Sunday, 10 August 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #145: A Monarchy In Movie Land?

It's a cliche whenever someone rips off someone else to say that "it's capitalism run amok," and to be honest, I've always hated that term. Because to me, and I've said this before, capitalism is the only "ism" where the true point of it, is that both sides of any deal are supposed to walk away happy. It's the reason why you and the clerk at the burger joint both say "thank you" when you buy your onion rings.

You wanted the onion rings more than the money, the clerk wanted the money more than the onion rings.

It's just that simple.

But a business where all but an elite few walk away dissatisfied at best, downright pissed off at worst, is not only short lived (usually after going through these 7 stages) it's also not real capitalism.

But what is it?

Well, I did a little thinking about it, and the closest thing I could come up with, was feudalism.

You know what I mean if you went through junior high European history. In feudalism a small elite hold onto everything of value, while everyone else toils for them in the vain hope that they'll get a few crum
bs from the royal table.

Feudalism is founded on two things.

1. The divine right of the elite, which means that a select few are born lucky and henceforth must control everything, and be the only person to benefit from that control.

2. That life is a zero sum game, which means that if someone is to gain something, then he must
take that something away from someone else. For someone to win, someone must lose.

Of course this is a foundation of soggy feces.

No one is truly
born to be in charge. Even in absolute monarchies a certain meritocracy is enforced, even if it's all about the merits of treachery, and those that don't lead well can wind up dethroned if they're lucky, beheaded if they've earned the mercy of a relatively quick death, or executed via red-hot poker up the rectum if they really pissed off the pusillanimous peasantry.

Life, especially economics, is not a zero sum game. There is no single pie that everyone must fight to get a piece off. There are in fact many pies, and not only are there many pies, there are the ingredients to make new, bigger, fresher pies appearing everyday, as long as someone is willing to put the work into making it.

Sadly, this blend of what I call Neo-Feudalism has infected the executive suites of most major media companies.

The evidence is all around us.

1. The industry management elite is almost as inbred as a herd of Hapsburgs, where top positions are earned, not by merit, but because of connections, both familial and business, that have nothing to do with skill, intelligence or talent.

2. The industry elite is isolated from the real world. Basically we're talking about people who spend all their time surrounded by other rich and powerful people, and those who serve, and occasionally service, them. They spend their days and nights, 24/7-365, either getting their asses kissed or their backs stabbed. Mix that with the inordinate glamour assigned to movie business, and most folks would start believing that they're the reincarnation of Louis XVI.

3. The industry elite fears change. Look at how terrified they reacted (especially the music industry) to new media opportunities. Real capitalists see a new frontier open, and says to himself: "A-ha a new place to do business," a Neo-Feudalist sees this same frontier, and says: "I either have to destroy it or wall it off." So you get lawsuits, threats, bans, and all sorts of rigmarole before it finally sinks in that this new frontier is really an opportunity. Don't believe me, well the movie biz treated TV, home video, pay tv, and most recently the internet, not as venues for profit, but as threats to their industry, until they are finally dragged kicking and screaming into the future.

4. The industry fears competition. The ideal of the Neo-Feudalist is a state of pleasant stagnation with them on top, with everyone else holding them up. The arrival of competition, in the form of some new upstart company that threatens their precious market share, means having to do work, and becoming a leaner, more efficient organization. The Neo-Feudalist is repulsed by actual effort, letting go of the extra executives (which exist solely as a demonstration of the top guys power, the way a monarch shows off the number of knights they have) is anathema to them, and becoming efficient and responsive is feared the most. Because a company that's efficient and responsive might decide to get an equally efficient and responsive chief. So when faced with competition, they either conquer it, (either by forcing a buy out, or bankruptcy) or by subsuming the people running that new company into becoming just like them.

5. The industry feels that there is only a limited pie. Hollywood folks operate under the delusion that life is a zero sum game, and thus have to greedily grasp and grab anything and everything they can get their grubby hands on. And to a certain extent, they have made it true, their self-fulfilling idiocy of screwing everyone from creators, actors, and equity investors, and listening only to those within their limited circle, have caused costs to skyrocket, investors to walk away, and audiences to grow dissatisfied with most of their product. Which means that despite the occasional mega-smash like The Dark Knight, the industry as a whole is not on a healthy monetary footing.

There's only one prescription for this disease, and that's a healthy dose of reality. Only then can the studios start acting like businesses, and not like a pack of 14th century European duchies.

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