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Era of Creativity in American Music, Cinema , Television etc is Over: 1

March 31, 2019 11 comments

Regular readers might be aware of an older post in which I wrote about why the past decade of mainstream movie-making in USA has been full of sequels and reboots rather anything vaguely original. The short version is as follows: the uncritical worship of financialism is behind this and many other (and much larger) systemic problems seen in USA today, from brick-and-mortar retailers dropping like flies to Boeing making some truly atrocious design choices for its 737-Max series. And yes.. ‘late capitalism’ and ‘financialism’ are interchangeable terms- in most contexts. I also wrote another post about how the downstream effects of late capitalism explain the proliferation of ‘superhero’ movies we have seen over the past decade. But how is any of this connected to the title of this post? For starters.. the general lack of creativity we have seen in american music, movies, television, streaming services, video games etc over past ~ 15 years is just another symptom of the same underlying problem.

But before we talk about that problem, let us first spend some time to properly define the issues involved. For example- How does one define creativity and how long did the ‘golden era’ last? Do music sale numbers, box office receipts etc matter and do they affect how we define creativity? So let us begin by discussing all of this and more by using real life examples. That way, I can explain the issues involved in very clear and straightforward terms. Given my greater interest in the visual arts, I will first focus on cinema, television, specialty cable shows and streaming outlets in this part. Here is a good question to start this discussion- Was there ever a ‘golden age’ of american cinema? The answer to that question, while affirmative, is a bit complicated. See.. most people are trained to think that the ‘golden age’ of american cinema was between 1927 and the mid-1950s, when TV started to become the more widespread form of audio-visual entertainment.

I think differently. While cinema was the dominant form of audio-visual entertainment in that era- it was not the ‘golden age’ by any stretch of imagination. The quality and originality of the movies in that era left much to be desired- and that is a huge understatement. While a small part of the blame can be assigned to technology, most of it was a result of how the whole system was run. See.. Hollywood studios were the worst thing that happened to Hollywood- because they were run by losers who cared only about the bottom line and exerting their egos over creative people. That is why movies from that era are so bland, insipid, and unmemorable. Sure.. they made money- but that was largely a consequence to there being no other competing audio-visual media. Also cinema theaters were among the first public places to be air-conditioned. The true golden age of american cinema began after the studio system fell apart in the 1950s and the Hays “moral” code became increasingly irrelevant throughout the 1960s.

The golden age started sometime in the early- to mid- 1960s. And there is something else, which facilitated this era. Today, we think of Hollywood movies as being internationally popular. This was, however, not the case for many decades. Many large European countries had flourishing local film industries for many decades before and, in some case, even after WW2. The Italian, Spanish, German and Russian film industries has tons of very talented directors, producers, actors and the financial means to make and distribute their products. So why did all these other players slowly decline after the 1950s and 1960s. Well.. in the case of film industry in Russia, Germany and other East-European countries, the rise of state communism and promotion of extremely bland control-freaks into position of power resulted in complex regimes of unofficial censorship. People with non-standard worldviews were either silenced or learned to keep quiet.

Let me put it this way.. the majority of memorable and influential movies you can think of simply could not be made in those countries after the early 1960s. Do you think they would have allowed their people to make movies such as Jaws, Star Wars Trilogy, ET, Back to the Future Trilogy, first two Godfather movies, Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Blade Runner, The Matrix, the first Jurassic Park, a couple of the original Indiana Jones etc? But why stop there.. what about the first two or three Police Academy movies, all those teen sex comedies from the 80s and 90s, spoofs with Leslie Nielsen or by Mel Brooks and many.. many more transgressive comedies. My point is that the quality of even mainstream Hollywood movies was pretty good (compared to rest of the world) between the late 1960s and early 2000s. But why was Hollywood able to make and market some pretty amazing movies in those three and a half decades- while the rest of the world kept making the same types of movies they had been making since the 1950s?

Some of you might invoke reasons such as american exceptionalism or Hollywood being run by a certain religio-ethic group. The reality is rather different and it all comes down to a combination of two or three factors that were unique to Hollywood. Firstly, after the late-1960s there wasn’t anywhere near the level of direct and indirect creative censorship as compared to other countries. For example- films in former east-Germany and Russia had to pass multiple rounds of scrutiny by people employed specifically to enforce ideological purity. Or take the case of India, where films that did not adhere to the standard Bollywood format had no chance of getting funded and filmed, let alone distributed. In sharp contrast to that, one could make and raise money for all sorts of crazy sounding ideas (some of which later became cultural landmarks) without the fear of being labelled as a dangerous subversive or a perma-failure in Hollywood.

Then there is the effect of 3-4 decades of post-WW2 opportunity for non-rich or non-connected people to get into the film industry. See.. one of the big differences between the american movie industry and the its equivalents in the rest of the world was that the former let people who were not rich or connected into the movie industry- especially behind the camera. Just look up the biographical details of most iconic movie director, producer, special effects guy etc between the late 1960s and early 2000s and you will see that they did not come from a family who was already established in the industry. but why does this matter? Well.. people who rise to their position by coming out the ‘right’ cunt are usually not the most competent or capable candidates for any given job. In my opinion, this was probably the most importance difference between Hollywood and its equivalents in other countries.

The third reason is linked to how success and failure was treated in Hollywood as compared to its foreign counterparts. Which is really a fancy way of saying that frequent failure was considered an unavoidable part of making movies. A few moderate failures or even a couple of nasty ones was not an automatic death sentence or cause of perpetual ostracism in Hollywood- as long as you had a decent record of success or demonstrable competence. To be clear, I am not saying that the american film industry was some great meritocracy full of fourth and fifth chances or kind altruistic people. But it was significantly better than its counterparts in other countries as long as you were white. It was this combination of factors which allowed the extraordinary three and a half decades ‘golden age’ of Hollywood- from 1968 to 2003. But why did it end at 2003? Let me put it this way, truly significant movies made after 2003 are few and widely spaced.

In the next part, I will go into some detail about why 2003 is the best cut-off point for Hollywood making truly amazing and creative movies. As you will see, it has much more to do with new business models based in financialism, managerialism and other bullshit ideas that are also destroying other industrial sectors in USA. You will also see how similar the demise in this sector is to concurrent demise of others such as pharmaceutical research, physical retail outlets and many more. I will also show you what outcomes these financial and managerial types are targeting and how that explains the demise of creativity. You will also see why these losers were in the back-seat during ‘golden age’ but are now firmly in driver’s seat of this dying car.

What do you think? Comments?