Vinegar contra variety

Nothing but vinegar on the shelves of Polish shops was a typical image of communist times. After the short flourishing post-communist period, during which people creatively experimented with their new freedoms, Polish massmedia seems to have returned to the vinegar-only times.

There is a myth about Poland during the time of planned economic crisis; it is often said that during this time the shops were equipped with nothing but vinegar. This still serves today as one of the best metaphors for describing Poland in the 80’s. We had one country, one nation, and one party in Parliament and the official media shared the same and only proper opinion. Nothing but vinegar! It seems quite logical for a land in which a golden age of a particular political system was becoming an iron age. Change was unavoidable.

Horn of plenty

Then suddenly it was 1989, and along came free elections, open borders, the world stood upside down. Instead of empty shelves and only one type of vinegar you could buy anything you had been dreaming of. People were both shocked and inspired by this new found variety. By freedom and new possibilities. The beginning of the 90s was the best time to make easy money quickly. The Polish market seemed ravenous for new products and ideas. Businessmen competed in every branch of commerce and most were successful.
 Partly due to lax regulations, and gaps, existing in Polish law at this time of regime change. However this spontaneous and joyful bloom could not last forever.


Mr. Textbook knows better

 The more the market provides, the fussier it becomes. The formulas offered by marketing textbooks, make research and complicated calculations more convincing to the businessman than things so obvious as ingenuity, imagination and the intuition of their workers. Unconventional ideas are now considered too risky. Only a project that is a 100 percent safe, i.e. successfully done 100 times before, wins the investors blessings. Welcome to the era of the ?market rationalization?! Stop thinking, just obey! Follow the golden rule that has led masses to happiness in the United States or in Hong Kong, and you will be happy too… here in post-communist Poland… surely you will… you ?re the same as everyone else, aren?t you?!
 Variety may be too complicated for those who want to invest money, earn money, sleep on money.
 An illustration of this strategy is visible in the present situation of the Polish media. Each new radio station wishes to repeat the success of their peers and predecessors. Unfortunately, the only way they see they can achieve this is through blind imitation. As we saw with the popular state.

?Tr?jka? was the radio station favoured by the intelligentsia’s during the communist period in Poland and it remained welcomingly independent and open-minded. Live programs allowed listeners to express ideas without censorship and to hear western music. Tr?jka?s individual way of introducing their programs caught the attention of many young people who were disheartened by the more official radio broadcasts of the time. There is a whole generation in Poland who has grown up listening to Tr?jka, now in their 30?s and 40?s. Many were the protagonists for the ?winds of change?; the introduction of the free market and the idea of an open society.

All you need is a uniform

 The ?winds of change? also blew more radio stations into Poland. But these radio stations were much, much ?smarter? than ?Tr?jka? was. They are so smart, they?ve become… silly. Focusing on easy pop-music, stupid DJ?s, loud commercials, and more talk back with fun-oriented listeners. ?Tr?jka? in it?s day remained a radiant island for the intelligentsia, but today the surrounding ocean is no longer gloomy communism.
 About two years ago the new head of ?Tr?jka? decided that intelligent people in the 30-40yr age group were too narrow a target audience. He ordered changes: easy pop-music, stupid DJ?s, talk back with fun-loving younger and younger listeners. However, a problem appeared – as a result of these changes they lost their audience. The forecasted market already preferred other ?smarter? radio stations and the intelligentsia were quick to abandon a station that had betrayed them.
 A textbook economic increase strategy, in this case, failed and as a result the last remaining island of intelligent discussion on the airwaves was devoured by an ever growing ocean of banal uniformity.


We have just ordered new shelves…

 There are 3 main weekly magazines on the Polish market: ?Polityka?, ?Wprost? and ?Newsweek?. Each had their own target audience and not so long ago it was easy to distinguish between them. But now, in this era of ?market rationalization?, the majority of customers supposedly want the same. Hence each of these magazines has changed its layout, shape and style to fit with the modern worlds visual media guidelines. Not only are the topics and layouts similar in each magazine, but some time ago the covers of both ?Wprost? and ?Newsweek? shared the same picture!
 Just how far this uniformity had spread we found out when trying to get a monthly magazine, we edit, sold in the most important media-book-music chain
in Poland. The manager responsible for accepting new products was willing to distribute the magazine and had no objections over it?s content, but the one thing that closed the door, was its unusually ?large? format. ?I?m really sorry? – said the manager. – ?but we have just ordered new shelves and only an A4 format will fit them…"


Eviva vinagre!

 These and many other examples of uniformity in the Polish mass media, highlight the singular economic strategy used in attracting the market majority. The Polish population, in these early stages of consumerism, are being treated as a mass in which no diversification of taste appears. The mass needs what it is proven repeatedly to need; non-sophisticated themes, simple jokes, colorful pictures etc.
 It is somehow amazing how a breakdown of limitations can become, in the end
 through economic pressures on editors, authors, and producers, so self limiting. The Polish market it seems, developed and rebuilt over the last few years, has returned to the times of vinegar. The only difference now is that their is more than one brand and we have this thing called freedom.

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