What's wrong with the movies? More than we can see, that's for sure:
There is no evident love of movies in this lineup, or even just joy in creative risk. Only a dread of losing. ... Optimists usually say lighten up, because, after all, good movies always find a way to get through. But here’s the thing: They don’t. The evidence that good movies survive is the fact that every year brings good movies, which is a bit like saying that climate change is a hoax because it’s nice out today. Yes, good movies sprout up, inevitably, in the cracks and seams between the tectonic plates on which all of these franchises stay balanced, and we are reassured of their hardiness. But we don’t see what we don’t see; we don’t see the effort, or the cost of the effort, or the movies of which we’re deprived because of the cost of the effort.
The truly cynical part of me thinks of this as one of the consequences of a culture that doesn't know what it wants, and so will settle for whatever it's given. We don't know what we want, so we leave it to people who are far more ambitious, searching, and driven than we are to provide it for us. Whether or not it's better that way is something I have to leave for another essay, but my point is that there are consequences to not knowing what we really want.
Some of that is personal. When I started writing, I began to ask myself: what do I want to see come into the world? Not just what seems like a good idea, not just what looks like something I could do, too (for out of that comes the death of all creativity), but what do I want that doesn't exist yet? How do I go about making it happen? Took a long time for that to come together, and by the time I started writing what I thought was truly original work, decades had gone by. It took that long, by my own clock, to nail down what I did and didn't want to see from my own hands.
When I first started reading SF, a lot of the work I found myself enjoying the most had been produced either people who were already dead or on the cusp of dying. The newer the material, the more it seemed to be contrived to serve a market that was being driven more and more by movie and TV audiences coming into literary SF — e.g., the Star Trek and Star Wars tie-ins, or the endless Tolkien clones. When there was new material that caught my attention, it always seemed to be coming at right angles to whatever else was going on.
I don't doubt it may well have ever been thus — the past decades were rife with even more crap than we have now — but it feels like any sanctioned opportunities to do work that isn't part of the trend mill, any places within the system that were being nurtured by the stuff that did sell and was successful, have dried up. There is nothing to be found on those shelves that can't in some way be connected back to a trend, a formula, or a name brand, nor is there any interest in looking beyond such a fear-driven system.
Again, I don't say all this because I think anything that automatically rejects commercial concerns — you know, readability, coherence, all the things that make a story a story — is better because it positions itself outside of the cultural Monopoly game that everyone else is blindly carouseling around on. Most self-published fiction is junk because most published fiction is junk, even if what constitutes the worst of both categories is different. But the more any creative endeavor is driven by fear instead of curiosity and wonder — especially the one kind of fiction that is most about those things — the easier it is to pretend nothing else but yesterday's news ever deserves to exist.
If that's all the mainstream has to offer us, it's no wonder some folks are turning their back on it and trying to cut their own path through the woods, and deciding that an audience of a dozen of the right people is better than a thousand of the wrong ones. I'm still conflicted as to whether or not that's the truth, but I have a hard time coming up with anything better myself.