Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Technology Transforming the Entertainment Experience:: Art vs. Commerce v. 2.0

One of my students on a discussion board lamented the demise of cartoons::
"You see, I love cartoons, I appreciate the good old classy 'Disney' or 'Metro Goldwyn Mayer' ones that required an enormous amount of time, employees, effort and HB pencils. Few of us haven’t found a pleasure in watching good old “101 Dalmatians”, “Aladdin”, “The Emperor’s Groove”(my personal favs) etc."
I think she brings up some excellent points about the role of technology in entertainment and it made me think of an old blog post I did elsewhere on Saturday morning cartoons (more on that below).  More on that later.

"Art" & Experience
Given the entertainment industry's focus on cost containment, art is naturally giving way to commerce.  Aesthetics takes a back seat to sales.  Technology is embraced to both deliver (enough?) value and lower costs.  Animation is computerized.  Content (music/film/TV) is delivered electronically.  There was once a time when album art mattered.  Now, not so much (The Rise and Fall of Rock and Roll Graphic Design).  I remember when buying vinyl records was a whole aesthetic experience.  (I never got into cassette tapes.)  The packaging design and the liner notes were almost as important as the vinyl disc inside.  I'm sure there are plenty of people who could have cared less, but bands themselves often cared a great deal about the packaging, as it communicated their "brand."  A 12" or 7" square conveyed meaning to the consumer.  The consumer reacted to these graphics.  I remember carefully crafted old school Van Halen logos on Pee Chees:: 
While graphics and music aren't 
dead, the consumption
 experience is not what it was.  Bands will try to cut through the clutter with eye-catching graphics that must be identified at thumbnail proportions on iTunes and the like.  Nouvelle Vague (right) is an example of a band trying to create an identifiable look "on code" with their music.  

Perusing the bins in record stores is a thing of the past for most of us.  We've grown accustomed to Amazon and iTunes, where we search for music in databases.  The same will be true for movies/DVDs and even our TV viewing.  Is something lost?  The charm, as Elizaveta puts it?  Part of that experience that formed a bond between "art" and admirer?

The Saturday Morning Cartoon:: Spectacle No More
So, on Bravo there was a Swingtown marathon, a steamy summer replacement show on CBS that never took off, despite getting a bit of press for the complaints from the morally outraged.  Watching it, it got me thinking about TV in the 70s and how Saturday morning cartoons were a ritual for me, but soon will fade into oblivion for various reasons. I remember getting up at 7am or so and struggling to stay awake. I think it was in this era that I learned to make "candy coffee":: 5 parts sugar to 1 part instant coffee. I was really pissed the few times my parents tried Postum™. oh, those glorious misspent days of childhood with totally laxed 70s-style supervision.
I never got to see The Beatles {ABC} {left} cartoon, but I do remember The Pink Panther, Bugs Bunny/Road Runner {which had ocassional reruns from way back} and Sylvester/Tweety, the really crappy "new" Tom & Jerry Show {1976}, Wacky Races, Scooby Doo, etc. On TVPARTY, I saw that HR Pufnstuff was on before I was watching Saturday morning cartoons, so I must have seen the reruns. That show was whack. I seem to recall a talking piccolo. I recall wanting to see cartoons. I wasn't into those shows with real-live people, particularly if it involved the Bay City Rollers {See Krofft Superstar Hour}.

Updated video (4/12/09).
So, the Saturday morning cartoon was an "event," a spectacle of sorts. On the playground, discussions would surround what we saw. "Did you see that Bugs Bunny with 'Kill the wabbit'?" What one watched or didn't watch affected one's cool factor. We learn sociological status at an early age, don't we?

The Saturday morning cartoon was eventually killed by cable.  Nickelodeon and The Cartoon Network made it irrelevant.  Ratings fell and even with cheaper production costs outsourced overseas, the programming couldn't pay for itself for big network broadcasting {ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox}.

So, with unrelenting technological progress, are we missing something?  Does it matter that we aren't browsing in stores for music?  That we don't appreciate album art?  I see people on Twitter catching hell for spoiling what happened on House, as so many viewers now watch when they want to, not when Fox broadcasts it.  Does it matter that we aren't watching at the same time?  Will we pine for the days of when we actually watched NBCs "Must See TV" lineup on Thursday night in the 1990s or Sunday night Sopranos viewing in the 2000s?  

If we are missing something, what exactly is it?

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