In 2003, Nick Bostrom introduced the world to the Paperclip Maximizer:
Suppose we have an AI whose only goal is to make as many paper clips as possible. The AI will realize quickly that it would be much better if there were no humans because humans might decide to switch it off. Because if humans do so, there would be fewer paper clips. Also, human bodies contain a lot of atoms that could be made into paper clips. The future that the AI would be trying to gear towards would be one in which there were a lot of paper clips but no humans.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instrumental_convergence#Paperclip_maximizer
People spend a lot of time worrying about AI. After all, imagine a hypothetical artificial person whose goal is to maximize one goal at the expense of all others, including human happiness and safety.
But this scenario is already here! Corporations are artificial entities that maximize profit at the expense of human happiness and safety.
Worse, corporations permeate everything under our capitalist society. For this post I’m leaving aside the most obvious and egregious violations of worker safety and environmental disaster; today I’m interested in talking about culture. (But seriously, if you want to get mad go read the Wikipedia article on Nestlé sometime; these people are pure evil).
Disney recently announced a bunch of upcoming projects, including ten new Star Wars properties, ten new Marvel properties, and thirty other Pixar/Disney films and series. And it makes me think of a paperclip factory.
These might even turn out to be fun films! In fact, they are practically guaranteed to be. People love Wendy’s and Coca-Cola too, but that doesn’t make ubiquitous fast food and soda a net good for society either.
Disney has found replicable formulas that reliably turn a profit. Star Wars. Superheroes. Pixar’s reliable “this will make you sad” plots. Which means that we’re going to get these formulas, over and and over again, forever. Or at least until everyone gets so thoroughly sick of Star Wars and Marvel that they stop watching and move onto whatever new formula they come up with.
I don’t know, maybe I’m in “old man yells at cloud” territory (to quote another now-Disney property), but it just seems so exhausting and bland. I want more perspectives in popular culture than the bland status-quo neoliberalism that Disney aims at for Maximum Palatability.