Thursday, July 27, 2017

Spam Takes Over The Menu

An army marches on its stomach. This adage holds the key to understanding how our present globalist masters succeeded where Hitler, Napoleon, Stalin and the other world-emperor hopefuls failed. Whereas Hitler and Napoleon starved their soldiers on exhausting treks into Russia and Stalin skimped on the pleasures of life (all purge, no binge), the corporate giants treat their regulars to an unending buffet of earthly delights.

I am reminded of a haunting scene from Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away. A family on vacation stumbles on an empty restaurant with heaping platters of steaming, delicious food. Ignoring their anorexic 10-year-old's hysterical warnings, the parents stuff their faces in an orgy of gluttony. Of course little Anna Rexia was right - they quickly transform into huge fat hogs to be herded into the pens of the master spirits that run the place.

"Wow, that's really disturbing, but a great modern parable for the dangers of consumer-powered globalism," I burbled as I chugged down a gallon-sized Disney jug of imported Miyazaki. The anti-globalist revolution should get underway any day now. In fact, we might even get some good ideas from next Sunday's Game of Thrones! In the words of a homegrown possum, we have met the enemy and he is us.

A dictatorship of the proletariat's stomach is upon us then, and our diet is trending towards complete garbage. Remember all those crazy urban legends about KFC about how they used the acronym because they couldn't call their vat-raised GMObominations chicken? Well that's what came to mind when I read today's NY Times piece on the modern movie business.

Reporter Alex French follows producer Tripp Vinson on his Journey 2 the absolute rock bottom of Hollywood's brain-dead IP harvesting. (Note that it's referred to as IP, not intellectual property, presumably because the intellect is gone). Vinson is no stranger to the bottom of the barrel. French charitably describes him as a producer of popcorn flicks. More accurately, he delivers well-casted badly scripted stink bombs that happen to fill the right genre slots on the periphery of major studio slates.

As audiences have largely rejected lazy, soulless genre pieces, Vinson has joined his fellow producers in pivoting to lazy, soulless IP conversions. While the strip-mining rights to the really juicy IPs, like George Lucas' severed brainchild, are already long gone, there's always another layer to frack. Like board games, toys, bad TV shows and mobile games. Vinson struck pay dirt with the popular time-killing app Fruit Ninja, getting the rights and then setting a team BS artists to farting out an ad hoc narrative. Their winning take? Read it and weep:
Every couple of hundred years a comet flies by Earth, leaving in its wake a parasite that descends on a farm and infects the fruit. The infected fruit then search for a human host. The only thing keeping humanity from certain doom is a secret society of ninjas who kill the fruit and rescue the hosts by administering the "anti-fruit." The produce-slaying saviors are recruited from the population based on their skill with the Fruit Ninja game... The action starts after each of the story's heroes returns home after a horrible day and plays Fruit Ninja to relieve some stress... this aligns with the Fruit Ninja brand: "Anybody can play. Anybody can be a master."
That last bit sounds remarkably like the new Hollywood brand: "Any IP can be a movie. Any bot can be a screenwriter." I'm also reminded of the amazing kid's book pitch session from Elf. I'd love to see a tribe of asparagus children team up with these Fruit Ninjas and maybe end up less self-conscious about the way their pee smells.

In the somewhat recent past, we could rely on the English-speaking world having just enough taste to throw dreck like this right out of the theater and into the dustbin known as the HBO movie library. Sure there were embarrassing exceptions, like Adam Sandler's entire career, but for the most part, American audiences and the smaller Western markets on the periphery were pretty good about enforcing a quality standard.

But nowadays, unfettered access to global markets has essentially eliminated American audience's veto power over Hollywood. French references two doozies -  Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and Battleship - that were saved from domestic hostility by the intervention angel of consumers from abroad. Last year I was one of the few American masochists to brave the Independence Day sequel and Warcraft. They sucked but international audiences sent them to the moon. Warcraft made more in its opening weekend in China than it did in its entire domestic run in the states.

In the build-up to World War II, FDR answered allies call for help by calling on America to serve as a "great arsenal of democracy," devoting the bulk of American industrial might to the military needs of country in Europe and Asia. Today, Hollywood is converting our cultural might into a great arsenal of mediocrity to serve the least common denominator demands of the global market.

For the moment, America is less than enthused with the development but not yet in open revolt. We still go to see movies, but ticket sales have declined significantly since their peak in 2002. That decline has meant little to nothing to Hollywood however as international markets have more than doubled over the same time frame.

Our situation is growing more and more like the cafe patrons from Monty Python's famous spam sketch. We are seeing our own cultural preferences sidelined to cater to foreigners' preferences for the worst stuff on the menu. Our favorite menu items are gradually being pushed to the periphery or omitted altogether, their places taken by endless reproductions of the same gelatinous mystery meat. And while our current choices may be Dunkirk, Atomic Blonde and SPAM, no amount of domestic protest can prevent the progression to SPAM, SPAM and more SPAM. Take it away, Viking chorus.