Adam Mastroianni runs the numbers on how consolidated and self-referential pop culture has become. More than 80 percent of the top 20 movies are now sequels or spinoffs, and they account for some 60% of the box office. Less music artists than ever enter the charts each decade. The number of books in the top 10 written by authors previously in the top 10 that year has gone from roughly none in the 1960s to 20 percent in 2000 and 40 percent now. Mainstream video games are almost wholly franchise-driven up top: 8 or 9 in 10 of the top-selling games each year. The incentives against investing serious money in notionally "original" art (sorry, "content" (sorry, "IP")) are crushing.
Any explanation for the rise of the pop oligopoly has to answer two questions: why have producers started producing more of the same thing, and why are consumers consuming it? I think the answers to the first question are invasion, consolidation, and innovation. I think the answer to the second question is proliferation.
Hope lies in the unchartered waters beyond the midlist.
Fortunately, there's a cure for our cultural anemia. While the top of the charts has been oligopolized, the bottom remains a vibrant anarchy. There are weird books and funky movies and bangers from across the sea. Two of the most interesting video games of the past decade put you in the role of an immigration officer and an insurance claims adjuster. Every strange thing, wonderful and terrible, is available to you, but they'll die out if you don't nourish them with your attention. Finding them takes some foraging and digging, and then you'll have to stomach some very odd, unfamiliar flavors.
Pop Culture Has Become an Oligopoly [experimentalhistory.substack.com]