Back in 1999, Napster killed the music business forever. And now what happened to music 20 years ago is happening to the movie business — and that is a critical piece of analysis missing from this piece from the far-left New York Times looking at the demise of films.
Napster annihilated the music business when it took music digital and got everyone used to not paying much of anything for music. Who’s going to pay for music after you’re used to not paying for it?
Worse though, Napster cheapened music. Not to go all In my day on everyone, but there’s a reason why the biggest music names touring the past few years are almost all aged 80 to 40. Elton John, Metallica, Fleetwood Mac, the Rolling Stones, KISS, Cher, Garth Brooks, Bob Seger, Phil Collins, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Pink, Eminem, Journey, Def Leppard, U2, Sting, Backstreet Boys, Scorpions, Rod Stewart, Celine Dion, Guns n’ Roses, Justin Timberlake. Sure, Ariana Grande is on the list. I’m sure a Beyonce or Taylor Swift can fill a venue, but this is like growing up in the 80s and 90s and the biggest grossing tours are Bill Haley and the Comets, the Platters, the Four Seasons, Paul Anka, and Frankie Avalon.
In my day — sorry to do that to you again — new music was a big deal. You didn’t hit a button on your Spotify account to listen to it. You saved your money. You went out and bought the album. You recorded the album on cassette so you wouldn’t wear out the vinyl and could listen to it in your car. You put on headphones. Laid down on the bed. Listened to both sides, and when you flipped it over you were careful not to touch anything but the edges, and then you stared at the album cover the whole time — read the liner notes. Then your friends came over. You listened to it again and again, talked about it, and waited to see what the first top 40 single would be.
There’s none of that now. Music is just a commodity today, a product, and oftentimes a product used to sell another product. You listen, you move on. The specialness is gone. The sense that a new release is meaningful is gone. Worse still, the sense the art itself is meaningful, that it speaks to you in some way, is gone. It’s all just disposable junk now. That, by the way, is not my commentary on the quality of today’s music, but how people perceive music today.
Music is now just something else on the Internet, like a YouTube video or tweet or blog post. What used to fill a meaningful gap in people’s lives now just fills four minutes of their time.
This is what’s going to happen to movies, and what has been happening to movies for a long while now…
And when I talk about movies, I’m talking about movie-movies, not TV movies.
I really enjoyed Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, but it was a made-for-TV movie (Netflix) and is therefore a TV movie– a point I’ll circle back to in a bit. But let’s first look at how Hollywood had already cheapened the art, even before the coronavirus hit…
When movies were still around what were they? It was all CGI and spectacle and a big roller coaster ride. Except for cheapie horror, movies had become one big and bloated $400 million gamble after another, and with Marvel having run its course with the Avengers, and Disney running out of cartoons to bring to real (CGI) life and the DC brand running more cold than hot, and the Fast and Furious crew about to qualify for AARP, the movie business was already about to hit a wall and was already becoming something hollow and forgettable.
Sure, some of these movies are a good time, but so is reading Twitter and watching YouTube.
Art is more than a good time. It stays with you, affects you, maybe even changes you; it inspires you, makes you think, makes you want to re-experience it thinking you might have missed a deeper meaning that first time. Yeah, sure, there are exceptions that tell a human story, a Once Upon a Time in Hollywood or Ford v. Ferrari, but those are exceptions. Rare exceptions.
I just wonder, now that the coronavirus has shut the movie business down, are people really missing it?
And now that the coronavirus is forcing blockbuster movies like Soul and Wonder Woman 1984 and Coming to America 2 and Mulan and a whole bunch of others to go direct to streaming, that means the movies are one step closer to Napster-izing themselves. All these movies are going to go the route of The Irishman — cheapened and lost in the literal bottomless black hole that is Netflix’s (or whoever’s) endless selection.
We watch the Irishman and Hillbilly Elegy and countless others just like them as though they are commodities, time fillers, and with streaming blowing up like it has, with it becoming a primary source of income for the studios, we’re going to see a whole lot more movies cheapened in the same way — most of them, in fact.
And no, it’s not like when a movie would premier on TV before there was home video, which used to be a big deal, an event. Or when a movie premiered on home video, which was also something to get excited over. Because those movies had been in theaters, so they came with that imprimatur, and that imprimatur meant something. And they were more than just a video game or roller coaster ride brought to life.
Now, no matter how good or great it is, countless movies (and more are coming) are dumped in the massive universe of the streaming carousel, just another digital product, just another tweet, just another YouTube video to fill your day.
Music used to be special. Now it’s not.
Movies used to be special, and now they are less so every day.