I’m a simple person and I like simple things: Wooden toys, paper boarding passes, cars that have drivers. So, it shouldn’t surprise you that one of my favorite end-of-year pastimes is to try and reduce everything nuanced and complex that I’ve experienced over the year down to a few brief and easy-to-digest paragraphs, each one roughly the size and shape of a blueberry muffin.
I do this mostly so that I can recall what happened. You see, in addition to being simple, I am also forgetful.This one-two punch of personal shortcomings means — among other things — that I can be easily overwhelmed. By way of example, I always decline lunch meetings because I find pitching while eating to be as tricky and unfun as, say, procreating while carving a pumpkin.
In a typical year, I like to line up all my blueberry muffins on a short list and drop them into an unmarked folder where they remain forever unread. Or, if they’re lucky, they will get clicked upon once every ten years like those sad little nuts that open up only during forest fires.
But this is no typical year. No, this is the year that we all sat up straight to ponder and post about everything from threats to democracy to nuclear armageddon to rogue billionaires — as if a billion dollars wouldn’t make any of us go a little rogue. This is the year in which it became easier for Americans to purchase automatic rifles and hydroponic weed than baby formula. This is the year in which more minutes of animation were produced than were actually watched. In toto, this year was so volatile and geopolitically unhinged that even the world’s ancient and sleepy volcanoes are now popping like champagne corks on the poop deck of the Titanic.
So, this year, in the name of trying to bring a dollop of healing to our dinged world — not to mention our bipolar industry in which shows are being cancelled before they’re even delivered — I’ve decided to share my annual list of blueberry muffins. My hope is that they might provide a few frames of comfort to any weary animation sojourners who are, at this very moment, standing on a bridge somewhere bemoaning the challenging business model of streaming:
- Less is more. I can’t actually think of a better way to get families to stop watching content than to offer them too many shows and films on too many competing platforms, all of which require a monthly fee that the average family simply, obviously, cannot afford. Forgive my penchant for food analogies, but this is like asking families to give up their home cooked meals and subscribe to several all-you-can-eat buffets where the food is ample but the quality is uneven and rarely served fresh. I, for one, lose my appetite just thinking about it. If a few of the streamers don’t tank or merge soon, I think there’s a real danger that kids will start reading.
- Show Me The Money. As an idealist who came up through the ranks of Sesame Street and Noggin, I used to (rather obnoxiously) refer to the entire licensing industry as “the dark side of the force.” Once I had my own indie, however, and came to understand that making shows actually costs money, I readily embraced such heretofore naughty words as “toyetic” and “play pattern.” Yes, I was now in the plastics business and my only hope was that the toddlers I once tried to edify about “cooperation” and “task persistence” would buy more of my plastic toys than, say, yours. So, needless to say, I’ve had a bout of déjà vu watching a whole new generation of idealists buckle under the same realization that shows cost money, and that one must always be selling something – ads, toys, tickets, socks – in order to keep the lights on. No, I’m not happy about this fact and I’d put it in the bucket marked “heartbreaking realities of the kids’ media business” right beside our dependence on government subsidies and cheap labor.
- The Narcissism Awards. There seems to be an inverse relationship these days between the number of families watching stuff and the number of awards being given out for what families are not watching. Since ratings of any kind are now a hot mess of unreliable data, we’ve all fallen prey to the big fib that winning an award means that we’re doing a wonderful job. Seeing an opportunity here, the good folks who give out the awards have been expanding their offerings and adding new categories to reel in more cash while feeding our nearly insatiable appetite for professional validation. In an environment in which even the biggest media companies are losing mucho dinero and laying off hundreds of staff, awards have become a tonic — like top-shelf whiskey — which dulls the pain for an evening and lets us off the hook for our basic failure to deliver an audience. The headline of a recent New York Times article about the Oscars summed up the awards paradox quite nicely: “Highbrow Films Aimed at Winning Oscars Are Losing Audiences. The kind of critically praised dramas that often dominate the awards season are falling flat at the box office, failing to justify the cost to make them.”
- Danger, Will Robinson. When my wife was studying for her MBA, she took a course called Machine Learning. I had no idea what this was and, in my mind’s eye, I pictured a gathering of preschool-aged robots sitting around a low table making artwork with macaroni and glue. Boy, was I wrong. As I discovered this year, machine learning has the potential to one day trigger an AI-driven apocalypse that will make WWII look like a short game of Pong. So, although I fear AI, I don’t worry that AI will ever be able to create a cute original character, a good kids’ show, or write even one funny joke. Fortunately, even the most basic life forms — think banana slug — are far more complex than the fastest microchips, so it seems logical to me that no AI program will ever be able to replicate the lovely, deep dysfunction that makes us humans, well, human.
Well, there you have it, my thought muffins for the wicked year of 2022. I suspect some of you will agree with my unscientific observations while others most certainly will not. That’s okay with me. I long ago gave up trying to please people because, as most of you know by now, I suck at that. Besides, I find it increasingly hard just to please myself. (For the record, I do still try and please my dogs, Mike and Bunny, who believe — as do I — that I am a descendant of Zeus.) In closing, I would like to say that my one wish for this coming year is that we might all spend just a bit more time making the work we were born to make and a bit less time finding fault with one another. I tend to agree with those who espouse forgiveness and love. Simplistic, I know.
Josh Selig is the 12-time Emmy-winning creator of many shows including WonderPets and Small Potatoes. His company, China Bridge Content, is developing a new preschool comedy called Buffalo Nanny, and is working with Toonz Media Group on an original 6 – 9 comedy, Peaches & Creaminal.