The '80s were the weakest decade in the history of mainstream American film. No, let's cast a narrower net: They were the weakest decade in the history of mainstream American feature-length film. Just as most of the interesting moviemaking seems to be happening on YouTube today, the Reagan-era viewer had a better chance of seeing something lively and inventive on MTV, or perhaps even in a TV commercial, than in a theater.
The more I think about it, the more the striking the MTV/YouTube parallels are -- and not just because so much of YouTube is made up of music videos. When MTV was young, those movie critics who bothered to write about it (as opposed to music critics, who had more to say and less to cheer) often noticed the way the filmmakers mixed and matched every school of cinema that had existed until then, from the silent era to the avant garde. YouTube takes that postmodern trend to an extreme, not merely pastiching everything but borrowing actual footage from everywhere.
There's a whole essay to be written about this, and if I had time to write it I wouldn't be tossing half-baked fragments of the article onto a blog.
Speaking of videos: The new issue of Reason, dated August/September, includes my interview with Francesca Coppa, who's been doing some interesting scholarship about the vidding subculture -- an underground world of fan filmmakers who have been making their own music videos from borrowed footage for longer than MTV has existed.
Yet more self-promotion: In the same issue, Reason ranks the freest and least free large cities in the United States. I wrote a blurb about Baltimore, which finished somewhere in the middle.