Today the news broke that Furious 7 raked in over $380 million worldwide during its opening weekend. When I first heard that Universal Pictures would be making a seventh film in the series during Superbowl IL (I had forgotten that Paul Walker had died in an automobile accident back in 2013 when the movie was still in production), my immediate reaction to the trailer was to start laughing. When a film series reaches part seven, I expect only the worst.
Unfortunately, this article’s purpose is not to condemn Furious 7—I haven’t seen the movie—but rather to throw a light upon some of the claims made about how the media industry’s for-profit model works at creating good works of art. Andrew Keen, back in 2006, in his infamous article, “Web 2.0,” mentioned that value that media companies bring as curators of the arts:
Consider Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Vertigo and a couple of other brilliantly talented works of the same name Vertigo: the 1999 book called Vertigo, by Anglo-German writer W.G. Sebald, and the 2004 song “Vertigo,” by Irish rock star Bono. Hitchcock could never have made his expensive, complex movies outside the Hollywood studio system. Bono would never have become Bono without the music industry’s super-heavyweight marketing muscle. And W.G. Sebald, the most obscure of this trinity of talent, would have remained an unknown university professor had a high-end publishing house not had the good taste to discover and distribute his work. Elite artists and an elite media industry are symbiotic.
There’s certainly some truth to Keen’s words; without commercial art we wouldn’t have Jimi Hendrix, The Big Lebowski, Kurt Vonnegut, Predator, or even Mozart (who was a notable freelancer). However his words gloss over the fact that the elite media industry has also brought us Justin Bieber, Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow, Starland Vocal Band, Screamers, The Tortellis, “We Built This City,” and O-Town. The elite media industry is as symbiotic with quality as it is with crap.
The discretion of the media industry is often mentioned as a levy against the deluge of mediocrity and worthlessness that will fall upon us if we open up the creation of art to anyone, but the reality is that the media industry doesn’t actually care that much about creating good art. The media industry cares about making money. If they can make great art at the same time, great; but the money is the thing.
This pursuit of money (contrary to popular belief) can actually stifle innovation. Furious 7 cost $250 million to make. That equals (adjusted for inflation) five times the cost of Predator or The Godfather, and 10 times the cost of The Big Lebowski. Lots of money could have been invested in new and interesting movies or other works of art. But instead Universal Pictures decided to take less of a risk and create Furious 7. In the end they were rewarded for their lack of innovation with an opening weekend gross of $384 million.