How’s everyone’s candy hangover? At this point, there’s usually just trash candy left lying around the house, enjoy chiseling those Milk Duds out of your teeth for the next few days. I’m thankful and impressed there were virtually zero regrettable “current event” gags on my timeline this week. Nice work everyone, the internet had an opportunity to be terrible and for one brief moment we chose to fixate on bedazzled 12’ skeletons and another year of infinity Spirit Halloween memes instead.
I stayed in on Halloween and watched the new “South Park” special on Paramount+, an equal parts cringy and brilliant assault on The Disney Corporation’s entire content model (and executive brass, including the aforementioned Lucasfilm CEO Kathleen Kennedy). South Park has been throwing rocks at the Magic Castle for decades now, but “Joining The Panderverse” is easily their most direct hit (and on that note, our own Lon Harris has some advice today for Disney straight out of the creator’s playbook, not that they’ll take it from us but whatever).
Disney has always been in the content game. In the early days of film, they were one of the only studios focused on making children’s content. Ditto when television was introduced. When there’s limited content for an enormous audience, the content that gets made will get consumed, voraciously. Disney was so confident in the position, they started putting their movies in an imaginary “vault” just as everyone else was jumping to streaming.
This complete ownership over young people’s attention was being eroded as early as the late 00s, and in fact, it was the flashbang of comics, super heroes franchises, and supernatural television that got teenagers’ attention (this is a “Smallville” reference as much as it’s a “Buffy” reference). That’s why Disney bought Marvel for $4b in 2009. “If you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em,” said the Mouse (they did the same thing when Pixar came for their lunch too).
Disney did what any capitalist enterprise does when it has a product people want… It produced the shit out of it. Give the people what they want, right? Well, for a solid decade, all we wanted was middle-aged A-listers getting ripped and running around in tights in front of green screens.
Oh and nostalgia…Star Wars, reboots, prequels, reunions. Pretty sure an anthropologist in a hundred years looking at 9/11 and the near-immediate subsequent superhero kick we went through would quickly and rightly diagnose us all with mass trauma, but I digress.
Disney’s formula was always to take something with enormous mass appeal — the kind of good-over-evil story that anyone could reasonably enjoy — and then milk it. That mass appeal means having to make sacrifices on challenging ideas or real thoughtful story innovation, so the minimal variations wind up feeling like performative attempts to assuage an ever-growing audience base.
The problem with that kind of pandering is that the general public has a million other things trying to grab our attention, and the thing we’ve seen a hundred times before loses its luster when you just change one thing about it. It works until it doesn’t.
This, effectively, is what South Park was picking at. You can’t be everything to everyone forever, and by trying to appease what you think they might want, you could easily wind up offending someone’s expectations. It’s the inverse of tastemaking. It’s tastechasing.
As a content creator, this is your problem too.
You can certainly try and chase internet trends and be everything to everyone; the creator equivalent of Disney scooping up brands like Marvel and Lucasfilm when public appeal for them is white hot. But that’s an exhausting hamster wheel, and you’re always going to find yourself the last one at the party when everyone’s focus shifts. You’re going to be better off cultivating originality and taking some risks of your own mad design, not doing the thing everyone else seems to be going for.
Making something for everyone is ultimately saying nothing. Appreciate that mass attention is now forever fractured into a million multiverses (the exact plot device studio executives can’t stop fixating on), and you as a creator potentially get to have one of those universes all to yourself.
Just this week, I discovered a creator who reviews public toilets, the self-proclaimed “Former President of Halloween,” and an account that posts photos of accused pickpockets in Europe. This person teaches magic, this person can teach you witchcraft. Coaches for fame, coaches for college, coaches for business, even coaches for baby names.
The point is, in a multiverse like the internet, you can be any version of yourself you want to be. When you make the thing you’re most passionate about, you’re not chasing an audience like Disney, but you’re opening the possibility of letting an audience eventually find and chase you.
NOTED BY LON HARRIS
Disney Can Learn a Lot About Content From Influencers
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