Thursday, November 22, 2007

Labor and Content-Free Entertainment

There've been plenty of observations of the unusual resurgence of a certain type of labor union activity in 2007: except for the fleeting UAW strikes of GM and Chrysler, most strikes have involved the media and entertainment businesses - the Hollywood writers' strike, the NY stagehands' strike, the CBS News writers' strike. It says a lot about the shift from heavy industry and manufacturing to a culture driven by entertainment.

What hasn't been touched upon outside of Rafiki's (Jared Bradshaw's) speech in Forbidden Broadway (picture above), is the extent to which Broadway audiences consciously choose content-free spectacle as the preferred form of entertainment - the dumber and more childish, the better. How else to explain the rash of musicals being struck, like Tarzan, Little Mermaid, Mary Poppins, Grinch, Lion King, Hairspray, Jersey Boys, Xanadu, Chorus Line, Mama Mia... What isn't a Disney corporate product (a lower and lower percentage of live theatre these days) is moronic enough to please a five-year-old. The point, according to Rafiki, is not just to substitute special effects and spectacle for content, but to make sure there is as little content as possible in the entertainment to disturb the audience.

This lesson should not be lost on journalists wondering what 21st century infotainment will look like. Rafiki's Rules are twofold: (1) If you have to feed the public any information whatsoever, coat it with enough entertainment to make it fluffy, not stuffy; and (2) remember that content really isn't king -- the public wants as little memorable content as possible, just enough colors and lights and sounds to satisfy the minds of toddlers. Most media consumers of today certainly act as if they were toddlers.

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