Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Making Arts and Entertainment Great Again

I have posted several times about how dire the anime industry is looking in Japan these days. My current post series on 100 accessible anime tapers off hard around 2005, and there's a reason for that. As you no doubt know, it is because the industry deliberately turned in on itself and focused on shoe-gazing to the fringe audience while ignoring the wider one. Sales have been falling for a while, and things were looking bleaker and bleaker for older fans and those who used to care.

Then I stumbled across this news:

"But what is really striking is that Sasaki believes it’s time for the industry to move away from catering to otaku and instead focus on “light users.” He said that light users are young fans who love anime but aren’t buying Blu-rays, DVDs, and music CDs to due price and being raised in a digital age. Instead, they are more likely to support anime by purchasing merchandise, going to events (like anime conventions), and consume media digitally. The reason for moving away from the otaku crowd? They are way too niche and titles catering to otaku have trouble making money back."

Well, that escalated quickly. If by "quickly" you mean "it took a decade of stupid decisions, hemorrhaging overseas appeal, and flooding the market with mediocrity before we finally realized that those older fans might have had a point," then sure, it was fast.

It goes without saying that I am all for this push, and I hope Japan doublestriples down on it and refuse to let their foot up off the gas. Whatever is left of the industry needs it.

It’s only a shame that the anime and manga industry is the only one who sees the writing on the wall for allocating the majority of their time and effort for a small and only shrinking niche. And it took these people over a decade to get it. Why is this so hard?

There is a middle ground, folks.

This post should go with a disclaimer: the industry should not instead go in the opposite extreme of streamlining and sanding the edges off of their products to appeal to audiences who have no interest in what's being sold. That is not what I'm suggesting.

The modern entertainment industry is constantly caught in two extremes. They either go for the 1% of the 1% and cater their products to uber niche tastes for people who consume and dispose of the product as soon as they’re finished digesting, or they aim for Normie Joe, an imaginary human being that would enjoy their product immensely if only it talked down to him a bit more and the wild elements were tamed. The 1% of 1% will never be satiated and Normie Joe the reluctant fan doesn’t actually exist. The group that loses in both cases is the one the should have been targeted in the first place.

In case you haven’t realized, I’m no longer just talking about anime.

If the average fan is looking for your product, all they want is you to polish it the best you can. The majority of the audience doesn’t want you to satiate their every fetish and whim, nor would they suddenly decide not to partake if only you made Side Character B’s skin color different, you horrible racist. Normal fans, the majority, don't care about either. They want you to create something, put your passion into it, make it the best you can, and put it out there. The audience will come, or they will not. There’s no pattern for success.

But there’s also nothing to be gained by streamlining and dumbing down, or erecting a wall to keep everyone outside of the hardcore of the hardcore away, at the cost of the average fan. Both lead to shrinking audiences and products not worth anyone’s time.

For the best illustration of my point: take Rock n' Roll music. You might as well since no one else will.

What started as a melding of Gospel music and sped-up Blues has spun so far out of control that nothing in the genre sounds anything like it did when it started. Sure you have Punk, Metal, Alternative, which spun out from it, and all the sub genres still thriving and sounding pretty much exactly like they did when they started, but the original strand? When was the last time you heard a new band that sounded like Chuck Berry, or a singer covering a Sonny Boy Williamson song? There are Rock bands active now who have never even heard those names before.

All you have today are mainstream mopey and bland post-Nirvana bands and ironic indie groups that sing smirking songs about nothing. They’ve taken parts of Rock music and fetishized all the important parts out of the genre while typically decrying the very elements (like the Gospel itself) which allow them to even have a career in the first place. And the radio stations outright support it.

Rock music is a part of two different camps these days. There are the 1% of the 1% constantly on the lookout for the next Pinkerton (which wasn’t that good, guys) and there are the pop fans who listen to the sanitized rock radio like everything the Foo Fighters have put out since the '90s ended. You have abstract weirdness and ironic winking snark, or you have mopey millennials doing a Cobain impression over autotune and perfectly distorted guitars. Two markets which are entirely separated from each other and far from the source of where they began. Rock music has lost the plot.

For all intents and purposes, Rock n' Roll music is dead.

Don’t believe me? When was the last time you heard a new sped-up Blues song on the radio? How about an upbeat song with a stand-up bass? When was the last time you heard any Rock n' Roll artist put out a song with a piano that wasn’t a cheesy ballad or a kitsch pisstake? When was the last time you heard a rock artist, indie or mainstream, cover a Bo Diddley song and make it sound anything like the original without sounding entirely unlike the rest of their catalogue? Heck, when was the last time you heard a harmonica in a Top 10 song? The answer to all those is “decades” or possibly never. Rock music has been neutered and put in its place. It's no longer fun and fancy free, or for your average fan. The implicit weirdness of Eddie Cochran, Little Richard, and Gene Vincent, is gone. It was taken by the hipsters and the record companies for Rock's equivalent of otaku and Normie Joe respectively. And it’s not coming back.

But nobody else needs to follow that example.

As long as we remember to keep our eyes on where we came from we can continue to move forward. If Japan can realize this problem with their own industries, hopefully it won’t be too late for certain other ones. It's not too late yet.

Enough of that. Let’s have some fun.

Until next time!


  1. The subject of this post is depressing, but it needed to be said. Well done.

    It's no secret that I used to be heavy into anime, too. Just like you, my interest in anime evaporated ca. 2005.

    Current top 40 radio is just plain unlistenable.

    The arts are in real danger of collapse. I'm doing my own very small part to create something that celebrates Western culture and, most importantly, entertains people. I know that you are, too. Thankfully, we're not alone.

    1. There have been a lot of people trying to turn it around in the last couple of years, and I'm thankful for every one of them.

      Despite the state of arts and entertainment right now, I'm actually quite optimistic for the first time in a while.

      I'm of the opinion it will be quite a different world in the next decade, and it is about due.

  2. If you want to hear rock and roll, the real thing, there are still bands and record labels doing it. I thought it was completely dead too, but the Little Steven's Underground Garage station on Sirius-XM plays it, promotes it, and pushes it. Yeah, you have to put up with some Boomer pretentiousness from Steven and some of his other hosts, and hippie nostalgia too, but they play modern, real rock and roll - it's basically a small niche genre now, but it's not dead yet.

    1. I listened years ago when my local alternative station would play an hour of his show. Since they play only post-Nirvana white noise now, I haven't listened in a long time.

      Thanks for the tip, I'll check it out.