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November 29, 2023

Wednesday Morning Rant


But That's My Thing

Nothing succeeds like success, and nothing is better than being responsible for the success. One consequence of this can be riding on a once-deserved reputation. When this happens, the knowledge that it is exactly that - a once-deserved reputation, though no longer - can come as a smack in the face. "But we do that! That's our thing!" will ring true to the insiders who utter it but will result in scorn from outsiders.

This happens when the legendary performance that built that reputation is no longer legendary. It slips down into mere high competence, and is unlikely to stop there. The slip can continue all the way down into "laughingstock" as far as outsiders are concerned. Within the organization, though, the status of what once was often continues despite no longer being even remotely justified. Eventually, this attitude gets checked and checked hard.

For example, Chrysler considered itself "The Engineering Company" for far, far longer than could ever be justified. After the bailout and short-term salvation of the K-car, Chrysler needed more and so in the late 80s, it bought AMC to get Jeep. With that acquisition, Chrysler picked up the vital Jeep brand, but also a lot of new engineering talent and processes. It was unthinkable that any of Chrysler's processes could change in favor of those brought along with a bunch of poor also-rans, yet many did. Chrysler wasn't "The Engineering Company" anymore. It hadn't been for a long time, and reality finally imposed itself.

We're seeing a similar dynamic starting to play out in America's cultural industry. Disney head man Bob Iger and his various executives all talk about their storytelling prowess. Sure, they've lost some focus recently in the content crush for streaming, but they're still "The Storytelling Company" and are back on form! They craft tales like no other, and are the best in the business! It's delusional, and reality is in the process of smacking them in the face. They believe their own line, but they're the only ones who do.

Yet Disney is just a microcosm of the entire industry. All of them have shifted focus from making products to being activists. The only way out of this kind of problem is an infusion of fresh blood - but the fish rots from the head, and the head must go in order to even make an attempt at such an infusion. The non-activist talent was purged by the chieftains, and so the chieftains must be purged before talent can try to return. This same medicine is needed across the board if the cultural industry wants to prevent simply rotting away into nothing.

The worst offenders like Disney are starting to learn this now, and the rest will catch up quickly as the red ink continues to flow. They will change and get "back to basics," or they will die and be replaced by new players. Even if third parties or the state step in to force consolidation and destroy competition in order to ensure that the propaganda spice flows, these organizations can at best limp along as zombies. Deluded cries of "but stories are our thing" will not make it true.

They have squandered their reputations and cut down the giants on whose shoulders they stood. Until they make sweeping and extremely painful changes, their lights can do nothing more than flicker in empty auditoriums.

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posted by Joe Mannix at 11:00 AM

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