Reason for a New Age

The Hollywood Model

Posted by publius2point0 on 2010/03/29


If you look at the life history of all of our most famous directors, you will find that they come from a wide scale of nationalities. Our actors, not quite so much, since good English and a clear American accent is necessary for success, but even still the number of British, Australian, and Canadian citizens that you see on the silver screen is staggering.

Taking a look at the most bankable directors in Hollywood, nearly 30% of them are of foreign origin. Certainly the Americans are still entirely dominant, but consider the average American workplace. How many of most people’s peers, here in America, are not originally American?

Theater is an interesting industry, historically. Actors and actresses, in Western society, were generally considered to be the lowest of the low for choosing such a career. Most actresses had to work as prostitutes to stay alive, and I presume that most of the men did some sort of hard labor or committed theft on the off-hours as well. Hollywood started out as a principally Jewish industry because the Jews were ostracized from respectable industries in America at the beginning of the 20th century. For the purposes of our discussion, this is important because it’s quite possible that without just that right amount of antisemitism, the film industry wouldn’t have really started in earnest until a few decades later.

True, it’s possible that there was the right amount of distrust of the Jews in Europe at the same time, but the US had a second leading factor. The technology behind the motion picture was created by and promulgated by Thomas Edison, an American. The US also had electricity before other nations thanks to Edison, George Westinghouse, and Nikola Tesla. This made the cinema possible earliest and almost exclusively within the US.

Besides this, around the same time, Europe was leading into the first World War. Whereas in America film was started by business men, in Europe, due to the first and second World Wars, film was started more by the government for the sake of propaganda or to show off the greatness of their country, rather than to make a buck, and this has had a lasting effect on the industry in these nations. As I understand it, in modern day Europe if you want to make a movie you need to get funding for it from the government.¹ You have to give a proposal and get it approved before you can make anything. The criteria for making a film is based on what a panel of bureaucrats think is a “worthy” film to make more than it’s based on whether or not a film will be profitable.

This discourages anyone who wants to be able to be particularly creative from wanting to enter the local film industry, which means that there isn’t very much call to develop the local capabilities for creating films with high technical qualities (i.e. special effects), which further discourages the entrance of the creative into the industry. Someone who wants to make a film is better off to move the US and enter the industry here. In the rare cases where a director does make it through and create a movie that people actually want to watch in his home country, when Hollywood takes notice of him, what is offered for him in Hollywood is so much greater than anything he can hope for if he stays, that he will almost always emigrate.

Now it’s quite likely that the bureaucratic system of cinema in other nations was set up specifically with the aim of encouraging the local film industry by pumping government money into it. I doubt that lasting all the way to the end of the century that there would be a government desire to control the content of their local films, but either way it was obviously a failed measure.

¹ This information is according to a lecture I attended with a Hollywood script doctor over a decade ago. I am relying on the veracity of this information and my memory thereof.

Is This a Bad Thing?

As you will recall from Pax Americana, my stance is that the world gains by preserving American hegemony. Economically, a monopoly may be bad, but the American film industry isn’t a monopoly. There is plenty of competition among the studios. It’s no worse for American states that nearly all film production to take place in California  than it is for all nations that nearly all film production takes place in the US.

This influence also means that American morality has been able to permeate through the rest of the world. I’ve seen some argument that the Beatles did more to end the Cold War than all the politicking or economics in the world. The Beatles might be British, but the point remains that the films and music that comes out of the US and Europe serves to promulgate sexual equality, racial equality, habeas corpus, and other benevolent ideas of modern society to the regions of the world that could use them. If Chinese cinema was allowed to dominate the world, the position of women as subordinate to men, of racial stereotyping, or the primacy of the state would be ideas that would be getting mass influence across the face of the Earth.

While effective in less dogmatic ways, overall, American strength in any greater number of industries still serves the purpose of allowing a single, modern nation to effectively lead the globe. I don’t expect to achieve or maintain such a lopsided example as the film industry against the rest of the world, but we certainly can maintain a strong position in all of them.

America’s Key Strength

Any nation has certain things it excels at. This might be due to geography, history, the school system, or whatever other factors, but the point remains that we all have certain strengths. The Japanese and the Germans are good at doing fiddly stuff at high quality, the Italians at cooking, the French at flair, etc. Personally, I would credit to America the power of cynicism. This is what we have to offer the world, and I’d personally argue that it’s possibly the best gift one could ever offer.

The basis for all innovation essentially comes down to laziness and stupidity. “I am too lazy to walk, hence I will build a device that moves me around.” “He is too stupid to put a car together reliably, hence I will build a device that does it precisely.” Whether we can actually build those devices ourselves is irrelevant, it’s the initial bit of cynicism and imagination that is important. You can always then go out and find a Japanese guy to actually craft it.

For example, I used to live in Japan. The country is famous for its public transportation, and by and large everyone in the country uses public transportation to get back and forth from work every day. Due to this, train stations are massive, containing hundreds of stores. Each one is like one of America’s largest malls, with a train station in the middle.

But, every day when the Japanese get off from work, all the stores close. There’s thousands of people walking right in front of the stores and they lock their doors to them.

The Japanese people are bound to a belief in minimum human qualities. A proper person goes home before it gets dark. The Japanese are a proper people, and hence you close the store at that time. If you aren’t bound to any belief of the proper or minimum state of human life–i.e. if you are a cynic–you say people aren’t proper. If you give them the option to stay out late and shop, gamble, or do whatever else, they’ll probably do it, and you’ll make a fortune out of letting them do so.

Obviously, there are downsides to letting the stupidest people blow their money however they want, like gambling, but the willingness to come up with the idea of a casino and the desire to build it is what’s important, not whether or not a casino is actually built. Most times when you accede to the desires of mankind to be lazier and more care-free, you come up with something truly beneficial to the world. Shutting down the occasional one that doesn’t, really isn’t a large issue in light of the general gain.

The Proposal

Like I pointed out in A Liberal Arts Education, I very much discourage test-based advancement. American education should be about non-conventional thinking and maybe even a dash of healthy cynicism. If that doesn’t result in the world’s most qualified tinkerers, that’s fine because that’s not what America is about.

But at the same time, we do need the scientists and the tinkerers to build it and the people with flair to design it, and everything else. For that to happen, American industries need to be able to do like Hollywood has done, or even encouraged to do like they do, and look abroad for those with the greatest talent. With the ideas and the money, they are at an advantage by coming, and by combining these three elements together, the world gains.

Bill Gates has already been arguing for the removal of caps on the import of qualified workers. Encouraging other industries than technology and film to look abroad for talent is something that should also be done.

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One Response to “The Hollywood Model”

  1. Roberta said

    The idea of ‘proper’ or ‘communal’ thinking is alive and well in Europe, too. We have spent much time in France and they, too, close their shop doors at inopportune times when they could clearly keep their doors open and compete with each other, but they don’t…they all do the same thing at the same time.

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