03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

What I Learned This Decade

As opposed to the annual litany of listicles, I have taken to the Last Day of the First Decade of the Second Millennium to share some of the powerful lessons I have learned as an active participant of our times, rather than find an excuse to re-hash Lady Gaga.

Based on this past decade's explosion of technology and the implosion of industries, I foresee over the next decade a rise of the individual voice as a leader in politics and entertainment. Accessible creative digital tools, combined with social networking, have created an end-run around the status-quo content providers, offering empowerment for both consumers and innovators -- as long as individuals are still in control of their own media intake and output.

The Giants Don't Actually Last -- The most powerful forces of the 00's have already come and gone. Starting the millennium with money and muscle, AOL went from the country's McDonald's of Internet access to owning Time Warner, to getting sold off by Time Warner this December and shedding a third of its workforce. Lehman Brothers, AIG, and other banks of storied Wall Street names wrought with wealth and prestige were abruptly downgraded in the middle of the night and parceled off like a stable of prostitutes. The giants of capitalism seem to think they are so impervious, while they run in ballooning deficits like a log-rolling contest. (That's the lumberjack game where one guy eventually ends up underwater, possibly knocked out.)

The Entertainment Industry Isn't Really in Charge of Entertainment Anymore -- The once mighty music industry has been reduced to marketing the runner-ups of a reality show. Bands and rappers now break themselves, and the stylists and sponsors desperately try to keep up. The movie studios and TV networks have watched as their horizon, which was once all that existed, has expanded beyond their grasp of obliged eyeballs. Today, as many people will watch their shows and movies online, a democratized landscape of independent entertainment sources, forcing the studios to forge this new frontier with actual competitive content. Now, studios are finding their new talent in chat rooms, not mail rooms, evidenced by the director in Uruguay who got a $30 million movie deal from a YouTube video he had uploaded only days before. The paradigm is shifting to the content producer, not provider.

It's Still All Marketing -- This time last decade, the conventional wisdom was that the most obvious URL was going to get the most traffic. Entrepreneurs were blowing their start-up capital on the most obvious website names, such as, say,, believing the URL was the manifest destiny of forever being the electronic definition and go-to authority on the topic. Would they ever dream the future would be ruled by hitherto absurd nomenclature, such as Google, Yahoo, Hulu, Baidu, Bing, TMZ, Flickr, Mozilla? A decade later, all tech entrepreneurs care about is their web search indexing and site rankings. Hits don't matter -- continued traffic does, but more so ad click-throughs, because a decade into the Online Millennium, no one has figured out how to actually make money on the web (except porn, of course). From musicians touring and building their audiences, to politicians campaigning and listening to their constituents, live appearances and personal interaction still matter and profit most, and they always have, and always will. Especially in a digital realm as our society in 2010, the personal touch will mean so much more.

The Best Reality TV is Still Not on TV -- 2009 brought more compelling antics than any network could dream up, from the Balloon Boy family that was much more interesting than they were on Wife Swap, to the Jon & Kate Gosselin divorce that derailed their cutesy TLC homemaking show into a battle of lawsuits with the network, squandered money, and packs of paparazzi.

This decade saw an explosion of Reality TV becoming a major part of our lives, with its photogenic freaks storming tabloid culture. Why anyone would expect a marriage forged by reality casting directors to last after the cameras go away is indicative of the sublimely implausible "reality" that these shows peddle as true-life soap operas, but with real people, who are told what to do and say.

Having produced and directed many different types of Reality TV this past decade, I have come to see the classic dilemma played out over and over again: the craziest things that happen never get seen. This happens for many different reasons, but invariably it has to do with the idea of where the show is "supposed" to be going, what the characters are "supposed" to talk about, and that there cannot be any acknowledgement of the elaborate production being staged around these people. The Reality TV show that can lift the veil of what goes into the orchestration of these shows, how volatile and intimate these subjects are with their handlers, will be what Survivor was for this decade.

Our Country's Greatest Threat is Actually Media Consolidation -- Where the turn of the Millennium brought the promise of unlimited options for entertainment, information, and individual voices, a decade later, we face a growing omnipotence of a handful of media conglomerates that have an increasingly divisive appetite for profitable ends. The film Broadcast Blues outlines how this has been happening behind the scenes for the last ten years, and the measures we can take to reclaim our airwaves, which are, in fact, publicly-owned. As Rupert Murdoch has snatched up more airwaves and publications, the result is an endless assembly line of low-brow agitprop, manicured misinformation, and a torrent of sociopaths clumsily espousing conservative dogma wrapped in xenophobia, buttressed by fallacy, fantasy, and fear-mongering. Some may naturally assume that fundamentalists in caves on home video are the biggest threat to our country because they hope for bad things to happen to our country. In 2009, FOX News did this every day, inciting its ill-informed audience with wild, paranoid falsehoods. Now Rupert Murdoch wants all of his publication empire's content removed from search engines. What happens when we are forced to get our mobile phones, radio, TV, and Internet access from one big company with a patently ignoble agenda?

The President Is Not Who Is Really Running America -- I saw the presidency of George W. Bush as a Neo-Con cabal pulling the strings of a war machine behind a blithering idiotic rich kid, and sought to expose the theft of both presidential elections in 2000 and 2004. With the landmark election of the populist Barack Obama, the corporate interests that control our elected officials like a Little League coach have come into stark relief. The promise of 2009 has fizzled in reckless compromises with health care, banking, prisoner detention & torture, the environment, and the continued cancer in the Justice Department. There is still great hope and expectation that Obama will shine to his potential as a reformer and leader for all Americans, but for now, I just get that same feeling that he is in the White House being told what the deal is, kinda like the prior occupant.