In truth, Selection itself had run, just some days earlier, a pointed rebuke to the time period from no much less an authority than the Oscar-winning actor and screenwriter Emma Thompson. “To listen to individuals speak about ‘content material’ makes me really feel just like the stuffing inside a settee cushion,” she stated on the Royal Tv Society convention in Britain final week.
“It’s only a impolite phrase for inventive individuals,” she added. “I do know there are college students within the viewers: You don’t wish to hear your tales described as ‘content material’ or your performing or your producing described as ‘content material.’ That’s identical to espresso grounds within the sink or one thing.”
Thompson’s not solely proper in regards to the implications of the phrasing. She’s proper in regards to the real-world impression of what’s, make no mistake, a devaluing of the inventive course of. Those that defend its use will insist that we’d like some sort of catchall phrase for the issues we watch, as beforehand crisp traces have blurred between motion pictures and tv, between house and theatrical exhibition and between legacy and social media.
However these paradigm shifts require extra readability in our language, not much less. A phrase like “streaming film” or “theatrical launch” or “documentary podcast” communicates what, the place and why with way more precision than gibberish like “content material,” and if you wish to put every thing beneath one tent, “leisure” is proper there. However studio and streaming executives, who’re maybe the first customers and abusers of the time period, love to speak about “content material” as a result of it’s so wildly diminutive. It’s a fast and straightforward technique to decrease what writers, administrators and actors do, to behave as if leisure (or, dare I say it, artwork) is solely churned out — and could possibly be churned out by anybody, sentient or not. It’s simply content material, it’s simply widgets, it’s all grist for the mill. Speaking about “leisure” is harmful as a result of it takes expertise to entertain; no such calls for are made from “content material,” and the business’s growing curiosity within the potentialities of writing by way of synthetic intelligence (one of many sticking factors of the writers’ strike) makes that crystal clear.
Maybe the best instance of this college of thought will be seen at Warner Bros. Discovery, the place David Zaslav ascended to the throne of chief government by overseeing the Discovery Channel’s transition from nature documentaries to actuality swill. The “content material”-ization of that conglomerate’s holdings is the one cheap rationalization for the choice to rename HBO Max as merely Max — eradicating the celebrated legacy media model that almost all clearheaded, marginally clever individuals would presume to be an asset. It misplaced 1.8 million subscribers within the course of, however that’s merely the battle; it gained the warfare, as a result of whenever you go to Max now, the front-page carousel is a mixture of scripted sequence, HBO documentaries, true crime and actuality competitors reveals. It’s all on equal footing; it’s all content material. However “Casablanca,” “Succession” and “Dr. Pimple Popper” aren’t the identical factor — and the programmers of a service that pretends in any other case are abdicating their accountability as curators.