Smythe – Communications: Blindspot of Western Marxism (1977)


Argument

Communications are the blindspot of Marxist thought.  Instead of critiquing media messages and their meaning/ideology, Marxists scholars should focus on how the media industries exploit audiences who labor for free.  The economic function of media is to deliver audiences to advertisers.  Therefore the audience is the commodity that is bought and sold and exploited to produce surplus value for advertisers and media companies.

Summary

When advertisers purchase ad space, what they are really paying for are the services of the audience who pay attention to their ads. Therefore, he argues, the audience is a commodity that is sold to advertisers who profit from the unpaid “work” of audience members.

Therefore, the audience works for the advertiser by noticing advertisements, recognizing needs, generating desire for products, and making purchase decisions. However, the audience is not paid for this work, it is the advertiser who profits from the audience’s free labor.

The entertainment content of media programming is a “free lunch” that draws the audience in, maintains their attention, and creates an atmosphere conducive to watching ads.

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