More on "everyone," and the market

Two more thoughts on my last post regarding the use of "everyone" in political and pop-culture punditry.

First, "everyone" is commonly used to refer to either TV viewership or movie audience numbers. So that "everyone" saw Summer Blockbuster X or "everyone" watches Game of Thrones (or Big Little Liars or The People vs. O. J. Simpson). Or even "everyone" on Twitter.

Part of the problem, which is generally admitted, is that the so-called "monoculture" is a thing of the past: gone are the days when nearly half of all American adults watched an important or popular primetime TV episode. But critics and commentators yearn for the relevance of the art they write about, so if either a show generates a lot of content online or if it is legitimately popular by today's standards, the old dependable trope of "everyone" gets tossed about with liberality.

But just consider Game of Thrones, perhaps the most popular show on TV. It gets somewhere between 10 and 25 million viewers on its best night (combining recordings and non-live viewings online). That is between 4 and 10% of the adult population in the U.S. Now the closer to 1-out-of-10 that number gets, the more impressive. But even if it is that high, what that means is that out of every 10 adults in this country, nine do not watch the show in question. In which case, it is fair to say that most everyone does not watch the show. It just "feels that way" to people who write about it, who spend a lot of time in the pop-culture corners of the internet, and who hang out with others who have similar TV viewing habits.

A final thought.

"Everyone" is also used in a justificatory way, that is, to talk about "what matters," because "everyone" is watching/talking about X or Y. The popularity of a pop-culture artifact warrants its discussion even and especially by those who harbor little affection for it.

The thing about this "everyone" is that it is weighted heavily toward the newest, latest thing, as evidenced by its popularity with the newest, youngest adults. Critics deceive themselves into thinking that what they are valuing is creativity or originality, but what they are in fact doing is ratifying the dominance of the market over popular art. Why, in other words, is what "everyone" is talking about the latest fashion or playtoy of twentysomethings? Because 18- to 35-year olds are the target demo for advertisers. Which means that this kind of breathless up-to-date cultural commentary is nothing but capitulation to the market, usually by people who should know better.

What sets the terms for what "matters," then, is not what is most innovative or interesting but what 25-year olds with expendable income and a lifetime of potential brand loyalty there for the taking find most relieves their boredom, at least for the moment. And that is a far cry from artistic merit or cultural cache, however defined.


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