30 August 2021

Silence Is Gold(en)(er)

All of our rain is in Nawlins. All at once, making the Mighty Mississippi run backwards. Best wishes (and lots of dread because my best wishes can't overcome nature).

  • Of all the 1L courses — quite possibly because of The Paper Chase and One L and the realities of buying a car or obtaining cell phone service — contracts are mysterious and scary. And especially in the entertainment industry, they're all too often blunt instruments of misogyny, racism, class warfare, and fraud. Thus, we end up considering whether Natasha Romanoff — whom we met, in the cinematic version of the MCU, as a paralegal in Iron Man II, having Tony Stark sign some contracts — has a legitimate contract claim against Disney.

    This is complicated. If I had my druthers, and everything was (even close to) equal, I tell the cinema owners to get stuffed. As I've remarked before, the purported "theatrical experience" is bloody miserable and/or unattainable and/or vastly overpriced for some of us… plus, in this era, it's an invitation to COVID spreading. Bluntly, "big-screen cinematic exhibition" is inherently discriminatory founded on a predatory business model, not to mention a free rider on already-overstressed transportation systems. But I don't have my druthers, and virtually nothing is in the same timeline as "equal."

    The fundamental problem — and it's one that Mr Faughnder and Ms Sakoui don't even come close to engaging with, but that's quite possibly due to editorial pressures as much as anything else — is the fraud at the heart of the contracts in the entertainment industry. A fair and appropriate compensation system would, indeed, be built on "net profits" and sharing of those net profits with the talent… for a reasonable understanding of "net," "profits," and "net profits." Umm, maybe not, when you let the fox build the henhouse in the first place. (And it's the same set of principles in commercial publishing and in recorded music, just hidden differently.) If Ms Johansson's contract called for sharing of net profits and those profits were calculated in a way that doesn't reward white male studio executives and white heirs of studio founders (and white male hedge-fund managers) to the exclusion of everyone else and the history of racism, misogyny, and nepotism in H'wood was somewhat less disreputable and well-known than, say, Chicago politics, maybe a major lawsuit wouldn't be both necessary and probably futile. It's necessary because this is part of a system of overt discrimination in both "employment" and "translation of a disfavored form of capital to financial capital." It's futile because the combination of the latter and the imprecation against "impairment of contracts" (combined with the invocation of "settled expectations of the parties" as a sufficient rejoinder, in most courts, to systematic fraud — if everyone knows the contracts are abusive, why did this plaintiff sign it?) mean that even if Ms Johansson "wins," it will be via a settlement that won't prevent the next iteration. Or the one after that. And that won't fix, or even acknowledge, the ones that came before.

    At one further and even more abstract remove, this is about the underlying meme that "only financial capital was at risk, so of course the holders of financial capital have earned the rewards." Unpacking that bullshit — the layers of assumptions, both economic and otherwise — is waaaaay too complex for Monday morning.

  • Then there's another "pay the talent" issue being glossed over, this time in an at-first-glance praiseworthy effort to digitize older magazines in the UK. It's the UK, so Tasini isn't even as obvious there as it is here, but: Who's paying the writers of the freelance material and the photographers and illustrators? Who's policing the "work for hire" contracts (regardless of whose law they purport to choose) for whether they're actually what they say they are? Well, it sure as hell isn't The Economist.
  • It's not just how much one gets paid, either. Consider whose hands are in the payment stream in the first place. One problem that this article glosses over entirely is the definition of "app" in the App Store: It also includes books, and more to the point magazine subscriptions. That's right: When you've purchased a subscription to a struggling arts magazine on your iThingy through the App Store, and it's time to renew, almost a third of the subscription fee ends up in Cupertino. (Well, stops in Cupertino on its way to absentee "landlords".) And so on.

    Apparently, nobody learned anything about corporate culture from this long-running drama, which involved not just the same company but many of the same managers (and investors, for that matter).

  • Then there's the joint creator problem and its resolution through the courts (which are inherently hostile to "collaboration" and "creation")… although in this instance, the "creation" is the image more than the content (I always preferred The Clash to The Sex Pistols, because the former wasn't only about image with not even an acknowledgement of musicianship) and one of those joint creators is long dead. Which, frankly, is just about right for undercaffeinated sniping on a Monday morning.
  • But in the end, meat matters. Now, before you vegetarians and vegans haughtily sniff that you don't have that problem, consider the "white farmer premium" for most meat alternatives, the environmental damage and water consumption of most present meat alternatives (and wheat alternatives are much, much worse), and that almost all aspects of the way you park your SUVs with the bike racks hanging off the back into my driveway (again, just like yesterday at brunch) undermine everything you're saying. Virtue-signalling isn't a good look any time, especially not on Monday morning when the coffee hasn't kicked in yet.

    There's a disturbing economic-justice silence in this, too. What's the "right" balance when there's still widespread malnutrition in the world? I don't pretend to have the answers; I just pretend to have some questions. Like whether there's any relationship to the preamble of this link sausage platter.