I can’t remember the last time Rolling Stone Magazine was considered culturally or politically relevant in the real-deal sense. Yes, they employ some terrific writers and yes, they frequently publish some interesting actual journalism; but their importance is based almost wholly on legacy – it’s a proud still-standing relic of its own glory days as the music magazine in the era when popular music was the vehicle of social-progress messaging. Let’s get real: It’s been a long time since a western rock or hip-hop act inspired a “movement” instead of a YouTube dance fad, and today’s activists rally around Social Media: Cutesie-poo hashtags for The Left, feverishly-Facebook’d conspiracy theories for The Right.
But in the early days of this New Year, a Rolling Stone piece has suddenly made headlines (outside of Rolling Stone, I mean) and real cultural waves: Jesse A. Myerson’s “Five Economic Reforms Millennials Should Be Fighting For” blew up online (though, ironically, it seemed to explode with detractors prior to being a blip on the radar for its apparent target audience), prompting tweets, texts, actual news headlines and challenges. For the moment, short lists of what these mythical beasts called “Millennials” should be fighting for are “it” until the media finds some new shiny ball to chase.
Well! Let it never be said that MovieBob can’t also chase SEO with all the tenacity of The One Weird Trick You Won’t Believe The New York Times Fears And Drug Companies Hate to Pay For Free Forever Erectile Dysfunction Gold Conspiracy Something Bitcoin. The fact is, it’s more than just the economy that’s weighted against the needs, abilities and interests of the rising generation of young people we’re counting on to save the future since my generation… basically dropped the ball in a grumpy, nihilistic, self-centered huff ; the entertainment industry is also largely ignoring or misunderstanding you, and in doing so they’re digging their own graves by turning a blind eye to the way technology and taste are reshaping “their” world. So, then, here are five things you rascally whippersnappers ought to be demanding Hollywood etc. do now that you are the demographic masters of their destiny.
1. Day And Date Releasing
I’m a recent convert to this particular school of thought, but then there’s no zealot like a convert. The way we release movies (and TV shows, music and games, but mostly movies) is broken. The current model is still largely built around the framework of “theaters first for the primary money, then rental outlets for Mr. Second-Viewing & Mrs. Wait-And-See’s money, finally direct-sale for The Collectors” – and that market has been splintered into irrelevance for a decade or more. Hell, even theatrical as first-go is designed to maximize profits in a world where everyone had the weekend off (HA!) and movies could be people’s Big Friday Night Thing; and that world is going-going-gone.
Right now, people (especially young “Millennial”-aged people) increasingly work multiple jobs, often with erratic hours. The rise of streaming, on-demand and “Netflix Binge-Watching” reflects this, in that more and more people either prefer or simply have to watch their movies and shows on their own time, on their own terms, on their own schedules. And y’know what? There’s absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t. The “window” between theatrical sales and direct-release was always artificially-inflated to one degree or another, but at least in the analog days it (somewhat) reflected the time needed to produce and ship for-sale copies of the product. But today? When a movie is shot, cut, “printed,” projected and sold as a digital file? There is no good reason (economic or otherwise) to not release movies at least to streaming and on-demand services (DVDs, with their later-produced extra content and alternate cuts? Different conversation) at the same time they come out in theaters other than a financial helping-hand to the Multiplex Cartel.
And frankly, The Multiplex Cartel will survive just fine. They already make the bulk of their profits from snacks, soda and 3D/Imax/whatever markups; and while I understand (and used to support!) the argument that day-and-date releasing would drive mid-range films and adult drama to the small screen while turning theaters into nothing but staging-grounds for one big-screen blockbuster/tentpole explosionfest after another… that’s pretty-much already happened without day-and-date. While stuffy cinephiles like me will always prefer the theatrical experience for any movie… the fact is, we’re the minority and have been for a long time: The majority of people will not see movies like Spike Jonze’s HER until they’re on DVD/Blu-ray/streaming. It’s time to just admit that the world has changed and let people watch what they want when (and how) they want to.
Speaking of which…
2. An End To Region Locking
Region-locking, both the literal kind (games/DVDs from one corner of the world not working on the other) and the in-effect variety (movies come out months apart country-to-country “because reasons”) are both arcane time-maximization relics that need to go. Again: While once they had the fig-leaf of practical international shipping issues to deal with, this is a digitized world where a great majority of entertainment “product” can be zapped around the planet in a relative flash. The only reason it still exists at all is to take advantage of regional shopping-cycles, i.e. wanting new video games to come out close to Western/European (or, alternately, Japanese) gifting holidays, or wanting blockbuster movies to come out during this or that region’s school holidays.
This is something that needs to end, both because it’s unwieldy in a global economy of digital distribution but also because it’s one of the top (maybe the number one by-volume) driver of piracy, which means it’s hurting companies and, more importantly, creators, but also passing the hurt onto consumers via draconian DRM policies. Millennial consumers, newly empowered as the target demographic, should be asking entertainment companies a simple question: Is the showy sales-bump you get from a seasonally-optimized release or the money you’ll save long term by undercutting a huge chunk of the pirate market? Besides, it won’t take long a unified worldwide release-schedule to produce new seasonal patterns that could be potentially even more lucrative.
3. Backwards Compatibility
Yes, the main market for consumption of movies/books/games/TV/etc in the near future is going to be digital distribution. You know it and I know it. But physical media will always have a certain and not-insignificant place – especially since I expect there are rude-awakenings coming when the next directional-shift in file-compression tech takes place and a big chunks of people’s digital-only back catalogues are suddenly inaccessible due to some unforeseen translation error. Physical discs (or whatever the format will be) will never be kind again, but they’ll have a place – after all, vinyl records were supposed to be a memory by now, too.
Ubiquity of “legacy entertainment” is already something of a presumed given to a generation of consumers for whom the internet has been a longstanding fact of life. It’s expected that almost any movie, TV show, book or piece of music can been summoned into view with a few keystrokes – maybe a few more if it’s obscure enough to require a trip to eBay to seek a physical copy. Let’s cut to the chase: The fact that most (about 90-95%) Blu-ray players will run DVDs from 1997 with no problem but no “next gen” game console will play even its direct predecessor-system’s games is asinine and not something you should be accepting without resistance.
Furthermore, preserving the readability of older digital filetypes should be a paramount concern of any “next-gen” digital entertainment system, device, or service; and companies that cut corners in that regard should be called out for it lest it become somehow “acceptable.” No matter what an entertainment company tells you, the difference between current mp4s and whatever compression format comes next will NOT be the same difference as a VCR and a DVD player. Every damn bit of (non-proprietary) data that’s on your device right now should still work on the next device after that. And the next. And the next.
4. Greatly Improved Options For Translation And The Disabled
Oceans, national borders and time itself are increasingly (but by no means completely, see: China) no longer barriers to the worldwide spread of culture, knowledge and entertainment – but language and ability still are. Along with the aforementioned universality of release-dates and regional availability must also come a vastly more concerted effort at providing translations, subtitles and options for those impaired in vision, hearing, etc.
Space is only getting greater, technology only getting more precise, there is no longer an excuse to be half-assing any of this stuff. Art may be the universal language, but it can always do with more ease of access – why should a child in an “obscure” region of the world be denied a book, game or movie that might become their favorite simply because they don’t speak (or read) one of what is often only two or three language options available, when the space required for another run of subtitles or even an alternate audio track is so (increasingly so!) minimal?
Here’s a thought: 3D Glasses technology can be “tweaked” to make certain parts of a projected/displayed image visible or invisible to the wearer – could this be a way to provide captions for the deaf for all theatrical films or TV shows without “interfering” with any other experience? At least, it’s worth asking for someone to try it.
5. A Plan To Rectify The Problems Of Conflict Minerals And Slave Labor
This is probably the most important item, and also the least “sexy” because it’s about asking for entertainment companies to do right by others, rather than just by you the consumer. It’s popular to say that Millennials are somehow uniquely ill-suited to such things, that the much-blathered-about “technological detachment” has left you more selfish or “entitled” than your elders.
I happen to think that assessment is unfair. I happen to think that assessment is dead wrong.
So. straight to the point: It is true that it is impractical to ask the so-called “First World” to live without its digital and mobile technology. Even getting rid of the “frivolous” gadgets wouldn’t do more than annoy some and make others feel self-righteous. However, the fact is that the materials currently needed to make and power our iPads, Steam Machines, etc are overwhelmingly too reliant on the mining of conflict minerals and the work of laborers toiling in cruel conditions. If you’re looking for deeper explanations, read these two informative pieces from Critical Intel.
These practices will not go away overnight, and probably not within your lifetime. However, as the most “wired” generation to date, Millennials can make an unprecedented… er, “dent” in the situation. The demand for products that either avoid or offset inhumane, unethical (or ecologically unsound) methods of production can have an impact if sufficiently applied. Sooner or later, an enterprising entertainment/tech entity will recognize a market for “conflict-free electronics” in the vein of “fair trade” food products (and yes, they will be significantly more expensive at first and yes that means momentarily tolerating the shiny smugness of “limousine liberals” – deal with it) and this will be the beginning of a competitive “market solution” that could light a fire of real change.
But, like everything else on this list, you’ll have to ask for it. You’ll have to demand it.
Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you’ve heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet. Aside from his work at The Escapist, he wrote a book and does a videogame criticism show.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this column did not link directly to Mr. Myerson’s piece. We apologize and have corrected this oversight.