Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Where has all the magic gone? 

Oscars? Didn't watch them. I'm always bored by the self-congratulatory nature of any industry's awards ceremonies, but Hollywood's tend to be particularly indigestible. On top of that, call me simple and unsophisticated but this year's main field has left me colder than usual. The Academy (unlike the presenters) has tried to stay clear of overt political controversy this year while still giving a nod to euthanasia with its top gong for "Million Dollar Baby." In political terms, last year's loser was "Fahrenheit 9/11" and the winners "The Passion of Christ" and "Team America", despite the fact that none of these films figured prominently at the Oscars.

By the looks of it, I wasn't the only one who was doing other things that night. The host Chris Rock might have been just teasing when he said that he doesn't know any heterosexual males outside the movie industry who watch Oscars anymore, but judging by the ratings, less and less viewers - presumably both homo and heterosexual - are tuning in, both in the United States, and in Australia (although WaPo's Lisa de Moraes thinks the lower numbers have something to do with the fact that none of the top five contenders had attained the blockbuster status, breaking above $100 million at the box office). Perhaps a more interesting statistic is that while 39% of Democrats watch the Oscars, only 13% of Republicans do. Asks Powerline's Hindrocket:
"Those numbers are stunning; wouldn't you think that if the film industry were motivated by economic self-interest, it would try to find a way to avoid alienating the members of America's most popular political party?"
Those who have been following the writings of Michael Medved will be familiar with this sentiment.

Critics of free market philosophy like to caricature the belief in home economicus, the rational, calculating agent who makes decisions based on own economic self-interest. In fact, I haven't come across any free marketeer who would argue that all people naturally make rational economic decisions all the time, or that self-interest is the sole criteria for our decisions, economic and others. Movie industry provides one exception, with people involved frequently putting their politics or artistic vision above commercial gain.

By the same token, we shouldn't assume that if economic self-interest were the motivating factor behind every decision in Hollywood we would end up with all, or even half of the output being a wholesome, patriotic entertainment. There is such thing as niche or sectional marketing, and if we assume that Hollywood has made a decision to mostly target the Blue Staters, then principles of free market would suggest that somebody else will step in, fill the void and reap the profits of entertaining the Red Staters. Which is precisely what is happening, whether you consider the success of movies like "The Passion", the growth of Christian rock and country music, or other phenomena like "7th Heaven" (now the longest running family drama in TV history) or the "Left Behind" series. This is precisely the same reason why in a more serious news and commentary industry we have seen over the last two decades such explosive growth in popularity of talk radio, blogs and Fox News.

You're worried about Hollywood being too lefty? Forget it and take your time and money elsewhere. Yes, it would have been nicer if the news and entertainment world was less polarized and each outlet more balanced, but if I can't have that, at the very least I'll be happy to have all the choices.


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