Risky Business

CONTENT WARNING: Sexual Exploitation, Body Image, Brief Mentions of Xenophobia and Misogyny

Sometimes the stories that make the biggest impact are those which play out in real time. News and academia seem immeasurably married to events. If someone in the Sydney Morning Herald wrote an amazing article about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii today, few would read it. However, a lower quality story about the spontaneous eruption of Mount Ainslie would probably crash the Sydney Morning Herald’s website. Very limited attention is given to stories about things that have happened over long periods of time. Business and economics is not a topic that inspires ‘The eruption of Mount Ainslie’ type stories.

Instead, it gives material form to abstract patterns, evolutions and phenomena that we would otherwise forget about, but which shape our world as we know it. It is my view that articles and stories about business and economics should aim to shine a spotlight on these changes and the implications that they carry for our society, our money and ourselves.

So much of our reality exists without material form at the behest of companies like Netflix, Amazon and Facebook to name a few. These corporations control so much of what we do every day and often bleed into one another to the point where they monopolise everyday life.

Since the emergence of computers and smart-phones, more and more of our lives are conducted online. Some of our relationships exist as much online as they do in person. Our money, most of which we will never see nor hold exists only as a number on our screens. We spend hours binging shows like Sex Education, The Office and Watchmen (all personal favourites) on streaming services, all of which exist on our laptops and phones, not anymore, it seems, on our televisions.

As a consequence of their great size and power, these companies often contradict themselves and operate outside of their own corporate identities. Amazon, for example, was established as an online book store. It now controls the online shopping market, Whole Foods shopping markets (with 500 stores in the United States and counting), produces films and has launched its own streaming platform to rival Netflix. Imagine if 20 years ago someone told you that by 2020, a company which sold books online would control a chain of supermarkets, launch its own on-line television channel and become one of the largest tech corporations in the world. What more can a company control other than food, technology, entertainment and shopping?

It gets weirder. The Walt Disney Company, originally responsible for Mickey Mouse and The Lion King, not only owns Lucasfilm and Marvel but is the par- ent company of Fox Corporation. The very network that gave us Fox News and Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and Tucker Carlson is owned by the same company that gave us Lilo and Stitch and Bambi. I don’t know if Pinocchio would agree with their demonisation of immigrants or their blatant misogyny, but I guess the board of Disney wouldn’t invite him.

These companies, through monopolising everyday life and exploiting it, for all it’s worth have managed to creep into politics and business to amass great wealth and power. They remind me of the fictional media conglomerate Waystar Royco from the show Succession, gigantic and seemingly indestructible but morally corrupt. Like Waystar Royco these corporations wield enormous political power, sourced from the sheer volume and size of their political donations and their control over news networks. Facebook for example decides what political material appears on our feeds no matter the legitimacy of the add or the substance of the claim. This has an enormous impact on how we form our political opinions and ultimately how we exercise our right to vote.

Amazon, Disney, Facebook and others represent the closest thing we have to despotic actors in the world of business and economics, these titans of industry wield enormous power sourced from their immense wealth and ability to control what we see and how we see it. The $4 trillion question is, how did we let them grow so powerful to the point where they are en- trenched in our economic, social and political fabric?

The answer is sex.

Sex, bodies and seduction, and business and economics seem to have nothing in common. Monetary policy appears to play little role in who we find at- tractive and talk of fiscal policy would never make us swipe right. The reality is that how we spend our money is governed by appearances and sex. We are more likely to spend big on something that is glamorous and sold to us by a perfect celebrity or model, even if it is in our interests to do the opposite. Over time, media conglomerates like Facebook, Amazon and Disney have monopolised this dynamic in order to control not only what we buy but what we see, when we see it and how we see it. As a result, these companies have amassed great wealth and power to the detriment of consumers. The monopolisation and commercialisation of sex has had untold consequences on our economy, our politics and on ourselves.

People will often succumb to the ‘buy this get this’ trick or the ‘buy this become this’ idea whereby some model will stand behind a product, leading the consumer to buy it due to some subconscious wish to become or attract the model. Fox News has expand- ed on this to create a ‘believe this get this’ dynamic where questionable news and political claims become more believable because of the glamour be- hind the ugly propaganda.

Selling products or news using sex also encourages impulsive buying, which is particularly common on-line. Most of the things we buy online are low-risk, relatively cheap and low-information products such as books, accessories and small electronics. Amazon for example, tries to make it as easy as possible to purchase something so that you have little time to consider if you really need it. The model standing behind the product telling you how great it is makes it even more likely that we will think ‘if only I buy this useless hat, I can be as good-looking as they are’.

The same dynamic is exploited in news. Some channels push fast-paced discourse and furious agreement so that the viewer doesn’t have time to consider the implications of what is being discussed. All we see is two seemingly respectable, good looking people in such vehement agreement that there is no time to think more deeply about the issue until they have bought the claim being discussed. Viewers seem more likely to believe something if it is sold to them by someone they find attractive or alluring, especially if the news program is fast-paced and filled with more graphics than analysis. This has allowed Facebook and Disney to buy millions of viewers, giving them one of the biggest viewerships in the world and the billions that come with it.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that giving billions to lawless and morally corrupt media conglomerates by allowing them to play on our sexual desires and in- securities isn’t great. It is impossible to calculate the psychological or economic damage that it has had on people who suffer from severe body issues and chase product after product clinging to the hope that it will give them the perfect body and appearance. Who knows how much Facebook or Fox has been able to push its own agenda by tuning us to accept questionable, or blatantly wrong claims because we are more inclined to believe someone who we find attractive? This has only allowed these companies to amass great wealth and power, making them so politically immune that they can survive even the most strident efforts of government to regulate or monitor their behaviour.

It has become fact since the emergence of the inter- net and these conglomerates that sex breeds sales and viewers, sales and viewers breed money, money breeds power and power breeds impunity. This is not something that has happened all at once, and there is no moment in time that can be pinpointed as the day this began to go beyond our control. This is not an ‘Eruption of Mount Ainslie’ story. This is something that has developed over a long period of time as our everyday lives became more and more dependent on the online economy.

The use of sex and envy in advertising and news has allowed these conglomerates to maximise their market share and become some of the most powerful entities in the modern world. To the psychological and economic detriment of consumers, we have been trained to neglect our better judgment and give into our lesser desires. The dynamic they have created be- tween us and them is dangerous, toxic and seemingly-unshakable. It might not quite be the eruption of Mount Ainslie, but volcanic events are limited by the rules of nature. Facebook, Amazon and Disney know no rules, natural, political, economic or otherwise.