The Amazon Monopoly

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos

 

One of the main justifications for capitalism is that it provides the consumer with competition which by its very nature drives up quality and thereby improves the world.

This may be true, but I think this tendency is less to do with the virtues of the private ownership of capital (which is what it normally comes down to) but the fact that competition is permitted: the fact that for every product or service there is more than one choice.

However, amongst other things, capitalism is now failing to provide the very thing that it is supposed to do and instead we have a world dominated by monopolies. We have one leading search engine (Google), one major PC operating system (Windows), one major database (Oracle), one major online auction company (eBay), one major social network (Facebook) and, to top it all, one major online shop (Amazon).

Most people will now object that for all the things I’ve mentioned there are alternatives. There is Bing, Linux, Android, SQL Server and so on. However, the truth is that most of the alternatives are supplied by one or other of the same half dozen large companies that dominate the world whose proprietors own stocks and shares in one another and who dominate a frightening proportion of the world’s online business (and increasingly gobble up everything that isn’t online). And not to be coy about it, these companies are Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, eBay, Oracle and, heading the list, Amazon.

Before I continue, I would urge readers to follow these links which give what I think is a pretty damning account of Amazon’s dominance in the world:

 

These steamrollers, driven by a peculiar mixture of Ayn Rand objectivism and West Coast slackness, dominate our age in ways that could scarcely be imagined when thirty years ago Steve Jobs and Bill Gates initiated the Age of the Nerd. Now, the idealism has almost all vanished (bar some vague company slogans and a relaxed clothing style). It’s all about naked capitalism. Taxes are avoided (or paid in tax havens like the Cayman Isles, the Canton of Zog and the Duchy of Luxembourg). Capital is accumulated to be spent on yachts, private planes and seats on future space ships. And worst of all any competition is being crushed as ruthlessly as a beast red in tooth and claw is able to do.

We’ve seen bookshops and record shops eviscerated by Apple’s iTunes and Amazon’s 1-Click. We see supermarkets and clothes shops out-competed by companies that pay no tax and bully suppliers to cut costs (i.e. employees) to the bone. And now we see in the UK that the once proud Post Office is being trampled beneath Amazon’s own delivery services.

There are two responses to all this. One is to say, well, that’s capitalism for you, but at least it means I can buy the latest One Direction album for virtually nothing and I’ve saved a shitload of cash on my wardrobe. And in a world where in wealthy countries like the UK and the US, the majority of the population are still worse off than before the economy tanked (and has now recovered all its previous wealth but distributed it even more unequally). Or we can wonder just where this unfettered monopolism will lead.

I suspect that in the nature of these things that the apparent destination where all of us are nothing but serfs to the hereditary successors of Bezos, Gates, Ellison and Zuckerburg will not actually happen however much that might seem the most likely outcome of the present trends.

The worry is that we may enter a world order of increasing inequality where capital wealth is no longer reinvested into the economies of the world (because tax is not being collected) and where efficient part-capitalist/part-command economies like China, India and Russia may well trample over Anglo-Saxon economies which have allowed themselves to be fleeced by a handful of fabulously wealthy and similarly ruthless entrepreneurs and lost all their public services and safety nets in an orgy of tax-cutting and government efficiencies.

And history suggests that the worse it gets the greater the twang of the elastic band as it snaps back into place. And where there is revolution, there is usually blood, chaos and a wide-open door to a new age of tyranny.

 

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BabyMetal

BabyMetal

BabyMetal

I am often bemused by the snobbery and nit-picking of fans of heavy metal (to the extent that I’m not sure how many are already aggrieved that I refer to the music as such rather than just ‘metal’) Even when I hear a band whose music I rather enjoy and think might perhaps rescue the genre from total derision, such as Led Zeppelin or Nirvana, I’m usually informed that they aren’t really ‘metal’ at all but something else like hard rock or grunge. So, it’s a scene that re-defines itself in an ever-decreasing cycle of significance.

What I don’t like about heavy metal is less the music (which might well include some artists of quality among the general sludge of ponderous guitar, metronomic drums and derivative tunes), but its self-mythologising and its annoying adolescent pantomime. Of all the many forms of music that I’ve come across only the most vacuous pop and the most empty dance music (as exemplified by the worst excesses of EDM and trance)  annoy me more. And yet despite that, two of my short stories, Teen Spirit and Excess, are actually relatively affectionate portrayals of the music and its fans.

And of the purveyors of popular music that I especially dislike there is a Japanese rock/pop band known as Babymetal which combine all the worst elements and thereby demonstrate how artificial and soulless these forms of music are. They are a manufactured band founded and managed by the Amuse talent agency that also manages other female idol groups of the type that dominate the East Asian J-Pop and K-Pop scenes, The three girl singers are selected for their looks, their youth, their ability to dance in step and their squeaky voices, and nothing at all to do with their love of metal or, indeed, of any music whatsoever. The backing band resembles all those costumed metal acts such as Slipknot that make the covers of magazines like Kerrang! seem like some kind of all-year long Halloween Day commemoration. And thrown into the mix is an electronic melange of deep bass and twiddliness and perhaps shrieking sampled vocals that typifies Skrillex and the worst excesses of American EDM.

What is also odd is that this manufactured group in all its ridiculousness and its appeal to prepubescent fantasies (and perhaps less innocent more adult ones) has actually gained credibility in a scene of metalheads who hark on about authenticity even while their favourite genre becomes ever more fractured into various shades of much the same thing. Death Metal, Thrash Metal, Black Metal. Glam Metal. Just think of a word and append it with ‘Metal’. And now we have Babymetal. What next? Toddler Metal? Sugar Candy Metal? Tween Metal? I can’t even be sure that such things don’t already exist.

Heavy Metal is a scene that has encompassed Rockbitch, Kiss and W.A.S.P. It has taken to heart the myths about excessive drug-intake, sexual activity and general yobbishness, In many cases, the bands hold unpleasant neo-conservative libertarian views (as propounded by Ayn Rand and Alan Greenspan) which unsurprisingly justify their pursuit of wealth and give them the pretence of some kind of desert for their innate superiority. It pretends to belong to a rock tradition (and perhaps even a jazz, folk and blues tradition) of hard-living, sexual misbehaviour, drug-taking and, ultimately, tragic deaths in tragic circumstances. The ideal death would be to commit suicide for reasons of artistic commitment like Kurt Cobain. To choke on your vomit like Jimi Hendrix. Or perhaps explode in a mess of shit in the toilet like Elvis Presley. God forbid that you should die of cancer in a hospital bed after a long life of critical acclaim like Lou Reed (who mostly outdid anything in the world of metal, despite topping all such nonsense with his Metal Machine Music album).

So, what next for metal now that it has embraced vacuous, manufactured pop and by-the-committee bass drops?

 Perhaps in years to come, metal will become something that will be decided by executives in Oriental boardrooms accompanied by PowerPoint slides and graphs of complex derivatives. Perhaps the music will become ever more immature, predictable and fundamentally uninteresting.Perhaps it will become the easy-listening music of the future destined to become as irrelevant as trad jazz, bubblegum pop and the hurdy-gurdy.One can only hope so.

The Fantastic Wally Wanka

Booty Walk

Booty Walk

 

Well, the first thing to say is that my latest short story, The Fantastic Wally Wanka, can’t be described as fan-fiction (or fan-fic). The only thing this story has in common with Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book is the sly allusion in the title.

In fact this short story is really about porn addiction and has much more in common with my story The Cream of Sheba, than with the nearest to fan-fic I’ve ever written: Chums of the Ring.

So, why write another story about the world of online porn when there is so much else to write about in the world? Well, writers (and artists of every kind) are famous for being self-indulgent and self-referential. Think of all those paintings of painters, comic books about comic book writers, films about film directors, and, naturally, books about writers.

And why be any different?

Here is a short story about the sort of people who inhabit the world of online porn written by someone who by virtue of writing stories that have appeared in sex story sites must in some sense be part of the same industry (though thankfully not to the extent of exposing my genitals or paying any money towards the privilege of seeing other people expose theirs).

And for those who want more romantic fiction coming from the pen of Bradley Stoke, this must almost rank as a love story albeit not with the sort of characters that would be the object of most people’s sexual fantasies.