Sunday, December 23, 2018

Bullshit Jobs and the New Hollywood

What one might call the "myth" of the "New Hollywood" of the 1960s and 1970s is that the artists' hubris led to the alienation of key partners and allies and sponsors, personal antagonisms and artistic and commercial flops that destroyed their careers; that the limited appetite for artistically daring and politically radical content had been exhausted, as risque content became mainstreamed and as the politics of the country moved right, eliminating both inspiration and audience; and the rush to imitate the success of Steven Spielberg's Jaws and George Lucas' Star Wars.

However, reading the relevant history I found myself struck by the changing business conditions above all. The New Hollywood happened in a period of sharp changes in media and entertainment (above all, the rise of TV), but also an interregenum between business models--the studio system was dying, but the hyper-financialized multinational multimedia corporation with its mission of barraging global audiences with "high concept" content had not yet established itself. The real, significant but still very limited margin of freedom that the New Hollywood artists enjoyed in between was inconceivable except in that interregenum, and came to an end with its close.

Interestingly, it is one of the many smaller jobs David Graeber takes up in Bullshit Jobs, where his emphasis is on the aftermath of that closure, described as "a corporatization far more stifling than anything that had come before" (186). In the book's discussion the key element is the complication of the process of "development" which has seen vast numbers of executives having to successively sign off on a project while getting in their two cents--a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth, the more so because none of them know a thing about cooking, and are often just trying to justify their existences (because, by and large, they know nothing of film, and by any reasonable measure, epitomize "bullshit" in the sense Graeber writes of it).

As it happens, contemporary Hollywood comes up a second time in the book, namely its closed nature. As Graeber remarks,
Look at a list of the lead actors of a major motion picture nowadays and you are likely to find barely a single one that can't boast at least two generations of Hollywood actors, writers, producers, and directors in their family tree. The film industry has come to be dominated by an in-marrying caste (252).
The combination of the industry's high-concept, global-market imperative, with this production process that looks like a recipe for incoherence or worse, and the bizarre situation in which the film industry is dominated by a closed "aristocracy" (his term), do not seem at all irrelevant to the combination of artlessness, and extraordinary divorce from lived reality, of what passes for "cinema" in our time.

Now on Google Books . . . (Star Wars in Context: Second Edition)
Some of What I've Been Up to Lately (NYRSF, SSRN, Star Wars in Context: Second Edition)
Just Out . . . The End of Science Fiction?
Just Out . . . (The Many Lives and Deaths of James Bond, 2nd edition)
Just Out. . . (James Bond's Evolution)
Just Out . . . (The Forgotten James Bond)
Just Out: After the New Wave: Science Fiction Today
Preview Cyberpunk, Steampunk and Wizardry
Movies: Seasons and Years in Review
The Writing Life: An Economist's Perspective
My Posts on Star Wars

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