Wednesday, March 28, 2007

It's Worse, but It's Also Better

OK, I’m getting old. I can still enjoy some of the stuff that used to entertain me in high school, but a surprising amount of it simply doesn’t appeal to me any more. I find that I have difficulty being entertained by any of the mainstream stuff that is most popular among my teenagers’ peer groups. But that’s the way it’s supposed to be, right?

I can remember being a teenager and hearing some older folks discuss MPAA ratings. They lamented that movies used to be rated for how good they were rather than how bad they were. A few years have gone by, and now it seems to me that the bulk of our most popular entertainment in one way or another celebrates the unwholesome and degrading, rather than the uplifting.

Part of this can be chalked up to common generational rift. As kids strive to come of age, they naturally find ways to differentiate themselves from their parents. This usually leads to some degree of rebellion. Since it is the parent’s job to promote the good and the normal (significant elements of the glue that holds society together), teens often strive against these mores to one degree or another. You know the routine. Wait a few years and the cycle repeats in the next generation.

Is it just my perception, or is entertainment as a whole becoming increasingly vulgar. HazZzMat’s Wonker thinks so. In this post he says:

“Today, if you're a guy entertainer, you look ugly, have the everyday speech patterns of a drunken sailor, have utter contempt for women, and convey emotion by screaming as loudly as you can, aided and abetted by state-of-the-art amplification. If you're a girl entertainer, you dress like a whore, have the everyday speech patterns of a streetwalker, have utter contempt for yourself, and convey emotion by screaming as loudly as you can, aka, "belting," aided and abetted by state-of-the-art amplification.”

And it’s no better in the film industry. One Hollywood old timer recently remarked that the only thing that could reliably be said about the Oscars in each of the last 30 years is that this is the worst year yet.

Wonker contends that CD sales are down because “people are tired of paying money for engineered crap.” So they are bypassing the industry with things like “single-music downloads and self-created podcasts.” Wonker also thinks that many consumers simply aren’t buying into entertainment content that is heavily politically charged. I would suggest that entertainment throughout time has often focused on political issues, but I don’t know how well that stuff sold at the time.

I see some of what Wonker is talking about just among my own teenagers. They create their own music and swap their songs with friends that also create their own music. They buy individual songs off the Internet. Come to think of it, so do I. The reason people are buying fewer CDs is that CDs aren’t the only game in town any more. Nor does ownership of a pile of CDs confer the kind of status it once did.

While I agree that the bulk of mainstream entertainment is increasingly coming to resemble raw sewage, there are far more entertainment options today than ever before. Just during my lifetime there has been a massive explosion of entertainment options. A few decades ago, the radio and the cinema used to be the only serious offerings, aside from the old Victrola and occasional live band performances at the local dance hall. Then came TV. Then came cassette tapes (I’d like to skip over the whole 8-track thing, if you please), video recorders, CDs, DVDs, and electronic files that can be stored on flash memory. Who can say for sure what is coming next? Live performances have proliferated as well.

I agree with entertainment critic Michael Medved, who says that not only is there more entertainment content available than ever before; there is also higher quality entertainment content available than ever before. But it’s more targeted than most of the mainstream stuff and can be somewhat difficult to find. You usually find out about it from a friend rather than from a media source. Or maybe your friend produces it herself/himself.

What will happen as technology improves to make it possible for serious video production to be done by amateurs the way it happens with music today? If present trends continue, the market will diffuse and more high quality content will become available. But the mainstream will continue to become louder, more frenetic, and raunchier.


Jesse Harris said...

There are a lot of movies I'd like to see if not for the gratuitous amounts of language, violence and sexuality. Some of the few that I've seen in my day could have been done as mild PG-13 movies without sacrificing any of the plot or story. (It's always funny, though, to listen to someone making tens of millions of dollars from their film to lecture us on "artistic integrity.") It seems that, while other better choices are available, finding them is still a challenge. Narrowcast requires a lot of effort on both the part of the producer and consumer of content in order to find each other even with the leveling effect of the Internet.

It's also disheartening to watch the failing movie and recording industries try and quash the new methods of distribution in a futile attempt at maintaining their grip on their antiquated business model. While Napster was a huge copyright infringer, most studies showed that users of Napster actually bought several times more music than a non-Napster user, usually as a result of having heard something new.

Thanks to the efforts of the movie and music industries, I avoid buying new CDs and DVDs whenever I can, resorting to buying used as much as possible. I don't buy music or movies from online sources because I'm not willing to pay as much for a virtual product as for a physical one AND not have the right to use it on whatever device I see fit.

Anonymous said...

There is already a move away from Hollywood. The funny thing is that Hollywood isn't getting the message. They keep putting out the trash because it get attention. People need to be more selective in their viewing habits. Movies are suffering and I wouldn't be surprised to find out the TV is too. We need to bring back real family television. Quit producing this raunchy TV with the label of family TV because it has a married couple who happen to be parents.

Charles D said...

The problem here is not some evil intent on the part of movie or music producers to insert needless sex and violence in their work - it's that the control of the entertainment industry is in the hands of huge mega-corporations whose only interest is the almighty dollar. They have discovered that sex sells, violence sells, and that anything with real artistic merit just won't be boffo at the box office.

We used to have an industry dominated by independent studios who were owned by individual moguls and were thus amenable to persuasion by means other than ticket sales. A public corporation, particularly a large one, has no morality other than "increasing stockholder value".

While we have a wide variety of choices, the industry works hard to restrict that choice by not distributing the independent movies and CDs as widely as their own claptrap, or by failing to market them, and in the case of the Internet, trying to shut them down.

People like Medved are always trying to tell us things are great because now we have 200 channels where we only had 3-4 when we were young. What he doesn't tell you is the the quality and variety of programming on those 4 channels far outstrips the trash available on today's 200 channels. Why? The 3 TV networks were owned by single families or small groups of people and that was their sole business. Now the 200 channels are owned by 6-8 mega-corporations with far-ranging subsidiaries and a slavish devotion to the bottom line. Result - less choice.

y-intercept said...

I agree with DL is that the entertainment conglomerates are a big problem.

Now back to my disagreeing with DL at every turn ... I believe that the radicalization of film schools is also a very big problem. Many of these schools teach that a film should be seen as a praxis in the social revolution. The merit of any film (or art) is the extent to which the film challenges mainstream culture and radicalizes the audience.

The teachers on the far left essentially have turned two generations of film makers into propagandists.

In my opinion, the merit of a film is based on how well the filmmaker told the story, and on the insights that the film provides on actual life. (This is different from seeing the film as part of the peoples struggle).

Reagan turned from being a Democrat to being a Republican because he was disgusted at the direction of the film industry.

Sadly, the indie film industry in the US has much the same disease. They've been seduced by groups like Sundance into thinking that indie films should be measured against the ability of the film to challenge the mainstream culture and its ability to radicalize the viewer.

I have to confess, I find parts of the "Mormon quirky film" genre to be better done than the Sundance leftist genre; however, I can only take so much blatant propaganda before running screaming from the theater.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Interesting insights, all. The mega corps can rage against the advent of the new market and may have some temporary success in doing so. But they cannot ultimately stop an idea whose time has come. They will not go away, but their influence will diminish.

I both agree and disagree with DL that the general quality of content on the 200+ channels today is worse than what we had on 3-4 channels 40 years ago. Some stuff is undeniably better than anything we had access to back then. But I can't really speak to many of the genres out there. For example, I haven't watched sit-coms for many years, so I couldn't tell you if today's sit-coms are better than, say, Green Acres or the Beverly Hillbillies. Come to think of it, I quit watching sit-coms even before I started having kids because they left me feeling degraded rather than entertained.

There has been much discussion about the Mormon comedy film category, but there has apparently been decreasing audiences of these films. Even the guys that made the Singles Ward lament that each of their subsequent films has produced less box office income. People aren't willing to spend their limited entertainment budget on $8 tickets (plus concessions) to a film that comes across as a carbon copy of the same slapstick + propoganda that they have already had their fill of.