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Mid-Morning Art Thread | Main | Biden Announces Another Multibillion Dollar Giveaway of Republican Taxpayer Money to Democrat Layabouts
Update: Trump Tied with Biden in NH; No One Shows Up to Hear Biden "Speak" in NH
May 22, 2024

Wednesday Morning Rant


No Such Thing as Magic

Yesterday, news came out that a once-great, once-untouchable movie studio that spent most of its history churning out mega-hit cultural touchstones has finally been forced to begin its inevitable retrenching. Though it will likely prove to be an inadequate and ineffective attempt to stop the decline, Disney announced large-scale layoffs in its Pixar division.

Disney's 2006 acquisition of Pixar was a vision of things to come. It was the start of Bob Iger's acquisition spree that saw Disney take over major studios and media companies for the next decade. For a while, Disney was content to let the bees keep buzzing about and make honey. Along with the rest of the company, however, this changed by the middle of the last decade. Disney was no longer content to let the hive hum along because it had something too valuable for other purposes: its brand.

Disney's mission became not to produce movies, but to create and distribute propaganda. The problem with propaganda is that it largely sucks and there's little market for it. To make sales, you have to rook the audience into thinking it's something it isn't. Sometimes this is unsuccessful and nothing can drive demand, but sometimes the lie works. You tell your customers they're buying X because that's what it's always been, but then you sell them Y instead and laugh all the way to the bank.

The deceit play can work by riding reputation, but that has a limited shelf life. Reducing quality while stamping an illustrious name on the product can let you coast for a bit, but eventually this peters out and then your magic symbol - your laboriously and painstakingly developed brand name and reputation - becomes a symbol of disgust. Just ask the foreign owners of the RCA, Westinghouse, Sunbeam and other once-great names in the consumer goods market how long the name will still be synonymous with quality if you pump out indifferent sludge instead of good products. You can still find trash with those names haphazardly glued onto it, but those names are now just an artifact - an echo of an age before they were reduced to irrelevance.

And so it is with Pixar, Marvel, 20th Century Fox, Disney itself, AB-InBev, Gillette and so on. One could spend all day listing brands that decided to ride the coattails of their own success right over the cultural cliff. The magic symbols they possessed - their all-powerful, semi-mythical, utterly invulnerable brands - were not magic at all. The big brains of board room and ad agency inverted causality. The brands were great because the products were great. A great brand can not elevate a bad product, but a bad product can certainly demean and devalue the brand. The bigger the brand - and the grander the reputation - the more damage is caused by this inversion. Eventually, even a great brand will elicit not admiration or confidence, but indifference or contempt.

The 14% reduction in staff at Pixar is just a down payment on the bill for damage wrought by an idiot elite with the cargo-cult mentality of savages who believed their brands and the accomplishments of their forebears gave them the magic power to dictate terms.

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posted by Joe Mannix at 11:00 AM

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