The Ghettoization of Hollywood

The easiest way to bypass the culture clash is to turn out action movies that are all sound and fury. The blockbuster has evolved or devolved into a special effects spectacle with completely disposable characters and, increasingly, even actors. It is a form of entertainment that can be enjoyed even without the ability to understand a single word. Which makes it a portable commodity that can play anywhere from Beijing to Bahrain to Boston.

Once again the movie industry is throwing itself a lavish party, one in a series of them, even though there is surprisingly little to celebrate. Movie attendance in 2011 hit a fifteen-year low, and while the industry isn’t doing as badly as its counterparts in the music industry, beneath the greasepaint and glamour, it is panicking every bit as badly.

There’s still plenty of money to be made, but the industry has the clear sense that it has lost its audience. And it has.

The movie industry began, as so much else, with the mass production of theatrical entertainment from classical drama to low vaudeville spectacle. Public entertainment no longer had to be an in-person show repeated anew each time and in each place. Now everyone across the nation and across the world could hear the same soliloquy, see the same pratfall and thrill to adventures that could not be performed on stage.

For all the technology, the movie took American culture and used film to reproduce it in palatable form to large audiences. Like mass produced suits, the cinema took a unique experience and turned it into a universal one. But selling films was much trickier than selling suits and involved far more risks, and while the analogy seems distant, fashion and entertainment have a great deal in common.

When you sell wares that depend on the public taste, you have to try and manipulate that taste while at the same trying to get out in front of it. Both fashion and entertainment frantically chase trends and leap on anything that smacks of youth, while trying to fuse it with their own dated tastes, constantly reviving and retrofitting the old to make it new again. At their worst, both end up selling a product with no content, a product that is all hype, but is not remotely wearable or viewable.

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