A globalization paradox to kick off the week:
In a Sunday New York Times story on the internationalization of Hollywood's business model, Brook Barnes observes that the focus on global markets is affecting the content of made-in-the-U.S.A. blockbusters.
Indeed, the international movie business -- of strategic importance to studios for two decades -- has become so lucrative that many movies are now built primarily to appeal to people outside the United States. Given the broad range of cultures to which movies must play, their content will become only simpler as the trend grows. It surely isn't lost on entertainment companies that complex, politically themed pictures like "In the Valley of Elah," a tough sell at home, were also disastrous abroad.
It might seem appropriate here to cue up the standard rant on the dumbing down of culture, as perpetrated on the world by bean-counting entertainment executives intent only on the bottom line. But How the World Works was struck by how contrary the dynamics of the movie business are to much more fundamental changes in how entertainment is consumed by individuals today. The movie business may be simplifying to go for the biggest possible global market, but everything else is fragmenting and getting more complex. There is no limit to the slices of international weirdness, for example, that one can grab from YouTube. Bookstores and record stores that used to constrain our consumer choices to what could or would be stocked on the shelves of a bricks-and-mortar retail outlet have been replaced by Amazons and iTunes where the idea of "constraint" is as outmoded as a long-playing 78. The domination of news and entertainment content and opinion by a few daily newspapers, national magazines, and network news TV shows has been obliterated by a billion points of view and sources of information available at any time, to anyone with an Internet feed.
One doesn't succeed in this marketplace of ideas and entertainment by being simplistic and going for the greatest common denominator, but by finding your niche, exploiting it, and celebrating whatever you have that is fresh and different from everyone else. Seen from that angle, the fact that the Hollywood movie machine, in its relentless quest to maximize profits, is dumbing down so as to extricate the greatest profit from the greatest number, is just another signal of the long-term irrelevance and ultimate failure of a business model whose moment in the sun will soon be over.