding film production, and acquiring other media companies. The latter permitted more cross-media integration, so that Disney films and TV programmes could get more TV airtime. Even the ABC News was seen by some as a 'publicity arm of the parent company' (95) [the example turns on the lengthy and oleaginous reporting on ABC News of the opening of a new Disney attraction]. Ownership of ESPN cable sports channels enabled the company to penetrate overseas markets. The Company also strategically developed films based on European fairy tales [French ones -- Beauty and the Beast, or the Hunchback of Notre Dame -- to assist Euro Disney, and Chinese ones like Mulan to raise the profile in China and Hong Kong]. [Mind you, Disney always did adapt European myths and fairy stories, like Pinocchio or Snow White, but perhaps with less commercial motives in mind].
This could still be seen as 'genuine cultural exchange and dialogue', as in postfordism, although Byrne and McQullian suggest otherwise (96). Certainly, the 'control of resources personal and profits' remained with Disney. Interests of the company now spread across 'TV and cable channels (38 per cent), parks and resorts (28 per cent), studio entertainment... (24 per cent) and consumer products...(10 per cent)' (96). This cross-media integration is accompanied with horizontal integration, with different studios producing films for different sectors of the market. There is also vertical integration with BuenaVista International controlling the distribution of these films and managing tie-ins such as those with McDonald's. Disney also bought the cable channel Fox Family, hoping to acquire some more distribution technology, although this was not very successful, since the satellite broadcaster involved was owned by another company.
Local nodes in the web may indeed possess a certain autonomy, and this can be necessary, for example by spreading the risk across a number of brands and thereby introducing a certain flexibility. If a particular unit deviates, it can still be controlled directly and centrally -- thus Disney promised a management shake-up when ABC revenues began to fall. One consequence was to replace a serious current affairs programme showing on prime-time with the David Letterman chat show. Interestingly, the current affairs show had a greater audience than the chat show, but it was an audience made up of older people, which is less attractive 'as far as advertisers are concerned' (99). Thus a combination of autonomy and centralisation can go to make a large company 'more not less sensitive to any underperformance or actions deemed harmful to global corporate strategy' (99).
Thus the Three Cs thesis still describes best the path of capital and its economic logic. Now, competition is part of the logic, and combinations of monopoly and competition have produced new organisational forms. In turn, these have had an effect on cultural products, as in the case of Hollywood. Cultural goods like these 'are now part of a pervasive decentralised accumulation logic that has as its corollary the centralisation of media corporate capital' (99): it is this that gives the misleading appearance form of decentralisation and small-scale production. As a result, marxist analysis is still relevant and has not been replaced by postfordist analysis, although it needs to remember the importance of cultural factors. The M-form has become dominant as an answer to the problems caused by global markets and the need for flexibility. Focusing on flexibility alone avoids this issue.
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