Disney has purchased Lucasfilm for four billion dollars. The mega film corporation that already owns Pixar and Marvel now owns the company that made Star Wars, one of the most lucrative film franchises of all times.
What’s interesting is that throughout the legacy of movies, one of the more popular cinematic stories is the one where the Big Guy tries to sweep up everything else – from his competitors to any holdouts in the way of his progress. It’s the Big Rancher trying to run off all the Free Range Cowboys. It’s the Housing Development Corp looking to demolish the last rent-controlled building. It’s the Empire, and the Rebel resistance. And here it is, happening in front of us.
We’re all familiar with the concept of Big Brother, the Orwellian notion of a ubiquitous government which controls all. What Orwell may not have been able to predict was the exponential rise of the corporation. There is an interesting blend of capitalism and socialism at work in the way entropy is trending our businesses towards Sameness.
With this major acquisition, Disney might as well be called The Film Corporation. It is unquestionably the entertainment leader, with Time Warner a distant second. Sure, there are still some other companies of stature, but they too are likely to glom together. In publishing, it is much the same. Pearson is the largest global book publisher. Its competitors, Hachette Livre and Bertelsmann both saw declining revenue in 2012. Pearson is swiftly becoming The Publisher. We’re all aware of Wal-mart and Sam’s Club, two chain stores owned by the same Walton Corporation, presenting an illusion of variety, but ultimately becoming The Consumer Goods Store.
Monsanto is The Food Company. Monsanto sells seeds to farmers throughout the world which produce infertile plants, so the farmer has to buy more seeds the next year. And the soil is a junkie in need of the petroleum-based fertilizers Monsanto provides.
Phizer is the biggest drug company, with Johnson & Johnson, Merck and Abbott Labs outdoing the others on the Forbes list of competitors by a large margin. Telecommunications has been the fastest growing field of the past decade. China Mobile is the global leader, on its way towards double the number of subscribers as Britain’s Vodafone or Norway’s Telenor, the second and third runner-ups. And of course our cell phone providers need no introduction – Verizon, AT&T and Sprint are all familiar names. Yet, according to the trend, our children may only ever know one by the time they get their first phone – Verizon.
Everywhere we turn, a Mega Corp is absorbing all of its competitors and holdouts and becoming the looming giant in its field.
Movies, Books, Consumer Goods, Food, Drugs, Telecom, and Phones. Did I miss anything? Totally I did. Computer-makers, Plumbing suppliers, Logging companies, Baby-bib makers, Candle manufacturers, the whole lot of it. But these are small potatoes, bound to get mashed anyway.
What does it mean?
Computer software programmers have developed scenarios which show a survival of the fittest “gene,” an impetus towards local dominance which radiates out towards global dominance at the very heart of what we call life. It is somehow innate within us. Yet, if you were to sequester a village back in the 1800s and run a social experiment, eventually there would be two hardware stores, two grocery stores, two brothels, and so on. We need competition, just as much as we need progress. They go hand in hand, keeping one another in check, keeping prices down and business practices fair. But when you have a monopoly, things can get radically different.
This is not meant to be a lesson in economics or ethics. But Disney just bought the movie studio which pitted Luke Skywalker against Darth Vader. That’s all I’m sayin’. It’s a little bit scary. Variety is the spice of life. Competition is key to opportunities and creative variance. In agriculture, when you only grow one crop, it’s called a monoculture. The earth does not do well with a monoculture, since certain nutrients are extracted from the soil to grow each plant, and so rotation and biodiversity is needed for organic food and healthy soil.
What does it mean when we have a monoculture in Entertainment? Medicine? Consumer goods? Probably the same thing. The soil gets bad. In the human case, the soil is where innovation and creativity spring from. However, now, the conditions for growth are predicated on factors controlled by a spurious force, rather than nature. You can see it in the types of movies which come out of The Film Corporation – mass market cookie-cutters with stock characters and formulaic plots, often rehashed from a previous product. Or music on the radio which sounds like 21st Century Rock Band, or those pitch-shifting, bass thumping kiddie house songs. They’re like eating high fructose corn syrup over and over again.
Or, to look at it another way, only 35 percent of the people on the current Forbes 400 list came out of the soil of middle or lower income backgrounds. The rest were born into it – they were cultivated by the fertilizers owned by the Mega Corp, so to speak. The median household income dropped in 2011, but the wealth of the Forbes 400 grew by 200 billion dollars (that’s more than 100 times the amount spent to buy the entire Lucasfilm Corporation). In our country, two-thirds of children born to the lower 20% will climb no higher than the lower 40% in their lives.
These are not the statistics of a healthy, free market system, where the playing field is level and the soil fertile. This is the result of a monoculture, of a trending towards monopolies, because the system is, frankly, imperfect, and not balanced effectively by competition and equal opportunity.
This is the great myth of our time. The proponents of “progress,” of “living free” and “small government” are expressing allegiance to a system that is not working. Oh, it’s working for the people at the top, those born already on third base, inheriting fortunes or heirs to the throne, but where is the social mobility promised us in the so-called “American Dream?” That mobility is severely crimped in a society where the monoculture reigns. You are either the king of the crop, or you are one of the peons working in the field.