Spent Friday night at Exposition Studios with Josh—me with my guitar & pedal setup and he with a Drone Thing by Electro-Faustus (now revamped as Drone King). We made some fucking noise, and between the waves talked about Rick Rubin and music production.

Then, a strange thing: after an intense conversation about media addiction, social evolution and the sprawl of technology, my phone disappeared on the drive home. A quick turn on to my street made it slide off the dash and now I just can’t find it for the life of me. There’s some kind of meaning to be pulled from that, I’m sure.

I struggle to remember a film that affected me so instantly and profoundly as Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse. More than that, there have been few times in my life where I’ve walked away from any artistic experience and been so moved by a complete understanding of what creative expression is at its most sublime; Godspeed You! Black Emperor playing under the stars in Big Sur; Gerhard Richter’s October 18, 1977 series in a room; lying under Olafur Eliasson’s sun at the Tate Modern.

Next week, American Cinemateque is hosting Tarr for five nights of film screenings here in LA and I couldn’t be more excited. (I’ve even got tickets for the theatrical showing of the seven-plus-hour Sátántangó.) It’s one of the genuine treats of living in Los Angeles—there are always so many cultural offerings that incredibly rare and substantial ones come about with some regularity.

I rarely let myself get too hyped for something before it happens, but I can’t imagine any of this will disappoint.

The television show Succession ended its run on Sunday to much public acclaim and personal confusion—in tandem with a sense of dread for what is next for mainstream culture. (Spoilers for the show ahead.)

I’d watched the first season out of curiosity and found it generally loathsome and pointless. There were one or two interesting moments, but for the most part the squabbling amongst the family members or the business partners (or both) felt shallow and inconsequential. A lack of compassion can make for an interesting character in an entourage, but when it’s literally the entire cast, there’s just no reason to watch.

After hearing rave reviews of this season, the fourth and final, I went back and re-watched the show from the beginning. Now that it’s all over, I still have no fucking clue what all the fuss was about. This was a ‘prestige drama’ that had no stakes. Everyone was filthy rich and had absolutely nothing to lose—by the end credits, every character is still a multi-millionaire and multi-billionaire. The power they held felt trivial because the consequences of their actions largely took place off-screen. This may be applicable to what it’s like for the ultra-wealthy to make choices in reality, but it makes for piss-poor television.

I could pick at the details, but another major gripe is that their business world felt completely foreign. This was an abject failure on the part of the show. I’ve never lived in the ‘wild west,’ but watching Deadwood, I found myself immersed in it. Succession takes place parallel to this moment in time and, outside of the recognizably fancy cars, never crafted a dialogue with the audience that invited a comprehension of media moguls.

It seems fitting to me that as the show ended, HBO became a tab in the new max streaming service—fallout from Discovery’s acquisition of the brand in 2022. Since then, no agendas were hidden:

“We all love HBO, and it’s a brand that has been built over five decades” to stand for “edgy, groundbreaking entertainment for adults,” [president and CEO of global streaming and games for Warner Bros. Discovery JB] Perrette said. “But it’s not exactly where parents would most eagerly drop off their kids. And yet Warner Bros. Discovery has some of the best-known kids’ characters, animation and brands in the industry. Not surprisingly, the category has not met his true potential on HBO Max.”

This cultural moment we exist in seems perfectly parallel to Succession and this max streaming service—making more out of less, dressing up emptiness in polish, and vying for relevance while lacking creative reach. The kids on the TV show were handed everything and managed to fuck it all up because they had no appreciation for anything—much the way Discovery is doing with HBO. In the end, it’s not dramatic, or even tragic. It’s just a depressing waste of time.

An unfortunate truth

The thing about artificial intelligence for me is, well, I don’t really give a shit about it. When it comes to technological advancement like this, I tend to imagine it will take humanity down the saddest, dumbest road possible. The fact that corporations are really stoked on AI is proof enough of that.

While I do think it’s incredibly stupid for people to be this obsessed over algorithms, there is no escaping a thing that will save the rich some money. I don’t think AI means we’ll be fighting off robot armies anytime soon, but I do think American culture will drift further away from genuine humanity and the gifts of creativity and delve deeper into a dark pit of recycled ideas. Branded and franchised culture is the fast food restaurant of 21st century America, and AI will make it that much easier to keep serving the same bullshit year after year.

Is it the end of art? No, the same way the Happy Meal wasn’t the end of food. But what the franchise strip malls and box stores did to the United States over the past 50 years—stagnating the wages of workers, creating food deserts, obliterating small business, make every suburb a variation of the same—branded entertainment will do to our minds over the next 50. From personal identity to social discourse, culture already plays a massive role in how we see ourselves and the world. This will only become more substantial as time moves on.

It’s disheartening to see AI involved in so much creative conversation, because it is inherently old hat. This is a technology that takes known information and reshuffles it—adding nothing to the world, only another interpretation. One of the few actual gifts of humanity is that of inspiration. Ideas can just come to us, and when we look at art, its perfection is in the humanity of it—the intonations of an actor in the moment, the use of aquamarine by a painter, the extra sixteenth-note in a composition. The nature of art is defined by the flourishes of artists whose imperfections create harmony in the most vital and human of ways.

These are things that cannot be learned, replicated, or especially created by a machine. We are not perfect beings and so our imperfect creations allow us to relate over their inherent flaws. Technology will lead to rich people getting richer—but our mainstream culture continuing to devolve into a puddle of shit, and a lot of flashy, meaningless advertisements will sell us trash to enjoy it all along the way.