The Hidden Masters of Pop Culture

Adam Manstroianni has written an article on his Experimental History Substack about a thing long lamented, how everything in pop culture is on repeat.

In every corner of pop culture––movies, TV, music, books, and video games––a smaller and smaller cartel of superstars is claiming a larger and larger share of the market. What used to be winners-take-some has grown into winners-take-most and is now verging on winners-take-all. The (very silly) word for this oligopoly, like a monopoly but with a few players instead of just one.

Adam Mastroianni, “Pop Culture Has Become an Oligopoly

Mastroianni has data showing the consolidation across cinema, television, literature, and music, and the trend lines are the same. He then suggests 4 factors driving this:

  • Invasion – The internet made publishing indie content easy, so the Big Boys focus on creating the kind of content that only they can.
  • Consolidation – All the Big Boys have consolidated. The eight major film studios all belong to larger corporations. Columbia belongs to Sony. Warner Brothers merged with Time. Paramount belongs to CBS. Universal belongs to NBC. MGM and UA both belong to Amazon. 20th Century Fox belongs to Disney. Only RKO is still independent (sort of), and no one knows they even exist, because they’re really only a vestige, a holding company of their former selves. Thus, cultural product is product, decided by white papers in board rooms. Always thus to some degree, but nothing else anymore.
  • Innovation – We have learned the tricks to put eyeballs on the screen, and how to reproduce that. The arts have been gamed.
  • Proliferation – aka the Netflix Effect. You scroll through the offerings, most of which you’ve never heard of. You are overwhelmed by the choices available. You give up and binge The Office.

These are all structural problems. That doesn’t make them insurmountable, It just means you have to create with them in mind. All art is commerce, and all commerce is the right eyeball on the right product. Your goal as an indie producer is not necessarily to outcompete the majors, but to find places unsatisfied by Consolidated Entertainment. To fill niches.

Sure, Consolidated Entertainment is huge, but they’re dinosaurs. They can’t adapt. They’re dependent on current trends continuing. Current trends never do.

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