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Once upon a time..... products were made to last. Then, at the beginning of the 1920s, a group of businessmen were struck by the following insight: 'A product that refuses to wear out is a tragedy of business' (1928). Thus Planned Obsolescence was born. Shortly after, the first worldwide cartel was set up expressly to reduce the life span of the incandescent light bulb, a symbol for innovation and bright new ideas, and the first official victim of Planned Obsolescence. During the 1950s, with the birth of the consumer society, the concept took on a whole new meaning, as explained by flamboyant designer Brooks Stevens: 'Planned Obsolescence, the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary...'. The growth society flourished, everybody had everything, the waste was piling up (preferably far away in illegal dumps in the Third World) - until consumers started rebelling... Can the modern growth society survive without Planned Obsolescence? Did ... Written by
"The Light Bulb Conspiracy" is, as my title states, quite possibly, the stupidest film ever made.
I don't write this to be insulting. I mean this very literally.
Specifically, it baffles me how anybody would create or finance a film that is so ignorant of history, ignorant of economics, and ignorant of basic engineering that anybody with a college freshman understanding of any of these can trivially and conclusively debunk its core thesis.
Basically, this film has it in for "planned obsolescence", the idea that modern products have been designed to fail.
Virtually every example they use to illustrate this "grand conspiracy" of planned obsolescence is nonsense. However, the one that they use as the tying-together core thread for all of this is the humble light bulb.
Basically, they argue that a long time ago, a light bulb with a much longer lifespan was invented and then suppressed in favor of shorter life bulbs in order to sell more light bulbs over time. To prove this, they show off an old light bulb that has been in service for over 100 years.
now here's the thing: if you want to light a room, there's almost no limit to the material that you can use in order to do so. Heck, you can put a strong enough current through two ends of an iron girder and it will glow and give off light. Nobody does this because the energy involved would be tremendously expensive and wasteful and for all sorts of technical reasons the light given off would be poor (too dim).
As it turns out, relative to the every other technology available at the time, the tungsten filament that for a long time was in use produced a superior quality light for a relative minimum of energy use and could be mass manufactured at a price people were willing to pay even though such light bulbs needed replacing from time to time. The movie suggests that this was caused not by market forces, but by some grand conspiracy of light bulb manufacturers.
I've been to north Korea. Guess what - their light bulb factories make the same type of light bulbs. Were they, and the rest of the communist world, which did likewise, in on the conspiracy too? Oh sorry, not all of the communist world - the movie harps on an example of a supposed East German light long life bulb that was rejected, apparently by everybody in the western world, because of some 'grand conspiracy.' Or, maybe, just maybe, because it used a hell of a lot of power and didn't give off worthwhile light for all that power use (remember: in east Germany, power markets were skewed to make domestic energy artificially cheap through subsidy, leading to wasteful usage).
Engineers have a concept of "mean time between failure." It's the average length of time that you can expect some item to stay in service before it fails. If a product consists of several pieces, the MTBF of the product can be calculated based on the MTBF (and distribution) of the components. Let's say you're making a product with two parts. If for technical reasons the MTBF of one part is 5 years, if you have a choice for the other part of a MTBF of 20 years or 100 years, it makes little to no sense to pass on to the consumer the costs associated with the more expensive 100 year version since the weak link in the chain is almost certainly going to be the 5 year component anyway. Calculating and understanding MTBF therefore is what good engineers do. Totally misunderstand it and spin it into some conspiracy is what the guys who made this movie do.
Now, in the capitalist system, you CAN argue that at times companies have hobbled products to make other ones more attractive. Such forces price discrimination is a legitimate criticism of capitalism. However, it only exists by definition where the producer has what's called 'market power.' For the makers of this film to suggest a parallel between that and everyday goods, where there is huge market competition (including in light bulbs) is just daft. I don't see people clamoring for the irons of the 1920s for their "better quality." Instead, I see a range of irons from under $10 to over $300 on amazon corresponding to the budget and expectations of various users from students and mobile people to upscale snobs and dry cleaning professionals. What's more, I see capitalist economics having brought irons (and even light bulbs) the hands of peoples throughout the world who even a few decades ago had to do with primitive, inefficient, time consuming tools and darkness.
Quite literally, every example presented in the movie is trivially debunk-able by anybody with half a brain for basic engineering or economics. The movie implies conspiracy where none exists, and of course the implications are vague since they have no actual evidence. But, you know, the entire movie does have a near continuous x-files type conspiracy soundtrack going. So there's that.
As I said - quite possibly the stupidest movie (by which I mean "dumb" as in "uneducated") movie ever made. The movie doesn't contain any actual data or numbers or anything that could be construed as quantitative analysis. Just conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory that only a fool would believe.
If this movie at least addressed obvious objections that people with engineering, design, economics, and other backgrounds might have to this, this movie might be worth two stars instead of one. It doesn't do that, because to do so would cast this movie's deep deep logical and empirical failings into inescapably sharp relief.
Not worth watching. The writers should be ashamed of themselves.
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