Can you wear leggings with that?

So, the Producer’s post got me thinking. First of all, thanks to SXSW for the shoutout! Second of all. . .

I read this article in the NY Times a while ago. To sum up: Steve and Barry’s is setting out to be the cheapest, most fashionable chain store ever created. They’re using celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker to design fashionable outfits that sell for less than $9. Are these guys going to put Chanel and Oscar de la Renta out of business? No way. They’re doing the same thing that the big studios are doing right now: Taking the most popular trends from high fashion (or its most popular public faces) and co-opting them for the masses. Warner Brothers, Paramount and the other studios seem to be angling to be the Target and Walmart of new media: You like Steve Carrell in that arty Little Miss Sunshine movie? More Steve Carrell! Steve Carrell for everyone!

Now, the difficulty here is that everyone, absolutely everyone, needs shirts and pants. The content of those shirts and pants (color, cut, pattern) is all up for grabs. So if Target can make cheap shirts and pants that look like something out of Sex and the City, then that starts to look like a pretty good deal. However, not everyone needs movies. Not everyone enjoys movies (I know, I’m as shocked as you). So what happens when the economy is a bit shaky, and people start thinking that their $9 is better spent at Steve and Barry’s than at Landmark Cinemas?

Vaudeville. If you were around in the 1890’s, and you went to the theater, you could see a vaudeville show consisting of comedy, drama, dance, music and some seriously weird stuff (does this remind anyone of the CW’s Monday night lineup?) – it was affordable for the middle class, and acts traveled all over the country. There were people whose acts inspired the same kind of fannish devotion as any modern-day Miley Cyrus. But the advent of this cheaper form of entertainment called “film,” plus that nasty financial incident in the fall of 1929, forced theaters to turn into movie palaces. Vaudeville’s best talent headed for Hollywood. If this interests you, PBS put out a really good documentary on vaudeville for American Masters.

Film didn’t kill theater. It just changed the nature of the theater-going experience. Now it’s unlikely you’ll see variety shows trying to attract a mass audience. Theaters had to adapt to appeal to a specialized audience. Target hasn’t killed high fashion, either.

Are films going to die? No. Art doesn’t die. It gets chopped up, rehashed and made into a collage somewhere else. Just like fashion – everything comes back into vogue eventually. When technology gets ahead of the curve of theory and critique, people get all agitated. Right now, nobody is reviewing YouTube videos in the New York Times. No academics have cannonized it, no critics have turned it into a comparison-fest. In vaudeville, there were some trashy, mind-blowingly stupid acts roaming around the country. But what we remember now are the geniuses – the people who influenced generations to come.

Eventually, we’re going to see great art, really great narrative art, come out of these weird little platforms. I agree fully with the Producer: It’s a great time to experiment and make something new.

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