Why Culture Sucks by John Ganz
There’s something very slight and unsatisfying about recent film, television, art, architecture, design, fashion, cuisine—you name it… It often feels like we’re being fed the cultural equivalent of Soylent, a kind of nutrient-rich goo that we’re supposed to believe does the same thing as food.
In place of art, we have “content,” which in its very conception makes cultural products totally interchangeable, just stuff to fill up space.
See also: The Homogeneity of Millenial Design
20th century modernist avant-garde movements implicitly understood the experience of world-loss and their projects were often about reinvesting the lifeworld with an aesthetic character. They built world-views as much as artworks, trying to come up with new entire styles of architecture, design, novels, poetry, painting, and sculpture.
Pop Culture has Become an Oligopoly by Adam Mastroianni
In every corner of pop culture––movies, TV, music, books, and video games––a smaller and smaller cartel of superstars is claiming a larger and larger share of the market. What used to be winners-take-some has grown into winners-take-most and is now verging on winners-take-all.
See also: Where did the long tail go? by Ted Gioia
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.
Another way to think about it: more opportunities means higher opportunity costs, which could lead to lower risk tolerance.
A couple years back I had an art project that sold shirts, and posted for some advice in a t-shirt forum. The other sellers wished me luck selling original designs: the only thing people wanted to buy, in their experience, were IP that they liked. (I suspect that’s partly true, but also that discoverability is a problem. If you just want a cool t-shirt, it’s a lot of searching and browsing to find something totally new that you like versus looking for a Star Wars shirt.)
Movies, TV, music, books, and video games should expand our consciousness, jumpstart our imaginations, and introduce us to new worlds and stories and feelings. They should alienate us sometimes, or make us mad, or make us think. But they can’t do any of that if they only feed us sequels and spinoffs…
We haven’t fully reckoned with what the cultural oligopoly might be doing to us.
See also: Book industry insights from Penguin Random House merger trial
It’s like anti-entropy: culture converges when profit is the sole motivator, and efficiency is nirvana. Why take risks when the formula works?