| Home | You are strong. You a… »

Hey, Even Joss Whedon is Slipping a Little

I've been mostly absent from the entertainment business for a while. This wasn't due to preference. It was mostly just due to where a living was easier to be made during the recession.

My first novel came out just as the edges of the world economy started visibly fraying. It was well received (and when I look back at it, I'm still proud to call it a first novel) and it helped make me the next big thing for a while. Sadly, though, that was a time when you could throw a rock in the air and hit a publisher who was letting some established author go, or closing up shop altogether. When no one could afford to foster the next big thing into the current big thing, being the next big thing wasn't promising to pay many bills.

Five or six years ago, thousands of people read my blog and I could say with unironic sincerity that I was big in Brazil. A year later, I was facing an unhopeful future as a fiction writer. It was around that time that I figured out how to make a pretty decent living writing for content channels. I wrote some pretty cool stuff during that time. To be fair, I also churned out a lot of uninspired filler because that's what the content channels were buying. Still, it kept my schedule free enough that I managed to do a few one man shows, put on a bunch of performances with the Rockstar Storytellers and get a short story collection out there. It allowed plenty of time to do some pretty fulfilling work.

Eventually, all of that sort of accidentally lead me to become an arts & culture reporter for a certain Minneapolis weekly. This was great (because, let's face it, I was a journalist before I became a novelist) but it was still pretty far removed from the more creative avenues I'd been navigating. So, I've been working on getting back to where I was while taking care not to abandon journalism, and that's landed me here today.

I'm officially back in the entertainment business. I'm officially creating works of fiction with some other very impressive creative people. I'm not yet officially allowed to say much more, but that's beside the point.

The thing is, this isn't the same entertainment industry with which I lost touch back in '08. It's an industry that went through the same transformation as I did. Every creative company in every medium seems to think it's working for a content mill now. Sure, the industry can still put some good stuff out from time to time but, for the most part, it's just churning out filler for the space between ads. Whether we're talking about radio, television, movies, print or new media, it's as if just phoning it in is the new excelling.

Like the Star Trek franchise, just about everything out there is becoming recycled, trite, and creatively bankrupt. I'll call The Avengers one notable exception, but even its tie-in series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. flirts frequently with a degree of banality. And, if Joss Whedon isn't going to wow us, I don't know who will. If the executive producer who redefined how television treats science fiction in less than half a doomed season is now giving us television that's merely good enough to keep watching, what can we expect from all of the less talented, less visionary people producing all of that other content?

Sadly, I think we can expect even less effort to accompany even higher demands for profit as time goes on. Like the content channels of old, our most prominent entertainment outlets are not in it to make smart narratives that pose interesting questions about the human condition. They're in it for volume and volume alone, because volume alone equals more profit with less work. They're giving us Jerry Springer brawls, boob shots and fart jokes because those are way cheaper to produce. Sure, they'll wrap those up in a smart-looking veneer if they have to. That'll lure in the fringe element who still insist on all that tedious thinking. It'll also let the broader audience feel smart, because a lot of people don't like it when they can't pretend they're not being dumb.

Fortunately, I'm on a project now that doesn't go for any of that. Because it doesn't, it may very well go the way of Firefly, but let's hope that doesn't happen. Let's hope that the really wonderful team of people working on this one will find a way to keep the story's intellect alive regardless of whatever dumbing down the industry demands. Let's hope that happens, because I for one would like to see more of that sort of thing mixed in with my brawls, boob shots and fart jokes.