I've said on far too many occasions that -- generally speaking -- I try to keep politics and 'the real world' as out of these pages as I can. While I've from time-to-time taken the opportunity to sound off on the political and/or cultural issues of the day, I've also often said that such treatises bailiwick. In fact, I've often pointed out that if you want that type of discourse it's rather widely available at so many other stops along the Information Superhighway -- everyone and their mother's uncle have channels on YouTube.com, Rumble.com, and elsewhere -- and I've even encouraged a few of you (privately) about whom you might want to give a listen. This isn't to say that I have no opinions on such topics: rather, it's that I think there are hundreds if not thousands of pundits who do that 'thang' very well. Why would I wish to hop into that fray?
But ... yes, I'll agree that it grows harder and harder each day, especially when fans like you and I have to kinda/sorta sit it out on the sidelines watching some of the biggest and (cough cough) brightest minds destroy the IPs that might be nearest and dearest to our hearts. Mind you: just because a dozen or so of you ask for my opinion doesn't make my statement any more or less correct than any other bloke with a keyboard and a website. I realize that the difference might be that I'll evaluate where things are against the backdrop of entertainment history; and yet again some of the folks already doing this stuff out there do manage to bring a good sense of what's come before to their discussions of where we might be headed. Let it be said that -- circumstantially, of course -- I support ALL OF FANDOM, not just my own private little corner of the Webosphere. Fandom rocks ... and because I believe this I think I will offer up a few delicate words on the subject of Star Wars -- and maybe a bit of Marvel -- as it pertains to the current predicament that is the Walt Disney Company.
Now, regular readers of this space know full well -- or they should by now -- that I'm no huge Marvel fan. Haters, this doesn't mean I dislike the various characters and films or even the enterprise as a whole; it just means, simply, that I don't identify with the players, missions, and whatnot. While I'll always concede that the movers and shakers within the company seem to more-often-than-not have a good command of what their fans what and what they'll spend money on, I think it's safe to suggest -- given the performance of a few films and some of these limited series on Disney+ -- that isn't always the case. Because I haven't watch some of it I don't feel grounded enough to comment upon the quality; and still I've seen some footage online that hasn't exactly looked top notch in any respect.
Could they have gone too far too fast?
This seems to be the going 'defense' among the most serious and learned Marvel fans; and I suppose that argument might have some merit. Those of us who've followed the wider entertainment industry over the years have always tried to caution audiences that studios will not hit a homerun at every instance they go to bat, and unfortunately the response from these fans has mostly been to thumb their noses at us. When you had box office receipts and critical acclaim on your side, I think you felt comfortable doing so (and you're always free to do it, anyway); but where has all of that gotten you and Marvel? It would seem that perhaps watering down the IP with more and more and more might very well have worked against serious development to the point wherein now there's almost unity around just how bad Marvel's Secret Invasion truly was.
Pushing ideology at the expense of character and story is never -- NEVER -- a good tactic.
I tried making this exact point the other day when I appeared as a guest on the Hyperspace Heroes Podcast, and -- since speaking off-the-cuff has never been a strong skill of mine -- I may've missed the mark a bit, but I'll try to summarize it here.
Let's say you start out with a fanbase of 50,000,000 smilers.
Inevitably, membership fluctuates over time. A popular movie or trendy show might bump it up a bit, but the same often occurs simultaneously -- viewers grow weary, life and interests push them in a new direction, etc. -- so let's just assume for the sake of argument that, 10-20 years later, that 50M dips down to 40M. I suggest this is probably closer to truth (than the base growing exponentially) because most folks don't realize how incredibly rare such a phenomenon is. (In fact, I've only seen three, maybe four TV shows in my lifetime that have grown exponentially (in membership) over their short shelf life, and those would be The X-Files, Firefly, Spartacus, and the original Star Trek. (No, I'm not gonna quibble with data; I'm dealing largely anecdotally here, so sue me.)
So your 50M is down to 40M after twenty years ...
Now, combating fatigue when a commodity is twenty years old is not an easy prospect. In fact, fatigue tends to grow more powerful, especially when little is done to rejuvenate a property, so the next ten-to-twenty years are usually very hard to establish positive trends in viewership, clout, etc. As I suggested above, as your likes and preferences change, you may even grow weary of 'more of the same,' and this might force you to only tune in sporadically, especially if there's no compelling reason to keep you invested in the characters and stories. I forget who said -- as a writer -- he'd never write a Superman story because ... well ... he's Superman! What can you do with being invincible? The same effect hits viewers -- if you've watched this character survive for twenty years, then what's the likelihood he/she is going to encounter serious jeopardy now ... after twenty years?
Starting at 40M viewers, what's to happen when the show begins embracing ideology that, say, only 50% of the audience accepts?
Why -- oh why -- would you ever think that telling a story which might offend 50% of your audience is a good idea? With any given movie -- or any given episode -- you're now risking cutting your 40M in half just to produce another chapter in an ongoing saga. Economically, that just isn't smart, and no franchise -- Marvel, DC, Hasbro, etc. -- should be doing that.
But that's where I see Marvel.
Again, feel free to disagree.
A writer who says he has nothing to say by writing a Superman story is a writer who -- arguably -- may not be as talented a creative as he thinks he is. Every character -- no matter how big, no matter how small -- has something to offer an audience if he or she is given a compelling narrative. Superheroes have to have something to do, and the real seed that feeds every good story is what can be done with the central conflict. It isn't enough for Superman -- or, say, a Jedi -- to simply use his or her powers: they must use them for good, their use of said powers should be in defense of the proper choice, and then there must be some corresponding development from the actions taken.
Example: Luke, Han, and Leia destroyed the Death Star, right?
Well ... what happened next?
Albeit it was three years later, the Empire struck back is what happened. And it was glorious. What we learned as an audience is that the actions that we cherished of our heroes had serious, serious, serious consequences for that galaxy far, far away; and practically everything that happened in that next iteration of the ongoing saga felt organic. It felt natural. It felt right. We learned that heroes don't always win (or win without consequence), and this meant that our heroes would have to go back to the drawing board, maybe build a few more alliances, accept their loss gracefully, and come back ready to (finally) seize the day in the last chapter (which is what they did, more or less, until the God awful Sequel Trilogy, but don't get me started).
Now -- and, again, feel free to disagree with me all you like -- I don't think anyone in the audience was opposed to the death of Luke Skywalker. Death is a part of life -- even fictional lives -- and despite wishing that our heroes can last forever I think there's also something within each of us that reminds us just how fragile life is. It was always going to happen one way or another -- Luke was going to end, and the torch was going to be passed -- but I think what the studio delivered was a rather lackluster affair all sandwiched around no real evolution of the premise. The Empire was still The Empire -- under a new name, of course -- and there really was no one left to pick up the torch that Luke lit and carried brightly for as long as he did.
To a degree, I -- like so many -- thought this was a gaping hole that had finally been filled after the Sequel Trilogy when Disney+ gave us The Mandalorian.
Here -- in Luke's place -- was finally someone who displayed a bit of the same cockiness that our famed Jedi with more than a touch of Han Solo's bravado all wrapped up in a silver package. He'd shoot first and not bother with questions later: the shooting spoke volumes by itself, so what words were even needed? It was, once again, a universe that looked lived in, one with dangers and wonders and threats and triumphs and risks aplenty; and it was populated with characters as interesting as were their settings. The magic and mystery had returned to the house that George built, and the future looked bright.
But the advent of a lackluster if not downright confusingly misdirected Season 3 showed us once again what can happen when studio shenanigans -- or the pushing of an ideological agenda -- rear their ugly head. Ideas were put ahead of characters and stories, and this greatly dimished the quality and the entertainment factor that had briefly felt a bit more like it should. It's not politics alone that kill a story because there are some very, very, very good (if not great) political thrillers out there; but the blind adherence to a political perspective at the expense of story and character never produces a coherent whole. It might win you accolades come the awards season, but it won't win the hearts and minds of FANS who are watching ... and are a necessary component of FUNDING YOUR EFFORTS.
This is where I believe Star Wars is at present. As an Intellectual Property, it's largely being run by folks who either don't care about it and/or see it as a means to an end ... that end being keeping their job. They don't care about what the fans want. They don't care about what the fans say. All they care about is there paychecks. Star Wars -- to them -- is a business. Like any other business. As long as it's doors are open and the lights are on, then they'll be getting their paychecks, and there's absolutely no reason to change the way they're doing things ...
... which brings us to Bob Iger.
Many a career was made in Tinseltown by an executive who said, "Let's just reshoot it." Sadly, that's a sentiment that in no time flat was happily inherited by the talent, as Robert Downey Jr. rather famously was known for saying around the Iron Man set "Let them fix it in post-production." (Yes, yes, yes: I've taken a lot of heat for remembering and regurgitating that fact over the years, but trust me when I say that mindset is near-and-dear to the current state of the Empire.) Reshoots and fixing it in post tend to astronomically cost more than getting something right the first time, a credo that filmmakers of genre entertainment practically lived by when crafting the flicks of the 1950's, 1960's, and 1970's.
I can't tell you the number of times I've read in interviews of some of those pioneers who remark about how their era truly had to rely on the smarts of damn near everyone on set. It wasn't about the director or the writer or the cast; it was about anyone and everyone. They didn't have special effects houses that they could contract to fix it in post back in the day; and while some of their results are (cough cough) more charming than they are convincing at times this made everyone on the cast and crew a contributor. They'd collaborate to come up with a workable solution; by hook or by crook, they'd get something in the can because that was what they were hired to do. Failing had consequences ... but that no longer appears to be the reality today.
How can I say that?
Well, can you show me another time in human history where a man who lost a billion dollars last year would be empowered by the board to keep losing money at an alarming rate no matter what? If you or I made such a costly mistake once, then our respective employers might show some kindness, work with us to give us the tools required to keep such a thing from happening again, and maybe we'd keep our jobs. But what if we did it again next month? What if we cost the boss another, say, $1,000? $10,000? $50,000? Folks, it isn't as if this is Bob Iger's first rodeo, and everything he (cough cough) committed to doing in the future this week on that Disney earnings call is part of his job description the moment he took the job ... so why would anyone listening even think this guy should be given the chance to keep Disney on the path to economic oblivion?
What I heard -- unlike so many out there on the Information Superhighway -- was a man who had no vision, but he had plenty of plans. Plans are good, but it's pretty clear that a show like Star Wars: The Acolyte probably didn't start out with a plan that said, "Let's invest $50M before we have a single frame of film shot." I think it's also safe to say that no plan for Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny was hatched by saying, "Don't worry, we'll simply reshoot the film two or three times until we get something that tests well enough with audiences that we can call it a day!" These are not plans, but -- if I'm to take dear ol' Bob at his word -- the Mouse House now going forward will not only have a plan but they'll stick to it?
Where have the plans been all along?
Leadership without a vision is like surfing without water. It's like hammering but having no nails. It's like digging a hole but never knowing what we're expected to find down there. That lack of any compelling vision -- sans the simplest one being just 'to get profitable' which can be accomplished hundreds if not thousands of different ways -- gives people nothing to shoot for except keeping their jobs. And pardon me if I point out that I think that's what I said is the whole problem in an earlier paragraph: these people view what they're doing as jobs, not careers, not storytellers, not mythmakers, not true creatives. These folks are propagandists looking for a payday ... and the way it looks? Dear ol' Bob is only happy to sign a check.
So ... I know, I know, I know. Yes, folks, I hear it every time I open my mouth on matters like this. "Who are you?" "Where are you coming up with this drivel?" "You don't know what you're talking about!" That's precisely why I don't enter into these debates all that often. I've no industry experience, and I've no industry spies filtering information to me. All I have is that same stiff backbone common sense blue collar thinking mentality the rest of us have; so maybe my opinion doesn't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.
But at the end of the day, the Iger call reminded me once again why I (generally speaking) hate corporate politics: words, ultimately, mean nothing when they come from a person who is only engaged by useless rhetoric.
Out here? In reality?
Efforts still have to count for something.
Otherwise, businesses die.
It would be one thing if Iger were only robbing from Peter to pay Paul. But here? Bob Iger is robbing from Peter, Tom, Dick, Harry, Stan, Ollie, Bud, Lou, Mary, Judy, Billy Jo, Ellie Mae, and the whole lot to avoid paying anyone ... and it shows.