The Company They Keep
– by David Matthews 2
There are times when I defer to the folks at the Reason Foundation for their sound words of advice regarding freedom. The folks there often have a better understanding of freedom than the vast majority of so-called “experts” who falsely claim to support the Constitution or fraudulently pretend to channel America’s “founding fathers”. (You listening, Beckites? I’m talking about YOUR lot!)
Unfortunately the folks at Reason also take stances that a freedom-lover like yours truly seriously has to question.
Recently Reason did one of their little video snippets attacking Hollywood for their fascination with painting capitalism as the villain in their movies. It’s a quick dig on the fact that the sequel to Oliver Stone’s classic movie “Wall Street” was coming out. In “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”, the legendary Gordon “Greed is Good” Gekko (again played by Michael Douglas) is out of prison and discovering that what he did in the 80’s to go to prison for is now perfectly legal. (You can thank the GOP for that little Christmas present.) Then the folks at Reason tied it in with the overall robber-baron land grab theme of “Avatar”, the bio-weapon manufacturer in “M:I-2”, the “gotta save the alien killers to use as weapons” bureaucrat from “Aliens”, the sociopathic lawyers in “A Civil Action”, the hospital executives in “Coma”, the developers in “FernGully”, and so on and so forth.
And then Reason declared that capitalism somehow “enforces rules” about stealing, fraud, and violence, and to channel greed towards “productive means”. “Play by the rules,” Reason said, “and greed gets you the iPad. Break the rules and you get Bernie Madoff.”
What delusional world do the people at the Reason Foundation live in where they can come up with THAT fairy tale? Wherever it is, I want to be there, because here in the REAL world, capitalism has but TWO simple rules that it lives by.
The first rule of capitalism is profit at all costs. It doesn’t matter HOW they make that profit; just that they do. You can screw over your own family members, sell your children into slavery, and even sell your soul (repeatedly) just as long as you make that profit.
The second rule of capitalism is this: if it isn’t above the board, if it is bound to cause scandal, go ahead and do it, but don’t get caught. You can do everything you want to in order to make those profit numbers, but if it’s something that you don’t want to publicly take credit for, just don’t get caught doing it.
Just look at the plight of “Poor Bernie”, the example that Reason used for “bad greed”. There were red flags flying FOR YEARS about Bernie’s questionable practices. FOR YEARS! And they were ignored time and time again. Why? Because it followed the first rule of capitalism… profit at all costs. All of the safeguards that the Reason Foundation touts as being “Capitalism’s enforcers”, all of the watchdogs and auditors and overseers, even the ones on the INSIDE, that were SUPPOSED to prevent that kind of thing from happening… THEY FAILED!
So when the house of cards that was Madoff’s financial services finally collapsed, people started asking how that could happen. And just as soon as fingers started to get pointed towards anyone but Madoff, Madoff suddenly became the sacrificial lamb. All of the looks into other participants, all of the other groups that knew what was going on and did nothing to stop it, all of that focus immediately died down when Madoff pled guilty. Those groups followed the second rule… don’t get caught. Bernie got caught. He went to prison for it. The others didn’t, because the system didn’t LET anyone else get caught. It all stopped with Bernie.
Glory, Glory Capitalism.
But let’s get back to Hollywood here…
The folks at Reason somehow got it into their heads that Hollywood has a mad-on hatred of capitalism that they just can’t figure out. They apparently don’t like seeing business leaders being portrayed on TV and the movies as being self-centered, greedy, manipulative, backstabbing, narcissistic sociopaths. That’s just not fair, after all, to all of the GREAT and WONDERFUL things that they have given the world… like… like… like the gas-powered automobile! And the factories that manufacture the gas-powered automobile, which have been slowly outsourced to other nations. And the refineries needed to produce the oil needed to make the gas to power those vehicles, one of which recently blew up in the Gulf of Mexico, and the full extent of that devastation is STILL not measured.
Ooh… not good examples, are they?
Well the point is there is a REASON why capitalism is the easiest villain around… and that is because we see FAR too many examples of it in the real world! In fact capitalism is seemingly the one institution that allows you to engage in all of the deadly sins and then some and then wash your hands clean of it all and say that it’s “just business”.
Capitalism destroys whole communities much faster than they do building them up, and they’re not the least bit remorseful when they do it. It’s “just business”. They dehumanize people, transforming them into nothing more than account numbers on a spreadsheet, justify collecting every bit of information they can on those “account numbers”, and then sell that information off to other companies to make a quick buck. And they do it with a wink and a smile and say that it’s “just business”. They reward people for being ruthless, manipulative, obsessively fixated on succeeding at all costs, and then justify it all by saying that it’s “just business”.
These are all the traits of a classic villain.
You don’t hear too many stories of “good guy” businesses, because the business world, capitalism itself, doesn’t reward people for being honest and ethical. Those are usually the first ones laid off or bought out or shut down or otherwise made victims to the ruthless and cruel.
Remember “Tucker: A Man and His Dream”? That wasn’t a flight of Hollywood fantasy concocted out of the ether. That was based on real events of a real person named Preston Tucker, whose dream of designing a better car was destroyed by the automakers and the politicians who worked on behalf of the automakers.
And, yes, the folks in Hollywood KNOW that they get their movies made by capitalistic investors. They KNOW that the studios are just another part of capitalism. They KNOW that they have to make money to keep making movies. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t bring up the abuses - real or hypothetical - of that same capitalistic system.
Granted, the “corporate bureaucrat that would rather sacrifice a whole Marine unit to transport some xenophobic mass-murdering aliens to be studied for use as possible weapons” is a bit of a stretch, but if there is anything that would foul up an otherwise straightforward military operation, it WOULD be a spineless backstabbing corporate bureaucrat. And, as was pointed out in that same movie, at least the nameless xenophobic mass-murdering “Aliens” don’t screw themselves over for a profit margin.
But let’s get brutally honest here… the reason WHY capitalism is the preferred villain stereotype in entertainment is that capitalism not only ENCOURAGES villainous behavior, but also… those in the capitalistic community seemingly do not MIND being cast as the bad guys!
How many corporate executives still watch the original Oliver Stone “Wall Street” film and cheer when Gekko utters his “Greed is good” speech? How many of them watched Martin Sheen’s character Bud Fox and think he was a spineless coward?
By the way, how far do you think any of these projects that bash capitalism would get if the investors themselves said “no” to the portrayals? Not everyone in Hollywood can have the money or influence to churn out a movie on their own, and we’ve seen the end result of some of the productions. (“Waterworld” anyone?)
And while Reason is fixated on the evil that government does, and would rather whitewash all the evils of Big Corporate (mostly to appease their friends), the truth is that villainous traits are not a matter of vocation, but rather they are rooted in the use and abuse of POWER.
Once upon a time, the bad guys were all priests and noblemen. So were military leaders and small town law enforcers. Nosy neighbors haven’t exactly shaken off their stigma either. For a while even the scientists were considered the bad guys. Remember the “Mad Scientist” trope? From Doctor Frankenstein to Fritz Lang’s Rotwang to the early versions of Lex Luthor, scientists used to be portrayed as being inherently evil. That didn’t stop the scientific community from pushing through with their projects. That didn’t stop the advances in medicine or the new discoveries in technology.
Each of these villain groups have one thing in common: POWER. At some point, they all have the power of “GOD” (or the next best thing) and they decide to use it at the expense of others for all the wrong reasons. That sullies ANY profession or organization that they are connected to. And when done enough times, seemingly without remorse or regret, and without an effort to make things right again, then one cannot help but to paint that entire profession or organization with the same brush. Just look at the continual tar-and-feathering of the adult entertainment industry if you don’t believe me.
And if the key players involved in capitalism, and their friends in the Reason Foundation, have such a bug up their capitalistic butts about this typecasting, then maybe what they should be focused on is NOT Hollywood, but rather in getting their commercial brethren to clean up their own sullied houses. You don’t have to look very far in the real world to see evil afoot.
In fact, for the past ten years we have been barraged by a series of corporate failures and malfeasances from a whole array of companies, from Enron to oil companies to AIG to the “too big to fail” banks to the insurance companies and even to private contractors for the government. Most of these have gone on with seemingly no consequences for their actions. And even when the industry itself sets up its own rules and puts in place their own watchdogs, the system still FAILED, and nothing’s really done about it. Deals are struck, minimal fines are sometimes paid, sometimes a weak “mea culpa” is even issued, and then it’s back to business-as-usual. The ruined lives and shattered dreams are all written off as just the cost of doing business. THAT’S EVIL!
And that’s really not the kind of result that Hollywood would ever want to portray, because Hollywood usually likes to paint a happier ending when telling their stories. They want to give the illusion that the good guys somehow triumph and that the bad guys get their just deserts. That’s just good business for them.