Conservative sources often decry the fact that entertainment media do not re-evaluate their nihilistic direction despite faring poorly in terms of rating and numbers in recent years.
But could we look at the matter from another angle? What if Hollywood has lost the power to change, even if stasis kills it?
Let’s look at some thoughts from industry sympathizers on what’s happened in recent years. Jeffrey Fleishman of the LA Times argued that the Oscars have “lost their mojo”:
“The American audience for the Oscars has steadily fallen, from 46.3 million in 2000 to about 32.9 million last year… The Oscars face a number of problems over their relevance. They are not hip or clever enough to draw in the young, and they don't honor enough blockbuster titles to entice the popcorn set.
The show's political asides, less brave than long overdue, and moments of industry self-deprecation, more calculated than pure, fail to capture, even though they will jab at them, the deeper currents of our visceral #hashtag times.”
Fleishman thinks that more than a thousand times more people on the planet watched World Cup soccer than the Oscars. Hype aimed at advertisers aside, that could well be true.
According to Nick Bilton of Vanity Fair:
“Show business, in many ways, has entered a vicious cycle set off by larger economic forces. Some 70 percent of box office comes from abroad, which means that studios must traffic in the sort of blow-’em-up action films and comic-book thrillers that translate easily enough to Mandarin. Or in reboots and sequels that rely on existing intellectual property.
But even that formula has dried up. Chinese firms, including Dalian Wanda, are rabidly acquiring companies such as Legendary Entertainment, AMC, and Carmike Cinemas, a smaller theater chain, with an apparent goal of learning how Hollywood does what it does so China can do it better.
As The Wall Street Journal reported last summer, more sequels bombed than did not. Fortune called it 'a summer of big flops'. MGM’s Ben-Hur, which was produced by Mark Burnett, cost $100 million and yet grossed only $11 million in its opening weekend.”
Independent films are rising in importance:
“Indeed, 78 of the Oscar nominations this year are for movies produced by companies outside the six major studios, according to the Independent Film & Television Alliance. That's 31 more than last year and 20 more than in 2015. (The data include the record-tying 14 nominations for best-picture favorite “La La Land,” the $30-million musical made by mini-major Lionsgate).”
In 2016, Richard Brodie asked at the New Yorker whether”
“What if, in a time of YouTube and streaming video, the pipeline-hustle of seeking distribution and awaiting theatrical release, as well as the prospect of standing hat-in-hand before the gatekeepers of release and review, suddenly seem antithetical to the spirit of the cinema itself?”
And so now? Here's a thought: the Hollywood figures who, for example, rant predictably against the current American president at awards festivals are not losing ratings as a result of doing so. Rather, they are doing so because they are already losing ratings.
Hollywood was always accepted as outrageous but it also used to matter much more than it does today. One outcome was that Hollywood could not just be completely out of touch with American audiences.
For example, during World War II, Hollywood was firmly on the side of democracy because, among other things, it simply could not have been on the side of Hitler and retained much of an audience. Later, Hollywood would experiment with communism and anti-war culture. But those were potentially Cool cultural choices among the people who paid to see movies.
Today, the awardee ranting into the mike may sound more like your boring uncle at a family dinner than like your secret heartthrob. Which means that something has definitely changed.
Last year, comedienne Kathy Griffin held up an image of Donald Trump’s severed head. It was not a great career move for her. But in the 1960s, when Hollywood mattered more, it would not as likely to have happened either. Assassination was not a joke.
Average filmgoers who strongly disagreed with John or Robert Kennedy or Martin Luther King (all assassinated) on policy issues might think she should be investigated by police. Today, her stance is more okay with audiences but that’s not because we are freer. It is mainly because no one takes Griffin—or Hollywood in general—seriously in the way we used to.
And the future? One possibility is that Hollywood could just decline quietly, in an age when media startups are cheap and easy. But it could also apply for government bailouts, as the Canadian news media industry is currently trying to do. Hollywood will then be a lobby of government dependents in a world where citizens who are required by law to fund it are actually watching something else.
Denyse O’Leary is an Ottawa-based author, blogger, and journalist.