Product vs. Art

The companies that control most of the media in this country want you in a measurable cubby hole so they can serve you the media product they produce.  What they produce they don’t consider product.  That is one of the main mistakes consumers make.  Disney, Time Warner, and Fox and whoever else releases movies, music, and television are not in the business of promoting art.  They are in the business of using the product created by artistic people to move product and make lots of money.

Media companies are by their nature conservative.  Not that they are filled with Tea Party members, but they want to be sure that any investment they make will actually make them a profit.  These companies and the people who run them have inevitably tried to find the formula for successful art to minimize their risk and maximize their chances of making any type of profit.

That is why we see a bunch of movies every summer, a bunch of television shows every fall, and a bunch of big music releases every spring, summer, and fall that all look and sound alike or are imported ideas or whole shows from other countries that are successful.

There are two problems with this starting with there is no way to create a formula that will successfully tell you what will succeed and what will not in an artistic sense.  A few years ago Rivers Cuomo, the leader of the band Weezer, tried to come up with an actual formula for successful pop songs by analyzing the music of Nirvana, Green Day, Oasis, and others.  He was quoted as saying he wanted to write songs consistently like a machine.  Creating art is hard work.  It requires diligence and consistent effort.  However, for a work ultimately to be successful it also has to have that divine spark.  It is an ineffable thing that people unconsciously know is there and they keep coming back to that work again and again.

The other problem is, the people I know, don’t consume art and entertainment that way.  Their desires and interests vary wildly.  They might like Eric Church but they also want to hear Bob Marley.  Not to mention that if you play if for them the Ghost of Tom Joad album might be in their wheelhouse too.  It isn’t an either or that the people I know want to see Pain and Gain and A Place Beyond The Pines.  They are interested in both and both have their place in our entertainment ferment.

I recently got a friend into Strike Force.  For those of you not familiar, it is a show on Cinemax about a British Special Forces unit.  The joy about Strike Force is it knows what it is.  It is an action show with naked women and stuff blowing up in every episode.  It is a great deal of fun to watch.  This friend also loves Newsroom.  In the grand scheme of how these multinational companies measure this stuff, that doesn’t compute.  A formula to explain that doesn’t exist.

That is the problem.  What is given to us on television, in movies, and on music sites isn’t always art, it isn’t even entertainment.  It is product.  They are delivery devices for commercials.

We know this.  That is partially why the television audience is so diffuse now.  People search for quality and if they aren’t getting that on the broadcast networks, they will go to cable networks or streaming services.  People know when huge companies are foisting something on them that is bullshit.  They understand when they are being asked to go see a movie or television show or buy an album or a book that is the artistic equivalent of ice cream: Something enjoyable in the moment, but utterly forgettable 10 minutes later.

Any advertising executive worth a crap can get lots of people to go see a big movie on the opening weekend.  However, that advertising executive is not going to get them to come back or tell their friends about the movie if it is crap.  Each summer is littered with movies with huge opening weekends that nosedive once word of mouth starts to spread.

You can’t fake worth a damn.  It heartens me that people will look past all the ephemera and hype and see a movie, book, television show, or album for what it is and isn’t.  Now, that doesn’t mean a crappy movie won’t make hundreds of millions of dollars or that a stupid song will not go platinum and then be forgotten in 6 months.  It just means eventually, the fever dream breaks and everyone looks around and goes, “What the hell was all that about?”


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