On Inundation

There is an absolutely terrific essay by Mark Harris on (in) GQ entitled “The Day the Movies Died.” His analysis rings true, and his prose is an absolute delight to read. His argument is that Hollywood has essentially been overtaken by marketers and that those marketers only want to sell established brands. A brand here is defined as something you have already bought (into), thus the job of the marketer is noticeable easier: they do not have to pitch you an unknown entity, only that you need more of what you already have.

I am not doing the essay justice in summing it up this way: I laughed out loud at several points and I also shook my head in sad recognition at others: the triumph of marketing is not only at the movies. Arguably, we can see it in other institutions as well.

What I do want to think about a bit more is something that one of the folks Harris interviewed mentioned, and that is the idea that we are all immersed in such a noisome environment that reaching us, or us reaching out, is very, very difficult. Here’s what Scott Stuber said in full:

“Listen, the obligation of anyone in those studio jobs is to help their company make a profit,” says Scott Stuber, who served as Universal’s president of production before leaving in 2005 to become a producer. “When things are going well, sometimes you’re willing to reach a little bit more; you’ll say, once in a while, ‘We’re just going to do this movie because we believe in it.’ But when they’re not going so well… it gets difficult. There’s just not as much money out there as there used to be, and we’re all inundated with so much noise now that it’s hard to cut through every weekend for consumers’ attention.”

Inundated. We read and hear that term, or another just like it, a lot these days. We are drowning or overwhelmed. Typically, what overwhelms us is information and/or connectivity. There is, if one follows the various sources of punditry, just too much happening: too many tweets, too many Facebook updates, too many posts in our RSS feeds, too many emails in our inboxes, too many shows on television, too many books coming out.

I think I have finally arrived at a response: stop complaining.

First, the world has always felt like this, so far as I can tell both from reading historical accounts and from doing oral history. Human beings appear designed to feel overwhelmed by whatever environment in which they find themselves. Even peasant farmers dragging a plow behind a horse feel overwhelmed by the number of variables that they have to keep in mind in hopes that they will produce enough of a crop to feed their family over the upcoming winter.

Are you worried about feeding your family over the upcoming winter?

No, you’re not.

And almost by some form of reductio ad absurdum, you are not overwhelmed. (Yes, I know, the peasant was supposed to be operating in parallel, not in contrast. I decided to make things harder for us “moderns.”)

Second, it’s an embarrassment of riches. Yes, there’s a lot of stuff going on. You have to choose. I don’t regard the exercising of choice as problematic. I regard it as a state of advanced civilization that has enabled me not to worry about feeding my family over the upcoming winter.

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