Martin Scorsese’s rant on New York Times about the big screens being dominated by Marvel superhero movies had me debating with another Martin. What is happening to Scorsese’s world is not limited to the film industry; it’s across the board. It has little to do with art. The main culprit is our endless pursuit of efficiency/optimization. Any businesses involving physical space and human labor are the first to be optimized.
Jeff Bezos, for instance, saw that it doesn’t make sense for book stores to carry thousands of obscure books because they take up too much space. Ideally, book stores would want to carry only bestsellers as they would quickly turn over, making the shelf space available for new copies, much like how restaurants want customers to turn over quickly.
Bezos, therefore, figured that selling these obscure “long tail” books would make more sense online. Having a large warehouse in the middle of nowhere would allow him to carry millions of obscure books, and this has had a compounding effect. Now that the readers of obscure books are used to buying books online, they don’t bother going to retail book stores. This forces retail book stores to increasingly focus on bestsellers.
This is happening to the restaurant business too. Expensive neighborhoods have boring restaurants. Manhattan restaurants have been optimized by what sells the most.
The products that require more sophisticated taste or intelligence are moving to the digital sphere or Queens. This isn’t necessarily bad. Sure, we might not be able to see these obscure films on big screens, but we can search for and play them instantly at the push of a button. That’s the trade-off.
The age-old debate over nature vs. culture is less interesting now that the dialectic of “online” vs. “real life” is having a greater impact on us, and we barely understand how.
Just as it happened with nature vs. culture, the physical world will be romanticized, as something we should go back to, something mysterious, exciting, and unpredictable, despite the fact that our physical world had historically been considered the predictable counterpart to “nature.”
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