Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #881: Class, But Not Classy

This just in...  


Okay, that's not exactly news, but what is considered news is a report that says that the class system determines who gets the best parts, and jobs in British film and television

According to the report, if you're working class, especially a woman or member of a minority, you're  going to have a hard go of it, regardless of your talents or merits.

It's probably true, but the reasons behind it are probably not what you think, in fact, I'll bet that the main cause of the dominance of the British "middle" and "upper classes" in British film and TV is completely counter intuitive.

You can make a pretty convincing case that this is caused by the simple fact that British film and television is wrapped up with the British government.

The biggest broadcaster in Britain is the government owned British Broadcasting Company. Channel 4 another major broadcaster and film investor, though commercially supported, is also state owned.  On the feature film side most film production and distribution companies in the UK profit from or are dependent on government grants, loans, tax credit schemes, and sales to state owned television networks to stay afloat.

That essentially means that if you want to get ahead in British film and TV, you better be willing to do business with, and occasionally kiss the asses of, bureaucratic flacks and political hacks at some time in your life.

Now take a moment to think about who makes up the majority of politicians and senior bureaucrats who run the film and television organizations in the UK.  Middle aged and older white males who predominantly grew up in the more fashionable neighborhoods, went to elite schools with names like Eton or Winchester, universities like Oxford and Cambridge, and drink at the most refined establishments. If women and ethnic minorities do crack the glass ceiling and reach this rarefied state it's usually because they show a combination of undeniable talent at what they do, coupled with a youth spent at the right schools and currently maintain memberships to the right clubs.

Bureaucracies are all about building fiefdoms.  This is especially true when it comes to bureaucracies that that manage the arts and film. 
Since they're protected from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune otherwise known as market forces by a steady stream of taxpayer's money, they can give short shrift to things like talent and star-power and show preference to their own kind.

Like attracts like and it very quickly expands, in varying degrees, through the rest of the profession.  

Now does this class snobbery happen in Hollywood?

In a way, yes.

Now I'm not saying that an actor will be denied work since he/she didn't go to Harvard.  The business is still a business, and when it comes to actors and directors they're at least trying to find someone who will put bums in seats.

But the executive suite is a different story.

The management structure of Hollywood is dominated by people chosen more for their "connections" than for their abilities.  Some are actually capable at their jobs, but then you have others who manage to rise to the top despite being an unmitigated disaster at everything they do, simply because they know the right people.

However, since they're not dealing with the constant flow of taxpayer money, but instead have to deal with boards and shareholders, there are limits to how inbred they can get, or how divorced they can get from reality.  Those limits are pretty damn far, and seem to be getting farther everyday, but eventually the market corrects itself.

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