Thursday, March 12, 2015

Bribing Your Way Past Censorship Checkpoints

A lot of people know a lot of stuff about "the entertainment industry," and that there are payoffs and such, and that you know certain people or sleep with certain people or whatever. One of the elements that escapes many is the way in which censorship is commodified, and how producers have to buy jokes/lines.

For example, say you want to make a movie (show, book, song, etc.) that happens to have a joke made at the expense of, oh, a fat guy, or more likely, a child with some rare and unfortunate medical condition, or something like that. Not always a joke, but something that just references a given situation in a way that could be conceived of as unpopular. You can't just make the movie, write the show, etc., or the gatekeepers will get you.

So what do you do? You pay someone off. If you're going to have a character who's, say, dying of colon cancer, and is also a jerk, then before you release the movie, you donate a hundred grand to some hospital or foundation. You send over your top assistant, he has dinner with the director of the place, he passes a check, and the reason he's your top assistant is that he conveys the delicate message that there is a reference to colon cancer (or whatever) in the new movie/show/book, and that the arts are the arts, and you support the fight against colon cancer, and that you look forward to assisting them again in the future, etc.

You do that right, and then you release the product, and you're generally immune to criticism. Some small-timers might say, "I can't believe they let them say that!" And they did "let" them. That donation you made bought silence. "No, the Young Foundation has no comment. Actually, I liked it myself!" says the guy, when a reporter calls him for comment.

That's how it works. If a journalist wants to do an article exposing the horror of that movie/book/whatever, they talk to their editor, and their editor makes a few calls, or the correspondent does research. And they call the charitable foundation association that works with the hospital/charity you bribed, and the person there says, "We've received a lot of support from Mr. ___________, and we felt the movie was a positive message overall." And the story's dead. No major outlet attacks you. If a local substation picks up the story, corporate finds out and kills it, and it never goes farther than a nightly broadcast in one small town (and someone gets fired if it even makes it that far).

Correspondingly, when you see an outrage generated over something, it happens for one of two reasons: one, the producer didn't pay off the right people, or didn't pay them enough. Two, the producer wanted the outrage, in order to generate attention for whatever the product was. That's often why extra-crappy movies/books/cartoons will generate outrage, and therefore short-term sales, while less-crappy ones with equally terrible messages will get ignored.

This process, like having to pay off border guards in 1980s Nairobi or traffic cops in 1980s Chicago, is a more modernized, high-class version of bribery. It allows the easy shutting down of independent projects that don't have the up-front capital to pay all of the various gatekeepers. And because it's charity, the bribe is as tax-deductible as if you did it out of the goodness of your hearts. And all the producers sleep happily in their beds at night, thinking about how they joined the fight against the world's worst diseases, unlike those stuck-up folks who don't know how to give something back.

Besides, some of the money comes back to you. It's your sister's husband who's directing the foundation anyway, so they'll do a critical analysis of "roles on death and dying as represented by New Movie Sequel, coming this summer," and they'll generate a lot of interest for your movie, and when you win some stupid award, your hot female lead will be wearing a striped gray ribbon from the society for the prevention of cruelty to raccoons, and immediately, the place gets a bunch of fifty-cent paypal donations from a million horny teenage boys.

Everyone wins, quid pro quo, because the foundation looks "relevant" by addressing such a cutting-edge issue as your brand-new modern movie, while you now look formal and smart, because all the docs are talking about you. There's so much brotherly love it makes everyone puke.

Don't pay up, and you're an offensive bastard. It's just one of the ways to block outsiders from competing, but it has a decent amount of power when used properly. Anything can be construed as offensive--especially if a big, respectable foundation, or a serious, respected professor of whatever at the university of fuckville, is willing to "raise concerns" about the unwanted project with the media. And that's what those places will do, too. If you try to accomplish something without paying them off, they will take you out, baby, they will take you out so fast. They will snivel and cry, and ask, "What about the rich culture of half-Polish immigrants who get colon cancer at a 0.04% higher rate than the general population?" They'll give you the kind of attention that doesn't generate more than marginal sales, but which shuts you down. They send the signal to the real controllers of industry, "Shut this person/group out now. They don't play ball."

If necessary, they can even find some elementary school classmate of yours who suddenly remembers that you made a crude joke about colon cancer once, which you deny because it was twenty years ago, but once the story's out, you're going downtown, baby. They will shut you down like that. *sound of snapping fingers*

Entry bars are high. You gotta pay off a lot of different people. You gotta pay the right lighting company, the right "editor," rent the right facility; depending on your business, you have to provide busywork managerial or HR jobs to a sufficient quantity of people. And now, as we dimly begin to glimpse the negative effects of this cronyist parasitism on our processes, we're still largely in thrall to the idea that the latest version of leeches is honest, necessary, and worth listening to.

1 comment:

  1. Dunno about the entertainment industry, but the only reliable way to get published in academia is to show how the idea of some old dude can be applied in some 'new' way.

    In my field, vast majority of the stuff that gets published is simpleminded ideological nonsense, not scholarship. I wrote a few pieces challenging some of this nonsense in a very straightforward, well-referenced way. They have not been submitted yet, but I'm having serious doubts they will ever get published. It is easy to be a crank delusional about being a maverick, but it is even easier to simply be dismissed as crank.

    (And yes, not even money are involved!)