A Bland Apart Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2013-11-19 15:00:00 No comments

Supply, Demand, and English Food

... the whole point of a market system is supposed to be that it serves consumers, providing us with what we want and thereby maximizing our collective welfare. But the history of English food suggests that even on so basic a matter as eating, a free-market economy can get trapped for an extended period in a bad equilibrium in which good things are not demanded because they have never been supplied, and are not supplied because not enough people demand them.

You could swap "movies" for "food" in this essay -- or books, or any other cultural product -- and the formula would still work.

The way my friend Steven Savage put this is also illuminating. Diversity has the same function in culture that it does in a biosphere: it encourages a healthy immune system. A monoculture has no such immunity, and will happily devour itself in an attempt to deliver maximum profit off minimum diversity (and total blandness).

This is why I get uneasy about making most every movie into some variation on The Avengersas I put it before. It's not that I think that's a bad movie; it's because that's a bad model to follow unilaterally, because it crowds everything else out, and makes everything into the same generic overstuffed, overhyped puff pastry product.

So, fine, we all know this (if only because I refuse to stop whining about it). What's the solution?

Well, for one, fostering diversity at a grassroots level, but I think what's at least as important is implementing a certain leveling-of-attention effect in media. For every Avengers that comes out, the media that zooms in on such stuff should do their best to talk about two other things that aren't automatically on that level.

Some of the fansites I've seen do this quite avidly, which is nice -- they assume that the A-list stuff is going to get all the coverage it can stand anyway, and so they round out their rosters with more peeking in the nooks and crannies.

But those are fansites. The same thirst for newness and difference needs to take hold in the bigger outlets, too. Unfortunately, when the boffo stuff pays all their bills and then some, what's their incentive? Barring the tastes of this columnist or that blogger, none whatsoever.

Tags: culture distribution marketing monoculture movies