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Talking the talk

By Lady Liberty
web posted March 6, 2006

Last year, Hollywood claims to have had it rough. Box office receipts were down about 6%, and studios were worried (never mind the fact that 2004 was a record year and that 2005 was almost bound to be down at least a little). Some people said that this was just desserts for moviemakers who weren't offering enough family-friendly fare or even a significant number of really good films (by "good," I mean films of the type that usually win Oscars and critical acclaim, but which don't make lots and lots of money).

Of the ten top grossing movies of 2005 in the US, none were G-rated. Outside of technical categories, none are nominated for Oscars, either. And yet the low movie on the Top 10 list made nearly $200 million in domestic receipts alone. Combined, we're talking two and a third billion dollars in revenue for these ten movies alone! Let's be honest with ourselves here and admit that, whatever else Hollywood may be, it's not stupid when it comes to making money. It's going to make and release what it thinks it can make money making and releasing. How else would we ever have been subjected to more than one Police Academy?

There are groups that like to complain that TV offerings are even worse than those coming out of movie studios. Again, they lament the sex, violence, or crudity and say they wish there'd be more programming suitable for the whole family to enjoy. Television networks aren't much concerned with how cleverly written or brilliantly acted a show is (except, perhaps, when they're considering buying it), or whether or not it teaches "appropriate" moral values. Like moviemakers watch ticket sales, TV executives watch ratings.

There's currently a group that wants to get Desperate Housewives off the air. A spokesman terms it "vulgar." Now, whether or not I agree with him is immaterial (though for the record, I don't). What matters is that millions of people disagree with him and the ratings for Desperate Housewives are through the roof as a result. Based on those ratings, advertising revenue for Desperate Housewives is also sky high. Unless and until that changes, that's one show that's going to stay on the air!

Meanwhile, there's a good reason we're bombarded with sexy or graphic dramas, crude or salacious comedies, and in-your-face reality shows: people watch them. Lots of people watch them. There's also a good reason there aren't a lot of true kids' shows on network television these days: not enough people tune in to support such programming.

In the relatively small town where I currently live, there's an historic theatre located right in the heart of downtown. Beautifully restored, it's offered concerts and movies at relatively low ticket prices for the last decade or so. This past fall, when voters chose not to subsidize it with taxpayer dollars, the theatre closed its doors due to a lack of funding. Most of the theatre's offerings were advertised as family events. There were G-rated movies almost every weekend. Dance recitals took the state on occasion, as did charity fashion shows. Sometimes, there were classical musicians there to perform. And almost nobody went.

I didn't know the theatre manager well, but I ran into her on occasion and she almost always wondered aloud why I didn't take advantage of the shows. I told her point blank that I didn't buy tickets because there wasn't anything there that I wanted to see. Some years ago, though, somebody managed to book George Carlin. Despite some weak protests from the community as to the likely content of his show, it was sold out. Fairly recently, Alice Cooper came through town. I went to buy tickets the day they became available, and happened to run into the manager. "You bought tickets?" she asked me excitedly. "Yes," I said. "You finally got something I wanted to see." In all, I saw two shows at that theatre in ten years.

Some people suggested that the theatre might do some additional business if it brought art and independent films into town, or at least the more highbrow fare that so many say Hollywood doesn't make any more. I actually thought they might have a valid point. The only time our other local theatres show such films is if Oscar nominations are involved! That's how it is that Brokeback Mountain just arrived in town a week or so ago (I had to drive to a big city an hour away to see it sooner), and why I was finally able to see Mrs. Henderson Presents this week. And you know what? On a Friday night, with good weather and no local sporting events, I was alone in the theatre. I kid you not: I saw Mrs. Henderson Presents by myself!

Many people talk in much the same way about politics and politicians. They're not happy with politics, but they continue to be swayed by it. They say they don't like it when candidates "go negative," but the mudslinging invariably works. They claim they don't trust politicians, but the keep electing the same men and women, over and over and over again. They swear they're sick of partisan politics, yet those outside the Republican or Democratic parties typically score such low vote totals that they all but fail to register in the election statistics.

More and more Americans are starting to complain about an overabundance of laws, far too many of which don't make sense, infringe on freedom, or both. And yet they typically do nothing but complain. Isolated people here and there lost property through eminent domain for such as parks or environmental issues, and since it wasn't our property, we didn't join in their protests. Drug dealers were put away after warrantless searches; some innocents suffered when DEA agents targeted the wrong addresses or were fed bad information, but since it wasn't our crime or our house, we didn't worry about it.

Yet last year, when the US Supreme Court released a property rights decision that said towns could use eminent domain for economic development purposes, many groups and individuals took note and took action. It's terrific that they've done so — and that what some are calling a property rights revolution is continuing — but it seems a shame it took a broad and imminent threat before they'd actually get off their chairs and see if things couldn't be changed! Warrantless searches, too, are a big deal now that we know that any of us could be targeted in a domestic surveillance program.

Suddenly, states are making laws protecting property owners from the misuse and overuse of eminent domain. Almost overnight, the Bush administration was on the defensive over domestic spying authorized by the president himself (something many experts are now saying overstepped his bounds of authority). These are good things! At the same time, the PATRIOT Act will almost certainly be as bad — or even worse — than it's been in the past because not enough people are speaking out against it. REAL ID is, for now at least, on schedule to impose a national ID on all of us because more than a few think the sacrifice in privacy and liberty is worth the dubious security offered by the card.

So here's the bottom line: If you want things to change, you have to work to change them. If you prefer certain kinds of movies, then leave your house and head to the theatre next time one's showing. If you'd like to see more "highbrow" or cultural events, be the first in line to buy tickets and ensure each is well attended. Don't like some TV shows? Change the channel, or turn the TV off. Moviemakers make what sells tickets. TV programmers schedule what gets ratings. Politicians aren't much different. They do whatever will get them elected. What will it take for you to be sufficiently inspired to remind them of that?

Lady Liberty, a senior writer for ESR, is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at ladylibrty@ladylibrty.com.


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