The Problem is Bigger Than Content / by Chris Weigl

The film and television industries are operating in a state of remote stasis.  That is, they essentially want someone to take the remote control from them and tell them what to produce because they’re more afraid of being wrong than they are excited by the possibility of being right.  The TV and film industries want someone to tell them what will be successful so they can blame them should things go wrong.  TV and film execs view being wrong as the most capital sin possible when in reality not saying yes to innovation and creativity is their fatal mistake.  The greatest crime one can perpetrate on an artist is to shun innovation and discourage creativity and the worst thing you can do to art is attempt to censor it.

Market control by decreasing the amount of competition that exists in an industry is just as bad as monopolization because what current market forces are doing is entering into a kind of gentleman’s agreement over how the creative game can be played.  The first way that the market controls content is by controlling who can create content.  Breaking into the TV or film industry is kind of like trying to break into Wall St. The only major difference between media and business in America being that business is at least run like plutocracy at worst and a meritocracy at best.  Film and television are run by gatekeepers who look at the world of yesterday as their best days.  Media loves to focus on nostalgia and if you’re a big movie fan you know that nostalgia is a huge theme in movies.  The reason for this is simple: the current entertainment apparateus operates with a worldview that says yesterday was better than today precisely because it took place yesterday not on any individual merit.

The worst thing for things like art and creativity is mass consolidation.  This is when the efficiency experts get to come in and dictate what is or is not acceptable for mass consumption.  Anyone who’s worked in this kind of environment knows that such an atmosphere is poisonous to all who are exposed to it including the consumer.  When we see something new we base our judgment of it on how it stacks up against the current range of products.  One would think that by consolidating the market that it would become easier for independent forces to assert themselves when in reality quite the opposite is true.  If you’re operating at a financial disadvantage of 3 or 4:1 you don’t have much of a chance because the mass market can simply drown you out.  We like to think that innovation can triumph against any financial challenges but at the end of the day we all have to pay the bills.  The problem with the current marketplace is that no matter how great your individual piece of art may be it still needs to sell on the mass market for you to make a profit.  Most multimedia conglomerates can crush anything they want to simply by wielding the resources at their disposal.

Innovation, in short, is not enough to defeat the status quo of old ideas in different packaging which is what the entertainment industry is giving you.  How many books did you see get made into movies last year?  How many comic book movies were there?  Do you have any idea how many films based on an original story were given a wide release by a studio?  That’s a rhetorical question.  The answer is less than thirty and the majority of those were made for animation or as a kid’s movie.  Basically what the entertainment industry is telling adults is that not only do they not think you’re intelligent enough to understand that you’re not getting original material, but that you’re too lazy to even care.  The sad reality is that they are for the most part correct on both counts and hey, you’ve got your reasons.  Everyone has reasons for not doing their best, for not asking for everyone else’s best, and for giving in to a life that is not 100% as they know it should be.  We accept less from others because we know deep down that we’re already accustomed to accepting less from ourselves.

We’re not going to sit here and act like we have all the answers to everything that ails the entertainment industry.  Many of these problems have been brewing for quite some time.  However, there is no escaping the fact that 2014 was a bad year for movies.  Ticket sales were down.  Way down in fact.  Theaters sold the fewest amount of tickets in 2014 than at any point in the last twenty years.  Diversity is a serious problem.  Of the top one hundred films of 2014 only two percent of films featured more female characters than males.  It’s a running joke in Hollywood that studios are “working on” fixing this issue in the future.  They’re working on it with the same passion and fervor as they are in coming up with new and original concepts for feature films.  The motto in entertainment is basically: if it didn’t come from somewhere else we don’t want it and if we can’t get a sequel out of it then it’s irrelevant. 

The big solution we have for these problems is to simply be the change you want to see.  At some point you’ve got to stand up for yourself and your ideas or you’ll die inside.  Nobody wants to fight for anything anymore because no one sees anything worth fighting for.  In a lot of areas people are right to do this, but art and entertainment are too important to our society to be left to a bunch of white guys who think that they stand for diversity because they voted for Barack Obama.  Art defines culture and culture defines a society.  If we turn a blind eye to art then our society is more or less ruined.  Want to create a better world for your kids?  Create one where they stand just as good of a shot at getting a director’s job as they do at becoming an administrative assistant.  Encourage people to be different not to merely “think differently.”  Finally, stopping looking at the world and asking why?  Start looking at things and asking why not?  This was John F. Kennedy’s big idea in the 1960’s and his rallying cry has fallen on deaf ears after less than one generation.  We have a moral obligation to future generations to make art stand for something better in the future.  Whereas the current establishment in entertainment wants to “return” the industry to it’s former glory, we see uncharted paths for entertainment and we’re asking: “why not?”