Dissertation – “Derivative Media: The Financialization of Film, Television, and Popular Music, 2004-2016”

deWaard, Andrew. “Derivative Media: The Financialization of Film, Television, and Popular Music, 2004-2016.” University of California, Los Angeles. 2017. [download here]

Committee: John T. Caldwell (Adviser), Denise Mann, Stephen Mamber, Johanna Drucker.

This dissertation traces the entrance of the financial industries – particularly private equity firms, corporate venture capital, and institutional investors – along with their corresponding financial logic and labor, into the film, television, and music industries from 2004-2016. Financialization – the growing influence of financial markets and instruments – is premised on highly-leveraged debt, labor efficiencies, and short-term profits; this project argues that it is transforming cultural production into a highly consolidated industry with rising inequality, further decreasing the diversity and heterogeneity it could provide the public sphere. In addition to charting this historical and industrial shift, this project analyzes the corresponding textual transformation, in which cultural products behave according to financial logic, becoming sites of capital formation where references, homages, and product placements form internal economies. The concept of ‘derivative media’ I employ to capture this phenomenon contains a double meaning: increasingly, the production process of popular culture ‘derives’ new content from old (sequels, adaptations, franchises, remakes, references, homages, sampling, etc), just as the economic logic behind contemporary textuality behaves like a ‘derivative,’ a financial instrument to hedge risk. As we witnessed during the financial crash in 2007-2008, the derivative dismantles or unbundles any asset into individual attributes and trades them without trading the asset itself, in contracts such as futures, forwards, options, and swaps. This project demonstrates how cultural texts employ a similar ‘derivative’ logic, using intertextuality as a financial strategy, not just to sell products through brand integrations, but to maintain domination over the cultural sector through an interconnected referential economy. Through textual analysis and case studies, I explore the formal and interpretative implications that this financial shift has on cultural texts, arguing that popular digital media texts function as unbundled, risk-hedging derivatives through which capital accumulates in diversified cultural hedge funds operated by a handful of transnational media corporations. Utilizing a methodology combining political economy, data mining and visualization, ethnographic fieldwork, and textual analysis, this dissertation argues that financialization is a little-understood, yet profoundly transformative – and often destructive – force within the cultural industries.

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