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World economy is ready to rock!

Written by: 12 November 2008 2 Comments

Economists are always looking for the best economic indicators. Some look at the money-supply figures, others at measures of business confidence.

The price of shipping, measured by the Baltic Dry Index, has become a widely followed barometer for global trade. But here’s another we shouldn’t overlook: the film and music charts.

Over the past few weeks, the huge success of musicals such as High School Musical 3 and Mamma Mia!, the resurgence of horror flicks and the return of heavy rock with bands such as AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses are all potent symbols that hard economic times are here.

More importantly, it won’t be until the cultural zeitgeist changes that we’ll know the economy and markets are starting to turn the corner.

Certain types of entertainment flourish in tough times.

The 1930s were the heyday of musicals, with stars such as Fred Astaire dancing in top hats and tails and directors such as Busby Berkeley staging lavish spectacles that were about as far removed from the grinding realities of daily life during the Great Depression as it was possible to get.

Their parallels with today aren’t hard to see. High School Musical has a plot that Berkeley would be happy with. It might have started as a television film aimed at preteen girls, but High School Musical 3: Senior Year has transferred to the big screen and topped the US and Canadian film charts in October.

The franchise has generated more than US$200 million in operating profit for Walt Disney. And what did it beat? Mamma Mia! – the musical based on Abba songs that was filling cinemas through the summer. In Britain it is now the second-most-popular film in history, with box-office takings of £66.8 million, according to Nielsen EDI.

If films are not about singing, they are about scaring. The 1930s marked the emergence of stars such as Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. The depressed 1970s frightened viewers with movies such as The Exorcist and The Omen.

And now we have another grisly hit with Saw, into its fifth instalment.

Or how about music? The last turbulent economic decade was the 1970s, when heavy rock flourished.

Groups such as Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple riffed their way around the world. And now? The veteran Australian rockers AC/DC have just scored a US No 1 album, according to Wal-Mart Stores, with Black Ice beating the High School Musical soundtrack.

Guns N’ Roses, led by Axl Rose, are finally coming out with the follow-up to Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II, their last albums of original songs, from 1991. Even Zep might tour again – if they can find a new singer.

There is no mystery about any of it. Popular culture is good at tapping into the prevailing mood. That’s why it’s popular. The people defining it are experts at surfing the zeitgeist.

Musicals deliver the escapism that allows people to forget a recession. Likewise, heavy rock blasts away bad times with noise.

Horror films play on a sense of insecurity, and dwell on fears about the future. The guy with the blade represents the banker about to foreclose on our mortgage.

When the economy starts to recover, perhaps we’ll hear it first on the radio, and see it in movie trailers.

Bands with synthesisers and boys with lots of make-up will be back in the charts, as they were in the early 1980s, when groups such as Duran Duran and Culture Club ruled the airwaves.

Listen for songs as credit-friendly as Madonna’s Material Girl or the Pet Shop Boys’ Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money) for an indication that the markets are moving again

When you read that someone is planning a remake of Tom Cruise’s early 1980s comedy Risky Business, which set the tone for the next bull market, then it is time to start buying equities again.

In the meantime, the message from the film and music charts is bleak. It looks as if the world economy is in for a long, deep recession similar to the one in the 1970s, if not the 1930s. As the cast of High School Musical would put it: At least we’re all in this together.




  • websta said:

    i freqn told youse guys High School Musical was straight up Bangin!

  • Peter Cook said:

    Hi all,

    I could not agree more with this expert analysis. Of course, this could be because it aligns with my own!! :-))

    As author of ‘Sex, Leadership and Rock’m’Roll, a book that synthesises the wisdom of the business school with the majesty of rock where our Mentors are Meatloaf, Motorhead, Madonna, Mozart, Morrison and so on, how could I disagree?

    The book is acclaimed by Tom Peters, the daddy of them all – author of ‘In Search of Excellence’ and ‘Thriving on Chaos’, who said of it:

    “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll is a marvellous book, which closes the door on the tidy, hierarchical, know-your-place ‘Orchestral Age’ and ushers in a new, creative era of challenge and change. Hooray!”

    Do check the book out on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Sex-Leadership-Rock-Roll-Lessons/dp/1845900162/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1216134595&sr=8-1

    In the warped words of AC / DC: For those about to bank, we salute you!

    Peter Cook – the author

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