Hollywood alternatives

I won’t be working in Hollywood anytime soon, but I sure am interested in how it works… and how it doesn’t.

One of my classes was reading about Nigeria-based “Nollywood,” which ships out huge numbers of movies through an intricate system of informal connections. This is almost antithetical to Hollywood, whose vertical integration could have a single company cast, finance, market and finally place a movie at the national grocery chain. Another reading looked at how Hausa African films are starting to show patterns more common in Indian Bollywood films, revealing tensions in the Muslim and Hindi cultural exchange. Ultimately, these readings are pointing out the media industries that are developing, operating and facing dilemmas native to them, and independently of American influence.

This is actually a big shift in media’s academic world. Many argue that until recently, media systems that weren’t American were always being portrayed as responding or reacting to American media – always within America’s orbit. Even less-favorable statements like “American media is dominating the world” or “Bollywood threatens Hollywood” were seen to be reinforcing America’s dominance (or in fancy terms, “hegemony”), just by anchoring it in the conversation. It’s like those ancient maps from China, where everything was conveniently situated around China (which our maps still do for Europe). And the reaction? How about this from the Hausa African film article: “we must shift our focus to analyze the cultural flows of goods that do not necessarily have the West at their center.”

I appreciate these perspectives because I’m from “the Western world” and, like anyone else, my home geography is often my litmus test for normality. I have to seek reminders that I’m from a particular place, not a universal place. But this goes for my time in history, too, because Hollywood as I know it today isn’t the way it’s been or will be. That’s why I loved this cool snapshot of American TV over the years from an article by UCLA Prof. Douglas Kellner:

1950-60s: “happy, middle-class nuclear families ruled the U.S. situation comedy during an era of unparalleled post-World War Two affluence”

1970s: “then new working class comedies appeared, such as Norman Lear’s All In the Family, which focused on social conflict, economic problems”

1980-90s: “during the protracted economic recession… new ‘loser television’ situation comedy series appeared featuring the victims of the economic downswing and restructuring (i.e. Roseanne, Married with Children, and The Simpsons)”

more 90s: “sitcoms feature singles, reflecting the decline of the family and proliferation of alternative life styles in the present moment (e.g., Murphy Brown, Seinfeld, Friends, etc.). The most popular U.S. sitcoms of the 1990s thus break the codes of happy affluent families easily solving all problems within the nuclear family (‘It’s all in the family’)”

Travel often gets the glory for opening your mind, but I personally think the past does the job just as well. Both our geography and generation limit our definitions of what is standard in the world. Sitcoms haven’t always been the same sitcoms.

Anyway, this all came to mind because “Don Jon” was released here on Friday, and there was a slew of well-timed articles about it being Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut. An article by The Guardian explains how Gordon-Levitt, James Franco and Ryan Gosling are the poster children of discontent actors moving into independent projects, because “the mainstream movie industry isn’t for them.” Gordon-Levitt apparently told GQ that “the entertainment business as it has been is not going to be around that much longer… The way it’s going, there’s going to be artists, and they’ll make their shit, and they’ll connect to their audience, and you don’t need any of the middlemen – the studios or the agents.” The Veronica Mars Movie (GO VERONICA MARS!) crowdfunding campaign was probably the first time I’ve really seen a hint of this, of Hollywood’s structured system circumvented in a super trendy way.

So maybe Hollywood will look more like Nollywood soon?

P.S. Maria and I went to see “Don Jon” last night, and both walked out literally beaming. It was surprising, hilarious and basically fantastic, and presents an angle on love I haven’t seen in any other movie… and this song will be stuck in my head for a while. Lolz.

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