One of the oldest jokes in the business is that when a studio head takes over he’s given three envelopes, the first of which contains the advice “Fire the head of marketing.” Nowadays, though, former marketers, such as Oren Aviv, at Disney, and Marc Shmuger, at Universal, often run the studios. “Studios now are pimples on the ass of giant conglomerates,” one studio’s president of production says. “So at green-light meetings it’s a bunch of marketing and sales guys giving you educated guesses about what a property might gross. No one is saying, ‘This director was born to make this movie.’ ”
Geoffrey Miller’s book Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior says:
That a company should produce what people desire, instead of trying to convince people to buy what the company happens to make, was a radical idea that seems obvious only in retrospect.
But maybe that theory works better in consumer goods purchases than in artistic or aesthetic fields, which movies are nominally supposed to be. The book so far intrigues even if its claims seem overstated; you can read more about it courtesy of Marginal Revolution here and here, which inspired me to get the book.
My guess so far at 40 pages in is that Spent will have lots of new ideas that don’t extend as far as Miller wants them to, but that it’s still a nice way to avoid mindless materialism (for more, see Paul Graham’s “Stuff” or Alain de Botton’s The Consolations of Philosophy) without resorting to overwrought pieces like Marx’s “Commodity Fetishism” or Horkheimer and Adorno’s The Dialectic of Enlightenment. As Miller says on page 16, “Evolutionary psychology can offer a deeper, more radical critique of consumerist culture than anything developed by Marx, Nietzsche, Veblen, Adorno, Marcuse, or Baudrillard,” as if rattling off the humanities’ intellectual grad school dream team. I’m not fully convinced but will happily hear the case.
EDIT: I wrote a full post about Spent here.