The other day, a song came on the radio which I thought for sure was Michael Jackson's "Beat It." I'm not a huge fan of Michael Jackson's music, but "Beat It" was an undeniably catchy, recognizable, and infectious tune. Lo and behold, the song came out of the refrain and was not in fact the song I thought it was, but some blatant rip-off of something that once held a modicum of artistic integrity. Later that day, I went to see "Jurassic World" in theaters because some friends of mine were going. The only thing surprising about the movie was how amazingly predictable it was. The original "Jurassic Park" was brilliant for its plot, execution, and message about the inherent dangers of "playing God" with nature's building blocks. The new version relies on the same old tricks, consisting of suspenseful music playing as a Tyrannosaurus rex stalks hungrily after the protagonist, dinosaurs bursting randomly onto the scene with heart-stopping alacrity, and theme-park messages repeating eerily in the rain in the aftermath of the mayhem that has ensued. The message about the potential dangers of genetic modification is so cliché at this point that apparently the producers of this film didn't bother to convey it. The movie amounts to two hours of explosions, computer-generated eye candy, and maiming of the human form, with a barely discernible plot to give the action some justification. During many of the scenes I couldn't tell if I was watching a "Jurassic Park," "Star Wars," "Lord of the Rings," "Avatar," or "Harry Potter." Special effects have made these movies all look and feel the same.

At this point, it seems trite to complain that the major players in mainstream entertainment have abandoned any motivation to produce something of artistic merit in favor of producing something that they know will sell, but it has gone so far that it needs to be said again. What is art, after all? Isn't it synonymous with entertainment? Does it have to say something that needs to be said, or should it just exist as a means of extracting money out of people who have nothing better to do with their time? These questions are inherently rhetorical, and their answers subjective, but from my perspective, art and entertainment are not the same thing. Art can be entertaining, but that's not its purpose. Its purpose, dare I venture, is to convey a message that cannot be conveyed in words.

Today, the same material gets refried and resold every decade or two, and there isn't any room for originality or for a message that might be off-putting to a regular consumer of entertainment. Any original spark of genius, like the first "Jurassic Park" or "Star Wars," is co-opted and stretched so thin that it is lost. They become brands with customer loyalty. Here ya go, we'll sell you the "Star Wars" or "Jurassic Park" name and you can throw it on whatever piece of crap that you like! George Lucas and Michael Crichton be damned (although well compensated)! There are dollars to be squeezed out of this cow, and squeeze it we will! The marketers know people are actually just buying the hype; the content doesn't matter.

Music is a slightly different beast, but not much. Content does matter in music. The commercializers of music haven't quite figured out how to sell hype devoid of content, so they resort to a formula that they know works: stealing.

More often than not, in the process of refrying and reselling music, they step on the toes of the original artists. It is not uncommon nowadays for performers of popular songs to be sued for credit, and a hefty portion of the royalties, by the artists who preceded them. Tom Petty is credited now for co-writing Sam Smith's currently popular "Stay with Me." The Gap Band of the '70s now shares credit for Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk." Of course, the 'tweens of today don't know anything about Tom Petty or the Gap Band, and they eat this stuff up, no questions asked. What's wrong with that? There are dollars to be squeezed out of those cows too, and somebody just has to be smart enough to do it!

What's wrong with this whole thing is that today we are living in something that resembles a rote and contrived cultural treadmill. Culture should be an amorphous, evolving and unpredictable entity that is a collective expression of the humans that create it. Today, the mass market is so saturated with material that is produced to sell that originality can't find expression on a large scale. Culture has become a means to entertain and placate the populace while they consume their lives away, rather than a vital and living force in which people actually participate and contribute. I guess I'll just go read something enriching by myself.

Grayson Lookner grew up in

Camden and now lives in Portland.