Life Imitates Art Imitates Life
Written by Sheila Cannon
February 08, 2018
Oscar Wilde once wrote, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” Considering the latest wave of scandals surrounding Hollywood, kicked off by the allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein, the fabled land of the rich and famous may be experiencing a level of peril that it cannot write itself out of. When Oscar Wilde wrote that famous line in “The Decay of Lying,” he posited that art impacts how we live. As someone who lives in the art of branding, the only way I can view Hollywood in its presently precarious position is through the lens brand. And by viewing Hollywood, and the studio system, through three branding lenses, perhaps a solution can be seen. A brand can be many things, but a strong brand should be different, relevant and consistent.
Let’s see how Hollywood is fairing:
Technological change has profoundly transformed the media landscape, from a few number of sources and a uniform audience, to a growing multitude of feeds for hyper-individualized consumption. While Hollywood’s long stretch of golden years seemed indestructible, it has continuously lost ground to new forms of media and distribution models which are emerging at an incredibly fast pace. The communal theater experience has given way to binge-watching at home. People don’t need to see what the next celebrity is going to wear on a red carpet because they have Instagram stars, YouTube entertainers, and budding musicians immediately available on their phones. Competition for an audience’s attention demands more innovative approaches, but the traditional studio response seems to rely on remakes of previously successful movies and comic book franchises. It generates revenue in the short term, but may ultimately be a dead end.
As Hollywood’s ability to draw an audience has diminished, so has its relevance. While there is no shortage of incredible talent producing a huge diversity of content and subject matters coming out of what people consider to be Hollywood, what has been awarded the biggest budgets, distribution packages, and awards are where things fall short. The films that receive the majority of these awards don’t encourage the alternate stories to permeate culture like the other blockbusters do. For example, even though it was really nice to see a film like the recent Wonder Woman made, why did it take so long to make a superhero movie with a female lead? Knowing that there is a large base of talent that can create art that moves us, influences us, and shows us new ways of seeing the world, we see budgets going to films that portray characters and relationships that represent an ideal image, rather than an imaginative idea. There have always been amazing female actors, however, traditional female lead characters are usually the babe, the damsel in distress, and/or second fiddle to the male lead. This most likely contributes to a particular view of women which leads to unhealthy social behaviors. Particularly, powerful men masturbating in front of women, paying women much less than male counterparts, and other career-defining or destroying actions. As Hollywood continues to focus on revenue, its audience demands higher-quality content, better representations of themselves, and an imaginative art which life can imitate.
One thing that Hollywood is good at is consistency, both positive and negative. However, between its willful ignorance of power abuse, the creation/destruction cycle of talent, and the need to recreate what was already successful, Hollywood’s consistency has become corrosive. They have happiness down to a science. Hollywood films can still be a wonderful form of escapism, a way to create collective memories, and a chance to suspend disbelief and see things beyond one’s imagination. On the other hand, they have also perfected the science of misogyny and lack of creativity. The casting couch is a (sadly) well-known cliché, as are many of the typical stories on the silver screen: boy-meets-girl, the fish-out-of-water, or the ragtag-group-of-outsiders-finding-ultimate-triumph. As important as being consistent is to create recognizability, it’s even more so important to be consistent with the things that matter, rather than what sells.
There comes a point in a brand — especially one that has been around as long as Hollywood — where it must assess what is working and what is not. The bottom line is important to every business, but when it comes to sustaining a brand over a long period of time, differentiation, relevancy, and consistency are crucial to longevity and strength. However, Hollywood proves it’s the way in which you balance those tools which determines the perception of the brand in the minds of its audience. How can Hollywood use its expertise, heritage and artistry to create something that is different and more attractive than what their competitors are doing? Additionally, brands like Hollywood are in an interesting position where what they do and create has a direct effect on people’s views of the world around them. It’s imperative to recognize this power and then be open to what the current culture and zeitgeist demands, which isn’t necessarily found in revenue numbers. Looking ahead, what can Hollywood do with its content, celebrities, and artistic vision to be more relevant? Perhaps it can’t be put into a common buzzword like “higher purpose,” but something we see in culture everyday. Is it up to the audience to be more vocal about what they want? Also, if you are what you consistently do, and life imitates art, then is Hollywood complicit in helping to create the Harvey Weinsteins of the world? If so, then what needs to change in order to create a Hollywood with a positive impact?