The decline of the entertainment industry is all around us. Movie ticket sales have dropped sharply even with inflated numbers from IMAX and 3D movies. Network viewership has declined even more dramatically leaving big three letter networks with numbers that look more like cable. Even the music industry is a ghost of its former self.
The industry has blamed the Internet, and while technology has historically played a role in eclipsing and destabilizing technology linked entertainment business models, which movies, television and the music business certainly are, it's an insufficient explanation. The Internet is a source of creative chaos, but the source of the entertainment industry's woes come from inside its own gates.
The entertainment industry was once one of the more American industries as it was steeped deeply in taking and putting out the national culture. Today it has little to do with America or Americans who are nothing but a backdrop for its spectacles, providing the scenery and extras for stories and songs that no longer speak to them.
The decline of the entertainment industry is linked to that failure to speak to Americans. When the entertainment industry speaks it is to the concerns and obsessions of a political and cultural elite, but for the most part it acts as a weapon of mass distraction. It no longer speaks, it bellows like an insane carnival, pumping out garish spectacles and outlandish personalities in the hopes of attracting patrons.
American entertainment now performs better around the world than it does at home. Or at worst it performs equally well because there is no longer anything American about it. It was possible to look at a film from the 1950s and see something of the American character and value system in even the most worthless drivel. It has become all but impossible to look at the front shelf products of modern film, television and music and see anything American in their values.
The question is not one of morality or vulgarity or artistic value. It is simply that there is nothing American about them. They speak to an undifferentiated global audience in a glottal cacophony of noisy spectacle with no meaning. American entertainment used to be difficult to compete with because it was innovative and well made. It is difficult to compete with today because so much money is spent on making it and promoting it. And because its formlessness is universal, it speaks to the common need of all people to be distracted, shocked and amazed by the explosive and the emotionally shallow. It is something that everyone can enjoy, but that no one but teenagers can relate to.
Building up a meaningful identity takes time and effort. The American identity projected outward around the world was one of good humor, fair play and confidence in the future. It was the essence of decency combined with optimism that made the world seem like a better place. That identity can still be found in the country, but it is harder to find in the organs of its national identity among political and cultural elites preoccupied with preparing for the end of nations. There is no room for an American exceptionalism of any kind among the ruins of nations in a borderless world.Which amounts to declaring that there is no room for Americans.
The entertainment industry has left Americans behind and Americans have left the entertainment industry behind. America is still a grandiose stage for the world, but fewer of the natives are paying attention to the entertainment of a decadent post-American class.
The breakdown of the family overseen by the entertainment industry has led to a reciprocal decline in the bread and butter business of that industry.The family viewing hours that once led to tremendous ratings for television shows are gone and the numbers have gone with them. Family movie attendance is also on the decline. The entertainment industry has its laser sights set on an always vanishing young adult demographic that spends a great deal of money on entertainment per individual, but which is also fickle and requires spending a great deal more money on advertising. This leads to massive hits and massive failures where the few successes outweigh the larger failures of the business model.
The family is a vanishing figure in the entertainment industry and so are the revenues it used to bring in. It isn't gone yet, but the entertainment industry has forgotten how to interact with it. It is no longer sure what Americans are, let alone American families, and it compensates for its cultural detachment with insecurity, throwing more money at bigger projects, and if it can't come up with the money, then it goes directly for shock value.
There is no better barometer for the artistic failures of the industry than its loss of nuance. It is no longer able to speak to people, only shout at them without making any sense. It retains nuance only when addressing its own concerns and this it considers to be art. Disconnected from the larger public, it rolls out carnivals and turns everything into a confection of sugar, blinding lights and more venial amusements. The audience lingers for a time and then leaves with nothing exchanged but time and money.
The industry is still capable of distracting Americans and that is the only reason the money still keeps rolling in. But the ways in which it distracts them are not unique. Even its distractions are increasingly imported and its vulgarity reeks of the desperation of a once witty professor reduced to scatology in order to keep the students interested. And the hollowness of the spectacle can't prevent the drain from continuing.
The problem with distracting people is that anyone can do it. The only barriers are money and marketing. The internet has made broadcasting universal. And for now the only things the entertainment industry has on its side are the relics of its old operation, the contracts and agreements, the rights and privileges, the stations, networks and theaters. The physical and legal relics of a way of doing business that is on the verge of disappearing. SOPA and its cousins are the dying gasps of dinosaurs looking to outlaw gravity, instead of learning to look where they are going.
That just leaves money and more often than not it isn't even American money. American entertainment is an investment, funded by foreign investors and increasingly made for foreign audiences. The massive conglomerates which encompass music, films, television, comic books and much more have become the middle men between foreign businessmen and foreign audiences. Eventually the businessmen will realize that they can make money by building up an industry at home and cut Hollywood and its sisters out of the picture completely.
Entertainment is one of the few products still being made in America, but it is a product that is less American than ever. It is not an American vision made for American audiences, but a way for the world to pass the time while waiting for the next economic collapse, the next war and the next blast from the collapse of civilization.