Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Like a Rock. Tied to America's Ankle.

In every talking-head discussion of the economy you hear someone say how essential the car industry is to America's national identity. How that is who we are, and how the world sees us, through the cars we make.

And then someone always, with a sigh, says something like:

"We just don't make things in this country anymore."

Uh, yeah, we do.

Among many other things, we make movies and TV. And we make them better than anyone else.

American movies and TV are enjoyed all over the world, in record numbers. It's only TV pundits who still tie the American identity up with cars. When people in other countries think of America, they think of Tom Hanks and Friends, not Ford and Chrysler. MTV and CSI, not GM.

We need to help the Americans who work in the auto industry. But because they're Americans. Not because they're in the auto industry. There's a difference.

When will America in general - and the media in particular -- get over its snobbery? Why is a person who builds a car no one wants to buy somehow "better" or more "American" than a person who builds sets for a TV show with millions of fans worldwide? Why is a tool belt in Detroit more American than a tool belt in L.A.?

If you work on an auto assembly line, you get to walk in slow motion to a Bob Seger song. If you work on a film or TV crew, you're part of the "Hollywood elite." You don't share "American values." You don't count.

On 24-hour-news they debate whether the government has a right to tell the auto companies how to do business. They never debate whether the government should meddle in every aspect of the film and television business. Which they do. And without subsidies or bailouts.

TV and film are products. They're manufactured by an industry, just like other products. If a TV show is canceled, that puts a hundred or more people out of work. That's like a plant closing. It's not funny. It's not an occasion for snark.

People call refrigerators and cars "durable goods." Is there any good more durable than film or television? Does any product still produce billions in income and thousands of jobs after forty-plus years the way Star Trek does? Does any product still generate as much revenue in as many different forms seventy years later the way The Wizard of Oz or Bugs Bunny do? I'll stack the durability of Back to the Future or Star Wars against any other product America makes.

So how about a little respect?

Fox News morons sneer at celebrities who are politically active, and wonder why one should care what they think. But they're not just "celebrities." George Clooney, for example, is not just a movie star, he's also a successful executive and manufacturer whose opinion matters as much as, say, Jack Welch's. As CEO of "George Clooney" he generates hundreds of millions of dollars and keeps thousands of people employed. George Clooney is, literally, a millionaire industrialist and philanthropist.

George Clooney is Bruce Wayne.

By contrast, how much are the "Sean Hannity" or "Steve Doocy" brands worth? Why should we care what their guests think? How much does your average right-wing talk radio host do for the economy, and for America's image abroad? Why are the only people in L.A. who matter the people who have AM radio shows?

And why is Joe the Plumber's opinion important, but not Sean the Actor's?

Here in L.A. we work hard, we pay taxes, and we watch with dismay every four years as Presidential candidates stand in a field and tell thirty people in flannel shirts that they are "the real America." That no matter what crop they grow or crap they make, the government will guarantee them their inalienable right to keep on growing and making it forever, no matter what.

But when it was time to give "Hollywood" the same tax breaks every other industry already enjoys, Republicans fell over themselves in a race to kill the provision. Why? Where was the outcry about continuing to hobble one of the few industries still thriving, while artificially propping up those that aren't?

If anyone should claim taxation without representation, shouldn't it be us?

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