A Possible Fix for the Pop Culture Oligopoly
I’m really not a snob, but I’m afraid I’m going to sound like one in this essay. People can, and should, like whatever they like. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. I just wanted to warn everyone.
Pop Culture is an oligopoly. It is in the traditional, business sense; there are only a limited number of companies that produce the content and there are extremely high barriers to entry for anyone new. But it also is in an artistic sense as this article by Adam Mastroianni admirably demonstrates – Pop Culture Has Become an Oligopoly – by Adam Mastroianni (substack.com). It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about movies, TV, music, books, or video games, there are a small number of actors, musicians, writers, and other artists that dominate, and they dominate in more and more sequels, prequels, and franchises.
Oligopolies are bad for lots of reasons. In a business sense, they have almost all the same problems as monopolies. Just look at another oligopoly that’s been in the news lately, baby formula. In the artistic sense, it’s also a problem. We are stuck with less variety, less creativity, and less opportunity. Culture has a bunch of roles in society. It should create a sense of community, push boundaries, introduce new ideas, distribute complex or important ideas, recharge people, and teach people. Unfortunately, creating a sense of community is the only role pop culture is still performing.
I will explain my proposed solution as it pertains to music, but I think you’ll easily see how it can be applied throughout pop culture. First, we need to establish a few things. Most everyone likes music, but most people don’t love and care about music. Most of the music that is produced is produced for the majority that doesn’t love or care about music. I don’t think that has much to do with lowest common denominator thinking. It’s just playing things safe. And most people are perfectly happy with whatever they play on the radio (or through streaming services).
Taking all that into account, especially the part about most people being happy with whatever they play, music companies should stop making music for the majority. They should make music for the real music lovers. Everyone else will just follow along because it’s, you know, on the radio. There are limits, of course. Too Avant Garde might not translate into lots of streams, but most music lovers like melody, rhythm, and harmony as much as anyone.
This new music will work for people who just want a pleasant background noise for their day, it will still build a sense of community, but it will also work for those who like to hear something new. For those who like to think. And even those who like to be challenged. It’s the best of all possible worlds. Now how do we make it happen?