Monday, August 17, 2009

Hollywood's Self-Fulfilling Marketing

Two recent pieces astutely cast light on the Hollywood's stubborn predilection for mainstream filmmaking. A.O. Scott in the New York Times and James Surowiecki in The New Yorker discuss why mega-franchises like Transformers continue to dominate film production. In part, as Scott observes, this is the ritual of questioning summer schlock fare. More tellingly, though, both pieces ask whether there's a failure of nerve by studios in their continuing reliance on action blockbusters aimed at the mythical teen and young adult demographic.

Surowiecki focuses on Kathryn Bigelow's excellent war drama, The Hurt Locker, which received little marketing support for its release in summer blockbuster season. He nails the issue in writing, "Hollywood decided in advance that Americans weren’t going to watch this kind of movie, and then made sure they wouldn’t." This is not just an unwillingness to take risk with a smaller film (on an admittedly uneasy topic, the Iraq War): it's a failure of imagination from an industry that is supposed to be awash in it.

The global economic recession is fairly invoked as cause for contemporary caution by the media conglomerate-held studios. Yet the conservatism driving production and marketing decisions long predated the current crisis. Amidst a much farther-reaching transformation of media and fragmentation of audiences, the immediate-term thinking seems terribly short-sighted. The blockbuster mentality has been around for decades, guiding most studio operations at least since the late 1970s. At a time when diversification is a watchword for success across other troubled and evolving industries, Hollywood might do well to consider adopting it as a strategy for winning the future.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Social Media and Change in Moldova

Moldova has just held another contested election. The small eastern European country, which rose to international headlines after elections in April provoked two weeks of anti-government protests (amplified, it was celebrated, by Twitter and e-mail communications), had another very close vote this week that appeared to produce a victory for opposition parties seeking closer ties to Europe. The electoral closeness emerges in part from the need of these parties to preserve a fragile coalition. Still, one could see progress in challenging the authority of the pro-Russian government by a younger generation able to mobilize in important part with new technologies.

It is possible to conclude summarily that the Twitter Revolution of April has finally succeeded, albeit after a delay of a hundred days and still only gradually. Yet we need to be cautious. If indeed it has happened, the political shift toward a European-leaning coalition and away from the Russian-supported Communists may well be more a reflection of longer-term generational changes and the continuing drift in former Soviet republics and bloc countries away from communist or socialist rule. Did Twitter accelerate this process in Moldova? Perhaps. Better to say now that events – and communication media – in the spring contributed to an array of compelling trends toward change.

However, those trends are both political and economic and finally transcend the familiar East-West reading. On the ground, in the hearts of many Moldovans desperate for greater opportunity and change, they are trends that often converge in ways that contradict distant analyses grounded in pitched oppositions of Russian and EU-supporters. The Financial Times says Moldovans "want it both ways." Quite right. Rather than this being a sign of greed or unreasonableness, though, it is more likely a symptom of wanting and needing to embrace as many possibilities as exist. As the FT piece concluded on Thursday, "Moldova has no interest in choosing between them. It needs them both."