This week, I went with my family to see the new version of Disney's "The Little Mermaid." It's only fitting, given the fact that we live in Denmark, the birthplace of the author of the original fairy tale, Hans Christian Andersen. While the drama backdrop revolves around mermaids, pirate ships, and one witch, the bigger drama, in my eyes, relates to astronomical investment, mass production, consumption, and growth.
It’s a nice movie. Let’s say, pleasant. This might sound like a somewhat insulting assessment when you consider the massive investment involved in making a movie like this. Actresses, screenwriters, photographers, costume designers, editors, sound technicians, makeup artists, hairdressers… all of which amounts to something like 250 million dollars. And through the “mass production”, where tens of millions of viewers share a common experience, it even pays off.
But is this capacity for mass distribution (and the advancement of movies) a good or a bad thing? My conclusion (spoiler alert) is that it’s neither good nor bad. It’s simply another measure of progress that doesn’t really take us toward a better society. In order to more fully explain what I mean, I want to jump back in time quite a bit. The need for entertainment is age-old, but let’s settle for going back a century or two, to a time when the equivalent of watching a movie was going to see a play at the theater.
Did the viewers of "The Little Mermaid" receive an experience worthy of the billion-dollar investment? Here's my calculation. The price of the experience – a movie or theater ticket – hasn't changed much (especially if you think about cheap theater tickets). The essence of the experience – watching a blockbuster movie today or a play in the past – hasn't changed much either, as people willingly paid for the experience. By the way, the increase in production costs is evident in the film industry as well. "The Wizard of Oz" (1939) had a budget of 3 million dollars, making it MGM's most expensive production at the time. The blockbusters of the '70s, like "Jaws" and "Star Wars," cost around ten million dollars. Therefore, economic and technological advancements bring us steroid-infused productions, but this advantage quickly fades due to our adaptability and expectation for new things.
Let's now take an example from the realm of products, not services. Last week, Apple launched its augmented reality glasses priced at $3,500. There was great excitement, but to me, it resembles the initial awe of the smartphone. At first, it's a dazzling product on the shelf, seemingly unattainable. In the second stage, we finally acquire it, in the third stage, we get used to it, and in the fourth stage, it serves as a means to find the next thing that will amaze us.
Of course, not all advancements follow that path. For example, laparoscopic surgeries were a game changer and are of enormous societal value. However, since there are numerous services and products of the kind I described above, we find ourselves on a treadmill with high stress levels, trying very hard just to, well, stay in place.
Note: this post was not published in Ha'aretz