Familiar terms

Wouldn’t it be great if people really liked - and really wanted - originality? If asked, most would claim they preferred original and creative movies, games and music. Stale rehashes of old ideas are boring. When faced with a choice couched in these terms, original versus boring, how could anyone opt for the latter?

There’s an apocryphal tale about an American car manufacturer who decided to design and manufacture a vehicle based upon survey data acquired from the general public. Sensibly enough the respondents highlighted features such as good fuel mileage, reliability, passenger space and luggage. The data was compiled and the “ideal” family car was duly released to the public. It flopped. Why? Because the survey sample felt obliged to give the “right” answers, rather than be honest about their own irresponsible choices. The marketplace was predominantly young-ish males who weren’t looking for a practical car with lots of space for groceries. They wanted a flash, ridiculous beast that they could cruise around in.

When asked, most people would say they want original TV shows and movies. They probably even tell themselves it’s the truth. The output of entertainment media as a whole, however, suggests originality is the last thing consumers want.

Ross Douhat of the New York Times writes:

“...only two of the 25 highest-grossing movies of the last decade weren’t adaptations of an existing property…”.

The situation is that desperate.

Film library.jpg

Originality is a dangerous thing. Despite market research and the rise of Netflix, no one truly knows how an audience will react to something they’ve never seen or heard before. It’s a gamble and that’s something production companies balk at when it comes to green-lighting projects that cost tens of millions of dollars to make. Even relatively safe bets are still gambles of course, but with the odds of success (hopefully) stacked in their favour.

When you look at upcoming film releases, do you get a sense of familiarity? The big-money is often mired in miscellaneous CG-laced super-hero flicks, nth-issue franchise instalments and Pixar-wannabee CG outings. Behind those we can see other regular, marketable pigeon-holes being filled: romance, family drama, action and comedy. That’s not to say that any of the above is without merit; there is a value in a story well told, even if it is not breaking new ground.

We also live in an age when the public need some convincing to hand over their recreational cash. Cinema (for example) is no longer the weekly go-to recreation that it was in the early-to-mid 20th Century; such is the choice on offer elsewhere. Families are trying to live more frugally, another disincentive for choosing original content. Why take a risk with ‘X’ if you’re pretty sure you’ll be okay with ‘Y’?

These factors all contribute to the status quo - of successful movies slowly being wrung to death in order to finance more of the same. Superhero franchises show no sign of slowing down, if the latest Spiderman reboot is anything to go by. At least the found-footage era seems to be on the wane.

So do you still want originality? Well, perhaps if you didn’t have to pay for it and if it was delivered with zero-inconvenience to your door. Getting out and committing to an evening of the unknown, somewhere across town, at your own expense? Statistically speaking, it’s unlikely.