Pop Culture Has Become an Oligopoly

If you have noticed and wondered about sequelitis in movies and books… it’s not just you: it’s a real thing. Adam Mastroianni writes:

the shift is gigantic. Until the year 2000, about 25% of top-grossing movies were prequels, sequels, spinoffs, remakes, reboots, or cinematic universe expansions. Since 2010, it’s been over 50% ever year. In recent years, it’s been close to 100%.

Adam shows charts showing the same consolidating trend in music, TV, and books. Years ago a bookstore’s sci-fi section would be a portal to hundreds of possible futures, ideas, cultures… nowadays it splits neatly into Minecraft, Star Wars, Marvel, and other.

My parents grew up with the first Star Wars movie, which had the audacity to create an entire universe. My niece and nephews are growing up with the ninth Star Wars movie, which aspires to move merchandise.

I suppose that because of George’s crazy original deal, every Star Wars movie is to move merchandise, but the point still has teeth.

The author in part blames us as consumers for making safe choices:

As options multiply, choosing gets harder. You can’t possibly evaluate everything, so you start relying on cues like “this movie has Tom Hanks in it” or “I liked Red Dead Redemption, so I’ll probably like Red Dead Redemption II,” which makes you less and less likely to pick something unfamiliar.

I agree and feel guilty.

The swing he has measured towards franchise multiplicity precedes algorithmic-recommendation engines but I think we can include market research under that cloak. Both market research and algorithms tend to self-reinforce your previous buying decisions… helping build the ridiculous selling power of these repeated franchises, helping them outcompete variety in the market… until Bob Igor rules the imagination landscape of a generations.

The oligopoly -> monopoly path puts the engine of cultural change in the hands of fewer money-driven corporations and politically-minded boards. While you may have trusted the original writers and directors of your favorite franchises; I do not trust them to treat hearts of my kids as more than ad-revenue.

This media oligopoly may very well be that certain mediums have evolved “apex predator” formats, (e.g. “superhero movie”, the article deals with this under innovation) but I rather think it has to do with the cost of producing a competitive product. I think the indie world of media is out there, it’s just shifted to more agile and cheaper mediums. The variance is still out there… the podcast explosion is a pretty good example.

Every strange thing, wonderful and terrible, is available to you, but they’ll die out if you don’t nourish them with your attention. Finding them takes some foraging and digging, and then you’ll have to stomach some very odd, unfamiliar flavors. That’s good. […] Humankind does not live on bread alone, nor can our spirits long survive on a diet of reruns.

Go read a weird book… before Netflix options all of them as badly-made money grabs.

Pop Culture Has Become an Oligopoly - by Adam Mastroianni - experimentalhistory.substack.com


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Changelog
  • 2022-05-07 13:27:18 +0000

    fix italics

  • 2022-05-07 12:40:52 +0000

    oligopoly