How America became obsessed with Star Wars and other childish things

Mass-market movies — both within the United States and, increasingly, around the globe — aim to satisfy tween tastes. As one of the first summer blockbusters, the original Star Wars pioneered this approach to profit-seeking: Aim entertainment at 10-year-olds from families with enough disposable income to afford a movie ticket, and you have a decent shot of making a killing right now and sowing the seeds of future fortunes by establishing a lucrative franchise. First come the sequels (and prequels). Then come the reboots. And the offshoots. And the toys. All of which appeal not only to the 10-year-olds running around at the time the latest movie is released, but also to all those who saw an earlier iteration of the franchise when they were 10…

I can’t help but wonder about what it all means for the fate of more adult forms of art. Television drama and (oddly) musical theater seem to be thriving. But serious film? Music? Literature? Painting? Dance? The dwindling few who care about these finer arts can’t help but worry about what will become of them in a world in which ever-greater resources and larger audiences are diverted to Hollywood extravaganzas expertly crafted to appeal to the greatest number on such a middling level.

Beyond questions of art and commerce lie even broader issues of human flourishing and whether it’s likely to be fostered in a culture that so lavishly valorizes and rewards pre-adolescent tastes while treating the exploration of deeper, harder human themes as off limits in popular art. A movie jam-packed with stunning visual and audio effects that gives audiences a precisely calibrated mix of thrills, surprises, and satisfactions can be great fun. But it will never be more than a mere diversion, an easy distraction, empty calories.

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