by Robert Folsom
November 14, 2011
A colleague and I met today with a talented, 30-something writer who’s interested in socionomics. We began with some get-to-know-you chat, and before long I gathered that he’s a serious movie buff.
Then we moved on to what socionomics is and how it works. We explained how crowd behavior is patterned; that the pattern reveals the trend behind countless collective activities, from markets to politics to pop culture; and that social mood drives social events, not vice-versa.
We covered a lot of theory in a short time, but this fellow is sharp. He “got it.” We went on to how it works.
“So here’s how socionomics gets practical,” I said. “It applies way beyond the financial realm. The trends and turns in social mood really do show up in popular culture, including movies. Take No Country for Old Men by the Coen brothers. Remember how different that film was from all the rest of their work — and how you were so miserable at the end you nearly wanted to kill yourself?”
“Yes!” he said. “That’s exactly how I felt.”
“The release date of the movie was in November 2007. We think that was no coincidence.”
Not everyone has seen that film, so here I’ll pause to explain.
The Coen brothers have made successful movies for more than 25 years. Many of the characters and stories they brought to the screen have been memorably wild or dark or twisted (sometimes all three).
Yet no matter how dark or even nihilistic the theme, you could always count on the Coen brothers to balance pessimism in their movies with superb comedy and a great soundtrack. The humor and sight gags earned The Big Lebowski huge and lasting cult movie status. The soundtrack of O Brother, Where Art Thou? won too many awards to count and CD sales went 8x platinum.
In contrast, No Country for Old Men included absolutely none of the humor or music that is their trademark. The story offers no redemption or hope. It’s the darkest shade of black. I’ll never watch it again because of the way it made me feel.
Mind you, I’m not saying it was a lousy film. In fact it won four Academy Awards — including Best Picture.
And as you may have gathered already, I had a reason to emphasize the November 2007 release date: it was one month after the all-time high in the Dow Jones Industrials.
Now, an observer could rightly ask whether one month after an all-time high is too soon to expect popular culture to indicate a major trend change. The answer begins with Bob Prechter’s observation in 1985:
“It’s not that cultural fads precede changes in psychology, but that they are a direct reflection of it…. In other words, the widespread popularity of miniskirts doesn’t forecast a top, it is the top.”
Think about the meaning of phrases like “leading edge.” Prechter has observed that certain trendsetters can play a special role in pop culture, because they are particularly sensitive to shifts in mood.
Whereas the public sentiment may appear to lean in a certain direction,
“…some possible trendsetters may be seeing through the curtain. Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones at the 1968 top shouted angrily, ‘The time is right for fighting in the streets.'”
—The Elliott Wave Theorist, November 1985
They may not have necessarily discerned what had just happened in the stock market, yet the Coen brothers are unquestionably among the most influential filmmakers of their generation. Like Jagger, perhaps they were perfectly positioned to “see through the curtain.”
And indeed, the conspicuously grim themes in No Country were just as visible in the Coens’ next two movies.
The first half of 2008’s Burn After Reading did offer some of their familiar dark comedy, but the second half was just dark. Three of Hollywood’s foremost leading men — Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and John Malkovich — had a major role. But by the end one of their characters was murdered; another was shot dead committing murder; the other fled the country to escape murder charges.
In 2009’s A Serious Man, here’s what the final two scenes portray: A call to the main character from his doctor to immediately discuss the results of a chest X-ray, and, a massive tornado bearing down on the school the main character’s son attends. Fade to black…
No Country for Old Men in 2007 suggested what Bob Prechter had actually forecast at that time: This will be different. And very dark. The same social mood was (and is) simultaneously at work in the financial markets and the broader culture.
Socionomics can offer you a powerful context in which to understand — and forecast — trends like these.
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