Standardization is the means by which corporations make their fortunes. They take something, figure out how to mass produce it, and then sell it to the masses. Mass production gives corporations the means to make individual items cheap, and sell them for a profit. Ideally, you create a thing that’s just good enough people will buy it, but it’s cheap enough to make that people won’t complain when they purchase or consume it. Case in point: The Big Mac.
McDonald’s sells billions of hamburgers a year. They’ve built one of the most lucrative franchises in history. Everyone knows the brand and knows the quality of their food. It’s not the best, but it’s “just good enough.” Franchises are built on the concept of a turn-key solution. Create a business model that’s easy to replicate and mass produce products. Everyday McDonald’s sells their mass-produced food. Following suit are other businesses built on the same model: Wendy’s, Burger King and many others.
Quality is not the primary concern of McDonald’s. Sure they don’t want you to choke and die eating their food, but they do want you to feel you’ve gotten your money’s worth from their food, and they want to make a profit. I’d wager you could go to a grocery store, buy some beef, hamburger buns, ketchup, mustard, cheese, and pickles and make a burger that is light years better than anything McDonald’s could produce. However, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a better business model.
Switching gears, the same mindset that sells and mass-produces the Big Mac, is at work in Hollywood. The endless parade of sequels, prequels, reboots and remakes are not an accident. It’s a means by which the studios are trying to figure out how to make movies on par with the Big Mac. A movie today has to be just-good enough for Americans, but marketable to the whole world. A film that would be a flop in the US, could make billions with revenue generated from overseas movie-goers.
Prequels, sequels, reboots, and remakes give Hollywood studios a means by which they can standardize a film that’s marketable to movie-goers. Movies now work on trying to hit the right beats, appeal to test markets, and try to be just good enough.
Case in point: Star Trek: Into Darkness. The movie had action, I’ll give it that, but did it have any element to it that was reflective of any of the previous Star Trek movies or franchises? Nope. It was hollow, pandering, and failed to miss any hint of a thematic point.
People today say, “just shut your brain off. It’s just a popcorn movie.” Sorry, I can’t do that. I don’t go to movies just to watch flickering lights and special effects, I go to escape for a moment into a movie that takes me to other worlds, exotic adventures, and so forth. Action with no characterization or theme, is just noise. If I’d want to see something like that, I’d watch NASCAR, not go to the movies.
Star Trek: Into Darkness was good enough to warrant the production of another sequel. However, it’s not alone in the lower quality of movies made lately. The list is endless, and it looks like the pile of mediocrity is going to get worse before it gets better. Disney is planning on cranking out a ton of new Star Wars movies. Marvel has several new movies in the works, and Warner Bros. (owners of DC comics) are planning a series of movies based on their characters.
Look, I grew up with Star Wars, Star Trek, and other iconic pop culture movies and saw them when they were in the theaters originally. The thing is, they were original at the time. I’m not knocking Hollywood for trying to make swimming pools of cash. More power to ’em, but would it kill them to actually try and produce things that are original? Or at the very least, harken to the spirit and theme of the original thing they’re remaking? (Star Trek 2009 v. Star Trek Into Darkness, for example.)
I guess, the key point of my rant, is that there was a time, it seemed, when people actually seemed to care about the quality of things they produced. With mass-marketing, the “just good enough” mindset removes or subverts the concept of a thing being made with quality in mind. How can there be pride in making a movie that’s on par with a Big Mac? Sure, there was crap and cheesy marketing when I was growing up. (That’s America, baby!) However, there’s something about making and remaking a thing until it’s devoid of any value. That’s the point. The things I grew up with had value, and now they’re just icons; cheap knock-offs of something that was once valuable; simulacra of their former selves, iconic things to be mass-produced without concern for quality so long as someone can make a buck.
I’m advocating for authenticity in a world that’s all about the hollowness. Its all about being shiny without concern for real wealth or value. Get the instant gratification without putting in any effort.
I hate to give in to cynicism, but it seems the mass-production of hand-me-down icons at the expense of original content leaves a conscious henchman with little recourse. We’re heading down the road to Idiocracy. I know we can do better.