“What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you can know that the President drinks Coke. Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.”
– Andy Warhol
“Let not the enjoyment of pleasures now within your grasp, be carried to such excess as to incapacitate you from future repetition.”
A couple of decades ago most of what we know as TV today was mass produced lowest common denominator media by a handful of studios that made everything. They were mass appeal shows made for the widest audience possible because they were aired on TV stations and Cable networks that held all the power. These networks controlled what would and wouldn’t get made.
Because of this the types of stories they could tell were limited. Anything too serious or too nuanced or too niche would just not get greenlit because the shows were answerable to the needs of advertisers. You didn’t want to show a gruesome murder scene right next to an ad for soap. Because it was an advertiser paying for it, it had to reach the most amount of people. Something that only a small group would love would just not get made.
Fast forward to today and the Tech companies entered the picture all trying to become studios with their streaming websites as effective TV stations. Creating something that had never happened in the media landscape. Hyper competition with near unlimited budgets with orthogonal business models. Amazon doesn’t need to make money with their Prime Video business, they just need to keep enough shows on it to keep you subscribed to make money off you with their grocery business.
This competition gave birth to the niche studio model where they’re not looking for something for everyone but are looking for niche shows that only a few people will absolutely love. This widened the funnel massively. In the old days, only the known quantity artists would get the capital to make their ideas. Today any great idea can get the capital required to get made. So it is easier than ever to make a living in Hollywood while also harder than ever to became a superstar. Because the gate keepers have been killed and the floodgates opened. The funnel widened a lot.
In the 90s, only 50 TV shows would get made per year, today it is closer to 500 shows per year. This same affect is happening in film and books and anime and TV shows and everything. It has filtered down into every aspect of media creation. More books than ever are written today and more advances given because these books become the basis for TV shows and movies further down the pipeline. The market for art is so much bigger because the demand for new types of media is so much bigger. Today video games outsell movies and TV shows combined and are a new type of playable interactive movie that didn’t exist before.
This is a good thing. The past was like that because we had artificial scarcity. Society has always had many great artists alive at once but only a few ever received the capital to make their art come to life. There were many Shakespeare equivalents alive in the 1500s but the only reason we know Shakespeare is because he received the funding to make his plays while the others didn’t and they were forgotten to history.
One of the reasons the Greeks and Roman artists are so well known even today is because their governments and churches believed it was a social imperative that as they were a rich society, they fund the greatest dreamers, artists and thinkers of their time alive in their society. To create works of such grandness that they could outlive the creators.
Ancient Greek or Ancient Roman philosophers and painters were literally paid stipends and salaries by the government to sit and write or paint all day. Because they believed it would make their society richer. Michelangelo was paid by the Pope Julius II for 4 years to paint the Sistine Chapel. If the government hadn’t paid for this it would never have been made.
I once read a quote from some great philosopher in a philosophy book, Seneca I think, where they said something along the lines of “if a society becomes rich then the responsibility of the wealthy is to use their time for the creation and consumption of the arts and the greatest ideas of the time.” This is one of those quotes that changed my life. Because it means a few things simultaneously. Some profound and others mundane.
You can’t watch a lot of movies if you’re worried about your own survival. But also watching movies is part of what makes you wealthy, it’s just a different type of wealth. But also what in Seneca’s era seems noble in today’s era seems lazy – ie Netflix and chilling all day because you don’t worry about money, even though it’s the same thing. That the difference in perspective comes from the abundance and availability of the item – nobody thinks Netflix is special anymore but people throughout history would have killed for something like that. Stream Da Vinci straight into your home, yes please.
But also if a society is wealthy enough, it should use that wealth to create ideas and art which means the end point of money is for leisure, creation and consumption. The point of earning is to then spend it making new things and spending your time watching the best things others made. But also that consuming the best art is necessary for richness and you have to make time for it. But it’s easy in a busy competitive society not to.
I see this all the time with very successful people. They spend all their time building a business or working to make all this money, then you ask them what fiction books or TV or movies they’ve seen recently and it’s barely anything. They’ve missed all the best things to read and watch. That person might be very wealthy in money but I think isn’t living a very rich life.
If you spend all your time working and don’t have time to watch the best TV shows, then that is like someone in Shakespeare’s time being too busy to go to the theatre. Or like being alive in the Renaissance but being too busy to go look at paintings. You would have missed one of the greatest moments in history if you did that. But we’re in one of those moments right now. Right now more Shakespeare’s and Michelangelo’s that are alive today are getting their art made than ever before in all of history.
So that’s how we got here and why it’s a glorious time to be alive. If you’re wealthy enough not to worry about survival today, I think you need to watch more TV.