Choose the right

This Monday, two musical acts that have amassed a significant fan base without the support of the monolithic recording industry–Islands (formerly The Unicorns) and Blueprint (representing underground Rhymesayers Records)–play at In The Venue. In so doing, they remind us that “the power of the people” is a funny thing.

Since the dawn of democracy, the ability of the populace to effect change and determine its (cultural, political, social) trajectory has been passively assumed: Yes, we know we have the ability; no, we don’t necessarily exercise it with any kind of consistency or confidence.

This popular passivity generally works in favor of the powers that be–at the point that you satiate the masses with the illusion of free will and choice, you protect yourself from their potentially troublesome “questions” and “concerns.”

It’s a pretty simple equation: Persuade people into thinking they are autonomously electing a certain scenario (regardless of whether they are), and reap the benefits of their support as a result.

But here’s the thing about the power of the people: It is, in fact, a real power–and, from time to time, we do decide to use it.

Abuse the people long enough, and the people will strike back.

Take as example this week’s midterm electoral upheaval: Lots of Republicans lost their thrones to Democrats (many of whom are the kind of politicians you hear about and ask, “Wait?who?”) because the people were tired of being duped and manipulated.

People were tired of the power bloc tricking them into thinking their voices had any register; they were sick of being forced to believe that what they were getting was what they had asked for.

And so the people did something about it.

Think about that for one second.

Now, think about the ways in which that occasion could spell revolution for the mass media entertainment industry.

Since?well, forever, consumers of movies and music have essentially been presented with the illusion of choice. We get a slew of movies every year–99.9 percent of which are released through the troglodytic machinery of major studio distribution and production–and we consumers just sort of sit in our uncomfortable theater chairs and passively say, “I like that one; I don’t like that one.” We never say, “I don’t like ANY of those, and I don’t like the machinery that manufactured them. I would like an essential change in the way things are done, thank you very much.”

Ditto for the music industry.

As far as the consumption of popular music (the kind you would see on, say, MTV’s Total Request Live or at the top of the Billboard charts) is concerned, we are given–at best–a paltry and prefabricated catalogue of not dissimilar sensibilities. We buy this album or that one, and we convince ourselves that this process constitutes “real choice”–when, in fact, it constitutes little more than the thinly veiled simulacra of choice.

We choose between the options we are presented with. We do not determine what those options are. This is a categorical and important distinction.

NOTE: This same consideration could be leveled at the world of politics with equal or greater truth. We are sadly deceiving ourselves if we think voting “D” or “R” ACTUALLY constitutes a real choice (which is not to say that it is not still an important choice to make–even if the options are predetermined, there is still a very real way in which one can be much better than the other).

However, while the political system is so determinate and powerful as to (probably) never be truly revolutionized, there is a little more hope for the entertainment industry.

Consumer-driven digital phenomena like Hype Machine–and the broader blogosphere as a whole–could be fully appropriated by the populace as a functional and non-determinate alternative to the movie and music industry juggernauts.

It would not necessarily be an easy upheaval (when there is money to be made, money WILL ALWAYS BE MADE?often by the same people who were making it before), but it is a conceivably possible one.

If consumers just stop buying records and stop paying for movies entirely–essentially proclaiming their active boycotting of the entertainment industry and crippling its revenue generation–they could effectively start exercising their own version of “the power of the people.”

And, like any muscle, the power of the consumers and people will get stronger as they are given more exercise.

If the midterm electoral shake-up can teach American consumer-society any lesson, it is this: While the real opportunity of choice may be harder to come by, you can, in fact, make your opinions felt by the power-block in none-too-uncertain terms.

Remind those in power that they have to answer to you, and you become more significant in their eyes.

Underlying this reduction is the more troubling question of whether or not Americans really want the power of choice. If not, then long live the status quo. If so, rock ‘n’ roll.

Literally.