Film Crit Hulk Smash: MONSTER FACTORY, New Media, And The Future Of “TV”

Things have changed on and off TV.

SO HULK RECENTLY REALIZED THAT THE FUNNIEST SHOW ON TV IS MONSTER FACTORY.

THE THING IS IT'S NOT ON ANY TV CHANNEL, NOR STREAMING SERVICE. IT ISN'T STRUCTURED LIKE NARRATIVE TV, AND IF YOU HAVEN'T PLAYED RPGS THE SHOW MIGHT NOT EVEN MAKE SENSE. THAT'S BECAUSE MONSTER FACTORY IS ACTUALLY EDITED VIDEO GAME COMMENTARY / PLAY-THROUGH THAT YOU WATCH MOSTLY ON YOUTUBE. BUT NONE OF THAT CHANGES THE FACT THAT FOR 25 MINUTES OR SO, HULK CONVULSES WITH LAUGHTER TO THE POINT OF NEARLY CRAPPING... THIS RESULTS IN TWO QUESTIONS:

1. WAIT, WHY IS THE SHOW SO FUNNY?

2. JUST WHAT THE HELL IS A "TV SHOW" NOW ANYWAY?

AS TO THE FIRST QUESTION OF WHY SO FUNNY, THE BEST ANSWER IS SIMPLY "THE MCELROY BROTHERS." THIS INTREPID THREESOME HAS CONCOCTED AN ARMADA OF AMAZING PODCASTS AND WEB SHOWS , BUT THEY ARE PROBABLY BEST KNOWN FOR THEIR FLAGSHIP PODCAST "MY BROTHER MY BROTHER AND ME" (COLLOQUIALLY REFERRED TO AS MBMBAM OR "MA-BIM-BAM"). SIMPLY PUT: THEY ARE JUST INCREDIBLY FUNNY PEOPLE WHO EXEMPLIFY WHAT IS INHERENTLY GREAT ABOUT THAT MEDIUM. SPECIFICALLY THAT THEY HAVE THE UNCANNY EAR FOR DICTION AND POSSESS THE ABILITY TO RIFF THROUGH THE SAME ABSURDIST WAVELENGTH AS A COLLECTIVE UNIT. TO WIT, HERE'S ONE SUCH RIFF:

IT'S BEEN TALKED ABOUT AD NAUSEAM, BUT THE ENTIRE REASON PODCASTS EXPLODED EIGHT YEARS AGO WAS BECAUSE IT'S JUST HIGHLY-TARGETED METHOD TO MAKE PEOPLE FEEL DEEPLY INCLUDED IN A CONVERSATION. WHICH IS TECHNICALLY WHAT THE BEST RADIO DOES TOO, BUT PODCASTS DON'T HAVE TO CATER TO THE POPULIST / LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR ECONOMICS THAT PLAGUES THAT PARTICULAR INDUSTRY. IF ANYTHING, PODCASTS ACHIEVE POPULARITY THROUGH SPECIFICITY. MEANING YOU DON'T HAVE TO APPEAL TO EVERYONE IN THE SANTA FE AREA IN ORDER TO SELL LOCAL CAR DEALERSHIP ADS, INSTEAD YOU CAN APPEAL TO ALL THE DARK SOULS FANS ACROSS THE GLOBE AND JUST SELL THEM HIGH-QUALITY UNDERWEAR (THERE'S BOTH A MEUNDIES *AND* A POOPING YOUR PANTS AT IUDEX GUNDYR JOKE SOMEWHERE IN HERE).

BELIEVE IT OR NOT, THIS BRINGS UP LARGER QUESTIONS ABOUT THE FUTURE OF ENTERTAINMENT. NAMELY, AS ENTERTAINMENT HAS TO BE LESS AND LESS BROAD BY NATURE, YOU ACTUALLY CAN REACH HIGHER CONCENTRATIONS OF "ALPHA VIEWERS" (I.E. PEOPLE WHO SPEND A LOT OF MONEY) BY BEING MORE SPECIFIC WITH YOUR SUBJECT FOCUS. BUT THE GREAT IRONY OF THIS FACT IS THAT GROWTH ON THE INTERNET IS DEFINED BY "THE THING THAT IS SHARED." AND IN THAT LANDSCAPE, THE THING THAT IS THEREFORE "INHERENTLY SHAREABLE" REIGNS SUPREME. IT'S WHY ANY ONLINE VIDEO ABOUT SOMETHING POP CULTURE / VIDEO GAME RELATED GETS A LOT OF EYEBALLS. BUT THIS IS TRUTH OF MOST THINGS. IT'S WHY YOU SEE A MILLION STAR WARS ARTICLES AND IT'S WHY WE MAKE MOVIES BASED ON EXISTING I.P'S. THE TOPIC FACILITATES THE DIALOGUE AND BECOMES THE ROOT OF CONNECTIVITY AT THE HEART OF THE CULTURAL WATER-COOLER (AN ALREADY PASSE TERM). BUT AGAIN, THE MOST IMPORTANT END RESULT OF ALL THIS IS THAT WE ARE CREATING A CULTURE OF TALENT THAT PRIMARILY DEALS IN:

A) THE TRANSFORMATION / REMIXING OF EXISTING CULTURAL ITEMS OR

B) COMMENTARY ON CULTURAL ITEMS.

WHICH HAS ALWAYS BEEN TRUE, BUT NOW IS MORE OBJECTIVELY TRUE THAN EVER. AND LOOK. IN SOME WAYS, TRADITIONAL ENTERTAINMENT ISN'T GOING TO CHANGE ONE IOTA. THE NEED FOR NARRATIVE WILL NEVER GO AWAY. HULK REMEMBERS AFTER THE WRITERS STRIKE WHEN REALITY TV TOOK HOLD AND EVERYONE THOUGHT THE SKY IS FALLING (HULK AMONG THEM) - AND YET THERE IS NOW MORE SCRIPTED TV SHOWS THAN THERE HAS BEEN IN HISTORY (IT JUST TOOK THE NETFLIX AND STREAMING BOOM TO INSPIRE IT). AS ANY GIVEN INDUSTRY CHANGES, PEOPLE ARE GOING TO FREAK OUT ABOUT WHAT THEY LOSE / GAIN IN THE SHIFT. BUT ULTIMATELY, AUDIENCES ARE GOING TO BE LOOKING FOR THE SAME THINGS, JUST WITH MINOR SHIFTS THAT SEEM TO PILE UP ON TOP OF ONE ANOTHER AND HAVE LARGER CULTURAL CONSEQUENCES. WHICH MAKES IT SEEM VERY MUCH LIKE WE ARE CONSUMING CONTENT DIFFERENTLY.

LIKE EVERYTHING THE ANSWER IS ONE BIG "YES AND NO."

THE MOST OBVIOUS PLACE TO SEE THE PILE-UP OF SEEMING DIFFERENCES IS ON YOUTUBE, VINE, VIMEO, TWITCH, ETC. THESE ONLINE PLATFORMS ARE REMARKABLY INTERESTING TO HULK FOR MANY REASONS. THE FIRST IS THAT THEY ARE ALL WIDELY REGARDED AS A CESSPOOL BY THE PUBLIC AND YET THE PUBLIC (ESPECIALLY THE YOUNG) CONSUMES MORE FROM THEM THAN ALL OTHER PLATFORMS COMBINED. SERIOUSLY, 12-YEAR-OLDS ARE ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY WATCHING THESE PLATFORMS (AND EVEN NOW THEY'RE MOVING ON TO NEW STUFF US OLD PEOPLE DON'T EVEN KNOW THE NAMES OF YET). BUT THE REAL REASON THESE PLATFORMS ARE CONSIDERED A CESSPOOL IS OBVIOUS: THEIR CONTENT IS DEMOCRATIZED, NOT CURATED. TO COMPARE, HBO SPENDS ENDLESS TIME AND RESOURCES ON DECIDING WHAT GETS PICKED AND EVEN MORE TIME DEVELOPING THEM, ALL IN THE NAME OF BRANDING. BUT THESE PLATFORMS SUPPORT EVERYTHING THAT ANYONE WANTS TO ATTEMPT AND THUS CREATES SO MUCH NOISE THAT WHEN YOU LOOK AT IT AS A WHOLE, YOU ONLY SEE THE NOISE, EVEN IF THERE IS A BUNCH OF GENUINELY GREAT STUFF THAT ROSE TO THE TOP OF THAT DEMOCRATIZATION.

BUT IT ALSO HAS AN UNFORTUNATE EFFECT IN THAT IT SO READILY EXPOSES THE DARK SIDE OF POPULISM. LIKE THE FACT THAT THESE PLATFORMS ARE FULL OF CREEPY 19-YEAR-OLDS CONTROLLING THEIR ENTIRE IDENTITY AND MESSAGE TO 15-YEAR-OLDS. WHICH ISN'T TO BE PEARL CLUTCHING, BUT THIS IS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT THAN YOUNG TALENT IN HOLLYWOOD, WHICH IS PUBLICALLY REGULATED AND PRIVATELY GOING NUTS. AND IT JUST MEANS THAT THIS STUFF CAN GET CREEPY, PREDATORY, OR JUST PLAIN JUVENILE. SERIOUSLY, WE'RE TALKING THE MOST PUERILE AND OBVIOUS SUBJECT MATTER AND UGLY GENDER NORMS. HECK, THE MOST POPULAR VINE STARS SEEM TO THRIVE ON MENACE AND EITHER EXTERNAL OR INTERNALIZED RACISM. WHAT'S WORSE IS MOST OF THE PEOPLE OPERATING IN THESE SPACES DON'T EVEN SEEM TO UNDERSTAND THEY'RE TAKING ADVANTAGE OF WHAT THEY'RE TAKING ADVANTAGE OF. THEY JUST EMBODY IT. BUT SERIOUSLY, WHY WOULD THEY EVER UNDERSTAND IT? IT'S THE PROBLEM WITH EMPOWERED DELUSION. AND WHILE IT WOULD BE SO EASY JUST TO FOCUS ON THIS HORRIBLE ASPECT WITH AN AFOREMENTIONED "SKY IS FALLING" MENTALITY TO ALL THIS...

IT'S NOT THE END ALL BE ALL. NOT BY A LONG SHOT.

FOR ONE, THERE'S ENOUGH OF THE GOOD STUFF IN THESE PLATFORMS THAT YOU CAN SUPPLY YOUR ENTIRE MEDIA DIET ON IT AND DO SO HANDILY... LET THAT SINK IN FOR A SECOND. YOU COULD LITERALLY GET ALL YOUR "VITAMINS" FROM THESE PLATFORMS, SO TO SPEAK. TO BE FAIR, IF YOU'RE WORRIED ABOUT THEM "TAKING OVER TRADITIONAL MEDIA" THE TRUTH IS MOST OF THEM HAVE ZERO IDEA HOW TO TAKE WHAT THEY DO AND APPLY IT TO NARRATIVE, SO THAT ARENA WILL PROBABLY BE FINE IN PERPETUITY. BUT EVEN THEN, YOU HAVE TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT EVEN THOSE BAD NARRATIVE STARS ARE "GOOD AT VINE" THE SAME WAY ADAM SANDLER IS GOOD AT MAKING ADAM SANDLER MOVIES. PERHAPS WE EVEN HAVE TO GO SO FAR AS TO CHANGE OUR DEFINITION OF WHAT TALENT MEANS.

BUT FAR MORE IMPORTANTLY, HULK THINKS WE HAVE TO GENUINELY SHIFT OUR UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT A "SHOW" IS NOW TOO. BECAUSE SO MUCH OF IT IS PERSONALITY DRIVEN, CONDUCTED IN SHORT BURSTS, ETC. BUT IT HAS FAR LESS TO DO THE MUCH BALLYHOOED "ATTENTION SPAN" CONVENTIONAL WISDOM (WHICH IS BULLSHIT) AND MORE TO DO WITH THE ECONOMICS OF CONTENT AND BEING ABLE TO MONETIZE A LOT OF VIEWS. BECAUSE HULK IS TELLING YOU, KIDS WILL SIT THERE AND WATCH PEOPLE STREAM FOR 6 HOURS STRAIGHT. AND GUESS WHAT? THE RETENTION RATES OF SHOWS ON YOUTUBE ARE WAYYYYYYY HIGHER THAN ON TV, FOLKS. DID YOU KNOW THAT? IT SHOULD BE OBVIOUS: WHEN YOU CLICK ON SOMETHING AND STAY ON IT FOR MORE THAN 2 SECONDS, IT'S BECAUSE YOU ARE THERE TO WATCH IT.

AND ALL OF THIS ADDS UP TO THE MOST FASCINATING MEDIA DEVELOPMENT TO HULK, WHICH IS THE ADVENT OF "LET'S PLAYS" AND TWITCH HOSTING.

WE BLINDLY THINK OF THIS STUFF AS "VIDEO GAME OFF-SHOOTS" BUT NO, THESE ARE REAL TV SHOWS. AND IF WE'RE BEING CANDID, THEY ARE JUST THE NEXT STEP IN THE EVOLUTION OF MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 (AKA ONE OF THE FUNNIEST SHOWS EVER MADE). BUT THESE "TV SHOWS" BLEND THE VERY SPECIFIC AND UNIQUE ADVANTAGES OF TARGETED NEW MEDIA ENGAGEMENT, PERSONALITY-DRIVEN HOSTING, PODCAST-LIKE RIFFING, AND THE UNCANNY ABILITY TO CREATE YOUR OWN NARRATIVE WITH VIDEO GAME MECHANICS.

AND IT'S SO COMMONPLACE THAT THIS ENTIRE COLUMN SHOULD READ AS NOTHING MORE THAN "OKAY GRANDPA, DUHHHHH" TO THEM - WHICH JUST PUTS THE ENTIRE CONVERSATION IN A WEIRD SPACE BECAUSE HULK TRIES EXPLAINING THIS TO PEOPLE IN THE MOVIE INDUSTRY AND THEY'RE BEYOND CONFUSED AS TO WHY "THIS" HAS REPLACED THEM (IF HULK IS A GRANDPA THEN THEY ARE DINOSAURS). AND IF THEY EVEN LOOK, THEY JUST SEE THE CESSPOOL AND DOOM US AS A SOCIETY. AND YES, THERE'S A LOT OF NOISE OUT THERE WITH LET'S PLAYS, ETC. BUT WHEN DONE WELL, THEY ARE FUCKING INCREDIBLE.

WHICH BRINGS US BACK TO MONSTER FACTORY.

NOW, IF YOU'RE NOT USED TO THESE KINDS OF THINGS, WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO WATCH MAY SEEM WEIRD. HULK MEAN, IT JUST LAUNCHES RIGHT INTO IT. THERE'S A CONFUSING RHYTHM. BUT THEN YOU START FOLLOWING ALONG AND SUDDENLY 10 MINUTES LATER, YOU ARE CONVULSING WITH LAUGHTER. HULK'S SEEN IT HAPPEN WITH PEOPLE WHO DON'T EVEN KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT VIDEO GAMES BECAUSE YOU CAN JUST INFER ALONG THE WAY:

"JUST LIKE BART!"

THERE'S A FASCINATING THING ABOUT THIS TO HULK, BECAUSE THE NARRATIVE IS BUILT OFF PODCASTING / MST3K RHYTHMS, AND IT ALLOWS YOU TO FALL INTO THE SHOW IN SUCH A DEEP, SPECIFIC WAY. AND THEY'RE HARD TO EXPLAIN BECAUSE THERE IS SO MUCH CONTEXT AND UNDERSTANDING THAT GOES INTO THE JOKES (WHICH IS WHY IT MAY TAKE A LITTLE WHILE TO START LAUGHING). BUT IT'S ALL PART OF THE NEW MECHANICS OF HOW YOU ENGAGE A SPECIFIC AUDIENCE, HOW YOU TELL A "STORY" IN THESE MEDIUMS, AND EVEN HOW TO CHANGE THE MODUS OPERANDI OF WHAT COUNTS AS TELEVISED ENTERTAINMENT.

BUT HOLY CRAP CAN IT BE EFFECTIVE.

IN FACT, IT WORKS SO MUCH THAT THERE'S BEEN A POINT IN EVERY EPISODE OF MONSTER FACTORY WHERE HULK HAD TO FALL OVER AND CONVULSE ON THE GROUND WITH LAUGHTER TO THE POINT OF TEARS.

AND SURE IT'S NOT NARRATIVE, BUT THE LAST TIME HULK COULD HONESTLY SAY THAT WAS... UH... THE GOLDEN AGE OF THE SIMPSONS.

YEAH... YOU CAN DO WITH THAT WHAT YOU WILL.

<3 HULK

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