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America’s pop-culture armageddon Hollywood's strikers have a dirty secret

'Is it any wonder Oppenheimer and The Zone of Interest feel more like horror movies than war movies?'

'Is it any wonder Oppenheimer and The Zone of Interest feel more like horror movies than war movies?'


July 25, 2023   9 mins

When the great American critic HL Mencken wrote his great essay “The Sahara of the Bozart” in 1917, lamenting the absence of high-level American minds equal to those of Europe, especially in the South, he badly missed the mark. America is not Europe. Her cultural genius lay elsewhere, in what would soon become known as the popular arts.

If America has produced only the occasional James McNeill Whistler or Charles Ives who might make a plausible case for inclusion in the Western high-art canon, it has produced no shortage of geniuses whose works have delighted hundreds of millions if not billions of people around the world. America’s greatest composer, George Gershwin, wrote jazz, just as America’s greatest artists, from Jackson Pollack through Andy Warhol, were undeniably pop. The list goes on, from Hollywood writers, directors and stars; to Louis Armstrong, Robert Johnson and the other founding geniuses of American jazz and blues; to Walt Disney, who gave us Mickey Mouse; to Chuck Jones, creator of Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and Daffy Duck; to Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, the Velvet Underground and dozens of other songwriters and performers who shaped rock and roll. What makes art American is the exuberant marriage of high and low, often at a large profit.

This summer is no exception, with transcendent work from the country’s two greatest pop talents. What has defined the director Christopher Nolan’s genius to date from Memento to Inception to Batman Returns to Tenet has been his endlessly inventive manipulation of the inner workings of the feature film form to tell stories in ways that reshuffle your brain — a talent founded on an acute awareness of the way the medium uses time. It should be mandatory viewing in all undergraduate philosophy seminars. With Oppenheimer, Nolan has transcended both the normative frame of Hollywood cartoon blockbusters and his own puzzle-palace constructions to make a big film on a world-shaping subject, centred around one of the 20th century’s most important and enigmatic characters. The result is a once-in-a-decade film that marks Nolan as perhaps the most dazzlingly brilliant directorial talent that Hollywood has produced since Orson Wells.

American pop music audiences have also been enjoying a generational talent this summer in Taylor Swift, who is perhaps both the single most gifted and also the most routinely downplayed and ignored pop music icon that America has produced over the past three decades. The mature version of Swift is a brilliant songwriter-storyteller who can hold large football stadiums containing 50,000 or more people spellbound while standing alone on stage for large portions of her three-and-half hour-long shows, which she performs without any breaks.

Only a few individual stars in the history of pop music have been able to mesmerise stadium-sized audiences by standing on a stage alone: David Bowie and Michael Jackson both come immediately to mind. But where Bowie and Michael Jackson were both great dancers, Swift is not — which makes her stage presence all the more remarkable. Her charisma comes from her singular focus on songwriting as a vehicle for mastering her own feelings and communicating them to her audience, which has proven fanatically and deservedly loyal.

The multifarious reasons why Swift has not received her due from America’s pop culture taste-makers over the past decade, despite her near-unimaginable level of global fame in the end all boil down to one thing: Swift is a single white woman in a pop medium at an identity-obsessed, politically-divided moment when her particular identity is deeply unfashionable. The fact that she seems as utterly devoted to her craft as Christopher Nolan makes her even less sympathetic to critics who would prefer that her talent wasn’t so outsized, or that her songwriting wasn’t rooted in the storytelling tradition and strong female characters of country music, or that her skin was a different colour, or that she was a gay man or lesbian instead of a straight woman who develops needy crushes on men, or that she was an outspoken proponent of sex in marriage instead of wreaking vengeance on her long list of ex-boyfriends, or whatever else. Good luck to them.

But beneath the triumphs of Nolan and Swift, American pop culture hasn’t been looking particularly healthy this summer. A case in point is the writer’s strike that has paralysed Hollywood for months, and was recently joined by the guilds representing directors and actors. The strike, which shows no signs of being resolved any time before autumn, is a fearful response to the impact of new technologies on the industry, which are in part a response to the cratering of the film and TV business over the past four years. In turn, Hollywood’s problems are only the latest in a series of culture industry cataclysms that have overtaken American journalism, book publishing and the music business, and which make both Nolan and Swift seem more like the freakish end-products of bygone eras (Nolan released his first feature film in 1998; Swift’s eponymous first album came out in 2006) than harbingers of future glory.

While the implosion of each of America’s culture industries may look different up close, it is not hard to see the common factors at work. These range from the consolidation of once-thriving industries and the monopolisation of distribution channels to the stamping-out of competition, the ongoing detachment of monopolistic conglomerates from their audiences and the pursuit of lowest-common-denominator blockbusters to pay for the resulting losses. As America’s culture industries have decayed into anti-competitive, risk-averse monopolists, they have imposed layers upon layers of mind-numbing and increasingly politicised bureaucracy on their productions that make real creativity all but impossible. Looming above all these developments is the threat of push-button culture-production driven by AI, whereby studio executives can fulfil their dystopian dreams of licensing the likenesses of dead actors and actresses and feeding them into software owned by tech conglomerates. This would dispense with the need to negotiate for the services of pesky writers, directors and actors, along with Hollywood’s century-old hodge-podge of unionised guilds.

That’s what the strikers are fighting against. And from a distance, it is easy to wish them good luck. As a consumer, though, it is easier to wish that a giant fault-line might open up beneath Los Angeles and swallow the creators of endless hours of unpalatable dreck along with their bosses at Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Google, and other industry giants which, as their names indicate, are no longer entertainment companies but tech companies, pursuing the filmed entertainment business as a sideline to their insanely profitable monopolies.

Among the other things that Hollywood’s new industry leaders have in common is that they produce oodles of stuff that nobody seems to be watching. In the second quarter of last year alone, Netflix lost 1.3 million subscribers in the US and Canada, while earning a total of $4.3 billion on the year. Yet even that relatively modest net profit is deceptive, since Netflix amortises its content over a period of four to five years, while spending close to $20 billion each year on new productions. In reality, then, the company is burning cash in the hopes of a future profit while losing subscribers, a business model that is clearly headed for the rocks. When Hollywood writers and actors demand their “fair share of the profits”, they might think twice about what it is they are asking for.

The dirty secret of the Hollywood strike, then, is that no one is making money. How did that happen? The short answer is that Americans have stopped going to the movies. In 2022, movie theatres sold more than 800 million tickets – nearly twice the number sold in 2021, but less than two-thirds the number sold in 2019, before Covid. In 2002, movie theatres sold nearly 1.6 billion tickets, or nearly twice the current number. These numbers are even more depressing when one considers that, prior to the dual release of Oppenheimer and Greta Gerwig’s less exceptional woke doll movie, Barbie, this summer’s two biggest box office attractions were the latest Raiders of the Lost Ark movie starring a now 81-year-old, digitally-enhanced Harrison Ford, and the new Mission: Impossible, starring Tom Cruise, each the 7th sequel in a series.

Similar declines can be seen throughout the American culture industries. Total album sales in the recording business 2001 were 762.8 million. In 2022, the recording industry sold 100 million albums, in all formats. Besides Swift, who as a 17-year industry veteran is a comparatively fresh face, the acts who make money touring overwhelmingly made their reputations many decades ago, when the industry was still healthy enough to create stars such as the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen and the Eagles. Revenue from periodical publishing, whether in print or online, declined from $40.2 billion in 2002 to $23.9 billion in 2022 –— a loss in raw dollars of almost 50%. Factoring in inflation, those numbers are again much worse.

Innovation-wise, the last great American pop culture decade was the Nineties — the last decade of the century that saw America’s rise to global pop culture pre-eminence. In television, the Nineties were book-ended by The Simpsons (1989), which kicked off a surge in witty, prime-time animation, and The Sopranos (1999), which ushered in quality scripted cable television. There was plenty of fare such as Dawson’s Creek (1998) available, too. In Hollywood, the Nineties was decade of indie studios such as Miramax, and birthed the world-class writers and directors Stephen Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino along with stars such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and Matt Damon. Alternative rock birthed dozens of highly creative and financially successful new acts, from Nirvana to the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Alanis Morissette and Gwen Stefani, while rap music reached new creative and commercial heights with Biggie Smalls, Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg and Jay Z. The last two American literary fiction writers who have attracted any real critical attention, David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Franzen, made their debuts in 1987 and 1988, respectively.

So what accounts for America’s pop cultural collapse? The short answer is digital technology, which led directly or indirectly to monopolistic stagnation in every one of America’s culture industries in response to disruptions of prior business models.

Hollywood’s main initial antagonists were the streaming services; these have since eaten old-fashioned movie studios and production companies whole by spending billions of dollars on content regardless of whether or not there was an audience. The race to become Hollywood’s Uber left smaller competitors without the ability to competitively distribute their products, with the resulting monopolistic structures imposing top-down uniformity on an industry that had formerly boasted about the audience being king.

In turn, the transition from the big screen to the small screen that streaming services and their users demanded made it near-impossible to create stars, who depended on big-screen magic and the industry’s promotional cycles. The strategy of overspending and then dumping new content into the marketplace made it hard for even the most original creators to stand out from the surrounding oceans of sludge. Cashing big checks from Hollywood’s would-be monopolists may have helped writers, directors and actors to pay for their swimming pools, but they also helped to kill the golden goose.

The extent to which these practices have alienated large parts of Hollywood’s traditional audiences may never be entirely clear, since the streaming services refuse to release even basic audience numbers for their shows. In part, that’s because companies such as Apple and Amazon are content to see entertainment as a loss leader. In Apple’s case, it’s an adjunct to the company’s marketplaces, which are linked in turn to its hardware; in Amazon’s case, entertainment is largely a way to draw some segments of consumers to the company’s immensely profitable marketplace, and keep them there. Freed from workaday competitive constraints, and with access to nearly unlimited piles of cash from their patrons’ primary, profit-oriented businesses, new Hollywood’s culture bureaucrats can give free rein to fashionable pre-occupations such as conducting Me-Too corporate witch hunts, ensuring equity in writer’s rooms, and injecting woke politics into shows that audiences refuse to watch.

Unlike Hollywood, the music industry has been largely unimpressed by the advent of woke-ism. Their business is rebellion, which took a weird turn when free file-sharing services such as Napster and Limewire started encouraging users to routinely violate artists’ copyrights. The result in the Nineties was music industry-wide campaigns in which aging rockers testified before Congress in the hopes of convincing or else forcing their fans to obey copyright law, and buy records. Brilliantly sensing an opportunity, Steve Jobs created the iPod, iTunes and the iPhone, essentially using sleek hardware to take control of the music business. Waving his hardware around like an old-time gangster, Jobs explained to the moguls that they were no longer in the music business: They were in the 99-cent singles business, with Apple getting the biggest cut.

After Jobs’s iPod, and its accompanying iTunes software, ate the music business, by essentially establishing a version of file-sharing that was now under Jobs’s control, the big music companies woke up and decided to go into the streaming business, taking pieces of Spotify and leaving the artists they had once nurtured on steaks and cocaine with a diet of pennies in return for their back catalogues. As record sales plummeted, the music industry stopped paying big advances or otherwise investing in the music they were putting out, and artists could no longer get paid for recording songs. As the star-making machinery broke down, scouts looking to sign the next big thing went to YouTube, and nurtured new talent on social media platforms such as TikTok. Needless to say, none of these platforms select for songwriting talent. Today’s Taylor Swift might find a home in Nashville, but would be an unlikely candidate to be nurtured by one of the major labels, which are no longer in the business of finding talent and making stars.

Book publishing saw successive waves of consolidation, which left four conglomerates competing to publish the same best-sellers while dumping mid-list authors — the vast talent pool from which authors suc as Wallace and Franzen had emerged. As the audience for literary fiction shrank, the products of the big four publishing houses became ever more formulaic. In turn, the publishers began to rely on sales to institutions that could turn their products into mandatory reading. This new linkage, once reserved for niche textbook publishers, meant that the publishing houses were more easily swayed by academic fads, and by the censorious doctrines of younger woke employees who had more recently graduated from high schools and universities.

The failure of American book publishers to produce interesting new work, and new literary stars, was also linked to the destruction of America’s once-thriving ecosystem of newspapers and magazines, which had formerly employed hundreds of book critics who served as independent gatekeepers and taste-makers, on behalf of their readers. Today, the number of full-time book critics employed by independent newspapers and magazines in America is perilously close to zero.

Aside from gazing longingly at the night sky in the hopes of spotting the occasional shooting star, like Oppenheimer or the next Taylor Swift album, it is hard to see how America’s culture industries imagine they will escape from their decades-long spiral of anti-competitive practices, creative sterility and dwindling audiences. In order to return the culture industries to health, what is needed is kind of broad anti-monopolistic legislation aimed at the tech industry that has often been promised but seldom actualised over the past two decades. While both Democrats and Republicans like to talk about punishing monopolists, such talk has so far proven to be a way of driving up the size of the checks they receive in order to further polarise the country while cementing Big Tech’s monopolies over pipelines and platforms that connect creators to their audiences.

If Hollywood’s striking writers and actors are serious about benefitting their audiences in addition to paying for their swimming pools, they might start by demanding an end to the stranglehold of monopolistic practices and same-think over the products they produce. Now that would be a show worth watching.


David Samuels is a writer who lives in upstate New York.


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Daniel P
Daniel P
10 months ago

Agreed.
I miss good films like Jurassic Park or Driving Miss Daisy or Platoon or even the National Lampoon movies.

I miss going to a movie or watching a new TV show where I did not get a indirect or even a direct moral lecture on lefty values.

I miss movies that were not afraid to offend and were actually funny.

I am sick to GOD of retread sequels that get me to a point that I actually dislike the original film.

I miss good storytelling by interesting human beings.

Graeme McNeil
Graeme McNeil
10 months ago
Reply to  Daniel P

Driving Miss Daisy?!?! National Lampoon movies?
If those are what you regard as good movies then I think your opinions can be safely ignored.

polidori redux
polidori redux
10 months ago
Reply to  Graeme McNeil

Not woke enough for you?
Heart-breaking.

Pat Rowles
Pat Rowles
10 months ago
Reply to  Graeme McNeil

Driving Miss Daisy won four Oscars, and NL’s Animal House remains a comedy classic, but we’ll let you tell us what’s good, shall we, Graeme?

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
10 months ago
Reply to  Graeme McNeil

Spot on!

polidori redux
polidori redux
10 months ago
Reply to  Graeme McNeil

Not woke enough for you?
Heart-breaking.

Pat Rowles
Pat Rowles
10 months ago
Reply to  Graeme McNeil

Driving Miss Daisy won four Oscars, and NL’s Animal House remains a comedy classic, but we’ll let you tell us what’s good, shall we, Graeme?

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
10 months ago
Reply to  Graeme McNeil

Spot on!

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
10 months ago
Reply to  Daniel P

There are thousands of great films in the the 100 year back catalogue – more than enough to fill a human lifespan. It really doesn’t matter if they stop making new films – good or bad.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
10 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

I’m a member of cinemaparadiso.co.uk (over 100k movies to go at on DVD) and have been watching a diet of recent and classic movies. Watched lots of films from the 1960s Czech new wave which are incredible. I’ve also been reading Herodotus but I realise that it’s not to everybody’s taste (lol).

Last edited 10 months ago by Mike Downing
Helen Nevitt
Helen Nevitt
10 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

I read Herodotus’ Histories years ago. At school. I’ve never read them since. I don’t think it left much impression on me.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
10 months ago
Reply to  Helen Nevitt

I read Herodotus in my twenties on my own many decades ago and I still think of many parts of it. It brought this ancient world into the present for me and made me realize we are not fundamentally any different today. On the other hand I had to read Dante’s Inferno in school which did nothing for me.

Last edited 10 months ago by Jeff Cunningham
Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
10 months ago

Amazing how many great books’ reputations have been ruined by the way that they were studied in school.

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
10 months ago

Amazing how many great books’ reputations have been ruined by the way that they were studied in school.

james goater
james goater
10 months ago
Reply to  Helen Nevitt

Try “Travels with Herodotus” by Ryszard Kapuscinski. The book depicts Kapuscinski’s beginnings as a traveller-reporter who weaves the epic stories of Herodotus into his own reportage. A worthwhile read.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
10 months ago
Reply to  Helen Nevitt

I read Herodotus in my twenties on my own many decades ago and I still think of many parts of it. It brought this ancient world into the present for me and made me realize we are not fundamentally any different today. On the other hand I had to read Dante’s Inferno in school which did nothing for me.

Last edited 10 months ago by Jeff Cunningham
james goater
james goater
10 months ago
Reply to  Helen Nevitt

Try “Travels with Herodotus” by Ryszard Kapuscinski. The book depicts Kapuscinski’s beginnings as a traveller-reporter who weaves the epic stories of Herodotus into his own reportage. A worthwhile read.

Helen Nevitt
Helen Nevitt
10 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

I read Herodotus’ Histories years ago. At school. I’ve never read them since. I don’t think it left much impression on me.

Jacqueline Burns
Jacqueline Burns
10 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Many of the truly excellent movies are now no longer available as they don’t fit the woke life we are becoming forced to live like Gone with the Wind, &, probably, every great Western you ever saw as a youngster.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
10 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

I think it was Lauren Bacall who said “It isn’t an old movie if you haven’t seen it”. If you haven’t seen “Quo Vadis?”, rent it for Peter Ustinov’s Nero alone.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
10 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

I’m a member of cinemaparadiso.co.uk (over 100k movies to go at on DVD) and have been watching a diet of recent and classic movies. Watched lots of films from the 1960s Czech new wave which are incredible. I’ve also been reading Herodotus but I realise that it’s not to everybody’s taste (lol).

Last edited 10 months ago by Mike Downing
Jacqueline Burns
Jacqueline Burns
10 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Many of the truly excellent movies are now no longer available as they don’t fit the woke life we are becoming forced to live like Gone with the Wind, &, probably, every great Western you ever saw as a youngster.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
10 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

I think it was Lauren Bacall who said “It isn’t an old movie if you haven’t seen it”. If you haven’t seen “Quo Vadis?”, rent it for Peter Ustinov’s Nero alone.

Graeme McNeil
Graeme McNeil
10 months ago
Reply to  Daniel P

Driving Miss Daisy?!?! National Lampoon movies?
If those are what you regard as good movies then I think your opinions can be safely ignored.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
10 months ago
Reply to  Daniel P

There are thousands of great films in the the 100 year back catalogue – more than enough to fill a human lifespan. It really doesn’t matter if they stop making new films – good or bad.

Daniel P
Daniel P
10 months ago

Agreed.
I miss good films like Jurassic Park or Driving Miss Daisy or Platoon or even the National Lampoon movies.

I miss going to a movie or watching a new TV show where I did not get a indirect or even a direct moral lecture on lefty values.

I miss movies that were not afraid to offend and were actually funny.

I am sick to GOD of retread sequels that get me to a point that I actually dislike the original film.

I miss good storytelling by interesting human beings.

J Bryant
J Bryant
10 months ago

For me, this is the type of article that justifies a subscription to Unherd. Like many people, I’ve watched the gradual decay of the creative industries, especially the movie industry, for years. I never fully understood why this was happening. Every now and then, someone would say, “Ah, yes, it’s Big Tech’s fault” but I wasn’t sure why. Now I think I understand.
Essentially, one way or another, movies, publishing, the music business are all subsidiaries of Tech, and Tech’s main interest is driving consumers of these products toward its most profitable businesses, not trying to create great tv, movies, etc. It’s remarkable to think companies like Amazon can sustain huge annual losses on politicized movies/tv few people want to watch until you look at the vast profits of these companies. Apple, for example, has approximately 50 billion dollars of cash and equivalents on hand, and that’s without considering its almost infinite line of credit with the banks.
Like the author, I have no idea how the creative industries will once again produce content people want. I wonder if there’s an opening in the market for a new, non-woke movie company? Perhaps the author would write an article about that possibility.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
10 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Start a new HBO and let it rip.

Ari Dale
Ari Dale
10 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Angel Studios?

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
10 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

It certainly explains how/why the Barbie movie got made.

tug ordie
tug ordie
10 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

A24 exists and its basically the only interesting film studio left

J. Hale
J. Hale
10 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

What they’re going to do (I fear) is add ads to streaming services in addition to the monthly cost. Then they’ll settle with the unions and pass the added cost on to consumers. This is what corporations always do when they make concessions to the unions.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
10 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Start a new HBO and let it rip.

Ari Dale
Ari Dale
10 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Angel Studios?

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
10 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

It certainly explains how/why the Barbie movie got made.

tug ordie
tug ordie
10 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

A24 exists and its basically the only interesting film studio left

J. Hale
J. Hale
10 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

What they’re going to do (I fear) is add ads to streaming services in addition to the monthly cost. Then they’ll settle with the unions and pass the added cost on to consumers. This is what corporations always do when they make concessions to the unions.

J Bryant
J Bryant
10 months ago

For me, this is the type of article that justifies a subscription to Unherd. Like many people, I’ve watched the gradual decay of the creative industries, especially the movie industry, for years. I never fully understood why this was happening. Every now and then, someone would say, “Ah, yes, it’s Big Tech’s fault” but I wasn’t sure why. Now I think I understand.
Essentially, one way or another, movies, publishing, the music business are all subsidiaries of Tech, and Tech’s main interest is driving consumers of these products toward its most profitable businesses, not trying to create great tv, movies, etc. It’s remarkable to think companies like Amazon can sustain huge annual losses on politicized movies/tv few people want to watch until you look at the vast profits of these companies. Apple, for example, has approximately 50 billion dollars of cash and equivalents on hand, and that’s without considering its almost infinite line of credit with the banks.
Like the author, I have no idea how the creative industries will once again produce content people want. I wonder if there’s an opening in the market for a new, non-woke movie company? Perhaps the author would write an article about that possibility.

O'Driscoll
O'Driscoll
10 months ago

The public gets what the public deserves…. I saw Barbie last night, and it seemed I was the only member of the audience who thought it was like sitting through a two hour episode of Love Island scripted by fourteen year olds who had been given the theme “The Patriarchy” for their homework.
It would have been tiresomely outdated even if it had been released 20 years ago, but the feeble stereotypes, confused narrative and cloying sentimentality made me wonder if we were already seeing films written and directed by AI.

Last edited 10 months ago by O'Driscoll
Michael Webb
Michael Webb
10 months ago
Reply to  O'Driscoll

And yet you stayed to the bitter end?

Michael Webb
Michael Webb
10 months ago
Reply to  O'Driscoll

And yet you stayed to the bitter end?

O'Driscoll
O'Driscoll
10 months ago

The public gets what the public deserves…. I saw Barbie last night, and it seemed I was the only member of the audience who thought it was like sitting through a two hour episode of Love Island scripted by fourteen year olds who had been given the theme “The Patriarchy” for their homework.
It would have been tiresomely outdated even if it had been released 20 years ago, but the feeble stereotypes, confused narrative and cloying sentimentality made me wonder if we were already seeing films written and directed by AI.

Last edited 10 months ago by O'Driscoll
Android Tross
Android Tross
10 months ago

I agree with the overall sentiment of American popular culture stagnation, but I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes at this article. First and foremost, why the diatribe against those not falling over themselves to shout from the rooftops about the godlike musical prowess of Taylor Swift? What was that? It read like an obsessed fan who couldn’t pass up the opportunity to lash out at all the Swift “haters” he’s encountered on the Internet over the years now that he has this tiny soapbox. Good grief. No one takes seriously the argument that she’s not talented. Swift has been the darling of music critics for over a decade.

The author also seems to have a pretty poor understanding of what a monopoly is. These companies are monopolies only in the Lina Khan sense. Yes the digital revolution has upended music, TV, movies, the star system but that has also happened before. It will happen again. This strike will only accelerate what’s already happening. That’s exactly what happened the last time the WGA went on strike.

Last edited 10 months ago by Android Tross
Mônica
Mônica
10 months ago
Reply to  Android Tross

Indeed. Would her work be relevant in 50 years? I somehow doubt. The people who get remembered decades after their stage days are the ones who came up with something new and unexpected. She may have talent, but she’s doing nothing that hasn’t been done before. If anything, Dolly Parton was a lot more revolutionary all those years ago and will be remembered long after Swift fans have calmed down.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
10 months ago
Reply to  Mônica

50 years? I couldn’t name or recognize a single Swift song on pain of death.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
10 months ago
Reply to  Mônica

50 years? I couldn’t name or recognize a single Swift song on pain of death.

Ari Dale
Ari Dale
10 months ago
Reply to  Android Tross

Yes, yes, yes.! I felt as if I were being force-fed Taylor Swift. Lovely voice- but I haven’t been moved by a single song. A “once in a generation” talent? Gimme a break.

Mônica
Mônica
10 months ago
Reply to  Android Tross

Indeed. Would her work be relevant in 50 years? I somehow doubt. The people who get remembered decades after their stage days are the ones who came up with something new and unexpected. She may have talent, but she’s doing nothing that hasn’t been done before. If anything, Dolly Parton was a lot more revolutionary all those years ago and will be remembered long after Swift fans have calmed down.

Ari Dale
Ari Dale
10 months ago
Reply to  Android Tross

Yes, yes, yes.! I felt as if I were being force-fed Taylor Swift. Lovely voice- but I haven’t been moved by a single song. A “once in a generation” talent? Gimme a break.

Android Tross
Android Tross
10 months ago

I agree with the overall sentiment of American popular culture stagnation, but I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes at this article. First and foremost, why the diatribe against those not falling over themselves to shout from the rooftops about the godlike musical prowess of Taylor Swift? What was that? It read like an obsessed fan who couldn’t pass up the opportunity to lash out at all the Swift “haters” he’s encountered on the Internet over the years now that he has this tiny soapbox. Good grief. No one takes seriously the argument that she’s not talented. Swift has been the darling of music critics for over a decade.

The author also seems to have a pretty poor understanding of what a monopoly is. These companies are monopolies only in the Lina Khan sense. Yes the digital revolution has upended music, TV, movies, the star system but that has also happened before. It will happen again. This strike will only accelerate what’s already happening. That’s exactly what happened the last time the WGA went on strike.

Last edited 10 months ago by Android Tross
Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
10 months ago

Well written but one sided. The destructive aspects are exactly as described but missing are the positive developments flowing from the same tech changes e.g. Netflix and the other streamers have created a new long form format which has elevated the episodic series into something which rivals novels; thousands of songs on Spotify instead of a few CDs or LPs; podcasts; the proliferation of essays from a wide range of perspectives on Substack, UnHerd and similar sites; the use of WhatsApp groups to bring together victims of specific diseases or corporate malefactors, etc, etc. 

Drawing up a balance sheet is difficult. There are clear losses e.g. the near elimination of local journalism or lower incomes for non-star musicians but also many gains.  

In the long run, I suspect that the most lasting change will be the democratisation of “gatekeeping”. Amazon style stars will have more impact than critics. Provided official/tech censorship is prevented this should broaden choice.

Overall, not all change is bad. We are engaged in a white water ride, full of dangers but also of possibilities. We need to be alert – steering away from some rocks – but there is no need for fatalistic despondency.

Ben Jones
Ben Jones
10 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

I agree – the decline of the literary gatekeeper is no bad thing.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
10 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Formerly m3pc7q3ixe I presume?

As as 12.53. BST.
Which moronS downvoted that and WHY.

Last edited 10 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
10 months ago

Indeed. And probably intermittently again the future. If there is a logic as to why UnHerd calls me Alex, Rupert or m3pc7q3ixe on any particular occasion, it eludes me.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
10 months ago

Indeed. And probably intermittently again the future. If there is a logic as to why UnHerd calls me Alex, Rupert or m3pc7q3ixe on any particular occasion, it eludes me.

Jaden Johnson
Jaden Johnson
10 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

 Netflix and the other streamers have created a new long form format which has elevated the episodic series into something which rivals novels

Netflix didn’t do that. HBO, AMC, Showtime and other premium cable networks did. It’s the destruction of the immensely lucrative cable business that’s driving the meltdown in Hollywood.
And I’d challenge your assertion that there are ‘many gains’ Some gains, to be sure, but while the losses are already evident, the durability or long term benefit of the gains are yet to be proven.
And good luck with preventing official tech/censorship. It already happens in almost all sectors of commercial activity and there are only so many Nigel Farages to call it out.

Ben Jones
Ben Jones
10 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

I agree – the decline of the literary gatekeeper is no bad thing.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
10 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Formerly m3pc7q3ixe I presume?

As as 12.53. BST.
Which moronS downvoted that and WHY.

Last edited 10 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Jaden Johnson
Jaden Johnson
10 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

 Netflix and the other streamers have created a new long form format which has elevated the episodic series into something which rivals novels

Netflix didn’t do that. HBO, AMC, Showtime and other premium cable networks did. It’s the destruction of the immensely lucrative cable business that’s driving the meltdown in Hollywood.
And I’d challenge your assertion that there are ‘many gains’ Some gains, to be sure, but while the losses are already evident, the durability or long term benefit of the gains are yet to be proven.
And good luck with preventing official tech/censorship. It already happens in almost all sectors of commercial activity and there are only so many Nigel Farages to call it out.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
10 months ago

Well written but one sided. The destructive aspects are exactly as described but missing are the positive developments flowing from the same tech changes e.g. Netflix and the other streamers have created a new long form format which has elevated the episodic series into something which rivals novels; thousands of songs on Spotify instead of a few CDs or LPs; podcasts; the proliferation of essays from a wide range of perspectives on Substack, UnHerd and similar sites; the use of WhatsApp groups to bring together victims of specific diseases or corporate malefactors, etc, etc. 

Drawing up a balance sheet is difficult. There are clear losses e.g. the near elimination of local journalism or lower incomes for non-star musicians but also many gains.  

In the long run, I suspect that the most lasting change will be the democratisation of “gatekeeping”. Amazon style stars will have more impact than critics. Provided official/tech censorship is prevented this should broaden choice.

Overall, not all change is bad. We are engaged in a white water ride, full of dangers but also of possibilities. We need to be alert – steering away from some rocks – but there is no need for fatalistic despondency.

Jaden Johnson
Jaden Johnson
10 months ago

Great article, somewhat undermined by factual errors: Nolan is British, the Directors guild aren’t on strike, there are five installments of Indiana Jones etc.
But aside from lamenting the demise of the fact-checking sub-editor as another casualty of the economics of digital journalism, I commend you for making the argument so persuasively.

Jaden Johnson
Jaden Johnson
10 months ago

Great article, somewhat undermined by factual errors: Nolan is British, the Directors guild aren’t on strike, there are five installments of Indiana Jones etc.
But aside from lamenting the demise of the fact-checking sub-editor as another casualty of the economics of digital journalism, I commend you for making the argument so persuasively.

Ben Jones
Ben Jones
10 months ago

Christopher Nolan is British.

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
10 months ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

Yes, but then Billy Wilder would be an Austrian filmmaker. Nolan and all the talented directors moved to Hollywood and thrived under its system, which according to the author is supposed to be in its last creative throes.

Daniel Raven
Daniel Raven
10 months ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

Also, that Indiana Jones film is actually the fourth sequel (not the seventh), and Nolan did not direct Batman Returns.

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
10 months ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

Yes, but then Billy Wilder would be an Austrian filmmaker. Nolan and all the talented directors moved to Hollywood and thrived under its system, which according to the author is supposed to be in its last creative throes.

Daniel Raven
Daniel Raven
10 months ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

Also, that Indiana Jones film is actually the fourth sequel (not the seventh), and Nolan did not direct Batman Returns.

Ben Jones
Ben Jones
10 months ago

Christopher Nolan is British.

Chris Hume
Chris Hume
10 months ago

I have a friend who has kept all his old DVDs instead of relying on streaming services. I thought he might be paranoid when he said the big TV and streaming services will begin to censor and alter films and ban things which don’t fit with modern progressive sensibilities. Like so many things, it seemed far-fetched until it started happening.

Chris Hume
Chris Hume
10 months ago

I have a friend who has kept all his old DVDs instead of relying on streaming services. I thought he might be paranoid when he said the big TV and streaming services will begin to censor and alter films and ban things which don’t fit with modern progressive sensibilities. Like so many things, it seemed far-fetched until it started happening.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
10 months ago

The devil’s greatest lie was that the customer is king. There’s hardly a clearer indictment of our system of democracy than government failure to prevent – and indeed complicity in – the triumph of monopolies.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
10 months ago

The devil’s greatest lie was that the customer is king. There’s hardly a clearer indictment of our system of democracy than government failure to prevent – and indeed complicity in – the triumph of monopolies.

Jonathan Nash
Jonathan Nash
10 months ago

This strike by the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) reminds me irresistably of the militancy of the Film Actors Guild (FAG) in “Team America: World Police”. Now that was a film.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
10 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan Nash

Yes, wasnt it? Its ridiculing the absurd cliche of a vomit reaction to show emotional upset made me sit up in delight. And the similar ridicule of all the endlessly gratuitous and boring pornographic sex scenes that went on for a decade and a half. If they made it today it would be scenes of people masturbating and taking craps.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
10 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan Nash

Yes, wasnt it? Its ridiculing the absurd cliche of a vomit reaction to show emotional upset made me sit up in delight. And the similar ridicule of all the endlessly gratuitous and boring pornographic sex scenes that went on for a decade and a half. If they made it today it would be scenes of people masturbating and taking craps.

Jonathan Nash
Jonathan Nash
10 months ago

This strike by the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) reminds me irresistably of the militancy of the Film Actors Guild (FAG) in “Team America: World Police”. Now that was a film.

AC Harper
AC Harper
10 months ago

There’s an argument that the cultural form of narrative in Europe is The Hero’s Tale – which is basically there and back again, with prizes.
In the USA the cultural form of narrative is the road trip – if you don’t like where you are keep on going.
So if USA big business ends up producing ‘safe entertainment’ it encourages people to move on to other things. There are plenty of digital alternatives, many of them free or low cost.

Ari Dale
Ari Dale
10 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

I’d love some specifics.

Ari Dale
Ari Dale
10 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

I’d love some specifics.

AC Harper
AC Harper
10 months ago

There’s an argument that the cultural form of narrative in Europe is The Hero’s Tale – which is basically there and back again, with prizes.
In the USA the cultural form of narrative is the road trip – if you don’t like where you are keep on going.
So if USA big business ends up producing ‘safe entertainment’ it encourages people to move on to other things. There are plenty of digital alternatives, many of them free or low cost.

Helen Nevitt
Helen Nevitt
10 months ago

It’s a minor thing but isn’t Christopher Nolan a dual US/UK national. I enjoyed Oppenheimer, not least because there was minimal shoehorning of fashionable preoccupations into the piece.

Helen Nevitt
Helen Nevitt
10 months ago

It’s a minor thing but isn’t Christopher Nolan a dual US/UK national. I enjoyed Oppenheimer, not least because there was minimal shoehorning of fashionable preoccupations into the piece.

Mechan Barclay
Mechan Barclay
10 months ago

Isn’t the irony here that the writers strike believes they are providing great creative ideas/ stories and thus demand a better working wage but the reality is that they are actually doing a subpar job and should not receive more.
If they really were doing such a great job, I would expect the audience to share in their pain, but it doesn’t seem like anyone cares as we mindlessly scroll through our free media devices in our hands.

Mechan Barclay
Mechan Barclay
10 months ago

Isn’t the irony here that the writers strike believes they are providing great creative ideas/ stories and thus demand a better working wage but the reality is that they are actually doing a subpar job and should not receive more.
If they really were doing such a great job, I would expect the audience to share in their pain, but it doesn’t seem like anyone cares as we mindlessly scroll through our free media devices in our hands.

Sophy T
Sophy T
10 months ago

Try Korean drama. Superior in every way to that made in the west.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
10 months ago
Reply to  Sophy T

Are you thinking of PARASITE by any chance?

james goater
james goater
10 months ago
Reply to  Sophy T

Korean historical drama, yes — magnificent, as visual spectacle.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
10 months ago
Reply to  Sophy T

Are you thinking of PARASITE by any chance?

james goater
james goater
10 months ago
Reply to  Sophy T

Korean historical drama, yes — magnificent, as visual spectacle.

Sophy T
Sophy T
10 months ago

Try Korean drama. Superior in every way to that made in the west.

J. Hale
J. Hale
10 months ago

The devil is in the details. No one is forced to buy Apple products. Android is a legitimate competitor. No one is forced to search on Google. There is still Bing and Yahoo. So trying to write rational anti monopoly legislation is very difficult. There is the added problem that China has no problem with monopolies and actually funds state backed companies that compete with American companies that get no govenment support.

J. Hale
J. Hale
10 months ago

The devil is in the details. No one is forced to buy Apple products. Android is a legitimate competitor. No one is forced to search on Google. There is still Bing and Yahoo. So trying to write rational anti monopoly legislation is very difficult. There is the added problem that China has no problem with monopolies and actually funds state backed companies that compete with American companies that get no govenment support.

Aidan Barrett
Aidan Barrett
10 months ago
Aidan Barrett
Aidan Barrett
10 months ago
LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
10 months ago

This is, David, an exceptionally accurate analysis of the entertainment world as we know it.
You have identified the problem, precisely:
“The strategy of overspending and then dumping new content into the marketplace made it hard for even the most original creators to stand out from the surrounding oceans of sludge.”
As evidence of the profound truth that your analysis presents, I submit, herewith: two lost-in-the-shuffle ancient record albums and four historical fiction novels.
Please excuse me, but having been a writer of songs, record albums, cd’s, four novels and 1200 blogposts, I was absolutely amazed while reading your assessment, above.
If your message happens to grab the attention of any music-promoters or any publishers, perhaps they will do a search for these new candidates:
Music: “Something for Everyone” 1978. “Revelation 5:9” 1979.
Historical fiction novels: Glass half-Full (2007), Glass Chimera (2008), Smoke (2011) King of Soul (2017)
These four novels are not mindless, superfluous fluff for caressing dull minds, but rather. . . (respectively, in order): Glass half-Full: trouble in Washington DC that is perpetrated by a group of neo-nazi meth-cookers in the early 2000’s.
Glass Chimera: buried treasure and genetic engineering in New Orleans, USA.
Smoke: what was happening in Europe in 1937, beginning in London, precisely on May 12, 1937, the Coronation day of King George VI, Charles’ grandfather.
King of Soul: What happened to the USA during the Vietnam war, told from a Southern perspective.
These are all stories and songs that inform and educate curious minds, rather than anaesthetizing them with predictable drivel. I hope you will view them as examples that support your thesis above, rather than being merely the self-obsessed drivel of this writer, whom Paul McCartney once identified as the “Paperback Writer,” based on (haha!) “a novel by a man named Lear.”,
And, as Paul sang it: “and I need a job so I wanna be a paperback writer”! but Hollywood’s not hiring, nor is New York. How about London?

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
10 months ago

This is, David, an exceptionally accurate analysis of the entertainment world as we know it.
You have identified the problem, precisely:
“The strategy of overspending and then dumping new content into the marketplace made it hard for even the most original creators to stand out from the surrounding oceans of sludge.”
As evidence of the profound truth that your analysis presents, I submit, herewith: two lost-in-the-shuffle ancient record albums and four historical fiction novels.
Please excuse me, but having been a writer of songs, record albums, cd’s, four novels and 1200 blogposts, I was absolutely amazed while reading your assessment, above.
If your message happens to grab the attention of any music-promoters or any publishers, perhaps they will do a search for these new candidates:
Music: “Something for Everyone” 1978. “Revelation 5:9” 1979.
Historical fiction novels: Glass half-Full (2007), Glass Chimera (2008), Smoke (2011) King of Soul (2017)
These four novels are not mindless, superfluous fluff for caressing dull minds, but rather. . . (respectively, in order): Glass half-Full: trouble in Washington DC that is perpetrated by a group of neo-nazi meth-cookers in the early 2000’s.
Glass Chimera: buried treasure and genetic engineering in New Orleans, USA.
Smoke: what was happening in Europe in 1937, beginning in London, precisely on May 12, 1937, the Coronation day of King George VI, Charles’ grandfather.
King of Soul: What happened to the USA during the Vietnam war, told from a Southern perspective.
These are all stories and songs that inform and educate curious minds, rather than anaesthetizing them with predictable drivel. I hope you will view them as examples that support your thesis above, rather than being merely the self-obsessed drivel of this writer, whom Paul McCartney once identified as the “Paperback Writer,” based on (haha!) “a novel by a man named Lear.”,
And, as Paul sang it: “and I need a job so I wanna be a paperback writer”! but Hollywood’s not hiring, nor is New York. How about London?

David Ginsberg
David Ginsberg
10 months ago

Never Watch The Sequel

Jaden Johnson
Jaden Johnson
10 months ago
Reply to  David Ginsberg

You’ve never seen The Godfather Pt 2? Or Terminator 2? Or Aliens?

Jaden Johnson
Jaden Johnson
10 months ago
Reply to  David Ginsberg

You’ve never seen The Godfather Pt 2? Or Terminator 2? Or Aliens?

David Ginsberg
David Ginsberg
10 months ago

Never Watch The Sequel

G. Kaminskas
G. Kaminskas
10 months ago

“Cashing big checks from Hollywood’s would-be monopolists may have helped writers, directors and actors to pay for their swimming pools, but they also helped to kill the golden goose.” Cashing checks? How does one cash a check? UNHERD is a British publication. The word is cheque.

G. Kaminskas
G. Kaminskas
10 months ago

“Cashing big checks from Hollywood’s would-be monopolists may have helped writers, directors and actors to pay for their swimming pools, but they also helped to kill the golden goose.” Cashing checks? How does one cash a check? UNHERD is a British publication. The word is cheque.

Benjamin Greco
Benjamin Greco
10 months ago

The ultimate cause of all this was the laissez-faire neo-liberal capitalism ushered in by Thatcher and Reagan and the only thing that would have prevented the decline of newspapers and movie studios would have been robust government regulation and anti-trust enforcement to protect these industries and their workers by maintaining competition. I know of no one on the right calling for a return to the days of regulated capitalism and strong unions. The irony is that conservatives can now see the problem, which was of their own making, but they can’t stomach the solution.

Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
10 months ago
Reply to  Benjamin Greco

“I know of no one on the right calling for a return to the days of regulated capitalism and strong unions.”
lol, lmao even

Chris Hume
Chris Hume
10 months ago
Reply to  Benjamin Greco

It seems we can add the decline of Hollywood to the list of things apparently caused by Thatcher. I would say the former PM is a bogeyman figure, but it seems to be verging into some sort of religious belief with Thatcher as the diabolical root of all evil.

Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
10 months ago
Reply to  Benjamin Greco

“I know of no one on the right calling for a return to the days of regulated capitalism and strong unions.”
lol, lmao even

Chris Hume
Chris Hume
10 months ago
Reply to  Benjamin Greco

It seems we can add the decline of Hollywood to the list of things apparently caused by Thatcher. I would say the former PM is a bogeyman figure, but it seems to be verging into some sort of religious belief with Thatcher as the diabolical root of all evil.

Benjamin Greco
Benjamin Greco
10 months ago

The ultimate cause of all this was the laissez-faire neo-liberal capitalism ushered in by Thatcher and Reagan and the only thing that would have prevented the decline of newspapers and movie studios would have been robust government regulation and anti-trust enforcement to protect these industries and their workers by maintaining competition. I know of no one on the right calling for a return to the days of regulated capitalism and strong unions. The irony is that conservatives can now see the problem, which was of their own making, but they can’t stomach the solution.