[iDC] Dallas Smythe

Sean Cubitt scubitt at unimelb.edu.au
Tue Jul 7 09:21:26 UTC 2009

Trebor suggested mentioning another of the lost Canadian connections (Innis
and MacLuhan occupying such visibility we rarely note some of the other
amazing contributors. The thesis of attention value in his work dates back
to the later 1950s, this is just one I have on file for lectures

DALLAS SMYTHE - Communications: Blindspot of Western Marxism 266-7

I submit that the materialist answer to the question ­ What is the commodity
form of mass-produced, advertiser-supported communications under monopoly
capitalism? ­ is audiences and readerships (hereafter referred to for
simplicity as audiences). The material reality under monopoly capitalism is
that all non-sleeping time of most of the population is work time. This work
time is devoted to the production of commodities-in-general  (both where
people get paid for their work and as members of audiences) and in the
production and reproduction of labour power (the pay for which is subsumed
in their income). Of the off-the-job work time, the largest single block is
time of the audiences which is sold to advertisers. It is not sold by
workers but by the mass media of communications. Who produces this
commodity? The mass media of communications do by the mix of explicit and
hidden advertising and "programme" material, the markets for which preoccupy
the bourgeois communication theorists . . . . In "their" time which is sold
to advertisers workers a) perform essential marketing functions for the
producers of consumers' goods and b) work at the production and reproduction
of labour power. This joint process, as shall be noted, embodies a principal
contradiction . . .the mass media of communications are simultaneously  in
the superstructure and engaged indispensably in the last stage of
infrastructural production where demand is satisfied by purchaes of consumer

Smythe, Dallas (1994), 'Communications: Blindspot of Western Marxism [1977]'
in Smythe, , Counterclockwise: Perspectives on Communication, ed Thomas
Guback, Westview Press, Boulder CO., 266-291; orignial Canadian Journal of
Political and Social Theory, v.1 n.3, Fall 1977, pp 1-27. .

Worth noting too James Beniger's contention in The Control revolution that
the origins of advertising lie in a crisis of control (his term - I would
say a crisis of overproduction) in manufacture and distribution,
specifically of oats, until then bought bulk for horses, but from the 1870s
sold in 2 pound packages with the boxes branded Quaker Oats. He regards this
as a way of controlling consumtion to match manufacture/distribution.


Prof Sean Cubitt
scubitt at unimelb.edu.au
Media and Communications Program
Faculty of Arts
Room 127 John Medley East
The University of Melbourne
Parkville VIC 3010

Tel: + 61 3 8344 3667
Fax:+ 61 3 8344 5494
M: 0448 304 004
Skype: seancubitt

Editor-in-Chief Leonardo Book Series

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