Frank Rich finds that the American public’s attention span, sense of quality and critical independence are longer and stronger than the entertainment industry gives it credit for:
- Here’s what’s wrong with kids in the digital age. They live in front of their TV and PC screens. They steal music online. Their attention span is zilch. They multitask on everything and concentrate on nothing except video games. They will buy any trashy product that the media goliaths can sell them, then drop it as soon as the next big hype comes along.
That’s merely the short list of hard-wired assumptions that were short-circuited by last weekend’s publication of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”
….Let it also be noted that Harry’s $100 million is about 35 times the total weekend box-office take ($2.7 million) of “From Justin to Kelly,” Fox’s cinematic attempt to cash in on the stars they minted during the first round of their prime-time hit, “American Idol.” Maybe there is a God.
….The children entranced with Harry don’t need a fast cinematic cut to whip them to attention, with an MTV lash, every few seconds. They are perfectly happy to concentrate on a sustained narrative that in “Phoenix” sprawls to a Dickensian 870 pages. No sooner did these young customers get their new books in the wee hours last Saturday morning than they sat down and read them – perhaps explaining in part why ticket sales for “The Hulk” actually fell from Friday to Saturday to Sunday last weekend. (Another likely factor: the movie itself.)
As “Harry” readers suffer no shortage of attention span, so they still love fantasy that does not come equipped with computer-generated special effects.
….The question is: How do all those lovely entertainment-seeking kids weaned on “Harry Potter” grow up to become thieves? Surely, they know that stealing copyrighted songs and movies is akin to shoplifting sweaters at the Gap. There is no single explanation, of course, and there is no acceptable rationalization that can excuse theft. But it’s no secret that music piracy spread as CD prices rose and teenagers were enraged to pay roughly the same price as a “Harry” hardcover for a dozen or so tracks of which 10 might be filler.
The moment that Apple put up its iTunes Music Store in April – an elegant site that permits the downloading of songs for keeps, hassle-free, for 99 cents each – at least some music thieves started going legit. As the store’s catalog increases and spreads to Windows, and as competitors follow Apple’s lead, many more will follow. Far from being a particularly unethical generation, the file-sharing Americans of the Napster era may be no more or less moral than those that came before. They may well be willing to pay for their entertainment – if the quality is guaranteed and the price is fair.
This is a lesson that seems to be lost on a cynical entertainment industry that places Pavlovian marketing above creativity, on the assumption that young consumers don’t know the difference. Many of them do know the difference. There is a lot for grownups to learn – and those in Hollywood most of all – by reading the books, not merely the grosses, spawned by Harry Potter.
I would not characterize file sharing behavior as unequivocal thievery though I also do not believe a free entertainment model is sustainable: creators need to be paid one way or another, although the current system is clearly broken. I believe people will pay a reasonable price for quality, but the entertainment industry is going to have to give up a large element of control and this seems to pain them greatly.
A side observation: I think the novelty of comic book character films has worn off. I haven’t even looked at a comic book since I was about 13 so the characters have no appeal to me in and of themselves unless the movie is actually good – I’m bizarre, I know.