Thinky Post: Popular Media, The Only Constant is Change

Now that movie theaters are opening up again, there’s a discussion of what the future of movies might look like, and if there is a future. This is scary, but I am trying hard to relax and instead of being scared, embracing change. Because Popular Media is change, any sense of permanence is an illusion.

In America, Vaudeville was the big popular media. And then movies and radio killed it. And then TV killed movies and radio. And then streaming killed TV. All of this happened in just the past 100 years. We think of the form of popular media we grew up with as the “real” one, the one that is the best and forever version. But, it’s not. The world moves too fast for that.

Fighting to Tell a Tale | Tales, Fight, Culture

(Parsi theater in Bombay. At some point, people were saying “the movies are killing my beloved theater”)

But then on the other hand, nothing ever fully dies, it is just reborn again and again. The old radio shows and radio stars died out. But now suddenly Podcasts are big. And it’s the same thing, it’s the same listening experience, it’s the same form of art, just in a different medium and 50 years later. The movies in America were decimated by the 1960s, 4 out of 5 movie theaters closed, and going to the movies went from a daily event to a special occurrence. But they still survived just in a new form. Live performances somehow never died. I’m in a little town in Wisconsin right now, people can stream and watch cable and go to movies and listen to podcasts and all those things. And last night we drove by the local bar where some local person was playing music, and it was packed. Vaudeville is dead, but people still perform live to small crowds in small towns.

Indian film as a large theater experience has been dying for at least 10 years. The arrival of multiplexes and the way they dominated the market while serving only a small percent of the audience, the arrival of streaming which just increased the problem, the loss of the international market as the West turned to streaming even harder, and of course competition from the international market within India, all of those forces have been digging away at Indian film theatrical trade since the early 2000s. Yes, now politics are also added to the mix. But they are just in for the kill. If everything else hadn’t already weakened Hindi film, then politics wouldn’t have been able to break through the defenses.

When Shah Rukh Khan died onscreen - Rediff.com movies

(Dying like Shahrukh in Devdas, very very slowly until you get kind of bored of watching it and just want him to hurry up and DIE already so you can go to the bathroom)

But I don’t think it will ever fully die, because that’s not how popular media works. Something will survive, always. And while I want to mourn and bewail the loss of my favorite form of media, I need to also learn to embrace what comes to replace it.

How will Indian film survive? I don’t know, but I know it will. Maybe it will survive as live performances. Maybe it will survive as non-Hindi films. Maybe it will survive as special event releases once a month instead of every Friday. But in some way, the experience of going to a theater and seeing a musical emotional film with a group will survive. Because that is what has always happened with popular culture before.

9 thoughts on “Thinky Post: Popular Media, The Only Constant is Change

  1. I can’t wait to see In the Heights on the big screen. A Broadway musical turned into a movie, just like in the old days. You’re right about change as a constant, and everything old coming back around new again. It’s about finding a business model that will work for whatever kind of story you want to tell. Some stories might not have a working business model in film for a while, like how Hollywood seems to have given up on romance. But the stories will continue to find an outlet, and eventually the business models to support them will come back around. In the meantime, new stuff happens, including the incredible insatiable streaming bubble we’re all living through. I don’t love a lot of the straight to streaming stories, with their shrunken scope and unfinished endings, but I do love getting to see what special things the rest of the world has been up to. I do also want to see movies in theaters that are not superheroes or monsters. Hoping the non-mega-blockbuster fare can find some combination of theatrical release + streaming that pays everyone’s salaries and lets us all escape from time to time.

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    • My mother and niece and nephew saw In the Heights today and LOVED IT, even though my mom had to sit three seats away. She also said it had bollywood elements. That could mean only singing with dancing, or it could mean actual bollywood elements. I doubt the movie will come to my small town,but you never know…

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      • I’ve seen it! And I disagree with “Bollywood Elements”. A really fantastic musical, for sure, but to me it felt fully aware of it’s heritage as an American musical, and a Broadway musical. although my Mom also called out “Bollywood”. Maybe it’s something only Moms can see? Anyway, you should see it! And it’s the top movie in America, so if your little town has any kind of mainstream movie theater, you’ve got a shot at it.

        On Sun, Jun 13, 2021 at 10:41 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • I saw In The Heights with my parents on Saturday! It was indeed really REALLY good and I will be putting up a review of it sometime today.

      Maybe movies will shift the way live performances have? Instead of a big megaplex, it will become a coffee shop that puts up a screen on Friday nights for a special “movie” experience? That feeling of watching a film with an audience on a big screen is something I don’t think will ever fully go away, it’s too unique and special, but it may survive as just a small part of the film world instead of the center.

      On Sun, Jun 13, 2021 at 9:38 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. I would never have discovered Indian films, or your blog without streaming. So the fact that streaming brings art to those who would not have seen it otherwise is true and real.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I think they will survive in the same way HW is surviving -by making big budget extravaganzas that you have to watch as soon as they hit theaters so you can talk about it with all your friends. The problem with streaming is that it takes away the water-cooler effect. I’m watching all kinds of random stuff on streaming but it brings no community feeling with it. Even I don’t remember what I’ve seen 2 days later because it’s too flimsy to make an impact. At home, you keep pausing it, do the laundry in the middle, pick up phone calls, check your email and so on.
    I’m one of the few people who missed out on the whole Marvel craze. I saw the one-off movie here and there with friends but I’ve never really been into superheroes. In the pandemic, I finally started to catch up with it and started from the first movie and shockingly, I was sold. They are so much fun in the way old HW blockbusters used to be and they can actually be watched with family. They’re pretty PG rated and I didn’t feel like cringing in every other scene. Now I can’t wait for the new ones and I’ll definitely watch them in the theater.
    That’s what BW needs. Not necessarily superhero movies. But just big scale, big budget movies, multi-starrers with big lead actors agreeing to act with each other without an ego. Where are the K3G type movies today? War sort of got halfway there to that big screen popcorn experience. It shouldn’t be so rare. There should be a few movies like that coming out every year.

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    • If that is the future, I could live with that. It would mean fewer and fewer movie theaters, I might have to drive an hour or so to find one playing the movie I want to see. But on the other hand, the movies would be special occasions so I wouldn’t mind driving an hour or so to find one playing the movie I want.

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    • Movies are also shifting nowadays because of content, not just because of format, especially in Indian film. I think you’re right that popcorn entertainers are fading, but I don’t think they’re as rare as you say they are. What’s rare is the success of the popcorn entertainer. Radhe, all the Dabanggs and Baaghis they keep putting out, etc. A lot of that does have to do with the theater experience, and those kinds of movies don’t hold up as well when you’re watching them at home. But it’s also substance. All of those were slandered by critics and audiences, even if they made money. War might have been the most recent film of its kind to do well critically as well as commercially, because it was a good movie and a good story, on top of good action, performances, and music–all the things Hindi cinema is known for. And multi-starrers with big scale and budget–look at Kalank. They tried to do something like K3G again with that film, and it tanked, because despite the spectacle, the story got completely lost. I think India does have to shift with the times, but if they can balance substance with the way they’ve been telling stories all along, maybe it might turn a corner.

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      • I think content and format might be a chicken and egg thing. Doesn’t it feel like creators and kind of spooked now? They know the critics will be checking every little thing, and folks will be streaming, and that it is harder to get people into theaters, and all of that. So they freak out and over think and make Kalank because they are focused on spectacle and cast instead of story. And then make War and it is a massive hit because they just relaxed and stopped thinking about pleasing people.

        On Tue, Jul 13, 2021 at 1:01 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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