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ONE of the surprise hits of the current streaming season is The Mandalorian, the first original series on Disney+.
It’s no surprise that it is so popular — any Star Wars spinoff is guaranteed to have a wide audience — but the magnitude of that audience response evidences the way it has penetrated the culture.
The series was 20 times more popular than any other original series on Disney+ and crucial in its surpassing 74 million subscribers worldwide last year, far beyond its initial goal of 60 million by 2024.
Some of that popularity is warranted. The first season of The Mandalorian, set after the end of the first Star Wars trilogy, breathed new life into an atrophied franchise. It’s set at a time when the empire has collapsed but the budding Republic is weak and unable to pull together an unruly universe.
Mando, in his quest to preserve and protect this powerful baby visits a different planet each week, most with broken-down governments and infrastructures. Season one was a fit metaphor for the imminent collapse of the US empire as its currency faltered and economy plummeted in a downturn accelerated but not caused by Covid.
The individual planets, with their barely surviving frontier systems of government looked a lot like failing US states in the aftermath of the Reagan-Bush-Clinton neoliberal onslaught, finally done in by Trump.
The worlds of The Mandalorian also echoed failed states around the world, as parts of the US global empire collapsed. There have been protests in Lebanon, Chile and Algeria, to say nothing of recent people’s movements closer to home — the Gilets Jaunes in France, the Indignados in Spain and the mass movement that led to the momentary success of Syriza in Greece.
Season two demonstrates how the limiting of creativity in this overly commercialised product leads to the series folding in on itself. It collapses into an already established pattern, an indication of a culture that is eating itself, that quickly extinguishes any spark of the new by reverting to the tried and comfortable and in that way annihilating it.
As such, the journey of The Mandalorian is not so different from that of the country itself. A once powerful manufacturing juggernaut, the US has now been utterly hollowed out so that manufacturing accounts for only one in 20 businesses and one-ninth of the workforce as opposed to after WWII, where one-third of the workforce was employed in factories.
The art of producing material goods has been replaced by the economies of finance, entertainment, and the digital, with the only real manufacturing being done in weapons construction, in the sale of which the US leads the world.
This hollowness at the core of the society is at play in the finance industry, in the form of stock buybacks. After the 2008 financial collapse and continuing with the Covid aid to US banks, insurance agencies and investment firms, instead of investing in society as a whole or in innovation in their own operations, bolstered their position by using the money to repurchase shares in their own, often faltering, companies.
The result is zero gain for society as a whole but enormous profits for shareholders, since stock value is now artificially increased. The rationale for propping up this zombie culture is: “We don’t see any better investment than in ourselves,” a phrase which reaffirms their greed and lack of interest in society as a whole.
This bland corporate elite produces a carnivore culture by feasting on what is left of the carcass of a once thriving entertainment and economic complex. In this new pursuit of the last vestige of abundance in a fading financial structure, the promise of plenitude that begat the streaming era has ceded to the kind of remake-and-redo policy that has driven the Hollywood film industry.
If the monoliths of HBO/AT&T and Disney prevail, this lack of innovation in a culture feeding on itself will become a dominant feature.
Dennis Broe’s latest book is Diary of a Digital Plague Year: Coronavirus, Serial TV and the Rise of the Streaming Services.
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