Monday, 18 August 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #151: Age Before Beauty?

A tip of my weatherbeaten stetson to Nikki Finke for this little notice that there might be the beginnings of a settlement between Hollywood and a group of television writers who have filed a class action lawsuit against studios, networks, and agencies, over ageism. It seems that in the 1990s the major networks stopped hiring many writers over 40, because the nets didn't think these wizened scribes could sell soap to the young'uns, and these writers, being Americans, filed a lawsuit.

This is an example of what I call Juvenile Dementia, the condition that afflicts almost every facet of business in Hollywood. You see the marketing gurus tell Hollywood that the youth market is the only target worth aiming for, because once you hook them to whatever brands you're shilling, you'll have them for life. So Hollywood then aggressively pursues not only the youth market but the idea of youth itself. Maturation is looked at like cancer, something to be avoided at all costs, and if it does happen to you, then you must fight it with Botox and cosmetic surgery, which is the Hollywood equivalent of chemotherapy, until your face is not only devoid of all signs of age, but of human expression as well.

Now it wasn't always like this.

Which means we're going to get a little history. This is more than a blog, it's an education.

For a good chunk of the 1930s the number one box office star in the world, the entire freaking world, was Marie Dressler, a chunky 60-something vaudeville actress from Canada who could never be mistaken for the sylph-like yet curiously buxom nymphettes Hollywood wants for ever role these days.

Her appeal was based on her talent for comedy and drama, and her ability to make her characters, even the unpleasant or outlandish ones, sympathetic and human. And she put more bums in theatre seats the world over than anyone else in show-biz.

Thus the Golden Age of Hollywood had stars of different ranges in age and looks, their status based on their appeal to the general audience.

But when World War 2 ended everything changed. Economic prosperity coincided with a massive explosion in the population, call the Baby Boom, and it would reshape society for good or ill.

The 1950s saw the origin of a separate teen culture, founded on rock & roll, mild rebellion, and movies marketed directly to this teen audience, and this got even more profound in the 1960s when the Baby Boomers started feeling their oats in a haze of pot smoke, bad hair, and ugly clothing.

During the late 1960s and 1970s the first baby boomers started to infiltrate the aging closed shop of Hollywood, thanks to the wide open back door of successful independent producer/director Roger Corman.

This generation was different from the "Greatest Generation" that preceded them who endured the Great Depression and fought Nazism in WW2. The Baby Boomers generally lived a life of comparable priviledge, never knowing the hardship their parents knew at their age, and they defined themselves by their comparative youth, summed up with the pointless slogan of "Don't trust anyone over 30."

They took this ethos with them, driving out the old guard bit by bit, and putting their own particular stamp on popular culture. A stamp which was essentially obsessed with youth, mostly their own youth. If yo
u grew up in the 1980s and survived the inundation of 60s nostalgia.

Of course the folks that followed Boomers really didn't care about that shrill pointless decade of the 1960s, putting the Boomers in power in the position of the Hollywood old guard they replaced. Everything now had to skew young, young, young, not only to perpetuate the myth of Baby Boomer's perpetual youth, but to hit that magic money formula the marketing gurus told them to look for.

Which creates the quandary Hollywood is in right now.

One part of that generation of 60s-70s kids wants to be the kings of the sandbox forever, while another part, usually the part in power, wants to shed what they consider the dead weight in order to make thems
elves feel "hip" and "with it."

So the middle agers in power, dump the middle agers below them, and bring in what they think will be young and hungry talent. (Specifically young and hungry enough to work cheaper and with a weaker understanding of their rights as creators sometimes the money drive and ego drive work hand in hand)

But this new talent may be young, hungry, & cheaper, but the blood ain't as fresh as it should be. Their relative inexperience, both in running businesses, and with the real world leave them completely unde
r the thumb of their elders in the head offices. Elders whose idea of connecting with youth is to slap together some trend chasing, catchphrase spewing, abomination completely devoid of creativity or originality so masterfully satirized in the episode of the Simpsons which saw the creation of the character Poochie.

So in their pursuit of youth, they end up driving youth away to things like video games and the internet. I wouldn't criticize it that badly if it worked, but it doesn't work at all.

My advice, well, kids don't really care about the age of the person writing the story, because that info isn't usually included in the credits. All they really care about is a good story that entertains them. Once they pass the Miley Cyrus/Jonas Bros./Disney brainwashing age, they're usually repulsed by shameless pandering.

So perhaps judge writers not on their age, but on their merit. I know it's a lot of work, but it does makes for a better product. And when looking for fresh blood, look for real fresh blood, I'm not talking about hiring younger and younger folks. I'm talking about recruiting way outside the narrow confines of the Axis of Ego, for folks who don't follow the Hollywood mindset that was locked in during the 1970s.

Who knows, Hollywood might start creating trends again, instead of chasing them.

No comments:

Post a Comment