Thursday, July 17, 2008

Why Hollywood Sucks: No Middle Class

Recently, Will Smith in a Woman's Day interview disclosed he has an "open" marriage. [Hat Tip: Dirty Harry.] Note that many of the female commenters on the link approved of the arrangement, with laughable ideas such as "jealousy is learned emotion," nevertheless it's fascinating to see Smith's destruction as a movie star. All starting from this ill-advised statement ... telling fans he does indeed act like a movie star in his personal life.

Just as fascinating was the recent interview with Eliza Dushku ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Tru Calling") on how the concept for her new mid-season TV series, "Dollhouse" mirrors her life as a young actress in Hollywood. [Her character is some sort of clone who performs secret missions for a private company, then has her memory wiped clean at the end of each mission.]

Together, these two interviews show why Hollywood sucks. It has no middle class, and the people in charge can't make movies or television shows that appeal to ... the middle class.

Hollywood's creative class is fairly incestuous. Far too many writers and producers come from the Harvard Mafia, at one point 10 of the 12 "Simpsons" writers were from Harvard. Many others are second, or even third generation Hollywood Writers, like Joss Whedon. These are hardly backgrounds that give people an understanding of middle class values and concerns.

Instead, Hollywood is dominated by concerns ... of the upper class. Status competition, often hard left informed status competition, tend to dominate life in the Hollywood bubble, and dominate the projects it creates. As opinion writer Paul Campos put it, Hollywood's creative people live in a Jay Gatsby world. It's feminism, marxism, existentialism, all shaped by the need to get into that Kabalah class (because Madonna's attending it) before the neighbor. The type of attitudes parodied by Larry David in "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Except in Hollywood, that's not played for laughs.

Of course "Dollhouse" will flop like "Supertrain" and "Pink Lady and Jeff," because while Eliza Dushku is a talented actress, her life is one that few people can relate to, or would have much interest in. Americans are only interested in Celebrities when they're caught doing something stupid and/or illegal, and then Americans like to laugh at them. Most of America is Middle Class. They are interested in stories about (idealized) versions of themselves. Young women in and of themselves are not enough to make a network, let alone a show purveying teen-girl princess fantasies, profitable, as I wrote in my post "Gossip Girl and the Aging of America." Given that "Dollhouse" can't even offer a princess fantasy, (it's an upper class "fantasy" of victimization, where of course the career travails of a Hollywood actress competing for million dollar paydays somehow makes one a victim, as opposed to say, being hacked to death by the local death squad in the Third World), the only question is how quickly it will be pulled. Or perhaps, just how bad it will be.

And of course, Will Smith is on the downward slide. Movie stars have to appeal to their own gender. Smith's role has been the largely care-free, heroic good guy that appeals to America's middle class men. They're unlikely to be happy with Smith's revelation that he's more George Clooney playboy than family man, and America's middle class men are likely to punish Smith by ... not seeing his movies as much. For most men, struggling with declining wages and rising costs, the middle class family is something to be treasured. The hedonistic lifestyle of playboys like Clooney or Smith is simply beyond their lifestyle and they resent it and it's practitioners. Clooney's been box office poison in any movie without "Oceans" in the title, and Smith is likely to follow him down, bumping into Tom Cruise along the way.

But Hollywood's nepotistic attitudes, particularly among writer/producers, keeps the focus inward. Instead of outwards, towards middle class values and interests. I wrote about Hollywood's heroism deficit but it has a love deficit as well. Hollywood's startling inability to tell romance stories, a few people like Judd Apatow notwithstanding, is the result of the inward focus on the status and power and wealth competition. Of course Smith has to reveal he's a "playa," and doesn't care about his public image -- he's in competition with George Clooney for playboy of the year status and nothing else matters. Too much wealth, for too long, has made Hollywood indeed like spoiled aristocrats on the eve of 1789.

If the primary concern of storytellers is getting over the next guy, with the first Prius on the Block, or out-competing the playboy, or getting in that Kabalah class, then of course romance, which is above all a working/middle class concern, is going to be impossible to tell. When your true love is in the mirror, it's hard to find room for anyone else in your heart. No wonder Hollywood sucks.
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Monday, July 14, 2008

Death of the Niche Market

The death of the niche market is upon us. This has profound implications for our cultural life, which had been on a twenty year slide towards ever-greater fragmentation.

First, the background. Ever since the 1980's, American cultural life has been fragmenting. First, with the growth of technology allowing catering to diverse and discrete tastes in television and music. Cable and later Satellite TV allowed television watchers to follow Golf, or Motorsports, or Women's programming exclusively. Not to mention upscale pay channels like HBO or Showtime, home of Tony Soprano and "Weeds" respectively. Music too, particularly popular music, became fragmented, with Punk, Alternative, and Rap forming myriad sub-genres and cultures oriented around them. Everything from Christian Punk to "clean" Rap have fans and a following and of course, fashion and rules for belonging. The internet of course intensified this fragmentation, with first newsgroups, then forums and blogs for the like minded to discuss, say the latest obscure Manga comics, or dance bands from the UK. But all this started back in the 1980's, as anyone who watched the interplay between Goth fans of say, the Cure, and Rockabilly fans of LA based X can attest.

Nor was this phenomena limited to the entertainment sphere. The phenomenal growth of niche retailers like Sharper Image, or Steve & Barry's attests to both the opportunity to cater to consumers demand for unique retail institutions and consumer's willingness to pay top dollar at such places. The growth of the mega-mall, with many small retail spaces expecting lots of passers by and traffic (generated by "anchor" department stores and/or other big draws) allowed retailers the opportunity to reach enough customers without massive advertising and marketing expenditures. Consumers, with rising wages, and lowered costs for food and energy (in real, inflation adjusted terms) were willing to pay extra to possess goods that differentiated them from everyone else.

This had an effect on advertising, much of which supports popular culture, particularly television. NBC built it's whole strategy from the 1980's onward towards appealing to a more wealthy audience, even if that meant sacrificing the size of the audience. Shows such as "Hill Street Blues," "St. Elsewhere," and "Homicide: Life on the Street," may not have garnered great ratings, but the critical acclaim and halo effect of the "snob appeal" helped cement NBC as the network for wealthy, status-conscious yuppies in the 1980's and 1990's. A tradition carried on with such shows as "My Name Is Earl," whose premise is amusing wealthy urbanites with the foibles of rural, "white trash" working class people. Think of it as a reverse "Beverly Hillbillies" where it's Mr. Drysdale laughing at Jed Clampett.

Most of popular culture has been aimed at ever more "selective" fanbases, to paraphrase the movie "Spinal Tap." Advertisers would pay money to reach selected demographics, mostly young people, and consumers were eager and able to pay money to listen to niche music, watch niche television, and buy niche products. All in an effort in a mass-consumer society to maintain a distinct and individual identity. Which ironically of course was itself a product of the mass-consumer society.

All of this process however, required money. Not just consumer niche spending, driving advertising spending on niche outlets, but investment capital as well. The print version of the Wall Street Journal, July 14, 2008, has a front page story on how retailer Steve & Barry relied on payments from mall owners desperate to replace absent Department Store anchors (closure of the former anchors a product of consolidation brought on by ... yes you guessed it, fragmentation of consumer retail spending). It was these payments, not continuing retail operations, that fueled the company's growth. Mall owners, heavily leveraged and victims of the ongoing credit crises, were unable to keep up the payments and Steve & Barry's filed for bankruptcy on Wed, July 9, 2008.

Just as in my post, Gossip Girl and the Aging of America, niche plays for audience or shoppers don't work in economic downturns. America has had an extraordinary run of more than twenty years of continuing economic growth, wage growth, low fuel and food prices, all allowing consumers spare money to spend on creating or maintaining a "niche" identity. That's coming to an end.

The print edition of the Wall Street Journal on Friday, July 11, 2008 reports that consumers are changing their spending habits radically, altering profoundly the retail landscape. Fair use excerpt below:

"There has been a major shift in thinking by shoppers," says Thom Blischok, head of consulting at Information Resources Inc., which tracks spending on consumer goods. "Consumers are moving away from availability to affordability."

Wal-Mart reported it's best monthly sales gain in four years, benefiting from bargain hunting. Coupon redemptions have increased, halting a 15 year slide. The Toyota Corolla has displaced the Ford F-150 as America's best selling vehicle. Consumer confidence has dropped 38% from January 2007. Borders and Circuit City are reporting large sales declines as consumers, pressed by spiraling gas/energy and food prices, curtail all but essential spending. Consultants studies suggest that vitamin water, 100-calorie snack packages, and children's lunches in a tray are being replaced by tap water, value packed snacks, and home-made lunches respectively.

Retailers and manufacturers are weeding out niche products that don't have mass appeal. Some retailers are already dropping suppliers and products that don't generate big sales.

OK, what does this all mean?

It means that Satellite Radio may just not be the wave of the future. Lacking enough subscribers in a recession to cover the costs of expensive contracts with the NFL or personalities like Howard Stern. Broadcast radio, free and over the airwaves, may well attract more advertisers looking to reach the masses, since the niche market simply won't exist in many cases. Morning and evening drive time radio will be filled with broader-appealing music, and sports. Niche radio stations, particularly "Alternative" or College-radio music stations, are likely to be sold or changed over to more popular formats such as all-talk, or sports, to draw better advertiser rates. Remember, the consequence of the baby bust means that there are 8 million more seniors than young people. Alternative or College-rock radio stations in small markets are particularly vulnerable.

Musically, popular bands are going to get older. Audience wise at least. There simply won't be enough disposable income to be spread over untried, unknown bands. Live music venues in the smaller range, the incubator of pop music innovation, have already been in decline since the mid 1990's, with the decline of the numbers of young people and the aging of the former youth cohorts. New bands will still exist, coming into the public view. But there won't be that many of them, and their goal will be to move towards the center where the money is, and gaining mass popularity. Likely gone are the days where cult bands could profitably cultivate a more "selective" appeal and tour across America making money. The decline of the CD and high prices relative to buying a single song on say, the Itunes store via Apple makes record sales a dicey proposition for even self-financed bands. Most bands make money touring, not by recording, and that won't change. Just the orientation of the music, to include older fans because there simply won't be enough money to support a youth-only cult band.

Movies, though not subject to the demands of advertisers, are still a mass medium. Sales at discounters like Best Buy, or even the local supermarket guarantee that reality. As do continued price pressure from brazen pirates selling DVDs at local swap meets and flea markets, often supplied by China or other places beyond the reach of US law. Film makers like Judd Apatow are likely to be successful, with more culturally conservative messages (carefully hidden behind profanity), while edgy/hip film makers like Steve Soderburgh will find that audiences are not in a mood to be shocked with edgy material, but will demand entertainment satisfaction. With discretionary income limited, a few movies will be mega-hits, the rest will have to eke out small box office receipts and DVD rentals. It's likely that DVD sales of movies (and television shows) will have to be heavily discounted, as consumers just won't spend that much money on them with essentials so pricey.

In television, the CW is doomed unless it can broaden it's appeal beyond teen age girls. Given the strong perception that the network is not testosterone friendly, this is likely to be a Sisyphean task. Other networks will face large challenges in their fall schedules. Much of their current programming, and new fall or mid-winter shows were ordered under the old economic climate, with niche programming abounding. NBC's "Heroes" is likely to show continued declines, with a convoluted storyline, and lack of central and compelling characters who provide an enjoyable escape from ordinary life. Even worse is Fox's mid-season "Dollhouse," a new offering by "Buffy the Vampire Slayer's" Joss Whedon. It would have been a tough sell in 1997, and this is not 1997. Niche, trendy-hip posturing just won't sell in a recession. Not with profound consumer shifts in spending and corresponding changes in advertiser spending.

Likely to improve in ratings are sports, including the NFL, College Sports, and Baseball, as people seek cheap and relaxing entertainment. Already TV viewership is up, according to the Wall Street Journal. Which makes sense. A night at home, in front of the TV, is cheaper than a night out at Applebee's. With gas flirting at $5 a gallon, this makes sense. Men are likely to spend more time watching TV, and shows that can capture the male audience are likely to do well. NBC's "Chuck" is likely to do quite well in this regard, as are any other show featuring an idealized "average guy" as the hero.

What is interesting is how CBS's "Moonlight" (not to be confused with the 1980's show "Moonlighting" with Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis) did fairly poorly this past season, and was canceled, with no pick up by any other network. A romance-novel copy of the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" spin-off "Angel," which was in turn a copy of the Canadian series "Forever Knight," the show was too niche in it's appeal, despite all the promotion and "buzz" surrounding the show. Men, of course, hated the show with a passion.

It's quite likely that most other networks will avoid these niche shows as their fall lineup inevitably fails and pursue the "CBS formula" as epitomized by "NCIS" and the various "CSI," "NUMB3RS," and so on. A strong, forty year old plus male character leads a team that includes a strong, capable female character or characters. Fighting crime, restoring order, or something of that nature. The goal being to attract men plus women with elements that appeal to both and don't repel either. The old strategy of advertisers and creative people slicing audiences into ever smaller fragments is probably gone for a long time. It will be a major adjustment for most creative people, who grew up in a time when it was always assumed that audiences will get both richer and smaller, ever more eager to demonstrate unique individuality.

That is, quite likely, a good thing. Lack of unified and unifying culture makes bonds across divisions, racial, sexual, class, regional, and income much more difficult. A common culture, valued and defended, protects against both usurpation of power at home by unchecked elites, be they political, cultural, judicial, or corporate, as well as a stout defense of the nation and it's people abroad. When everyone has seen the game last night, or understands the catch phrases of the latest sitcom, or watches the same hour long drama on television, social bonds increase, as do the ability for ordinary people to band together to demand or force action on issues where they hold common ground.
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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Hollywood's Heroism Deficit: Wealth, Drugs and Divorce

James Bowman in the American has an article describing Hollywood's heroism deficit. [Hat tip: Dirty Harry.]

Bowman believes that Hollywood's slow abandonment of heroism and heroes on screen was a result of the post-WWII consensus that heroes were no longer needed, and then dark nihilism envisioning a war of "all against all" in the post 1968 era:

The point of all three of the kinds of hero in which Hollywood has specialized over the last 35 years has been to make sure that heroism can continue to exist only on a plane far removed from the daily lives of the audience. It is hard not to speculate that this is because of a quasi-political aversion on the part of filmmakers to suggesting to the audience that real-life heroism was something to which it, too, could aspire. The subtext of films featuring the whistle-blower hero, the cartoon hero, and the victim hero is that heroism—heroism of the, say, Gary Cooper type—belongs to the public and communal sphere, now universally supposed to be cruel and corrupt, and therefore is really no longer possible or even, perhaps, desirable.

Here Bowman is more right than he knows. The rest of the piece argues that broad social changes in the post WWII era influenced Hollywood. Moving it away from depicting heroism in terms of ordinary people living ordinary lives, and acting heroically within the community, to one of socially isolated anti-heroes (merely cool and cooler villains), whistle-blower heroes, victim-heroes, and super-heroes. Bowman is wrong, on that, of course.

Bowman misses the biggest force driving Hollywood's depiction of heroism, or more accurately, it's refusal to depict it in anything other than cartoon/superhero form, for the last forty years or so. It is not the broad social changes in America. Rather, the changes in Hollywood. Which along with other economic elites has become far wealthier, with a greater percentage of wealth, and the inevitable social isolation that comes with it. But the wealth effect alone cannot explain why Hollywood is so socially isolated. Two important developments that hit Hollywood earliest and hardest also played major roles.

Hollywood cannot create movies in which ordinary people are heroes within the social context of ordinary heroism. The way that Bowman compares the 1957 version of "3:10 to Yuma" with Van Heflin and Glenn Ford displayed an ordinary man acting heroically, for and with his ordinary community. Part of the reason it cannot is because Hollywood is comprised of people who are far wealthier than ordinary people. Who lives removed socially and physically from ordinary people. Who don't understand at best and despise at worst the ordinary people who make up their potential audiences.

It is not America as a whole that has rejected heroism, rather it is Hollywood. Which is a very strange and inward focused place.

Recently, UC Berkeley Professor of Economics Emmanuel Saez has released a study of income inequality and wealth. You may find his papers and date here. Graphs included below derive from his data, in Excel format, which the good Professor has helpfully provided! I highly urge everyone to read his summary for the Lay Public, which is fairly intriguing. Below is a graph showing the percentage of income of the top income earners for the period 1913-2006.

What Prof. Saez points out is that two key changes shaped how the very wealthiest people in America gained wealth and how much of America's wealth they had. First, the very wealthy in the pre-Depression years had most of their wealth from investment income. The classic "rentier" deriving wealth from previously generated capital. This changed radically in the 1980's, when wages and business income generated most of the wealth. In lay terms, moving from say a person like Paris Hilton, who's wealth derives from investments made generations ago by the Hilton hotel dynasty, to say Demi Moore, who's wealth derives from her work as an actress and producer.

Next, in the Depression, World War II, and immediate post-War years, the top income earners did not have larger shares of wealth, compared to the pre-Depression, and post 1985 eras. As Prof. Saez notes, this distribution looks like a U. With profound implications showing for how the wealthy elite relate to the rest of us.

Hollywood is a good example of this dynamic. In the heyday of the Westerns, both in movies and TV, while Hollywood stars might live lives of luxury and social isolation, this was not the case for most of Hollywood, including work-a-day writers, directors, and producers who while well-paid, would live in largely middle class neighborhoods, associate with middle class people, hold middle class values, and earn middle class livings. It was this great mass of Hollywood's writers, producers, directors, and lesser actors that shaped Hollywood's culture. Which was solidly middle class. Of course they could conceive of themselves as heroes, and heroes fighting to preserve, protect, or extend the existing middle class social order which they found essentially good, if in need of periodic reform.

So what happened, in the middle to late 1960's, to destroy the social fabric that created a solid defense of middle class values and "middle class heroism?" Since clearly, Saez shows the income disparity did not really hit full stride until the mid 1980's. The era of the computer revolution, and as Saez notes, rising income among the top 10% from wages/business income instead of inherited capital gains.

It's simple. Hollywood got stoned. Then divorced.

Drugs, historically, have always been a problem in Hollywood. Screenwriter Robert J. Avrech has noted that the silent era had massive substance abuse problems, including drugs. The studio system ruthlessly stamped it out, with great effort, in the 1930's, in order to maintain their popularity among a suddenly impoverished nation. With greater wealth, and more permissive attitudes alongside that wealth, and a weakening studio system, drugs came back into Hollywood, slowly. This is not surprising, poor people who don't wish to be poorer and want to climb out of poverty embrace discipline and morality. They need a strong social structure. Wealthy people can afford to be dissolute.

By the late 1960's, drugs were common, and Hollywood experienced a "snowstorm" of cocaine in the 1970's that wrecked careers and reached to every levels of Hollywood's hierarchy. Including the middle class writers, directors, producers, assistant producers, and character actors.

Along with this permissive attitude came the Sexual Revolution. The pill and the condom, being cheap, available, and above all reliable, led to a lot of affairs all over Hollywood. Again critically extending throughout Hollywood's middle class base. Predictably, this led to divorce. Hollywood has always been a more socially permissive place than say, Ross Perot's EDS, or IBM in it's 1960's heyday (when everyone wore dark suits and white shirts). It's one of the factors that allowed it's creativity full reign. However, this social permissiveness led it to become far more vulnerable to drugs and divorce.

Which in turn led to middle class people, often struggling with drugs and divorce, turning away from middle class values. Their families in ruins, or that of those around them, it was hard for the middle class creative people, who do the bulk of the work in Hollywood, to endorse middle class society, much less a heroic, middle class defense of that society. It's interesting that the last gasp of the "ordinary" middle class hero, DIE HARD's "John McClane" (Bruce Willis) is a NYC cop, separated from his wife and heading for divorce, as a fish-out-of-water in a ritzy LA Highrise. His fight to save his wife is his way of competing in her glamorous, rich, wealth, and very pointedly socially isolated world. That very deliberately didn't have much use for "cowboy" McClane who liked Roy Rogers.

If McClane fought for his family, to preserve it, most of Hollywood by the late 1960's was struggling with the end of their family. This pattern has continued, with Hollywood's legendary long work hours, permissive attitudes towards sex and affairs, and constant bed-hopping acting as a destroyer of families. It's hard to write or create a hero defending a society that has in effect denied or destroyed one's own family. Even if the destruction of said family was entirely the predictable result of affairs.

The situation got even worse in the 1980's, when a hit movie could transform an ordinary screenwriter into a "superstar" millionaire. Joe Eszterhas (BASIC INSTINCT, FLASHDANCE) being a good example. Now, even a journeyman screenwriter like Stephen Gaghan (Traffic, Syriana) can live in a Malibu mansion, with several Porsches in the driveway. The money is that good. Naturally, with that kind of money, social attitudes are very different than that of ordinary Americans. During the recent writer's strike, writers who formerly would have been obscure and unnoticed by anyone but Hollywood insiders, such as Jane Espenson (staff writer for cult TV shows like BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER), had fans approach them on the picket line and gush their admiration. Probably the only time such writers would ever experience talking to a middle class person. Even then it was the kind of hero-worship an acting superstar gets.

Screenwriters making that kind of money spend very little time and effort trying to understand what ordinary people want and then giving them what they want. Instead, they act the way writer Joss Whedon (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) recommends, giving the audience "what it needs" instead of what it "wants." What it needs of course as filtered through the wealth, power, social isolation, and inevitable condescension for middle class people and values that characterize Hollywood's power brokers. Who have the power to hand out million dollar plus paydays to writers, directors, producers, assistant producers, and even character actors, or not. All of Hollywood is oriented towards finding out what powerful, capricious, and often decadent men want and giving it to them, instead of of course, the audience. Men like former CAA head Michael Ovitz, or former head of New Line Cinema Bob Shaye don't want middle class heroes.

Which is Hollywood's dirty little secret. Wracked by decades of divorce and drugs, wealthy beyond belief, destroying even casual middle class values and associations for the great bulk of Hollywood, the creative class there cannot even conceive of middle class life being desirable. Much less a middle class hero acting in concert with society to protect and defend both it's values and members.

The "whistle-blower" hero of course is the direct result of Hollywood writers being totally immersed in Hollywood society, actually caring about their relatively low position on the social totem pole (despite which they belong to the top 1% of income earners in America), instead of focusing on the challenges of preserving middle class society.

If you're Stephen Gaghan, or Joss Whedon, or Alan Ball (AMERICAN BEAUTY) and you actually care that a studio exec was rude to you, or cheated you out of an extra million that was due you (leaving you only $8 million on the deal), and that forms your whole social environment, then yes, of course your view of heroes would be either nihilistic, middle-class society rejecting anti-heroes, or whistle-blowers who show "how corrupt the system is." Of course Hollywood is corrupt. But Hollywood is not America.

The social isolation of course leads writers/producers to make that error. Which results in the victim-hero ("poor me") by people with far too much money concerned about Hollywood status instead of creating good stories that people will pay to see. Which leaves the cartoon/superhero as the only venue for heroism, and that far removed from both ordinary society, but embodying the "Big Man" jerk-style personal behaviors that Hollywood writers and producers have adopted as the norm. HANCOCK's grade-A jerk embodies how Hollywood's creative people see themselves. BETTER than you and me, and the rest of America.

However, no situation is stable forever. Hollywood is about to get a rude awakening. Essentially answering the question, what if during the Depression Hollywood acted like it was still 1925?

More on that later.

But for now, it's pretty clear that Bowman is wrong. America certainly did change, but still likes and wants it's middle class, ordinary heroes. DIE HARD's classic status is proof of that. No, the reason Hollywood has s heroism deficit can be reduced to these reasons: too rich, too stoned, and too divorced.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Gossip Girl and the Aging of America

Two news items stand out. First, the Wall Street Journal reports that CBS and Time Warner may pull the plug on the CW network by next year. Perhaps as early as January 2009. Already stations are defecting from the CW network in the Summer rating doldrums. Next, Variety reports that the average age of network TV viewers is 50 years old. CBS had a median viewing age of 54, ABC 50, NBC 49, Fox 44, CW 34, and Univision 34.

America is getting older, as this graph derived from the US Census Bureau shows:

What does this all mean? It means the Youth Culture is coming to an end. The signs have been there for a long time, people just didn't want to see it.

Popular music has been stagnant since the demise of Grunge in the mid 1990's. Disney tween-pop princesses like Miley Cyrus (or before her, Hillary Duff), hard angry macho rappers, and various emo artists all tread well-worn territory. There is nothing new or original. This is largely due to the small size of the Youth market. For all it's buzz and hype, equaling what the "Daily Show" gets every day, CW's "Gossip Girl" got only 2.2 million viewers on average. It is the lowest rated broadcast network show ever to be renewed. The market for youth-oriented popular music isn't much bigger. No wonder innovation stagnates. The last real innovators in pop music crested in the 1980's, when Rap, Punk, New Wave, and Roots music all arrived. Now, largely popular music relies on recycling those genres. It's telling that re-union projects such as the Police, or the Sex Pistols, can sell out arenas, while current, new bands struggle to sell out lesser venues. Looking at the population chart, it's easy to see why. There just aren't that many young people.

What are the implications for this big, largely un-discussed change?

For TV, it's the end of youth-oriented shows dominating the networks. CW (and before them, the predecessor networks UPN and WB) tried mining the ever-declining youth market and has largely failed. Instead, we'll see shows aimed at older viewers. CBS is likely to continue it's "Crime Time" formula of a plus 45 year old man leading some team to fight crime. In other words, more CSI-type shows. There will be more opportunities for older women too, and less for the hot young thing of the moment. NBC is likely to try and court the older, late thirties to mid forties, more upscale version of CBS's audience with "hip" shows like "My Name is Earl," "the Office," and "Thirty Rock." Hip of course as in Conan O'Brien hip. Nothing too outrageous because the target audience is of course, early middle age. ABC, Fox, and perhaps CW if it survives, will also be chasing after the audience. Legendary 1930's Bank Robber Willie Sutton was alleged to have said (but probably didn't) that he robbed banks because "that's where the money is." For Network TV, the audience is over 34. When your average viewership is 50, that's where the money is.

Youth-oriented shows will still exist, but they won't dominate. At best they're going to be a niche. Like MTV's "My Super Sweet Sixteen." Characterized by cheap, reality programming instead of expensive scripted shows. Scripted shows, which are more expensive, will deal with adult themes, actors, and characters. They will flatter their audiences and conform to their prejudices and views. Since many creative types have labored under the former youth system, denigrating middle aged and middle class values, they'll have a hard time adjusting. I expect a lot of creative turn-over as the new demands of the mature audience winnow out those unable to transition from serving youth to middle age.

For Film, it's even worse. Hollywood's big-budget youth-oriented comedy or action/adventure movies, like "Spider-Man," "Iron Man," "Batman Begins," "Knocked Up," "The Wedding Crashers," and so on form the basis of Hollywood's profitability. Hollywood CAN make money on other types of films. "Sex and the City," appealing to women, young and old, is likely a moderately profitable money maker. Oscar nominated or winning movies can if carefully budgeted and promoted thrift-fully make a few million bucks here and there. Romantic comedies like "27 Dresses" and such may also make a moderate profit. But not the type of insane, hand-over-fist profits that provide Malibu mansions, private jets, and the like to Hollywood's top money makers. Hollywood has become dangerously dependent on males, ages16-34, to provide their core profitability.

This age group provides the huge Summer date-night weekends, return visits to see the movie again, the DVD sales, "Special Edition" DVD sales, "Director's Cut" DVD, and so on. Partly this is because TV is a gay-female ghetto, with little to attract the younger male audience. Only movies provide entertainment like "Iron Man," or "Superbad." Partly it's because this sector of the population can be enthused by a proper marketing campaign (likely related to the scarcity of non video game alternatives to these types of movies.) Regardless, one thing is certain.

Unlike prior decades, this sector of the movie audience is smaller than before. And getting OLDER. More inclined to the 34 age range than the 16. Demographics don't lie. America can't just clone existing young men.

What does this mean for Movies?

More movies like "Wedding Crashers," where two men in their thirties settle down with "the right girl." Fewer movies like "Superbad," featuring teen actors and characters. More movies like "Iron Man," or "Batman Begins," with leading men in their thirties and forties, who act like it. Less opportunities for eternally callow actors like Ashton Kutcher and Sean William Scott. Bidding wars over the few actors who look like and (more importantly) can play mature men. That "Iron Man" was a huge hit, as of today doing $311 million dollars in domestic box office revenue (per Box Office Mojo) is telling. Even the action/adventure movie audience is sliding older, with 40 plus Robert Downey Jr. in the lead, as opposed to say, Shia LaBeouf.

The boy-man trend is going to end. The shakeout is going to be brutal, with a number of movies featuring the younger leads simply failing, until Hollywood finally gets it. Hollywood will have to search abroad for many of it's leading men, something it's already doing with "Batman Begins" star Christian Bale and NBC's "Life" star Damian Lewis, Brits both.

What does this mean for Music?

Likely, more tours and releases by bands and acts that made their mark in the 1980's and earlier. Newer bands will struggle to find an audience and niche. Simple tunes about adolescent angst won't be as popular, and the youth market is likely to consist of tweener pop princesses and emo boy bands. Both of which will have very short shelf lives as they age out of their fans desires.

Gone will be the days when popular music defined a generation, or when it signified the demographic power of youth. Because that power is gone. All that remains is the few minor hurrahs of bands and groups from the 1980's, the last moment youth mattered.

As the US population ages, the decline in popularity of dance music, and the increase in popularity of mood-enhancing music is only going to be more and more apparent. Older people don't like to dance as much as younger ones. Country music is likely to be more popular, and classical and opera can see revivals, particularly through pay-per-view events or movie theater transmissions. Already a number of Opera houses including NYC's Met are doing just that.

In short, the youth culture is dead. Perhaps the CW network will die with it, or re-invent itself as a more mature network catering to older viewers. But clearly the nearly 50 year obsession with the youth culture is over. Because there just aren't that many young people.
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Wanted Tanks, Hollywood's Problem

Last week, I predicted "Wanted," the Angelina Jolie movie, would tank in it's second week.

Well, I was right.Box Office Mojo shows "Wanted" indeed tanking. Dropping 60.6% from the prior week. Hollywood has a problem. It is too removed from it's core audience to understand what motivates them.

Hollywood has always been a place where people lived very large, outlandish lives far outside the norm. Palatial homes, extravagant to decadent parties, money in terms most people can't even comprehend, and entourages who's sole purpose is to pump up the egos of star actors, directors, producers, executives, and in some cases, writer-producers. But in it's heyday in the 1920's through 1950's, and the brief revival of the late 1970's and 1980's by film-makers like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, key artistic personnel at least remembered what it was like to be an ordinary person.

Not anymore.

"Wanted's" predictable demise shows how quickly Hollywood has moved to embrace it's own internal social values over that of the surrounding country. While politics provides a leading indicator, the real issue is the social isolation extreme wealth and fame produce. "Wanted's" script and source material were awful. The hero goes from a boring job in a cubicle, to an emotionally dead job as a soul-less hitman, killing people he doesn't know because ... get this ... a machine (a loom actually) orders him to do so.

Yep. The hero moves from being cheated on by his girlfriend in a corporate cubicle, to being a killer at the beck and call of a machine. His replacement girlfriend is played by Angelina Jolie, who is five years older than lead James McAvoy, but looks more like ten years older. Who furthermore has a negative tabloid image, and is very, very pregnant at this time. Hollywood wonders why this movie failed with the young male crowd after the initial marketing push was countered by negative word of mouth.

Sure, movies fail all the time. But what is notable is no one saw this failure coming. The script provided no emotional reason for the young male audience to see the movie, since the hero simply exchanges one dead-end life for another, more violent one. With a girlfriend figure (Jolie) no more desirable than the original. For socially jaded Hollywood, where even the least powerful producer has beautiful young starlets hurling themselves at him, however, this was thought "cool." And "edgy."

The same problem crops up all over the place in Hollywood. Even normally sure-fire Will Smith failed with "Hancock," mostly because the movie shifts from ordinary people being important (Hancock is a failure because he can't care about the people he saves) to being essentially, all about how the "star" Hancock is, well far more important than the people he saves. Hollywood wonders why the movie is under-performing compared to expectations (for prior holiday Will Smith movies).

TV is filled with "edgy, anti-hero" types like Showtime's "Dexter" (serial killer as hero), FX's "the Shield" (corrupt murderous cop as hero), FX's "Rescue Me," (brutal, rapist Fireman as hero), and the father of them all, Tony Soprano from HBO's "the Sopranos." While these shows can pull in a small number of viewers, who tend to be up-scale yuppies like the Hollywood execs who produce and write the shows, they fail to reach a mass audience. Nearly 100% of TV households can get HBO, yet fewer than 32% actually subscribe. There's not much value there.

The same holds true for movies. Sadly, while Hollywood can eke out meager profits, as long as the marketing budgets are low, most of the revenue for Hollywood's theatrical (and DVD) releases depends on young men 16-34 going to see big-budget action and adventure movies, seeing the movie again, and then buying the DVD, and the "Special Edition" DVD. It's a pretty risky basis for hits, because once again, demographics are against Hollywood. There are more men over age 34 than under it. Largely, they are immune to marketing hype and are just as likely to buy the regular edition DVD and pass on the expensive one loaded with extras. They might not even buy it at all, just rent. GASP. Worse, Hollywood is in competition with itself. For older men, a movie made in the 1980's might be just as entertaining as "Batman Begins."

Hollywood is in for a rough ride. The perfect storm of declining demographics of young people, continued piracy from China ("American Gangster" was available according to the Wall Street Journal at the swap meets of the LA area for $5 and of good quality -- two weeks before it's theatrical release in the US), and worst of all, no idea in Hollywood's creative community about what their audience is like and what they want.
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