Photo by Annie Spratt on Unspslash

“Where did all the big, popular movies go?” laments actor and SNL host Pedro Pascal. Of the many characters he played during his hosting stint in February, here he is Robert, a film professor and contestant on ‘The Big Hollywood Quiz’, an entertainment game show whose participants are all film and TV buffs.

The sketch’s premise is simple. An entertainment expert competing in a Hollywood Quiz? You’ve invited Usain Bolt to sports day. And yet, while they get off to a promising start, these Usains never hit their stride. As the questions they are posed start pertaining to the 2020s, our experts are bewildered, wearing the kinds of desperately confused looks you might spot in a first year trying to navigate the University Library.

Which film directed by Sarah Polley was nominated for best picture this year? Couldn’t tell you. Which film earned Andrea Riseborough a nomination for best actress this year?....who’s Andrea Riseborough?

“Saturday Night Live is diagnosing a cultural ill felt keenly by many generations”

Navigating the world of film and television today can certainly feel much like this. And perhaps it’s because our contemporary film and TV world, much like the UL experience™, often seems directionless, repetitive and unending. Corridors upon corridors of content with no way in or out. And no one to tell you where to go. That part, terrifyingly, is up to you.

In a sketch for the American late-night comedy show, SNL, Pedro Pascal is a bewildered film expert taking part in a Hollywood themed quiz.

Saturday Night Live is diagnosing a cultural ill felt keenly by many generations, but particularly by those who can remember when it wasn’t always this way. In the early 80s, there were only three television channels transmitted to our parents’ small screens, a far cry from the hundreds to which we have access today. At the height of the blockbuster era, their big screens were conquered by true event cinema: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Die Hard, the list goes on and on.

Put simply, it would have been hard to feel disorientated as we do now. The narrower selection on offer also translated to a more closely bound cultural consciousness: by and large, people watched the same things and shared the same experiences.

Since then, the growth of the industry has brought with it more freedom, ideas and opportunities. But the result is a market that is somehow both oversaturated and diluted. With more and more content to consume, the very act of media consumption threatens to lose all meaning. The appeal of new releases is soon replaced with a dread, and our common consumer experience is diffused.

"[V]iewers stay not just at home, but also sequestered in their own rooms, clutching personal streaming devices like teddy bears”

And so, audiences begin to replace the singular 'audience'. Films and shows have less space to compete and thus more impetus to carve out their own niche, some being tailor made for the most ridiculously particular of target demographics (yes, I’m looking at you, reality-tv fiends who wish to know whether or not something is cake…). With algorithm driven streaming platforms reinforcing viewing behaviours, new shows and films are subversively partitioning their ‘audience’.

The family that once huddled around the TV debating which of BBC One, BBC Two, or ITV to switch on would rub their eyes in disbelief at today’s entertainment model of: ‘Ugh Mum! The Apprentice is boring. I’m going to watch Riverdale on my iPad’.

Similarly, the ‘audience’ of yesteryear may well have once gathered together beneath the same whirring projector, but you would be hard pressed to find them rubbing shoulders at your local Vue now. Increased specialisation of audience interest and a reluctance to return to cinemas means that viewers stay not just at home, but also sequestered in their own rooms, clutching personal streaming devices like teddy bears.

Ask a friend if they’ve watched Everything Everywhere All at Once and chances are they haven’t even seen Parasite yet. But travel back in a DeLorean to ask an 80s teen whether they’ve seen Back to the Future and they’ll probably reply: “who hasn’t?!”. With so much available at all times, there’s no longer a need to watch anything at all. So, the iconic ‘water cooler moment’ becomes rare, reserved for live sports and reality television, no longer a small talk staple but relegated to the realm of Twitter trends and Reddit pages.

This is why attempting to stay on top of such a fast-moving industry can leave us gasping for breath. It is hard work. So has entertainment become a chore? Yet one more sisyphean boulder to roll up a mountain of content, only for another slew of Apple TV’s ‘darkly feminist dramas’ to send it hurtling back down again?


Mountain View

Cocaine Bear is embarrassed of itself

Well, a lot has certainly changed over the decades. Yes, our world of entertainment is sprawling and sometimes threatening collapse. But it is undeniably vibrant and electric. It’s true, previous generations had iconic cultural touchstones; landmarks that helped them make sense of a common cultural topography. But in today’s hyperstimulated market, we’ve burned our maps. We can no longer turn left at Jaws or hang a right at Star Wars - film and TV just do not punctuate nor situate public consciousness as they once did. With an almost excessive freedom to choose, we all take our own paths. It’s disorientating, certainly, but exhilarating all the same.

And so, for better or for worse, we have inherited a thrumming metropolis of media. One with shows and films on every corner. Like all the best cities, it can feel cramped, overpopulated and wearisome. But there’s no knowing where a street may lead and really no other place you’d rather be.