Quantcast
subscriber help

artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Where is the beautiful end to monoculture the Internet was going to bring us?

Filmmaker Louie Psihoyos, at Gothamist, laments the fact that his totally gripping documentary The Cove — about an abhorrent annual dolphin slaughter in Japan — isn’t being seen by very many folks:

It’s like we’ve become a nation of dunces. Where are we getting our information from? We’re not reading and we’re not going to the movies for anything serious… I don’t think the answer bodes very well for America.

Jesus, it’s a little bit daunting; I mean we thought we had this crossover film. This film has action, adventure, was set up like an Ocean’s Eleven film, and at the end of the day, you know, you feel better for it… It’s got everything. Except an audience!

Meanwhile, at New York Magazine’s Intelligencer, Ada Calhoun reassures everyone who might be worried that mass culture is dying that everything is just fine:

The second you step off the island of Manhattan, everyone dresses pretty much the same (Old Navy, JCPenney, Target), buys their groceries at the same place (Wal-Mart), and listens to the same music (Top 100, or one of several other nationally mandated formats with strict playlists).

We’re all on Facebook and use Craigslist; thanks to the Internet, anyone and everyone can get their news from nytimes.com. Most Americans have the following most-convenient choices for eating out: Chili’s, McDonald’s, the Olive Garden. There’s Harry Potter and Jay Leno (now at 10 p.m.!) and Dan Brown. We all watch American Idol. We all follow the same handful of celebrities and their adopted children. Just because you can now also satisfy obscure interests online (cake pops, cougar porn, anime fan fiction) doesn’t mean the mainstream has ceased to exist.

Calhoun seems to think this is a good thing. And anyway, she’s wrong. We don’t all watch American Idol, for one — in fact, if 30 million people watched the most recent season debut, that’s only 10 percent of the total U.S. population: nowhere near a majority. But the fact that there’s a perceived need to assure us that America is just as conformist and dumbed-down as ever sort of terrifying, and clearly unnecessary.

Where is the beautiful end to monoculture the Internet was going to bring us? And why is everyone so afraid of it?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /home/flick/public_html/wptest/wp-content/themes/FlickFilosopher/loop-single.php on line 106
  • bitchen frizzy

    Hmm, I never thought the internet would bring an end to monoculture. What was that expectation based on?

    The internet made the world smaller, and each time the world shrinks, culture becomes more uniform.

    Psihoyos laments Americans “not going to the movies for anything serious.” I read that complaint a lot, too. I’ve seen it on this web site, re. Moore et. al. I don’t understand that expectation, either. Movies are mainly for entertainment, not education, that’s how our culture sees it – when do people give up on trying to fit that square peg into a round hole? Is culture “wrong” for not living up to the expectations of those who want to change what a movie is? I could stand on street corners demanding that people wear coats and ties to the swimming pool, but would that mean that people are uncultured for continuing to wear bathing suits and tee shirts, or that I’m being completely unrealistic?

  • bracyman

    What the hell? Now it’s conformist to eat at Chili’s? “OOh, he buys affordable yet somewhat stylish clothes at Old Navy! What a sheeple!”

    And I’m sorry, Mr. Psihoyos, but if you want people in the US to watch your crime thriller (a) don’t give away the crime and the criminals in the trailer, your website and every interview you have about the movie, and (b) maybe think about having a few more showings in the states rather than loading up your showing schedule in Australia. It turns out that I actually do want to see the movie, but since the nearest showing is 11 hours away from me in Colorado I don’t think I’ll catch it in theaters.

    There’s a different culture, and not just because of the Internet. We live in a world where it’s not uncommon to spend the week in 3 different states, or to live half the year away from your home. Yeah, it’s fun to be adventurous and try the crazy looking Thai place or the famed local diner. But take it from me, sometimes, when you’ve been away from your family and your friends and living in a hotel room and your office for weeks, being able to go to Olive Garden and order the same dish your daughter always eats only half of, and it tastes the same in DC as it does in Iowa, that disgraceful bit of monoculture can bring a little comfort.

  • Tom Fowler

    Give it another 20 years and we’ll see how it’s gotten on.

  • Steve

    I haven’t seen Louie Psihoyos’s movie (I don’t have many means of transportation, and the indie theatre doesn’t have it listed in their “coming soon” page.) If it really is that amazing, I would love to see it. But this interview leaves a sour taste in my mouth. It comes across as “What’s wrong with America? They’re all illiterate morons, as evidenced by the fact that they can’t understand the BRILLIANCE of my COMPLETELY BRILLIANT MOVIE!”

    I am not sympathetic.

  • Grinebiter

    Where is the beautiful end to monoculture the Internet was going to bring us?

    Hanging out with the clean, too-cheap-to-meter electricity that nuclear power was going to bring us?

  • FrankS

    This guy complains about a lack of an audience for his movie? It’s only playing on 24 frickin’ screens across the country!

    Here in the Chicago area it played in two theaters for a grand total of two weeks. The only advertising I ever saw for The Cove was a trailer shown at one of those theaters. With no other advertising promotion, it came and went before people even knew it was playing.

    Louie Psihoyos should talk to his distributor first before bitching about the lack of attendance at his flick.

  • Bluejay

    “The second you step off the island of Manhattan, everyone dresses pretty much the same (Old Navy, JCPenney, Target), buys their groceries at the same place (Wal-Mart), and listens to the same music (Top 100, or one of several other nationally mandated formats with strict playlists).”

    Brooklyn is off the island of Manhattan, and I do none of those things. Enough with the Manhattan self-regard already. It’s not the only awesome place in the world.

  • Macman

    The Internet has allowed for the creation of a multitude of monocultures. Now you can stay in your own bubble only reading about things in your area of interest or with your point of view with ease. If anything, with so much out there, it’s even more difficult for a small film to cross boundaries. You either have to be in the mainstream and have that kind of push behind you, or you are not going to pierce the bubbles of their particular interest that people form online.

  • Brian

    Ms. Calhoun may be a little confused about what goes on outside Manhattan – I guarantee that most of the people who are out there watching American Idol and shopping at Wal-Mart are not getting their news from nytimes.com.

    As for Mr. Psihoyos, he may also want to consider another little technological innovation from the last 30 years: home video. When it costs $10 for a single movie ticket even out here in the “flyover” – where The Cove isn’t playing anyway – maybe most of the audience for this film won’t come until they can stick it in their Netflix queue. I guess it could be a signal of the decline and fall of Western civilization that nobody’s rushing to the theatre to see this movie, but I prefer to apply Occam’s razor here.

  • pjowens75

    Interesting. Wasn’t there just an article on how, when he returned to The Cove, there was no dolphin slaughter going on? Even if that was only to cover while the media was visiting, doesn’t that show that his film had at least some of the desired effect? This leads to the question “What were Louie Psihoyos intentions for making The Cove? To put an end to the slaughter of dolphins, or to make tons of money?”

  • Bill

    “Hmm, I never thought the internet would bring an end to monoculture. What was that expectation based on?” – bitchen frizzy

    ditto.

  • Andrew

    “Oh no, my independent movie which has no big names attached, has recieved no publicity, and is playing on no screens has somehow failed to find an audience!

    I blame the INTERNET!”

  • i remember one of the big fears my parents friends discussed endlessly was “one world” government or culture. why that was so horrifying, i could never figure out as a kid, but of course, it was the fear that the culture wouldn’t be “american.” now, to me that meant communism, or marxism, and some sort of robot state…

    but watching and reading the news now, i think the world is more “balcanized” than ever… everyone wants their little corner of the world to be poltically independent. it’s only consumer-wise that things seem to be remarkably homogenous. one of the pleasures of travel used to be finding items and crafts and treasures that couldn’t be found anywhere else. i find it distinctly disturbing that everywhere i go, i find a mall, the Gap, macdonalds… a wal-mart in china. it seems there is both consumer monoculture and political fragmentation.

    on the other hand, experience-wise i also concur with macman’s comment that so much choice also narrows our fields of focus, limiting our opportunity to be exposed to something different and out of our comfort zone. i’m sure that the world was ever thus, but it takes a lot more effort to go our and find the unique than it had before.

  • Grinebiter

    A voice from Rightpondia:

    I’m old enough to remember standing for ‘God Save the Queen’ before films; which were preceded by ‘newsreels’ that made Fox look subtle. Vast cinemas, where everyone saw the same film at the same time. Now that was monoculture, and arguably a robot state as well.

    But then again, in those days the workers (men and women) went to the same pub, a few minutes away on foot, to drink, talk and fight, without deafening canned music, without age-cohort segregation, without a dress code, and thereby without fashionista bouncers at the door. (The middle classes drove to different pubs out in the country, and drove home pissed.) Culture was thus relatively uniform within any given social class, bar the odd eccentric, dissident and class traitor. The Sixties brought tribal differentiation by pop music and sartorial style, with two tribes in particular fighting pitched battles. Fragmentation then continued to the point where a cartoon character in the country I now belong to, drawn by a woman and said to be a major female identification figure, scornfully rejects all men whose musical tastes differ 0.0001 % from her own as being virtually subhuman.

    As for food, when I was young we didn’t have McDonalds, but the majority ate fish-and-chips, bangers-and-mash and other rather limited culinary phenomena. Ordinary Brits only knew one sauce, namely gravy. And hadn’t talked to a real live American since 1945 ;-)

    So, I’m not sure I buy the idea that the monoculture is getting worse.

  • The second you step off the island of Manhattan, everyone dresses pretty much the same (Old Navy, JCPenney, Target), buys their groceries at the same place (Wal-Mart), and listens to the same music (Top 100, or one of several other nationally mandated formats with strict playlists).

    Unless, of course they come from another country but I keep forgetting that such people couldn’t possibly live in NYC. Because it’s so monocultural, you see?

    We’re all on Facebook and use Craigslist; thanks to the Internet, anyone and everyone can get their news from nytimes.com.

    We are and we do?

    Ah, more gracious living!

    Just because you can now also satisfy obscure interests online (cake pops, cougar porn, anime fan fiction) doesn’t mean the mainstream has ceased to exist.

    And yet it seems obvious to even the most casual observer that the mainstream ain’t what it used to be.

    When I was dating a young Southern white girl a few years back, I was surprised by how many experiences she took for granted that just weren’t done by young Southern white girls in my mother’s time.

    But then when it comes to the monoculture, people tend to see what they want to see.

    You want to see evidence of change? You’ll see evidence of change.

    You want to see evidence of conformity? You’ll see evidence of conformity.

    Of course, what you might see just might say more about you than it does whatever you’re observing, but then that’s the chance you take.

  • And just what is monoculture? Some medium through which people of different ethnic/lingual backgrounds all get together to discuss a common topic in English? The same way that, ahem, we do here on this site?

    Well, God forbid we permit something like that to exist. That would be terrible…

  • Mo

    Old Navy, Walmart, and Chilli’s?

    So really what she’s saying is that consumerism has taken over this world to the point that people can be judged as people- and dismissed!- purely on the basis of what they consume.

    Well sorry miss fancypants, but when the next major cities with anything else to offer are both a full 12-hour+ drive away, we have to make due with what is local. And unfortunately with a population our size, local mainly means big chains.

    But it also means beautiful landscapes and beaches without a resort in sight. It means local music that sounds like it came from here and not anywhere else and local filmmakers who can make a film with no budget and rent out a theatre for the night to show it in. And you know what? Everything that makes this place and this culture special, far as it is from the bright New York centre of civilization, will never show up on any consumer checklist, existed just fine before the internet, and cannot be bought at any Walmart.

    I’ve known plenty of hipsters, and plenty of people who are fine with the mainstream. If I want to geek out with someone who shares my own weird taste in music, I’ll track down a hipster. But for all of their apparent “individuality” those hipsters are usually so image obsessed that they have the working emotional depth of a thimble. Actually, they’re pretty useless at almost anything.

    As for those uncultured bumpkins who shop at Walmart and Old Navy, those ugly sweatpants they’re wearing will never tell you that they play 3 different instruments, had dreams of being a concert pianist, and write beautiful poetry that will never see the light of day, or that they have such a strong empathetic streak that they know how you feel before you open your mouth, or that they have to shop at Walmart or Zellers/Target because they have given up a big part of their life and income to look after their sick mother. Those receipts can’t tell you that they wear those sweatpants because they’re insecure about their waistline, about the garden that they look after with their own compost full of antique flower varieties they got from their grandmother, or about the weeks they spent saving up for one meal out with friends at a nice resturant.

    All those reciepts can tell you is that they shopped at Walmart, Old Navy, and Chilli’s. And that makes them a monocultured bumpkin. Right. I think that they actually just have more important things to care about than what they’re consuming.

  • Paul

    Actually, I thought I detected the faint whiff of sarcasm off the Calhoun essay, but I’m not sure what’s she’s being sarcastic about.

    And I’m not worried about “monoculture” as long as it leaves room for “subcultures.” I believe economics plays a far more powerful role in society than culture; culture is what we do when we have time off from fulfilling our economic needs. Unless you are an artist or religious leader, in which case your economic needs are fulfilled by your cultural activities, at which point you are at constant moral risk.

    And economic forces such as the cheapness of WalMart, advertising campaigns, the need for credit, the success of movies spawning sequels, all shape and often trump cultural evolution. The monoculture is competitive because of the economic benefits of mass production and the human desire to conform to a group, and a subculture is here to stay when it has enough fans to support an economic system. (Hot Topic, alternative music). Such is life.

  • Mo, marry me?

  • As usual, someone on this site has an even better response to one of MaryAnn’s posts than mine and on this thread it’s Mo.

    If I didn’t already have a special woman in my life, I’d be competing with Orodemniades because Mo’s notion of what exactly is wrong with Ada Calhoun’s post is right on target.

  • Stephanie

    “The second you step off the island of Manhattan, everyone dresses pretty much the same (Old Navy, JCPenney, Target), buys their groceries at the same place (Wal-Mart), and listens to the same music (Top 100, or one of several other nationally mandated formats with strict playlists).”

    This woman is hilariously wrong and it’s embarassing that she states this like it’s obvious. If she really believes this, she’s just delusional.

  • AJP

    Why would anyone think that the internet would being an end to the monoculture? The internet is probably the greatest element driving the monoculture forward.

  • CB

    Why would anyone think that the internet would being an end to the monoculture?

    A lot of extremely optimistic writers and thinkers in the 90s. Everyone on earth being able to communicate at the speed of, um, modem, and the free sharing of ideas and such would inevitably break down societal barriers, right?

    Yeah, or means it means that everyone can find a bunch of other people who think exactly like them and stay within their comfortable little echo chamber.

    I think these were the same people who thought that the internet was going to undo the rules of business, like “you have to have a product”. :)

  • Paul

    In some ways, the Internet is undoing the rules of certain businesses. The music and publishing industries have been taking major hits, because the Internet provides free distribution and easy theft, and builds the habit in people of getting things for free. After all, none of us are paying MaryAnn for her reviews.

    It’s Marxism, really; capitalism making technology so efficient that profitability becomes harder and harder. Agriculture hit that problem decades ago, which is why most American and European farmers are government subsidized to the determent of Third World farmers (ranching is subsidized for the opposite reason; beef is so inefficent that if it wasn’t for government support beef would be $50 a pound, while pork is so cheap and easy that the entire hog industry almost went belly up a couple of years ago). I sometimes wonder if I’ll live long enough for robots to be doing all the work and we can all retire, or become perpetual college students, or something like that.

  • After all, none of us are paying MaryAnn for her reviews.

    Well, I did buy her book and participate in her MicroPatron program a few years ago.

    So I’m not sure where you get this “us” from? ;-)

  • CB

    In some ways, the Internet is undoing the rules of certain businesses.

    It’s changing some of the particulars, but the Internet was supposed to completely undo the basic rules of economics. I’m not just talking “you must work through X and Y middlemen, and use Z supply chain”. I’m talking “you must have a product people want, and a plan on how to monetize it.” Thinking things like that didn’t apply any more, and convincing venture capitalists of this, is what lead to the .com bubble.

    The music and publishing industries have been taking major hits, because the Internet provides free distribution and easy theft, and builds the habit in people of getting things for free. After all, none of us are paying MaryAnn for her reviews.

    But advertisers are paying her for our eyeballs which her reviews attract, which is no different than if she did her reviews on the radio, broadcast television, or even newspaper (where most of the time subscription cost pays for printing at best). Advertising-supported content where the whole point is to give it out to free for to as many people as possible isn’t even remotely new.

    The only reason the music business has been hit so hard is because they have been slow to adapt to a minor change in market mechanics, thinking if they just refuse to acknowledge reality, they can keep charging $15 for a CD and the profit margins that provides. Look at iTunes, which is making money hand over fist, and what is actually different: You can download your music immediately instead of going to the store or waiting for shipping; you can buy singles ala-carte; the price of an album isn’t anywhere near free but is more reasonable than CD prices.

    That’s not undoing the rules of business. It’s a minor shift that some dinosaurs can’t handle.

    Nobody is throwing out their economics textbooks because of the internet. These guys in the 90s I’m talking about were suggesting you should. See?

Pin It on Pinterest