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Moviemaking has always been a matter of putting twists on formulas. (Critics refer to old formulas as "genres.") But in better times, moviegoers did get variations instead of recapitulations. At no period has it been less of a deal to guess what an "adventure" or a "comedy" or a "fantasy" will look like. Marketing in the '90s does more than pave the way for movies -- it turns them into pieces of a Pavlovian purchasing system.
Unless filmmakers and moviegoers revolt, the image Americans will project to each other and the world will continue to be that of a bloated consumer. The quote at the beginning of this article was actually an answer to a question: It's from an essay called "What Is an American?" With wholehearted optimism, De Crevecoeur dubbed us, "The western pilgrims, who are carrying along with them that great mass of arts, sciences, vigour, and industry which began long since in the east; they will finish the great circle." In the 21st century "the great circle" may turn out to be Flat City: an endlessly restocked mall stretching all the way to the horizon.