American Art in the Age of Corporate Consolidation
If there has been one uniquely American art form, it has been film. From Marilyn Monroe serenading a youthful, ebullient President Kennedy to George Lucas offering A New Hope in the midst of the Cold War, Hollywood has captured the political and cultural zeitgeist of each successive generation of Americans. But American film, our great contribution to high art, has lately come under assault by corporate conglomerates. The story of Hollywood is the story of America, and its decline forebodes a narrower, more sterile future for all of us.
The Birth of the American Dream
In the mid to late 19th century, a curious thing happened in the West. While Europe was caught in the violent stasis of its imperial concert, America transformed from a rural backwater into the world’s leading industrial power. Endowed with vast stretches of land, limitless resources, a young population of immigrants buoyed by the hope of a New World, and no foreign rivals of which to speak, America built the great arsenal of democracy. As refugees fled famine, despotism, and religious persecution in the Old World, they streamed into the vast expanse of America. From 1870 to 1910, 15 percent of America’s population––the highest percentage in our country’s history––consisted of immigrants. This young, diverse nation, triumphant in war, equipped with capital, and ever confident in a brighter tomorrow, built great railroads from sea to shining sea, wrought the riches of our mines into skyscrapers grazing the heavens, and invented a car that anyone could afford.
While America underwent this economic transformation, it also underwent a similar political transformation. Flush with new vigor from the First Wave of feminists, newly emancipated African-Americans in the North, radical dreamers who had fled to America after failed revolutions in despotic Europe, and a culture of labor solidarity, America converted from an aristocratic republic into a modern democracy. Congress passed the 14th Amendment, securing birthright citizenship for slaves and the children of immigrants. Labor strikes in Chicago and the Midwest raised working-class wages, reduced the workweek, secured protections for workers, and guaranteed the right to a free education for every child in America. The Wisconsin Idea overhauled higher education from a hobby for the elite into the ‘laboratory of democracy,’ with state-backed public universities training technical workers, innovating farming methods for local agriculture, and educating statesmen. It was the invention of the modern university. Milwaukee, populated by a broad coalition of immigrant laborers, elected the first socialist mayors in a major American city. The 17th Amendment took power away from state legislatures and gave the people the power to vote for their own Senators. And after decades of sustained effort, the 19th Amendment was passed, granting women the right to vote.
The American Voice
It is no coincidence that the founding members of the Imagist and Modernist movements, who sought to capture this brave, new world, were Americans, born and raised at the moment of America’s socioeconomic transformation. Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Amy Lowell, and Hilda Doolittle were all Americans, raised in our industrial cities and educated in our flourishing universities. In the simultaneous upswell of American industry and American democracy, American art found its voice in photography and film, the mass-produced, democratic media. A full decade before Parisian Impressionists effected a similar democratizing movement in European art, the American photographer Mathew Brady was already showing the country the horrors of civil war through his pictures. Unlike Impressionist paintings, however, photographs could be mass-produced and made accessible to everyone. Unlike a book of poems or political pamphlet, photographs required no literacy; everyone could understand and appreciate them.
While American artists were embracing democratized styles and forms, the American inventor Thomas Edison created and popularized motion picture cameras, offering yet another visual medium to the artist. In the 1890s, Edison created the first film studio, the Black Maria, and the first movie theater, the Edisonia, in the world. Based in New Jersey, Edison owned the patents to almost all motion picture technology and sued independent filmmakers to protect his intellectual property. Fleeing Edison’s lawyers, filmmakers flocked to sunny Southern California at the other end of America. In 1910, director D.W. Griffith shot In Old California in a neighborhood of Los Angeles called Hollywood. The American film industry was born.
From its origin, Hollywood has aimed to tell the story of America. At the outbreak of World War II, Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator lambasted Adolf Hitler, ascendant fascism, and anti-semitism. When, in the midst of the nuclear arms race, America saw itself as a defender of the West against an encroaching Eastern menace, Hollywood produced El Cid, the violent story of the Reconquista. The Rocky series told the American perspective of the Cold War: a young underdog with heart and nothing to lose conquering the Goliaths of the world. Rocky IV made the Cold War parallel explicit, ending with the scrappy American taking down the machine-like, looming Soviet power.
But Hollywood was no simple utopia. A thoroughly American art form, Hollywood cinema shared all the foibles, prejudices, and virtues of an ascendant America. At the same time that President Wilson was resegregating the federal government, Hollywood produced its first major film: D.W. Griffith’s 1915 The Birth of a Nation, which glorified the Ku Klux Klan and celebrated violent, Jim Crow-era oppression. The incredibly racist President Wilson ignored the protests of the NAACP and went on to screen The Birth of a Nation in the White House. When Americans protested the horrors of Vietnam, Hollywood aired M*A*S*H, a nihilistically whimsical show about army medics in the Korean War, set to the theme song “Suicide is Painless.” One year after the Supreme Court declared interracial marriage legal in Loving v. Virginia, Star Trek boldly portrayed the first interracial kiss on television. When Watergate revealed that the governing party was full of crooks and corrupt President Nixon resigned in disgrace, Hollywood presented the Godfather trilogy. Troubled, sordid, hopeful, confused, and bold, Hollywood told the American story in all its vice and glory with artistic vision and passion. That can no longer be said.
Hollywood’s Golden Age
The appeal of Cold War era American commercialism lay in the ubiquity of its products. The same Coke you drank was the same Coke the President drank, and you could not pay more to get a better version of the product. It was endearing that President Reagan adopted Jelly Belly as his snack of choice, ever present on the campaign trail, in the Oval Office, and at state functions. The President even gave out jars of jelly beans as official gifts to foreign heads of state and other dignitaries. Maybe the most famous commercial ever is Gatorade’s “Be Like Mike” advertisement, marketing the sports drink on the premise that you too could drink the same Gatorade Michael Jordan drinks. You too could be like Mike.
This capitalist egalitarianism manifested itself at the movie theater as well, where the average American, his or her boss, and the President all watched the same films. Although financial records of early films are sparse, a cursory comparison of the highest grossing films of each year against the winners of the Oscar for Best Motion Picture reveals that for a long time, the most artfully rendered movies were the most profitable as well. Thus, the studio executives who financed films and the filmmakers who produced their artistic visions had a mutual interest in producing high-quality art and ensuring as many people as possible could see it. In the period from 1927––the first season for which the Oscars gave out awards––to 1990, there were 15 years when the highest grossing film also won the Oscar for Best Picture. Another 13 times, the highest grossing film was an Oscar nominee. Additionally, there were also several years when the Best Picture was one of the two or three highest grossing films of that year. Rich and poor alike could head to the local theater and see the very best of American cinema.
Ticket prices were affordable, the domestic box office continued to grow, and innovative filmmakers told the American story on the big screen. An oligopoly of the ‘Big Six’ film studios dominated Hollywood, but in America’s Cold War capitalism, the studios maintained a balance of power that split the financial pot fairly evenly. According to one story, on the weekend in 1977 when the original Star Wars premiered, George Lucas, convinced that the movie would flop, went out to dinner at McDonald’s with his wife. Seated inside the restaurant, Lucas looked out the window and noticed a line from the neighborhood movie theater stretching around the block. Burger in hand, he stepped outside and asked what everyone had come to see. When they replied, “Star Wars,” he realized that the movie might not have been such a failure, after all. The story of the young, destitute, romantic artist pursuing his dream encapsulated the endearing spirit of classical Hollywood. But that era has passed.
From the year 1991 on, the highest grossing films have rarely appeared on the Oscar nominations list.
In fact, of the top 10 highest grossing films of each year from 2010 to 2019––100 movies in all––just five were even nominated for the Best Picture category. In part, the growing disconnect between a movie’s profitability and its potential for Oscar success can be attributed to the rapid growth of the industry. From 1930 to 1990, the industry reliably produced a steady number of films––about 500––each year. That number then tripled over the next two decades to 1645 movies in 2012. Perhaps it was inevitable that as the number of films proliferated, it would be harder and harder for general audiences to encounter the same top movies that critics would.
However, a more obvious connection comes in the form of expanding blockbuster budgets. The highest grossing films without Oscar nominations of the 20th century tended to be movies like Disney’s animated films, which were of a different format entirely than the typical live-action productions. Almost all of the most profitable films since 1991 have instead been large, live-action films, with massive budgets, big-name stars, and the most advanced special effects. The fact that they consistently fail to earn any Oscar nominations suggests that the industry has circumscribed the boundaries of artful storytelling by an inviolable emphasis on profitability. The eponymous Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) is by no means a perfect, or even unbiased, judge of movies. Nevertheless, it is an organization of professionals giving their expert opinions. The routinely dismissive attitude of the Academy toward Hollywood’s latest blockbusters, when coupled with poor audience reviews (as demonstrated below), offers a consensus opinion on the mediocre state of the contemporary film industry.
The connection between big budgets and bad storytelling has not just been an occasional correlation, but a nearly universal pattern. In the 1980s, the highest grossing films averaged a budget of around $20 to $30 million. But starting with 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which had a budget of $50 million, Hollywood’s biggest hits turned into ludicrously expensive investments. In 1997, Titanic became the first movie with a budget of $200 million. 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War may have cost $400 million to film.
The cost to produce a modern Hollywood blockbuster is a substantial stumbling block for artistic innovation. Every major film has now become a $200 million gamble, and no one wants to bet with that kind of money. In order to get past a pitch meeting, directors need to point to previous iterations of their type of film that have been profitable. They need to follow established and well-trodden paths to financial success in order to convince studio executives that their film is a good investment. This explains the relentless wave of Disney sequels and remakes that has dominated the American film industry. If you consider the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) or DC Extended Universe (DCEU) a sequel within a larger series, then of the 10 highest grossing films of each of the last three years (2017-2019), only one has been an original movie. The other 29 are all live-action remakes of animated Disney films or the latest sequel in established film franchises.
The storylines of Hollywood blockbusters have become so familiar and cliché that subversion itself now seems a virtue. The early seasons of Game of Thrones and Star Wars: The Last Jedi built their entire identities on the virtue of being subversive. When Warner Bros. tried to recreate the MCU with their DCEU, they initially opted for a darker, grittier tone as a subversion of the light-hearted MCU. In the banalization of American blockbusters, one of the few genres to consistently offer fresh and innovative content has been the horror movie genre, as demonstrated by break-out hits like Jordan Peele’s 2017 Get Out. This is largely because the horror genre is so antithetical to the lighthearted, mainstream style that it maintains a modicum of independence from the Hollywood status quo. Bloated budgets scared studio executives from taking creative risks that might gamble away their expensive investments, leaving the average moviegoer with a generic selection of unspectacular options.
As Hollywood budgets have increased, so has the price of admission. In 1950, it cost just $0.46, or just under $5 in today’s money, to buy a ticket. In 2016, it was nearly double that, at about $9 a ticket, on average. At a suburban movie theater, a family of four might easily spend $50 on a single trip to the movies, before popcorn and drinks. Meanwhile, a Netflix family subscription costs just $16 a month. For just $16, all four members of the family can watch different movies on different screens at the same time, all in ultra high definition. With the recent cornucopia of high-quality streaming services, a movie must have a much more enticing draw to attract an audience to the theater than it once did. This means that aside from the latest Star Wars sequel or superhero blockbuster, which carry cultural currency, there are few compelling enough reasons for the casual audience member to head to the movies. The stunting of Hollywood’s creative capacity thus contributed to the stagnation of the American box office.
In the 1980s, the domestic box office more than doubled from $1.6 billion in 1980 to $4.3 billion in 1990. In the 1990s, the figure doubled again to $9 billion in 2002. But then, Hollywood’s economic momentum died. Over the following two decades, the domestic box office hit a hard plateau. In 2019, the box office totaled just over $11 billion. For context, if the 2002 figure had just kept pace with rising inflation, 2019’s box office total should have been nearly $13 billion.
Perhaps no filmmaker has been as influential upon the modern Hollywood film as director James Cameron. In 1997, Cameron released his feature film Titanic. Equipped with an unprecedented $200 million budget, scored to a soaring soundtrack, and enhanced by state of the art graphic effects, Titanic made Leonardo di Caprio an instant star and changed the audience expectation of a Hollywood film. In order to tell the story of the Titanic anew, director James Cameron built a full-scale 744-ft ship replica, a 5,000,000 gallon mini-ocean, spent almost half a year in filming alone, and used novel computer generation techniques to plant thousands of extras into his film. Each minute of footage in the three-hour film cost more than $1 million to produce. In a film endowed with the best visual effects, cinematography, and lavish props that money could buy, one could be forgiven for forgetting that the story of RMS Titanic is the story of human hubris, an arrogant fideism to man’s creation, and subsequent tragedy.
Cameron’s Titanic played before an America so confident in the strength of its economy, the reliability of its governance, and the security of its borders that political philosophers could declare an “End of History.” Just three years after Titanic premiered, the terrorist group al-Qaeda launched four simultaneous attacks on the pillars of American military, economic, and political strength, driving hijacked airplanes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, with a fourth plane nearly hitting the Capitol Building in D.C. As the Twin Towers came crashing down, al-Qaeda shattered the myth of American invulnerability. Congress enabled an imperial presidency via the first Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), President Bush invaded the Middle East, and America began its unending War on Terror.
The Empire Strikes Back
In 2005, Disney announced that the ambitious Bob Iger would become its new CEO. At the time, Disney’s stock market evaluation sat at $26 a share. One year into his tenure, Iger arranged for Disney to buy out Steve Jobs’s Pixar, Inc. for $7.6 billion in stock, aggressively consolidating Disney’s hegemony of the American animation industry. In 2009, Disney gambled again when it bought Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion. Within three short years, Disney would release The Avengers, and the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe was born. Later in 2012, Disney bought Lucasfilm for another $4 billion, acquiring the rights to the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises. Finally, in 2018, Disney acquired 21st Century Fox for a staggering $71.3 billion, annexing one of the ‘Big Six’ Hollywood studios. In just over a decade, Iger assembled a media empire that dominates network television, the small screen, and the big screen. As of 2019, with the success of the 21st Century Fox merger pending, Disney has recouped its initial investment and reaped billions of dollars in profit from every one of its acquisitions. When Bob Iger initially stepped down from his role as CEO in January, 2020, Disney stock stood at $148 per share.
Although Hollywood has long been an oligopoly, as epitomized by the formerly ‘Big Six’ (after Disney’s 21st Century Fox acquisition, ‘Big Five’) film studios’ control of the industry, Disney has changed an oligopoly into a monopoly of the big screen. In 1990, for example, of the 10 highest grossing films, the parent companies Universal, 20th Century Fox (the former name for 21st Century Fox), and Time Warner (now known as WarnerMedia) could each claim two, but the domestic box office was split more or less equitably. Meanwhile, in 2019, Disney alone owned seven of the top 10 grossing films, squeezing out all other competitors.
Movies are filmed and produced by a production company, and then marketed and released by a distribution company, who share the project’s costs and revenues. In the past, different studios would often jointly finance films, meaning multiple companies benefited from the success of one film. Titanic was able to secure its impressive budget because it was a joint venture between Paramount and 20th Century Fox. Even today, most indie films today are produced by an independent studio and then distributed by one of the ‘Big Five’ companies. However, with multiple production companies in its toolshed, Disney is able to both produce and distribute its big hits. Every one of the seven heavy hitters Disney put out in 2019 was produced and distributed in-house, so the company could keep all of their earnings to itself.
Market research tells us that the average moviegoer heads to the theaters about four times a year. Disney’s corporate strategy has been to build or acquire enough brands appealing to enough different audiences that they can capture nearly the entire moviegoing market. If moviegoers are going to head to the theater four times a year, Disney wants to get their tickets all four times. For families with young children, Disney retains its iconic brand through live-action remakes of classics like 2019’s Lion King and novel additions to its animated lineup like 2013’s Frozen. For the teenage and young adult audiences, Disney offers up the sprawling MCU, whose films rely upon so much continuity from previous iterations of the franchise that audiences feel compelled to stay up to date. So far, the MCU has released 23 films with at least 14 more in various stages of development. In addition, Disney is also responsible for the last five Star Wars films with at least six more on the way in the near future.
Beyond scale, there is nothing unique about Disney’s strategy; the company is doing only that which every other studio wishes it could. Therein lies the problem. Perched atop the pyramid of Hollywood, Disney’s movies aggressively conform to the status quo. Audiences come to the theater knowing exactly what to expect, when in the movie to expect it, and how they will feel when they leave the theater. This is absolutely intentional. Market research for movies has become so meticulous that directors now routinely adjust plot details, the length of films, the designs of characters, and even the screen time of and emphasis on different characters in order to meet demand. Every Marvel movie offers some bland stew of highly choreographed fight scenes, expensive explosions, heavy-handed romantic coupling (some of this romantic pairing has bordered on the mind-bogglingly absurd, as when Captain America buried his lover in Civil War and then, in immediate need of a new love interest, made out with her great-niece a few days later), meaningless faux sacrifice, and a cheesy, happy ending that lets moviegoers leave the theater with a smile and come back for their next installment in a few months’ time. At its worst, the MCU is Power Rangers for young adults.
In addition to Oscars failure, Disney’s blockbuster model has garnered lackluster audience reviews. Of the five live-action remakes Disney released in 2019, the best-rated film received a 66 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. The films averaged a collective 53 percent, “rotten” score. Disney’s five Star Wars films averaged a 77 percent score, in comparison to the 89 percent score of the original trilogy. And even though Disney’s MCU films have consistently received positive fan reviews, the best-rated movies in the franchise are the most subversive films in the genre. Black Panther, which has the highest Rotten Tomatoes rating of any MCU movie at 97 percent fresh, is not a superhero movie so much as it is a biblical brotherhood tale in the mold of the Book of Genesis. Thor: Ragnarok (at 93 percent fresh) leaves behind the brooding character of the earlier MCU films for a slapstick, oddball comedy told through the fresh lens of director Taika Waititi. Logan (also at 93 percent fresh), the last of the Wolverine series, abandons the superhero genre entirely to offer a gory, dark retelling of the classic Hollywood western. Deprived of originality and innovation in the generic blockbuster, Oscar critics and everyday moviegoers alike respond enthusiastically to fresh voices and stories.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with Disney’s family-friendly brand; it is only meeting a market demand. In response to criticism over his style, Transformers creator Michael Bay once snapped: “I make movies for teenage boys. Oh, dear, what a crime.” If there were no demand for the current set of Disney movies, then the company would adopt a different tone and sensibility to match what audiences wanted to say. But at a time when most Americans are going to the movies less and less frequently, Disney crowding out the market prevents and precludes the average American from watching high-quality art. There is a cultural, social imperative to watch the films everyone else is watching, which tends to be the Disney blockbusters; there is no such motivating pressure to watch an original story told by a visionary director.
The monopolization of American cinema lies within a larger trend of monopolization across American industries. In the post-Cold War period, corporate mergers have thinned out major competitors and established entrenched monopolies atop the American economy. As working class wages have stagnated, fewer and fewer individuals are splitting a larger and larger share of the pot. While our nation remains the richest country in the history of the world, our infrastructure crumbles for lack of attention and 40 million Americans live in abject poverty. The contrasting trends of increased profit for the very wealthy and stagnating wages for the rest of us have established a new Gilded Age.
Like always, the state of Hollywood reflects the state of America: as the world’s latest empire has grown listless and self-indulgent, Hollywood has regressed into an infantile stasis. Our blockbusters portray a papered-over world where there are clear “good guys” and “bad guys,” our heroes rarely suffer any meaningful consequences for their actions, and we can rest assured that everything will go back to the way it once was. Garbed in faux Jedi robes and wielding toy lightsabers, generations of fans pay billions of dollars to the world’s greatest media empire for the chance to cheer on fictional rebels resisting a fictional imperial power.
Economic Inequality at the Cinema: Why Nobody Watches the Oscars, Anymore
As with everything else in American life, the movie theater has become segregated along class lines. Movie critics and a certain privileged class of socially suave Americans, who can afford to go to the cinema often, can afford to watch both the big-budget, popular films and Oscar-nominated works of art. But most Americans––who visit the theater just a handful of times throughout the year––only have the time and money to watch the big-name blockbusters that everyone else is talking about: superhero movies, the latest Star Wars films, animated Disney hits, and their live-action remakes.
Since 2014, Hollywood has noted, with trepidation, the precipitous drop in viewership of the Oscars. The award ceremony went from averaging 40 million viewers in 2014 to just 23.6 million in 2020. A comparison of which movies are nominated for Oscars and which movies general audiences watch reveals the basic problem: no one outside of Hollywood recognizes the movies up for awards at the Oscars, anymore. In the leadup to awards season, the 2018 Oscar for Best Picture was favored to go to Roma, a Mexican film released to American audiences via Netflix just weeks before the ceremony. The 2019 Academy Award famously went to the South Korean film Parasite, the first non-English language movie to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Increasingly, the best storytelling in cinema is becoming more and more exclusive. Unlike Coca-Cola, Jelly Belly, or Gatorade, if you can afford to go to the theater more often, you actually can get a better product. Hollywood, and American commercialism, has lost its ubiquitous appeal.
The Last of the Auteurs
Although Disney has boxed out its competitors at the box office, it has never won an Academy Award for Best Picture. Part of this can be attributed to the longstanding reputation of animated films as less professional or less developed works of art. Nevertheless, that the industry hegemon seems almost indifferent to pursuing cinema’s best art indicates a fundamental disconnect between profit and artistic innovation. Whereas the best movies were once Hollywood’s most profitable films, the best movies are now international films or the creative projects of low-budget, independent studios. Parasite, the 2019 Best Picture winner, had a budget of just $11 million.
In 2019, the one Disney (21st Century Fox) film to receive an Oscars nomination was the satire Jojo Rabbit, with a minuscule budget of $14 million and revenue of $90 million. Most of 2019’s Oscar-nominated films were produced by independent or foreign studios. Almost every nominee was created by a different production company, which then licensed distribution rights to a major company. Even the distribution was spread out rather equitably; of the nine nominees, Disney, Netflix, and Sony each distributed two.
Unfortunately, these small-budget films, although artistically sophisticated and innovative, yield paltry profits. Despite its Oscars success, Parasite made a modest $250 million worldwide. For comparison’s sake, Avengers: Endgame drew $2.8 billion at the box office. It is simply not worth a major studio’s time or money to finance the best contemporary cinema. If a studio wants to keep up with the Disney juggernaut, they need to create blockbusters of their own. Thus, fewer and fewer studios can afford to give directors the chance to tell compelling stories.
The many studios recognized for their work in 2019 demonstrates that there remains a niche audience for these low-budget, creative projects. However, those studios’ films make, at most, modest revenue returns, which then have to be split multiple ways with distributors. It is not a secure financial model for a studio’s long-term survival. And, of course, if one day there is money to be had in the creative work of these independent companies, one of the ‘Big Five’ studios will be all too eager to swallow up the competition before it gets too big, much as Disney has done with its many former competitors. Soon, there may not be anyone left to tell interesting stories on the big screen.
Monopoly at the Top; Democracy at the Bottom
With a monopoly of the big screen squeezing out opportunities for filmmakers to pursue their artistic visions, it may seem that the small screen has become the last great refuge for the auteur. Unfortunately, the problem of corporate finance extends to the small screen as well. In 2016, Netflix spent more than $6 billion financing TV shows. The Crown alone cost more than $130 million to create. Disney Plus’s The Mandalorian cost $100 million to produce and the company’s Marvel spin-off shows are estimated to cost up to $200 million each, or about $25 million per episode. The exact same fiscal dynamics that have crowded out innovative filmmakers from the big screen will soon crowd out storytellers from the small screen as well. And then, what’s left?
In his canonical 1936 essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” the German-Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin theorized that film would become the most democratic artistic medium, as it allowed anyone to become involved in creative production. By becoming an extra or getting a camera and filming something oneself, anyone could quickly acquire a modicum of expertise in the field. A century later, YouTube has turned Benjamin’s prediction into prophecy.
Perhaps YouTube is the ultimate encapsulation of the American art form, democracy at its purest. On the platform, content is produced by the people, for the people, and judged in real time by the reactions of the people. But without leaders in the art of filmmaking who can drive the global conversation, a democracy of art devolves into a cacophony of sound. What Hollywood can do is provide a platform to the leading voices of a generation, and serve as a gatekeeper to a professional artistic conversation. In this way, Hollywood may be like an academic journal, providing a format and medium for the most visionary leaders in a field to demonstrate that field’s latest techniques, innovations, and improvements. In Hollywood’s Golden Age, the great filmmakers could shape an art form.
YouTube’s ‘recommended’ algorithm cannot replicate Hollywood’s promotional industry. If George Lucas released Star Wars on a social media site today, it is hard to believe that the imaginative film would have anywhere near the cultural impact it did. Most likely, Star Wars would find a niche, cult audience, and quietly occupy its lonely corner of the internet.
Squeezed between a corporate monopoly of the big and small screens and a mass of voices on the mobile screen, the cinematic artists of today find fewer and fewer avenues through which to share their stories. For better or worse, Hollywood is synonymous with America, and its decline into corporate consolidation marks the beginning of a sad chapter in America’s socioeconomic development. The heroic, free spirited underdogs of Hollywood in whom America took pride––Han Solo and Princess Leia, Indiana Jones, Captain America, Jack Sparrow, Wolverine, and Moana––all work for Disney now. The movie theater, which has always been an escape for Americans, a chance to see the world anew through the eyes of daring artists, now offers little more than different flavors of the same, precisely market-researched, emotionally hollow story that the same media hegemon tells again and again.