remember the rank, horrible smell of shitty writing way back when I was in my twenties, watching Blade Runner in the theater. Here’s a movie that focuses on man’s mortality, the close proximity to death, and just how fragile life really is. And in the end, when the point is made and we’re rocking back in our seats, it’s un-made with a stupid final scene with the hero and his girl driving off, explaining how nobody was really going to die, how everything would be happy, and how tomorrow was going to be a better day.
Even then, I thought it was pure crap.
I’ve since learned that (thanks to the director’s cut) that the movie does end with a mausoleum door slam, that life is short and nobody lives forever. But test audiences (the italics imply a sneer) wanted it happier. The story as told made them sad. And so the entire meaning of the movie was torn out so people would not be reminded of how precious their pointless little lives really were.
So now we have Big Data (as discussed last week HERE). And the days of test audiences are small potatoes against what’s taking place now. Netflix actually monitors the way you watch shows, where you pause, where you skip, how you follow. And they use this info to give you exactly what you want. You told them (indirectly) that you like Kevin Spacey. And you like director David Fincher. And oh yes, political dramas, you like those too. And so now we have House of Cards, a manufactured story to meet specific demands. It’s all about maximizing audience pleasure.
Okay with this? Do you think you’d get something like Game of Thrones and its horrific (and unexpected) corpse count? Do you think you can out-think writers, and generate things that are thoughtful and new and unique and different?
No, you’re just going to get more zombie and teen-vampire movies.
I am not okay with this sort of stuff. Data mining for plots, actors and screenplays is just the fast food of creative storytelling.
You want to know something? Most of you simply are not as clever as I am. I will always come up with stories that you could never imagine.
And you want to know something else – if Big Data wrote this based on what audiences wanted, you’d never have read it. Blogs telling you things you don’t really want to know don’t do well. If someone were monitoring this, this is the point where most people would stop reading. Following market demand, this would probably be a page full of kitten pictures.
I don’t know what you can do – Big Data is already upon us. As far as movies and TV are concerned, they are lost to us. They will continue to tune their storylines so those three overweight women who loved Steel Magnolias will walk out of the theater happy. If you consider yourself an independent thinker, a reader of unique stories and a watcher of good cinema, you lose. The new process is Lowest Common Denominator.
Even reading is in danger. Those nooks and kindles that everyone brags about? These readers are nothing short of Big Data collectors for stories to follow. Publishers now monitor what you buy, how you read it, what you skip and what you savor. If you like the idea of a favorite author being handed a plot outline by the publishing house, then yes, stay with your readers.
Or go down to the local indie bookseller and by something paper. Stay off the grid. Read it in private. And when you are done, if you liked it, hand it to a friend.
But, in the long term, I don’t see how this can be avoided, and what possible good outcome it will earn us.