More proof the “free market” is a right wing fantasy

This rant is more about TV and culture than economics, but still serves as an example of an important and often ignored phenomenon: the blindness of the patriarchy.

I wonder what the value is of a show like House of Cards vs, say, Jessica Jones, to a producer of content like Netflix. The former has major stars, a cult-like following that is large, and is great critical success. The latter also has some kick-ass stars but probably fewer, is a bit of a niche product (there are people who will glaze over at the idea of watching a “super hero” show, even though it really isn’t) and seems to have less hype, possibly watered down by the nearly simultaneous production of a handful of different parallel integrated complexly interrelated productions.

So, had you been a wise investor in Netflix productions, you would have been invested heavily in House of Cards, with all its high cost, high compensation, high production value, and less invested in Jessica Jones, because it also is probably fairly expensive to make, but it has a much less well known star (Krysten Ritter) as opposed to the great and famous Kevin Spacey.

But things do not always work out as planned.

It may well turn out that House of Cards will be of very little future value compered to Jessica Jones, assuming Krysten Ritter is not exposed as a sexual exploiter of some kind. Nobody will be re-watching the first few years of the House of Cards, or at least, no one other than the MRAs and people who just never heard. So one can look back and say that the wise investors were fooled, maybe even ripped off. Right?

Well, not really. Investors got what the were (not) asking for. The Patriarchy rarely examines itself, and had it done so, there might have been routine inspection of productions to check for … certain things … before piling in piles of production money. But it does not so there was not.

I heard many times a story from a friend that I always avoided repeating, but now that everyone (in the story) is dead, I have no compunction.

It was Michael Crichton, who as an alum was a long time friend of Harvard’s Department of Anthropology, visiting and staying at my adivsor and friend, Irv DeVore’s house. DeVore was one of the founders of modern primatology and hunter-gatherer studies. Michael was staying at DeVore’s place, as he sometimes did as a member of the department’s “Visiting Committee.” At the same time, he was working on a move.

By the way, one of his books was based in large part on the research project I was engaged in at the time, using the location and many of the stories brought back from the field to fuel the writing (though the plot of the book had very little to do with the course of the research!). It might have been the movie based on that book that was being developed at that time. But I digress.

As told to me by Irv, Michael Crichton spent considerable time on the phone, as a producer for the upcoming movie, with the casting director and others, trying to figure out which actors they could rely on, which actors were currently in rehab, or likely to cop out because of some drug or alcohol related binge, or who were in the middle of a messy divorce, or some other distracting activities.

This wasn’t just Crichton being a moralist or paranoid. It was standard procedure in producing a movie. It is a main job of casting directors and producers. You have to weigh the costs and benefits of hiring a given actor, where the costs often included the risks of an actor becoming unusable, or costing production a lot more than they should, because of bad behavior.

The point is, considering the behavior of actors has long been part of the process of producing film and I assume TV. Those conversations on the phone with Crichton were happening in the 1980s.

Yet, for some reason, this never seems to have included sexual misconduct, harassment, or similar. It never occurred to the producers and other movers and shakers that a) women (mostly) and men (sometimes) on the set or in some other context might be unduly burdened with felonious and obnoxious acts carried out against them, or that b) the value of a series or movie might drop precipitously if it tuned out a star was a sexual harasser, predator, or similar, and that became generally known.

Never. Occurred. To. Anyone.

Give that some thought.

The patriarchy is blind to its own misdeeds. The free market assumes the involvement of “ideal free actors.” “Free” in this case means free to make choices. “Ideal” in this case means all the actors have the same information, complete information, and are therefore “free” to act in the same way as each other if they chose. That is how you get rational choices being made, and that is how the decision makers, or the decisions themselves, are tested against each other, with the best ones winning and coming out ahead in the end. Plus or minus random effects.

Only then is a free market an actual free market, a maximizer of profit, and optimizer of process.

But in reality, the making of movies and TV shows, and many other endeavours in and out of Hollywood, involve “Idealfree actors.” Notice the added dash. Notice the lack of ideals, of ethics and morals. Notice that for decades felonious acts on the set or elsewhere in the production process were expected, assumed to be normal. Boys will be boys, producers will be producers, stars will be stars. Decades after the deployment of anti sexual harassment HR policies across the rest of the professional world, film and TV investors remained (willfully?) blind, decades after the deployment of methods to avoid losing production money because some actors had turned into a crack head or some director stopped going to meetings, nobody cared about the issues of sexual harassment, assault, and similar.

So much for the free market.

By the way, I’m enjoying Jessica Jones. If you are a Dr. Who Fan, note that David Tennant plays a super villian for part of the show.

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One thought on “More proof the “free market” is a right wing fantasy

  1. Two weeks ago I finished binge watching season 2 of JJ – love it and can’t wait for season 3 next year 🙂 Same with Luke Cage. Watching The Killing these days – saw 1st season when it first came out now rewatching and looking forward to binging on the other 3 seasons. Netflix is running and producing an amazing amount of good stuff. I hope there is a season 3 to Bosch too.

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