Musings inspired by the crappiest of films — Demolition Man.
I saw that film about 15 years ago, and I remember liking it at the time. I also liked stone-washed jeans and neon t-shirts, but I have since come to my senses. However, one nugget stuck with me from the movie; one possible insight into the future that, at the time, I thought was totally impossible. But now, I’m not so sure.
If you haven’t seen the film, I applaud you. All you need to know is that Stallone is a cop from the past (i.e. the violent 90’s) who gets frozen for a crime he didn’t commit, and is unfrozen in the future to fight a bad guy (that’s the whole film right there). Austin Powers ripped off the idea a few years later, but this time it was intentionally funny.
In this non-violent utopian future, known as San Angeles, everything has become homogenized and bland. The songs playing on the radio are old TV jingles, swearing is outlawed and sex is done in virtual reality…no touching allowed. At one point in the movie, the geeks from the future get very excited when they’re told they will be dining at Taco Bell that night. Stallone’s archaic cop is confused until he is told that Taco Bell won the franchise war, and now all restaurants are Taco Bell.
That struck a chord with me, and to this day has resonated with me whenever I see another announcement of a business being bought out or bankrupted. Although it probably won’t be as extreme as the example in Demolition Man, there are signs everywhere that our choices on the high street are becoming limited. I was surprised to see how many food chains were owned by the same company. For instance, Yum! Brands owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Wing Street, KFC, A&W and Long John Silver’s. And if I’m not mistaken, PepsiCo is heavily involved in that little equation.
Consider consumer electronics: Circuit City is about to go under, closing 155 of its stores. Sharper Image is dead. CompUSA is barely alive after being bought by Tiger Direct. That leaves Best Buy, Ultimate Electronics, Radio Shack and, ummm, let me think. How long before Best Buy is your only high street option?
This isn’t limited to electronics and food chains by the way. Banks are swallowing up other banks; car manufacturers are constantly merging (I wonder if we’ll all be driving a Honda one day); movie studios are “joining forces; and of course, there’s the media – Google Rupert Murdoch and you’ll see what I mean. It can’t be good to have one company running so many news outlets can it?
This is clearly an issue for anyone concerned about choice, fairness and competitive pricing (yes Ticketmaster, I’m looking right at you). And as I pointed out in a previous post on real America, this has been happening for a long time. However, now our choices aren’t just limited to bigger retailers…they’re becoming limited, period.
Will the Internet follow suit? I can certainly see larger companies out-pricing (and out-advertising) the smaller competitors, swallowing them up or putting them out of business. Buy.com and Shop.com probably won’t last much longer under the giant shadow of Amazon.com. And is there really an auction site to rival eBay?
Is there anything we can do about it? Well, I’ve always been told to vote with my dollars. I rarely give my business to Best Buy. I try and avoid fast food chains. And I will go out of my way to avoid using Ticketmaster; I’m amazed they aren’t violating the monopoly laws. After all, when you want to buy tickets online, where do you go? Where else CAN you go?
It may be a long way off, but I can see a future where we all shop, eat, live, drive, bank and fly using the same company; probably Exxon if they keep posting the profits they did this quarter. Depressing? Yep. Possible? Maybe. But on this important election day, the word hope springs to mind. And I hope the future is filled with choices, not restrictions.
Oh, and a final thought, getting back to the movie that started all of this. If you buy a new copy of Demolition Man, Taco Bell has clearly been replaced by Pizza Hut (with some questionable dubbing, too). Why? Because Yum! Brands figured Pizza Hut would be better for product placement globally. Do you see where this is going?