by Michael J. Wolf
$25.00; 314 pages
Eras are defined by the materials that revolutionized the way people built and rebuilt the world around themóthe Iron Age, the Bronze Age. While our current state of civilization is often dubbed the information age, as Michael J. Wolf demonstrates in “The Entertainment Economy,” the driving force of our increasingly global society is entertainmentóthe E-Factor. A management consultant at Booz-Allen & Hamilton, Wolf delivers a well-packaged, easy-to-read insider’s view of the deals, the moguls, and the motives behind corporate synergy. However, like the Hollywood blockbusters and media phenomena Wolf and his clients manufacture, “The Entertainment Economy” offers a palatable product that engages the reader, but deftly avoids provoking or answering any difficult questions.
Wolf asserts that what today’s modern individual wants most is more leisure time and new and better ways to spend it. As evidence, he outlines the rise of the mega-mall, no longer just a convenient repository for all shopping needs, but a multimedia entertainment experience. However, in answer to the naysayers of suburban sprawl and consumer culture, Wolf elides any serious analysis of its detriments by offering this piece of fuzzy logic: “Maybe the next step is to put housing next to the stores and megaplexes and call it a small town. People living, working, shopping, and consuming entertainment in one place. What a concept!” However, hidden in this vision is the assumption that everyone’s kind of entertainment is compatible with everyone else’s. Anyone who has witnessed the Disneyfication of Times Square and Giuliani’s “quality of life” campaign, and has felt left out of the party, knows that isn’t true.
There are two sides to the E-Factor revolution. On the one hand, entertainment corporations are merging left and right, coordinating one-night-stand and long-term synergistic relationships, and leveraging distribution through as many media outlets as possible. On the other, the power of the E-Factor is blurring the line between entertainment and non-entertainment industries. From computer chip manufacturers to online trading services to pharmaceutical companies, non-entertainment businesses are cutting more and more into show business’ action. Today’s CEOs are realizing that making a product stand out in a crowd is all about putting on a show, creating a buzz, and reinventing the company brand to stay abreast of the leading edge of taste.
This has created a glut in the entertainment market, which means that the bar is being constantly raised. As consumers have more choices, companies have to do more on ever bigger and grander scales in order to attract the eyes and dollars of prospective customers. To Wolf, the relationship between entertainment and advertising is a chicken-and-egg question. This easy conflation of the two underlines his perception of creative integrity. While he equates creative talent with gold, and professes that hype can’t take the place of a quality product, he disingenuously ignores the fact that hype does cover a lot of flaws for awhile, and long enough for it to get noticed. He acknowledges advertising campaigns that have been inappropriate, but only because they didn’t work in the marketplace. When he speaks of creative integrity, he refers not to the constant battle to keep marketing strategies from corrupting content, but to the importance of enforceable copyright laws.
What is of value to the reader, and to Wolf’s clients most certainly, is his comprehensive understanding of how the entertainment economy works: the commercials that rock the cultural landscape, the brands that become phenomena by capitalizing on the charisma of a personality or the desires of a certain demographic, and the moguls that make it all happen. And Wolf delivers this analysis in bite-sized, easy-to-read chunks. As MTV president Judy McGrath praises on the back cover, “[H]e takes you on a pop-culture tour, uncovering the lessons of Michael Jordan, Madonna, Viagra, e-commerce, sports utility vehicles, and finally the mystery of how you get to create the next cultural phenomenon. I laughed, I cried, I took notes.” While McGrath and other executives might be taking notes, others might feel compelled to hide under the bed. —Susan Chenelle
[Originally published on Citysearch.com.]