September 26, 2008
A Look at Celebrity EconomicsBy Dave Smithee
There are economic reasons why Hollywood celebrities skew toward the lunatic left.
As surely as moths to a porch light, the heated campaign has drawn out the loudest elements of the Hollywood left. Courageously vocalizing opinions in lockstep with every one of their peers, we've been subject to countless, frequently vulgar tirades about McCain/Palin from our Hollywood betters, including Matt Damon, Pamela Anderson, Lindsay Lohan, and most recently Woody Allen. Who despite having made some fine films, I would not trust with the care of my cat, much less matters of national import.
Occupying the unique position of cultural visibility that celebrities do, what is any thinking person to make of Hollywood? Celebrities are routinely laughed off for their vacuousness, self-absorption, and isolation from reality. We scoff at their ridiculous largesse, gasp at their infidelities and divorce settlements, and look pityingly on their marriages and family commitments, most of which would apparently dissolve under the heat of a 40-watt bulb. And when they speak, there seems to be little intellectual grit, and less in the way of character.
Yet when they speak on matters concerning the nation, we're all ears and the media is -- however briefly -- more interested in Pamela Anderson's political acumen than how her latest bout of surgery fills out a bikini. So they talk and talk, and we know what they're going to say before they say it. But why is Hollywood so utterly, consistently that way?
I have little interest in leading a mob of torch-bearing 'Citizens for Moral Hygiene' into the Hollywood Hills. Instead, let us extend the olive branch of understanding. Hollywood's atmosphere is abundant with a few key petri-dish ingredients that invariably congeal into a sort of creeping leftist fungus. The celebrity crowd is as human as the rest of us, and is subject to the same vices, economic incentives, and formative environmental factors. Thus, the Hollywood left is arrayed as it is largely because they're subject to a highly unusual, specific, and localized set of economic circumstances that only the bizarre world of celebrity can make possible, and even then only in very finite and localized ways.
The first of these factors is wealth. Matt Damon and his celebrity peers routinely report income in the multi-millions. The multi-tiered contracts that agents secure for top-level talent often deliver funds from front and back-end boxoffice, and often other segments such as DVD sales, merchandising revenues, and TV distribution. Which means that working on one successful film can deliver hefty residual payments for years after principal photography has completed, and the actor has moved on to other things, or even nothing at all.
While that factor means little by itself, it's important to note that celebrity wealth is distinctly different in its acquisition from sizable wealth acquired by the most common alternative means. Say, an executive job with responsibility over subordinates, personal investment, or the creation of a business. All of these avenues bring with them some personal responsibility or risk. A manager is responsible for his subordinates, a business owner is responsible for making payroll, and an investor routinely risks financial hardship and even ruin on his climb.
The position of actor or celebrity however, carries few such responsibilities. While it's true that the pressure on an individual actor can be tremendous, by and large, they are little more than individual employees of a production, with a finite set of responsibilities that do not extend to anyone else. An actor is not responsible for payroll, keeping a production afloat, or for much beyond his performance and ability to carry out contractual duties, such as promoting the film by granting interviews, attending premieres, and engaging in rigorous dental-whitenings.
A salaried employee with a highly limited sphere of responsibilities while earning enormous sums of money is an exceedingly rare creature outside of Hollywood. The ordinary burdens of regulation, taxation, and other realities of high-bracket economics that impact other segments of the wealthy simply don't apply to them.
Lindsay Lohan does not need to worry about how new labor regulations handed down from Congress will impact her livelihood, nor does she have to pay payroll taxes, or for that matter, any payroll at all beyond that of her domestic staff and image consultants.
Put another way, when a generous portion of your career responsibilities involve making sure your breasts stay sufficiently perky under tungsten lights or botoxing your armpits to ensure you don't sweat through an unfeasibly tight gown, your perception of wealth and its sound usage is going to differ somewhat from the business owner who went into crippling debt to launch a start-up and eventually got rich after years of uncertainty, some of them in the red.
The second relevant factor is time. The news is replete with stories of celebrity substance addictions, reckless spending, feral promiscuity, and other behaviours that most of us could never engage in for long without consequence, even if we were so inclined. Time provides an incentive factor in the celebrity's favor that makes such indiscretions cost much less than they would the rest of us.
The fact that most of us have to work more or less year-round limits our access to indulgences like week-long cocaine benders. Aside from explicitly knowing such vices are evil and destructive, we also intuitively avoid them because of the associated time costs. Missing work thanks to a drug problem is likely to lead to our termination, and a diminution of future work prospects. However, most actors and other celebrities are subject to rather irregular scheduling that minimizes such penalties. A film's principal photography session, during which the actor is actively working on set, may last only a few months out of the year. Then the film is off to editing and post-production, and the actor collects his check and goes home.
For every period of intense and harried work, there are weeks or often months (significantly longer if you're Sandra Bernhard) of downtime. This is not an indictment of laziness; it's simply the production cycle the entertainment business is subject to. And it means that in addition to having copious amounts of disposable income with limited responsibilities, celebrities can also find themselves with lots of free time on their hands. It means that drug use, promiscuity, and other expressions of liberal broad-mindedness cost relatively little, from the standpoint of the scheduling constraints that restrict the rest of us. Only a comparatively small toll in the form of emotional turmoil, divorce, lethal overdoses, and the diseases spread by recreational sex.
Think of celebrity economics as ‘welfare for the pretty', and you're close to understanding the matter.
There are several other less scientific, but nonetheless significant factors of artists generally and actors/celebs specifically that go hand in hand with fostering leftist dogma. A toxic, pervasive self-absorption, the unchallenged deification of feeling over thinking, (anyone who's ever known so much as a theatre student can attest to this), and the contempt for the intelligence of common people any random sampling of Hollywood output demonstrates.
As every conservative knows; human beings are not perfect. We are creatures motivated largely by environment and incentive. We understand this and can derive understanding from it, even if the other side denies it. Remember this, and steady your gag reflex with a surge of compassion the next time Lohan, or any other sexually ambiguous, fabulously wealthy 21 year old girl with a female lover fresh out of the throes of puberty presumes to lecture you on matters of the nation.