[Weekly Thoughts] Mass Entertainment: How it’s affected the quality of shows and movies

Movies and television are mediums through which writers and filmmakers can express their thoughts and creativity. Like any other art form, many artists enter the field with the hope of telling compelling stories that will make us feel a variety of different emotions: happiness, sadness, fear, excitement, and so on.  Sometimes they take place in settings that we can relate to, while other times they immerse us in fantastical worlds where are imaginations can run wild.

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Over the years, the demand for this kind of storytelling has exploded into a massive industry worth millions of dollars. At first glance, the growth in the industry is beneficial in the way that it meets our demands as consumers. However, more is not always better; to quote a very common phrase I’d rather have “quality over quantity.”

A few months ago, I remember going over to my cousin’s to watch a film called “Paprika”. Up until that viewing, I didn’t even know it existed. I’m sure everyone has watched a movie of TV show that completely draws you into the world created; this was one of those films.

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Why am I mentioning this? Well, now-a-days I find it incredibly hard to find amazing films or TV shows that leave a lasting impression on me in the vast ocean of the entertainment industry. Have we simply hit a wall in our abilities to be creative or has the “mass production” of films influenced a change in both our tastes and the reason why films are made? My money is on the latter of the two.

I’m sure that part of the reason why I loved Paprika was because we as humans are innately intrigued by things that diverge from the normative in our culture. Just as people in North America find Japan strange and interesting because their culture is so different, people in Japan find American culture to be very interesting.

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In a way, we could call it culture shock. While one is not physically moving to or visiting another country, we are immersed in that country’s culture for the length of the TV episode or movie. In that sense, I would consider myself as reaching one of the higher stages of culture shock soley in terms of anime shows and movies; I have watched enough that I know what to expect. I’ll cover more on culture shock and what not in next week’s post.

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Now, even though our two cultures our both different, the respective entertainment industries are similar in how they’re structured. Both societies are structured around these arbitrary pieces of metal and paper that we carry around in our pockets or bags. This is capitalist society; a place where mass industries are formed with the purpose of making money.

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“Mass” is the key word here. It seems that films in the eyes of companies are seen as products, not art. Like any other product, companies want to reach as many people as they can while also making as much money as they can.

There are two options they can chose from:

  1. Take the risk and spend time on creating new innovative films that take more time to create and may not appeal to everyone, or
  2. Create twice as many films of average or lower quality that employ the same layout, character types, etc. that have proven to be successful?

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If you consider things from a purely rational standpoint, the choice is clear. Humans are comfortable with things they are familiar with, so why change something that already works? Creating an innovative work isn’t worth the risk when there is a much safer option that still produces a lot of cash flow.

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The cycle of copying and repeating has always been present in art, but with mass industry it occurs at a greater rate than normal. As Lawrence Lessig points out in his book Free Culture:

This “borrowing” was nothing unique, either for Disney or for the industry. Disney was always parroting the feature-length mainstream films of his day. So did many others. Early cartoons are filled with knockoffs—slight variations on winning themes; retellings of ancient stories. The key to success was the brilliance of the differences. With Disney, it was sound that gave his animation its spark. Later, it was the quality of his work relative to the production-line cartoons with which he competed. Yet these additions were built upon a base that was borrowed. Disney added to the work of others before him, creating something new out of something just barely old. [1]

(There was a great video on this that I saw but I can’t find it for the life of me)

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Films and shows that borrow common plot lines, character types and settings can be quite enjoyable, but when the market is flooded with ones that follow the same structure, it is somewhat difficult for them to be memorable. Arguably, shows and movies that take the most well traveled route will never interest us as something that diverges from the norm. Most of the time, they are memorable for a month or two at best.

The question of course is, “How do you sell something that is essentially the same as the hundreds of other movies created?” Well, with certain ploys of course. Take a look at any movie trailer and the way it’s structured; what do they chose to highlight? They choose some of the most best points of the film, make sure to show the furthest extent of the special effects, and of course often feature a well-known actor.

Companies often bet on the chance that we’ll see a film because of a famous celebrity of amazing visual effects; and you know what, unfortunately they’re right. We buy right into these ploys, and as long as we continue to do so, things won’t change. For example, from what I can remember, I think most people that I knew saw Avatar (the one directed by James Cameron, not Avatar the Last Airbender) because of the special effects. I’ll admit that the only reason I went to see it was because I thought the Sampsons looked like the UH-144 Falcons from Halo.

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The positive thing that results from the flooded market is that the true gems really shine. When we discover a TV show or movie that truly enthralls us, we are able to appreciate it that much more.

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Well, that’s my opinion on the issue. I’m sure many of you have different views, so feel free to share them in the comments and tell me if you think there has been a change in the quality of what we watch. I’m planning on making this a weekly series of posts where I share my thoughts on an topic. If you have any suggestions on what you’d like to hear me talk about, you can also share them in the comments.

Anyways, have an awesome rest of the day wherever you are!

References
  1. Lessig, Lawrence. (2005). Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity. Penguin Books.

 

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7 responses to “[Weekly Thoughts] Mass Entertainment: How it’s affected the quality of shows and movies

  1. I think it’s a billion, not a million dollar industry. Which has been growing bigger and bigger. May it be less movies making a lot of money and a lot just above their budget.

    There are a lot of things that made the media landscape change. For example the increase or importance of marketing budgets for media products. An average blockbuster uses many, many millions to market its product.

    A good example of marketing is the comparison to Apple and Samsung. From what I’ve heard Samsung uses almost a billion dollars to market its products. Pushing the devices everywhere in society. Apple uses scarcity to win people over. Their marketing is very good, but more quality than quantity.

    The media landscape is slowly changing due to internet and on-demand viewing habits. I still believe regional codes are a waste of media freedom, but those are traditional believes, targeted to a tradional audience. Teenagers and young adults have such a different viewing habit in which fixed times and releases don’t work anymore.

    • Companies often have the idea that more is better, but I think it’s the other way around. I think what most people want today is quality; they want their money’s worth; especially since I think we’re still in a recession over here in Canada and the United States.

  2. This is a new section in your blog, correct? Well, if it’s this gonna be this good, I hope you do write weekly without interruption because I’m looking forward to it 😀

    This pretty much sums up what’s happening in the anime industry too. Take for example, the harem genre. This is my opinion, but their numbers have been exponentially increasing ever since the moe phenomenon exploded. Hence, each season we are shoved with harem series that basically revolve around the same plot, so we know what we should be expecting just by reading the plot synopsis.

    The sci-fi movie industry is also suffering from this. Unlike Star Wars, the greatest sci-fi saga ever created, sci-fi movies these rely solely on famous actors and stunning graphics just to attract viewers. The result is similar to the harem anime industry — same old, same old.

    Cheers.

    • Thanks! Yep, this is one of a few new sections I’m planning on doing. I should have the first post of my other new series up sometime in the coming week.

      Studios always look at the numbers, and since harem and moe series sell well, they always continue to fund them. I do enjoy watching them to be honest, but since they’re almost all the same they don’t end up being anything extremely special or memorable. Plus I guess when you think about it, the success of these shows really help fund the industry, allowing other masterpieces to be brought to realization down the road.

      I used to be a really big sci-fi fan, but my interest in the genre has been declining over the past couple of years. Actually, I think part of the reason Star Wars did well was because the special effects by ILM were somewhat “revolutionary” at the time. I haven’t watched any other sci-fi films from the same era so I can’t comment on how different Star Wars was from the other sci-fi films story wise, but the universe Lucas was able to create was stunning. The story was well thought out and didn’t really solely on action scenes to capture the viewers’ attention (though they were a nice highlight of course), unlike many films now-a-days.

      But yeah, the emphasis for sci-fi films/shows is usually placed on graphics. What’s nice about Doctor Who for example is that they rely on story instead of graphics. If you’ve ever seen the show, you’ll know the graphics aren’t the greatest but it has a really large following because it’s really great story wise.

      Haha, it seems that we always end up writing large comments to each other. If you want, maybe we should add each other on Skype or something.

  3. I’ve been meaning to keep up with other blogs more, and this new series of yours looks really great for discussion! ^^

    Things I’ve noticed about a lot of American movies as of late are the crazy fast pacing and reliance on CGI effects. Also love scenes. No matter what a movie is about, they just have to include some steamy love scene =_=. They’re relying less on imagination and dialogue and more on wowing their short attention-spanned audiences with explosions. This is especially apparent when you compare them to old black and white movies. Classic movies are filled with witty dialogue that you actually have to keep up with and understand, and they really push your imagination by not outright showing you everything. I recall one movie(can’t remember the name >_>) where the main characters kissed, but rather than showing it, the camera panned down and all you see is their bodies move closer together. I liked the way this was done since it still gets the message of what happened across to the audience without overtly showing it. The same for another where a woman is hit by a car. All I needed was to hear was the screech of wheels and a scream to know what happened. Implication is a very powerful and thought provoking tool, but seems it’s been lost as of late.

    As for studios and networks not taking risks on fresh ideas, I can see why they’re doing it on a business level, but it’s a very unwise approach considering that movies and TV are part of the art world and not just cold hard numbers. There are a lot of niche shows that networks fail to see the value or potential in since they prefer to appeal to a huge demographic rather than target a specific one. But a big game changer is the internet which is already giving television a run for it’s money, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot of rejected TV or movie ideas ending up there since creative people have more freedom when working by themselves.

    So many clichés in my comment. I’ve been away from school far too long XD

    • Unfortunately most people have developed shorter attention spans due to things like the internet. I’ll admit that mine has gotten a lot shorter in the past few years. However, when shows mix in witty dialogue (Bakemonogatari for example) and a new take on an old concept you can’t help but be drawn in. You don’t need CGI and fast paced scenes if you take the time to execute your vision.

      As for implication, I totally agree with what you said on it. I feel that the implication of an action is actually more powerful than seeing the action itself in the type of scenes you mentioned. I’m not sure if you’ve seen Attack on Titan, but they did this sort of thing extremely well at the end of the first episode.

      Also, I agree that the internet is a huge game changer. I actually watch more short films on Youtube than films that are shown in theaters. The ideas are much more fresh and creative.

      • The trend in shorter attention spans is especially prevalent in some little children’s shows. There are so many crazy colors and sounds. It’s like the people who make the shows are on crack XD

        I think Attack on Titan has a pretty good balance. We see a fair share of nameless people get slaughtered(and I don’t mind the blood in that sense), but for scenes like that, the implication somehow makes it worse.

        I’m looking forward to the cool new things we’ll get to see from the internet ^^

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