Monday, July 20, 2009

Business as Usual

"Art is business, business art, -- that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

With apologies to John Keats, the lines above express what everyone in Hollywood privately knows but cannot publicly confess: For all of its posturing, Hollywood is not about art; it's not about meaning; it's not about beauty, and it's certainly not about truth. Hollywood is about business, with more contracts and bottom lines than you'll find in the board room at Wal-Mart.

Hollywood produces a product, movies, like McDonald's produces fast food. That's not a bad thing, at least not until Hollywood tries to get away with an ethical double standard.

Most movies portray business as inseparable from the sins of deception, intimidation, ridicule, mockery, and exploitation. Think bad guy = businessman.

Of course, this is a preposterous mischaracterization of business. According to Thomas Stanley, the best-selling author of The Millionaire Next Door, the average millionaire in the United States owns a small business, not a large corporation; he is married to his first and only wife; he drives a modest car, often a pick-up truck; he shops at Wal-Mart; and he lives in a nice house, but not a mansion. In other words, the average American millionaire is a pretty nice guy, the kind who pays his taxes, mows his lawn, values his customers and his employees, helps his friends, and takes care of his family. Hardly the stuff of villainy.

So where does the evil business caricature come from? Maybe Hollywood mistakes the way it does business for the way everyone else behaves. A guilty man sees the evidence of his crime everywhere.

Consider the legal storm surrounding the hit movie Bruno. Forbes reports,"To nab...unsuspecting interviews, Baron Cohen's production company had reportedly set up four "shell companies" with LA addresses and phone numbers, including Amesbury Chase, Chromium Films, Cold Stream Productions and Coral Blue Productions. Fake Web sites with bogus logos were created for all four of these shell companies, but they have since been taken down."

Shell companies, air-tight contracts, deceptive promises, and large profits. It all sounds like the plot of a John Grisham thriller. But it's just business as usual in Hollywood.

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