Creative slump

According to Variety’s Peter Bart, the entertainment industry suffered through a disquieting 2005. Among other problems, he says,

    • Box office is down 5%, and a couple of the major studios are wracked by rumors of management change.
    • Album sales have dwindled by 7.8%, and volume at Virgin Megastores alone is down nearly 20%.
    • Videogame sales are sagging badly despite the heralded introduction of the Xbox 360.

The all-fronts decline is leading to what Bart terms “a curious form of creative paralysis.”  Clearly the old ideas aren’t working, but embracing new ideas means taking chances, with no guarantees.

We’re in a time when the owners of the entertainment media cannot seem to produce any cultural artifact that is a “must-see” or “must-hear.”  Everything is so denatured now. Too many films are written to a formula you could set your watch by.  Too many creative bets are hedged.

The corporate massaging of ideas into products creates a culture with few stories to guide us, few characters to identify with.  The romantic movies teach us nothing about romance.  The adventures teach us nothing about being a hero. The comedies teach nothing about the foibles of humanity.

People used to walk out of the movie theater in the style of the lead character, talking like him (or her), even breathing the same way.  Do moviegoers today want to emulate Ben Stiller, or Jennifer Aniston, or Adam Sandler, or Cameron Diaz? They’re like bad guests at a party, memorable mainly for being annoying.

It’s a cycle; sooner or later a “barbaric yawp” will break through, and inspire a new rush of great filmed stories. But the trough we’re in now is going to cost a lot of people their jobs, which is Bart’s main concern.  He’s an insider.  For those of us in the audience, and for creative people on the outside looking in, it might be addition by subtraction.

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