Hollywood on strike, and the economics of streaming

I hope you weren’t waiting on the edge of your seat for the next season of whatever to drop on Netflix or Paramount+. In case you missed it, both the actors guild and the writers guild are now on strike. This brings the production of any scripted movies or television shows to a screeching halt for the duration.

Does the blame lie with greedy studio execs? Snowflake screenwriters and actors? Or perhaps something more complicated…

Remember what happened to the music industry once it went full Internet. In my (pre-Internet) 1980s youth, MTV played music videos, because record companies funded them. Music videos were free advertising for albums, after all. Millions of teens (myself included, in those days) watched those MTV videos, and then we rushed off to Camelot Music or Peaches Records & Tapes to buy the latest Def Leppard or Michael Jackson album.

Then people stopped buying albums. They haven’t bought albums for decades. Music is now delivered almost exclusively through streaming services.

This is why there is no 21st-century equivalent to Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, the Rolling Stones, Def Leppard, etc. The economics required to invest in new, groundbreaking rock acts simply isn’t there anymore.

This is also, by the way, why MTV no longer plays music videos. The album-driven economics that funded the 80s-era music videos no longer exists.

Def Leppard, “Photograph” (1983)

So all we have nowadays is way more Taylor Swift than most of us can handle without gagging, and lots of struggling indie bands that may never get the capital necessary to take off. They’ll scrape by on the pittance of streaming fees, and a few tee-shirt sales. You’ll never hear of most of them.

That was what Full Internet did to the music industry. The economics of movies and television were slower to shift. In the 2000s, while the music industry was being decimated by online piracy and the beginnings of the streaming industry, people were still watching television in the pre-Internet ways, and they were still flocking to cinemas.

Then we all became addicted to streaming.

I’m not pointing any fingers here. I have a subscription to Netflix myself. For about $20 per month, Netflix delivers unlimited, high-end scripted content. No more movie tickets to buy, no more pay-per-view for the latest movies.

Oh, and no pesky commercials, either!

That’s a pretty sweet deal for the consumer, but it’s a lot harder to make money (and fund content) that way. Most of the streaming services are losing money at present.

The writers, actors, and studio execs haven’t yet adjusted to the reality of streaming economics, as the entire music industry was forced to do about two decades ago.

So what happens next? The Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA), the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the studio heads will eventually come to a settlement. They are all in this together, whether they like it or not, and these are, by and large, people who want to keep doing what they’re already doing. Jennifer Lawrence is not going to “learn how to code”.

But if the history of the music industry’s decline is a reliable guide, the current strikes will have consequences. And you won’t like them.

The Golden Age of Streaming has likely crested. Some of the most interesting shows of recent years—Stranger Things, The Last Kingdom, even Yellowstone—will be replaced by cheaper-to-make, more repetitive fare.

Are you sick of superhero movies yet? How about superhero streaming series, too? Sick of Taylor Swift? How about a Taylor Swift streaming biopic?

(I don’t even want to think about that, but I may have no choice.)

This summer will likely mark the beginning of the streaming decline. There will still be streaming content, but it will be less innovative, less engaging, and not nearly as good as it was during its golden age.

After all, that’s what happened to the music industry once it was struck by the economics of streaming. That’s how we got nonstop Taylor Swift, who would have been regarded as a moderately competent lounge singer in the more musically diverse 1980s.

Learn to fix your air conditioning unit

Not all of it, of course. But many common repairs and maintenance tasks can be handled by a reasonably attentive amateur with the right tools.

For example: the replacement of a capacitor. A local AC contracting company quoted me a price of $384 for this repair. The necessary replacement part costs $19.95 on Amazon. You’ll also need a multimeter, which can be purchased on Amazon for a very moderate price

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a writer, not a handyman or an engineer. Bookish types like me typically don’t like to get our hands dirty. Well, I discovered a few years ago what a self-defeating attitude that is.

I solicited a quote for a necessary home repair, and found that the company in question wanted about 10x the reasonable price for the job. Two other contractors in the area wanted 2 to 3 times the reasonable price.

I define reasonable here as: parts + labor + (reasonable) overhead + (reasonable) profit.

That said, there are limits to what you can do for yourself. The installation of a new AC system is beyond the scope of any homeowner; and environmental laws require that a licensed professional complete the work. 

But you should educate yourself about what is actually involved in common home repairs. And never accept a quote from a vendor that isn’t broken out as described above. Most contractors who serve homeowners don’t want to do this, because they don’t want you to know how much they’re overcharging you.


 What was a 1980s latchkey kid? 

A latchkey kid is a child or early teenager who is “home alone” for a few hours each day after school. This usually happens because parent(s) are working, and therefore unavailable.

The latchkey kid phenomenon is closely associated with the 1980s, and the generation of Americans born between 1965 and 1970-something. (The so-called “Generation X”.) That said, this was not the experience of everyone who was a school-age kid at some point between 1980 and 1989. Similarly, the generation that grew up in the 1980s was by no means the first—or last—cohort of young people who spent time alone after school.

All those disclaimers aside, we can speak meaningfully of the observable phenomenon, even if it is less than universal, and not strictly confined to the 1980s. The latchkey kid was a definite 1980s trend, owing to some unique circumstances.

Working moms, aka “career women”

In the third decade of the twenty-first century, the word “career woman” sounds quaint. Some might even find it sexist. Of course women have careers, you might say. And you’d be right, if we’re talking about the 2020s.

But four decades ago, things were different…and changing. Millions of upper- and middle-class women were entering the professional, white-collar workforce for the first time. 

The concept of women doing paid labor wasn’t entirely new. Working-class women had long performed paid labor outside the home to one degree or another, usually out of simple necessity. And don’t forget Rosie the Riveter, who filled the vacuum in the male workforce during World War II.

There was also a long tradition of women working in specialized professional careers, especially teaching. (Almost all of my elementary school teachers were women.)

What was new in the 1980s was the mass entry of women into private-sector careers traditionally reserved for men. This is why you heard so much about the “career woman” in the 1980s. This really was a new dimension of female employment, and at an unprecedented scale.

These were also the women who were the young and early middle-age mothers of that era. Their children typically got home from school around 3 p.m., several hours before the end of operations in the typical white-collar workplace.

The result was millions of latchkey kids.

Economic uncertainty

At the same time, a struggling economy had led to high levels of unemployment in the early 1980s. The economy improved as the decade progressed, but unemployment in the United States peaked at 10.8 percent in 1982!

This economic dislocation was dramatized in the 1983 movie, Mr. Mom, starring Teri Garr and Michael Keaton. In the movie, an out-of-work automotive engineer becomes a stay-at-home dad. His wife, meanwhile, becomes the family breadwinner, accepting a high-profile position in the advertising industry. Hijinks ensue, as Dad the Engineer attempts to cope with grocery shopping, housecleaning, childcare, and other traditionally “female” tasks.

Mr. Mom is a comedy; and as would be expected of any movie made 40 years ago, it is largely dated now. Nevertheless, the film serves as a time capsule of the economic anxieties—and realities—of the early 1980s.

As manufacturing took a hit, some traditionally masculine careers (what could be more manly than automotive engineering?) went into decline. Jobs involving computers, marketing, and other forms of white-collar “knowledge work”, were beginning to rise in importance. Many of these careers appealed to women.

Small families and broken homes

The 1980s latchkey experience was also affected by recent demographic changes. The 1980s was, compared to the decades before and since, a decade of small families. By the time the first GenXers were born in 1965, the postwar Baby Boom was petering out. The World War II generation was done with reproduction and childrearing, and that burden increasingly fell onto the shoulders of the Baby Boomers themselves. Most of the Baby Boomers opted for smaller families.

Once married, the Baby Boomers divorced in record numbers, causing divorce rates to peak in 1980. The so-called “broken home” was another reason for the latchkey kid phenomenon. Divorce compelled many mothers to enter the workforce.

My latchkey kid experience

But what if both of your parents were happily married, and gainfully employed? That was my situation.

I was twelve years old in 1980. That same year, my mother took a job as a contract administrator at a local defense contracting firm. The company made the fuses that went into Cold War-era weapons like the shoulder-fired TOW missile and the Hellfire Missile System. 

I spent several hours alone each afternoon, between the time when school let out, and when my parents arrived home from work (usually between 5:30 and 6:00 p.m.)

Learning to entertain yourself without technology

What to do during that time? Homework? Surely you jest. There were a few other kids in my neighborhood, and I got along with them. But we could only hang out so much until we grew tired of each other.

How about TV? Afternoon television in the early 1980s was a wasteland for adolescents and teens. Cable television was just taking off, and nothing worth watching aired until the evening, when adult audiences were tuned in.

Most of the afternoon programming on the non-cable networks consisted of either cartoons or soap operas, neither of which was of much interest to a twelve-year-old boy.

Nor did technology offer much in the way of engaging entertainment. The Internet and cell phones were still decades away. Video games were in their infancy. (Think “Pong”.) If someone had uttered the word “iPad” to me in 1980, I would probably have assumed it had something to do with personal hygiene.

That left latchkey kids largely responsible for entertaining themselves. This was especially true on rainy days, and during the winter months, when it was distinctly unpleasant to hang around outside.

Most of us learned to entertain ourselves in various ways. I became an avid reader, and began dabbling with writing my own articles and stories.

I also immersed myself in various hobbies: coin collecting, stamp collecting, and angling. In the summer of 1978, my grandfather had introduced me to bass fishing. I acquired back issues of Field & Stream and Fishing Facts, and read them all cover-to-cover. By 1981, I knew more about developments in fishing than my grandfather did.

Ironically, this was just about the time that I dropped fishing for other, “cooler” pursuits. But I can still speak knowledgeably about the differences between spinning, spincast, and baitcast reels. I could give you a solid introduction to bass fishing in Midwestern and Upper-South lakes and rivers. (The basics of fishing, I’ve since discovered, really haven’t changed that much since I went fishing with my grandfather.)

The net effects of the latchkey kid phenomenon

All this time alone gave me the ability to ignore the crowd, zero in on an objective, and take a deep dive. I have resisted the modern obsession with cellphones and social media, the compulsive need to be constantly connected, and in constant communication.

Spending so much time alone, at such an early age, taught me to keep my own counsel. I don’t need that much approval from others. I really don’t care what most people think, either about me, or about what I’m doing.

This self-containment has obviously given me the advantage of independence. I have many, many faults; but being a joiner, a follower, or a bandwagon-rider is not among them. I never met a rule, group standard, or authority that I couldn’t challenge.

But all that independence and self-containment has a downside, too. The crowd can be a sinister mob, but that isn’t always the case. A thriving society cannot subsist solely on the uncoordinated activities of lone wolves. There are situations in which being a team player, marching in line, and having a willingness to be led by others are necessary and desirable.

I recognize this principle abstractly, but I don’t feel it in my bones. I’ve never been able to switch off my independence instinct for anything beyond a short-term, provisional basis.

My corporate career was notably lackluster, partly because I bristled at being ordered around. Nor did I naturally aspire to becoming the boss—the core motivator of most underlings. I have never wanted to take orders…or give them.

Oh, and I’m over the age of fifty and single. That might suggest that I have some commitment issues.

A final note on the latchkey kid. The term itself seems to be a retroactive one. Although my research tells me that it existed in the 1970s and 1980s, I don’t recall ever hearing it in those years, either in the media or in daily conversation. Nor do I ever recall anyone describing himself as “a latchkey kid”. The definition and analysis of the phenomenon have mostly come later. Back then, being a latchkey kid was simply what a lot of us did.


The dark secret of my (former) diet soda addiction

Pepsi has raised the prices of its soft drinks by more than 15% in recent months. A 12-pack of any of the company’s chemical-infused, acidic canned liquids now runs around seven dollars in the Cincinnati area. Coca-Cola products are priced at a similarly extortionate level.

We’ve been trained to crave sodas for at least three generations. My grandfather was a fan of Coca-Cola. He was one of those World War II servicemen to whom Coca-Cola aggressively marketed its products. He was never without his supply.

World War II-era Coca-Cola ads

My grandfather was congenitally opposed to any form of diet cola, though. He drank only the original formula, with real sugar. But then, a Coca-Cola in his day was a rare treat, something to consume after hard hours of labor. In that context, the sugar boost was a feature, not a bug.

Subsequent generations started drinking sodas to fulfill their basic hydration needs, and that led to a demand for diet colas. One of the first of these was Coca-Cola’s Tab. Marketed mostly to women, Tab was the forerunner to Diet Coke. 

1982 Tab ad

My mother drank Tab. Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, she always had a carton of Tab on the floor of our kitchen pantry. Tab had a heavy saccharine taste, but it was—in my opinion, at least—vastly superior to Diet Coke, which Coca-Cola debuted in 1982. Continue reading “The dark secret of my (former) diet soda addiction”

The Bengals’ defeat, and curious expressions of fan (consumer) loyalty

As some of you may know, the Cincinnati Bengals lost the AFC championship game to the Kansas City Chiefs last night. 

This morning, my personal Facebook feed, heavy with Cincinnati residents, was filled with professions of fan loyalty, like the one above: “Still my Bengals.” 

Others were professing their “fan loyalty” in more abstract terms. Some declared that they would stick with the Bengals no matter what.

And here is one of the places where I can’t connect with the rabid spectator sports fan: this concept of team loyalty.

If you find spectator sports enthralling, that’s one thing. The fact that I don’t find them particularly entertaining is a mere matter of preference. 

Similarly, we all enjoy different television shows and movies, different kinds of music. I don’t happen to be a fan of country music. This doesn’t leave me shaking my head at the preferences of country music fans. 

But then, most country music fans aren’t making public declarations of fan loyalty when their favorite artist fails to win a CMA award. Only spectator sports fans do things like that.

A professional sports team—the Cincinnati Bengals, the Kansas City Chiefs, whatever—is a corporation that sells an entertainment product. No different from Sony Pictures or Netflix. Fans of entertainment companies are more accurately called consumers.

If you enjoy an entertainment company’s product, so be it. But it’s important to remember where you stand, in the big scheme of things, before getting too invested in this fan loyalty concept.

Take Joe Burrow, the Cincinnati Bengals’ 26-year-old quarterback. Joe Burrow has a 4-year contract worth over $36 million. And—of course—a beautiful girlfriend with a widely subscribed Instagram account. Rich young celebrity athletes with beautiful girlfriends are nothing new, of course.

More power to Joe Burrow. I’m sure he’s talented and that he’s worked hard. But it’s somewhat self-deluding—if not foolish—to think that this man needs your expressions of loyalty after he loses a game. 

And he certainly isn’t reading your Facebook feed. Continue reading “The Bengals’ defeat, and curious expressions of fan (consumer) loyalty”

The Archies and children’s breakfast cereal, poorly marketed in the 1970s

I personally had a happy 1970s childhood, with loving parents and grandparents, and a supportive environment. I’m not complaining about my own lot back then. 

But the culture of that era, still stuck in that of the generally unwholesome 1960s, had a tendency to ignore—or overlook—the needs of children. Nothing like the child-centric, helicopter-parenting decades that would follow. This was also an era when divorce rates were skyrocketing, and “broken homes” were becoming more commonplace.

Someone at Post Consumer Brands in the 1970s had the bright idea that the Archies offered the best way to market Super Sugar Crisp, a children’s cereal. Children under 12 were the product’s target market. Continue reading “The Archies and children’s breakfast cereal, poorly marketed in the 1970s”

The decline of Pizza Hut

Above, a  good video on the rise and fall of Pizza Hut.

Pizza Hut was an iconic chain from my 1980s youth. I recall eating there many times during grade school and high school.

Here in Cincinnati, there were basically two choices: Pizza Hut, or LaRosa’s–our local, Cincinnati-based chain.

(Back then, you had to be Italian to get a LaRosa’s franchise. One of our neighbors, a fellow with Neapolitan and Sicilian roots, operated the nearest LaRosa’s.) 

But Domino’s, Papa John’s, Marco’s…we’d never heard of them. Some of those pizza chains didn’t even exist, or were barely on the map. 

And then Pizza Hut went into a long decline, as the others rose to grab market share. Continue reading “The decline of Pizza Hut”

Memory lane: subs at Kmart

Lunch counters at big box retail department stores used to be a thing. The Woolworth that I worked at in 1985 as a high school student had a sit-down restaurant that served both lunch and dinner.

And of course, there was always Kmart. This ad from 1974 presents a deal on Kmart submarine sandwiches, 2 for 79¢. 

That’s about $4.65 in 2022 money. Not quite as cheap, when you look at it that way, but still a good deal. 

View on Amazon! : Better Than Homemade: Amazing Food That Changed the Way We Eat, by Carolyn Wyman

Why I’m not a “car guy”

I will freely admit that I have never been much of a “car guy”. To me a car has always been little more than an appliance. Not all that much different from a washing machine or a refrigerator. I spend a lot more time oohing and aahing over the latest Apple technology than I do over the latest offerings from any of the automakers. 

Most men much under 55 are similar, I’ve found. (The exceptions are pickup truck guys, but they’re a different breed, entirely.)

This is definitely a generational thing. Almost all of the car guys I know are over the age of 60, which means that they started driving in the 1970s or earlier. 

I started driving in 1984. It was around this time that cars all started looking more or less the same, and not very exciting at all. 

For example, check out the “K Car”, a popular car of the 1980s. The K Car was basically a shoebox on wheels. Yet so many cars built during the 1980s followed this pattern.

Vehicles of the 1990s, 2000s, and beyond became even more uniform in shape and appearance. Can anyone really tell the difference between a Kia Sorento and a Toyota Highlander without looking at the grill emblem? I certainly can’t—and I drive the latter car. 

Now look at these cars that Chevrolet put out in 1972: the Camaro SS, the Malibu convertible, etc. And (of course) the venerable El Camino. 

Now these were cars worth getting excited about. 

No—I wasn’t driving in 1972. (I was four years old.) But many of these cars were on the road well through my early adolescent years. Trouble was, they already represented the last of the fading classic car era. 

Why are cars so similar today? We can blame Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, as well as changes in the marketplace. 

The era of the classic car is now over. And with it, I would argue, the era of the “car guy”.

College textbook memories: 1986 “Introduction to Poetry” text

I’m a packrat by nature. You should therefore not be surprised to learn that although I graduated from college in 1990, I still have many of my college textbooks. 

I purchased the above text in 1986 for an English class (obviously).

The above textbook cost $25 when I bought it. If that sounds cheap to you, I’ll point out that this would be $65.58 in 2022 dollars. So perhaps college textbooks have always been overpriced. Also, minimum wage was $3.35 per hour in 1986, and $4 to $5 was considered a “typical” hourly wage for a student-level job.

I haven’t written or read much poetry since I took that class. 

Why? While I’m more than willing to tilt at windmills, even I have my limits. The market for poetry in the English-speaking has never been great…at least in modern times. The editor of the above text, X.J. Alexander, points this out in an essay near the end of the book. He describes a “poetry glut”. And keep in mind: the above textbook was published a decade before the Internet or Windows 95, back when people who wanted to write had to actually use typewriters or pens. Now we can write entire books on our cellphones.

Like most overly introspective teenagers through the ages, I wrote my share of bad poetry between the ages of 15 and 17, or 1983 and 1985. Teenage crushes, feelings of being misunderstood, and generalized adolescent angst all tend to produce bad poetry, like May weather produces dandelions.

No—you will never see any of those old poems of mine here. All of those old pages disappeared in the chaos of a move in 1988. This was no great loss, neither to me, nor to the American literary canon. 

Another nice thing about the pre-Internet era: the potentially embarrassing things we wrote, said, or did tended to disappear with the passage of time. As they should.

Kindle Vella: some reactions from writers thus far

I haven’t yet taken the plunge into Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. This isn’t because of any principle-driven objection on my part. I actually like the idea of serial fiction.

What I don’t like are the genres that presently dominate serial fiction on sites like Wattpad: YA romance, teen werewolf fantasies, and (of course) endless stories about teenagers with super-powers.

Nothing wrong with any of these categories, mind you. But I’m a 53-year-old adult. I don’t play in those fields, and have no interest in starting now.


Vincent V. Triola is another 50-something writer. Having perused his online footprint, I suspect that his politics are a bit to the left of mine. (That’s okay, most writers have politics to the left of mine.) But we’re both old enough to remember the pre-Amazon, pre-Internet literary world. I suspect that Mr. Triola, like me, spent some time in mall bookstores in the era of Ronald Reagan and Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Mr. Triola is pessimistic on Vella, having dipped his toe into it. Writing on Medium, he describes Vella as “a writer-driven marketplace”. What this basically means (for those unfamiliar with Wattpad) is that most of the readers in a given literary marketplace are fellow (and competing) writers.

This is perfectly acceptable on Wattpad, which is youth-centric and mostly free. Wattpad also appeals to the generation that loves social media, and lots of step-by-step peer group engagement. My teenage years ended long before Instagram and TikTok, but I can easily imagine hormone-soaked, teenage brains lighting up with every social media “like”. We are all pack animals below the age of twenty-one or so.

But this community-based, social media-esque approach isn’t as appropriate for a paid platform like Amazon, where most readers aren’t hawking their own books and stories, too. There is nothing wrong with readers who are also writers, of course. But when that becomes the entire basis for a marketplace, the marketplace tends to become incestuous and spammy. (I’ve definitely seen this on YouTube, with all the “sub for sub” comment spam.)

As evidence for his claim, Triola notes that Vella has been almost exclusively marketed to authors thus far. This is a fair observation. I interact with Amazon as both a reader and a writer. I’ve received all Amazon’s communications about Vella so far via my writing communication channel.

Finally, Triola mentions that Amazon emphasizes the youth-centric genres that comprise most of Wattpad. There is only one tag for nonfiction. But “nonfiction” includes everything from historical biographies to automotive repair, to horticulture.


On the other side of this coin, some of the writers in several Facebook groups where I lurk are quite bullish on Vella. Almost all of them, however, write in the YA fantasy and/or romance fields. Back to some of Mr. Triola’s points.

Also, Amazon does now have a large banner ad for Vella on the front page of the Kindle store. So if Amazon isn’t exactly pushing Vella at readers, it isn’t exactly hiding it, either.


What is Amazon’s longterm strategy with Vella? Vella is obviously intended to be a Wattpad-killer, and Wattpad, as noted above, is all about YA fantasy and romance.

My guess is that Amazon realizes that YA fantasy/romance readers and writers tend to be “different” from readers and writers in other genres.

For one thing, the boundaries between readers and writers tend to be a lot more fluid in these genres. Note the prevalence of YA fan fiction. No one writes fan fiction based on the novels of John Grisham, Michael Connelly, or Clive Cussler. But there are online oceans of fan fiction for Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games—all of which are focused on a predominantly youthful market. The Wattpad format is appealing to writers of fan fiction because of the low barriers to entry.

Also, this group, being younger, usually has less disposable income. As noted above, Wattpad is a mostly free platform. Amazon is probably uncertain about the long-term monetization prospects for Vella, beyond the writers who are presently participating. (As an adult reader, I have very little interest in paying for serial fiction installments, for whatever that’s worth.)


We shall see. No one knows how Vella is going to turn out, or if it will even exist a year from now. After all, Amazon has in the past killed initiatives that proved unprofitable or unmanageable, like Kindle Worlds.

For now, I’m going to continue my wait-and-see approach with Kindle Vella.