Saturday, February 25, 2012

The McDonald's Effect: Why Music, Literature, Cinema and the Arts Have Become Mediocre - Just Like Processed Cheese

I call it the McDonald's effect. The McDonald's effect is the action and mind-set of making things into a mass production type of set-up; into a boring, "this one same as the last one," process oriented system. Great if you run a factory in China. If you are trying to do anything unique and creative with your life and business, you'd better stop this.

The "process oriented system" reminds me of an old TV commercial I saw once. The owner of a hamburger stand was always thinking of ways to cut corners. He cut corners and cut corners... Finally, he came to the idea of using reusable plastic pickles because "nobody ate the pickles anyway."

Genius idea... If you are running a mass production, everything is the same as the last one, type of setup like McDonald's.

Pardon me, but I hate McDonald's (except the coffee) and think the food there tastes terrible.

I think that just about everything today, when it comes to music, literature, cinema or the arts seems to me to have become mediocre or is moving quickly in the direction of the McDonald's effect. In fact, when it comes to these "arts" it is much like what is happening to business; things are moving more and more away from individualism and creativity and more and more towards production. Everything seems to be getting cheaper and cheaper and more and more like McDonald's food. 

Everything in big business and big, corporate "art" seems to be moving from a "results oriented" base to a "process oriented" base

Results oriented means just that: the end product and how the end product is made is what is important. Sometimes it is very slow but the end product is intended to be unique or of very high quality.

Processed oriented means that making the largest amount of the end product at the cheapest price possible is important. Processed orientated businesses are like factories stamping things out of molds. They reward cutting corners and costs and quality to the minimum.

What I mean to say is that, it seems to me, there is nothing at all recently that is capturing the hearts and imaginations of the young people of the world. How can it? When everything becomes like McDonald's food, what's to capture hearts and minds?

Or is it just the way I perceive it as being? Read on and see if you agree with me...

The Harry Potter movies were fun in 2001... At least the first ones were. Now it's been ten years and, well, Harry at 18 years old is not nearly as cute as Harry at 8. Oh? The books? Oh those... Well, compared to say, Dickens or Tolkien, JK Rowling is 'pablum.'

The Star Wars movies were great, as far as comic books go, in the late 1970s.

Movies in the golden days of the 1930s and 40s up until the 60s were great. Today? Comic books from the sixties are turned into Hollywood "Hits."

Besides cinema, what else has become like chewing cardboard? 

Michael Jackson, probably the last of his kind, electrified the entire world with Billie Jean in 1982 and then self-destructed in 1993 with a rumored 16 million dollar out-of-court settlement for child molestation and entry into drug rehab... The he overdosed... That's been happening a lot recently.

And speaking of music and self-destruction, the other day the Grammy Awards were held. How many other people besides me view the entire charade as fake and plastic? Even when it comes to memorializing the deaths of former great performers, these types of ceremonies trivialize and cheapen things. Or, as my friend described the Grammy Awards, "...They turned everything into processed cheese." 

Today's movies, music, literature and arts all seem like they are rarely good. I think as a whole we are in a cultural funk. 

Though, do not misunderstand, there are individuals who I think are very good. And that is the key here: the individuals.

I remember when I was a child in the sixties, whenever a new major motion picture was released or a new album by a big star, like, say the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, it was a big deal. Today? "What release?" And, "are those guys still together?"

I work with many people in TV and radio and can tell you that I can count on two fingers the people who I know who do world-class work or even try to. The rest of the 99.8%? Why bother? They are all in the wrong business. They should all be working for banks and punching time clocks. 

I can't tell you why cinema or literature or music have become so much like processed cheese. I have a guess. But I can tell you why one part of the arts has gone to hell in a hand basket. I can tell you why the broadcast arts are so poor today. 

Some people will tell you that TV and radio broadcasting are so bad because of lack of money. But I think that is just an excuse. That is using the "which came first? The chicken or the egg?" Problem as an excuse for making a poor product that no one wants to buy.

Why don't the TV and radio stations have any money? Because they have no sponsors. Why don't they have any sponsors? Because they've lost all their listeners and viewers. Why don't they have any listeners and viewers? Because the programming is boring. Why is the programming boring? Ah! They'll tell you because they have no money.

See? It's an excuse. Here's the real answer:

1) The programming is boring because 99% of the people do a half-assed job.

2) 99% of the stations have been cutting corners for so long that when competition came up (like the Internet) they were caught off-guard. 

You really have to wonder how it is that some guy, somewhere, alone in his house could come up with better and more interesting content than a TV or radio station with hundreds of millions of dollars of staff and equipment could... But he did, they did, she did and the results are here for everyone to see. This is where the results oriented individual comes in: His primary purpose is not a processed oriented result. It is a results oriented outcome. He wants quality.

Let me give you an example that I am very familiar with. It is about the FM radio business... As far as #1 (above) is concerned, take the case of radio Deejays; 99.7% of them are lazy and do the minimum they need to do to get by. They make no effort to learn about new music; they don't go out; they don't read (or if they do read, they read music magazines! Ha!) They think it is not their duty to learn about new music and to bring it to the masses, so they don't. Most Deejays don't even go to stores or search the Internet for new music to play. They are puppets who are told what to play. Or, even worse, they are stuck in the past and continually play what they liked in high school!

Fools! Can you imagine, say, a fashion magazine constantly running articles and ads from the sixties? Sure, retro fashion might be cool, but at least it is updated. Old music is just that: Old music. It has its place but it will rarely capture the imagination of the youth.

In Japan, these Deejays learn new music from Billboard Hit CD compilations from the USA! Billboard? Billboard is a magazine that list things like the Top 40. If it is in Billboard, it is already old.

When Rock radio was new and exciting in the 1950s and 1960s, Deejays found new music and played it. Deejays were personalities. Today? Nope. Like I said puppets; people with no faces and no names.

Don't believe me? Quick! Give me the name of one radio program! Can't do it? That's OK. Most people can't.

It is pretty obvious by the state of radio today if this situation that has been going on for the last twenty years has been good for the health of the industry or not. I use the example of radio, but this has been going on in TV, cinema, literature and the arts now for decades...

The arts are like a once popular mom and pop hamburger shop. 

When the mom and pop hamburger shop was first started, it was delicious and very popular. All the kids and people loved it. It was always crowded. But as time went on corners were cut and costs lowered in order to increase the profit line. That made for smaller and smaller burgers and french fries. It made for Cokes with more and more ice in the cup. Along with the smaller burgers, cheaper and cheaper ingredients were used. The good taste began to disappear...

One day, the owners of the burger shop started noticing that their fan and customer base started shrinking. What did they do? Well, they began cutting more and more corners. Instead of coming up with creative solutions, they fell back into old fashioned thinking and continued to do the only thing they knew how to do: Make smaller and smaller burgers and cut more and more corners.

Soon, one day, they were barely holding on. They had 1/20th the customers that they enjoyed just ten short years ago. If it weren't for government or outside help, they'd surely be bankrupt.

Their answer to the problem? Cut more corners and make smaller portions. And the cycle continues today. 

Now you know why so many things have become so mediocre. It is obvious why, isn't it? Cutting corners and doing a half-assed job. But every once in a while someone like a Bukowski comes along... Someone with no money who is results oriented and art hiccups... For a moment at least...

Entertainment people can blame a loss of revenue all they want, but the cutting of corners and laziness began when the revenue was still good and they were king.

And that brings us back to the McDonald's Effect. Are you in a creative or sales oriented business? In today's economy, we're all in sales; and, if so, are you cutting corners and, when you stop to think about it, are you slipping into a process oriented behavior? If you are, you need to get out of that rut.

If you are doing any sort of creative or sales type of work, then you need to get out of the "punching the time card" type of mentality. You need to start working on results and not processes... Processes are for McDonald's or convenience store owners. 

Unless you already own a McDonald's, then you'd better stop thinking how you can create plastic reuseable pickles.  


Anonymous said...

I think about this type of stuff now and again,... mostly every time I turn on the radio in the morning.
Rather than playing some music, all the FM rock stations are yuking it up with some kind of comedy between songs. I can't stand listening to them - especially in the morning - the only alternative is to turn the radio off.

Again in the afternoon after the comedy hours are over they might play an up-beat song I like only to be followed by a very slow song. This happens Every Single Time! It's almost as if there's a law against playing two or more up-beat songs in a row so the population doesn't get fired up too much.

I might have mentioned this before, sorry. It just bugs me why things aren't better, and as you say, inspiring for the youth.

I'm not doing too well with this whole "go quiet" thing. Especially after reading this:


- clark

mike in tokyo rogers said...

Clark, Need answers? Here's a short one:

I suggest that you search "Dumbing down + Lew Rockwell" you'll find lots of material there.

Mr. Nobody said...

Hi Mike!

I agree nearly 100%.

As Jim Jones was to San Francisco, Ray Kroc and Walt Disney are to kids.

I don't know who likes Mcdo's. I remember that Mcdo's doesn't refer to their customers, as customers, but as "frequent users," like what a drug counselor would call people.

Mcdo's coffee is OK, but it's amazing to me how Starbucks is so popular.

It seems that out glorious media leaders know everything, but good ideas. So they grab onto "outside" culture and bring it into the mainstream. The problem is, what outside culture is left?

I forget who said it, but cultures that look backwards and glorify the trivial, almost always are in decline. N'est ce pas?

mike in tokyo rogers said...

Hey Mr. Nobody,
Thanks for that great link with the guys saying how much Starbucks sucks. Cool. You know, I wrote about that once:
I never go to Starbucks if I can avoid it.
You're right about outside culture too... What's left? It's gotta be somewhere.... Alas...

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