Hiss of the Brand

I just saw the commercial for Britney Spears’s new fragrance, called “Curious.”

It made me a little curious, in fact, but mostly it got me thinking about how contemporary American culture is moving more toward branding its artists—as in turning the artists’ names into actual brand names. Branding as a concept is pretty timeless, but probably best epitomized in metaphor by its most graphic and inhumane use: the marking of cattle. Branding cattle signified that it belonged to you, that its quality was completely dependent on your good works. Artists, these days aren’t much different.

J.Lo & P. Diddy are selling clothes. Jessica Simpson has created a line of edible cosmetics. And this is, naturally, significant of that other corporate impulse: diversification.

Film studios have been doing this nearly since the advent of the film industry itself. Back when, audiences would almost exclusively decide on what film to view by who starred in it. Later, in the auteur system, directors and producers started to seemingly brand their own looks. Now we have adjectives like “Hitchcockian” and “Tarantinoesque.”

Do poets & writers brand? Two words: Danielle Steel.

The entire romance novel industry is a brand. Harlequin brand novels, etc. My mother was an ardent, ravenous reader of romance novels when I was growing up, but only certain authors, whose books she bought and collected as they were released. And her Christmas and birthday lists were usually populated with the titles of the books she’d missed or overlooked.

And I’d say that some poets are becoming brands—but whether or not this is their own choice or if its the choice of a money machine, I can’t say.

And to relate this back to Victoria Chang‘s post about the change of artists’ work over time, I’d say that anything that becomes branded is no longer evolving. Brands require stability, “product assurance of quality.” Change jeopardizes assured quality. Experimentation jeopardizes assured quality. Brands—to survive—must tread water. The question then becomes: are branded artists still artists, or are they charicatures of the artists they were?

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