The Book Review: Monoculture
Welcome to the first in an occasional new series of in-depth book reviews. Here, Alex is drawn in by a narrative about a meta narrative.
Monoculture, by “deep generalist” F.S. Michaels is an attempt to tell, or retell, the story that defines our age. It’s a fiercely researched, forcefully stated and a frankly cynical deconstruction of the master story we’ve all become unwilling or, in the case of us advertising folk, willing characters in.
Stories are deeply ingrained and deeply rewarding aspects of our lives but it’s the master story, Michaels suggests, that defines our culture and gives rise to a monoculture. Plots of previous master stories included the religious monoculture of spiritual superstition followed by the scientific monoculture of the 17th Century as it gradually exorcised the demons of its predecessor with advances in science, mathematics and technology. Today’s monoculture, Michaels argues, is economic. Today’s master story is one of efficiency and mutually beneficial transaction and Michaels believes it’s profoundly influencing our work, our relationships with others and the environment, our community, our physical and spiritual health, our education and our creativity.
Monoculture is an attempt to articulate what we as a society perhaps already know but can’t voice ourselves. It’s an attempt to wrangle our inherent understanding and indescribable discontent onto the printed page then cover and bind it before it escapes again. This is its real triumph, it’s an honest and at times painful reminder of how the economic monoculture has changed everything, and when Michaels says “everything” she has 30 pages of endnotes and a 15-page bibliography to prove it.
There’s an irony in trying to suggest ways in which Monoculture could shape the advertising industry, but I’ll try. At first glance, the chapter Your Creativity is perhaps the most relevant (in fact it occasionally addresses us personally) as Michaels outlines the less than romantic and less than struggling artists of the economic monoculture and their place in the booming ‘creative industries’.
The Monoculture Effect is an equally important chapter as it touches on the risks of creativity and individual freedom in contrast to the risk averse nature of financial viability. But most importantly, the work in its entirety forces us to think about the world we live in; we’re perpetual consumers in a market relying on a lack of resources, or supply and demand. It’s the heightened awareness that Michaels offers that can be most powerful for brands as they begin conversations with equally enlightened and cynical consumers. Monoculture, in its final chapters, attempts the daunting task of emancipating us from the economic story we find ourselves in, and whether or not it succeeds might not matter, I doubt we’re ready for it anyway.
Monoculture succeeds in a way that transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau might in Walden. Both works (and many others) force us to reread the story we find ourselves in and maybe even think about rewriting it. Though on the topic, Walden is required reading, the research alone in Monoculture is enough to force you to think about the economic story we’re in and wonder what story might be next.