March 1, 2008

Did the Documentary Feature Oscar Winner Bypass the Academy’s Intent?

Earlier this week, NewsBusters’ Tim Graham noted the downbeat mood in many of the nominated movies at Sunday’s Oscars, as originally written up by a Washington Post staff writer. NB’s Matt Sheffield addressed the Feature Documentary award winner, “Taxi to the Dark Side,” and the dearth of libertarian or conservative representation in the list of that category’s nominees.

Commenter “voodoodaddy” at Sheffield’s post asked:

Taxi to the Dark Side?
Never heard of it. Did not even know it existed.
They wonder why no one watches the Oscars.

Voodoodaddy is far from alone, and his comment begs a bigger question: Why, as I believe is the case, would a company make a film knowing full well that almost no one will see it?

That’s certainly not a question anyone in Old Media is asking. Two of the five nominees in the Feature Documentary category (“War/Dance” – $57,640; Operation Homecoming” – either $4,516 or $6,795) did barely noticeable business in 2007.

Winner “Taxi” shows no 2007 business.

How can that be?

The Academy’s Torene Svitil has assured me in e-mail correspondence, for which I am grateful, that “Taxi,” despite my failure to find any kind of corroborating evidence in Internet searches, met the requirements for nomination in the category per Rule 12, namely:

  • A “Seven-Day Qualifying Exhibition” in LA County or Manhattan between 9/1/06 and 8/31/07.
  • A “Multi-State Theater Rollout” in 10 or more states, and with at least 14 exhibitions, taking place by November 15, 2007.

Fair enough. But a point Svitil made about promotion in one of those e-mails raised a red flag:

We do not require filmmakers to run picture ads. We only require that the film is advertised in the theater grid.

The theater grid is simply the list of movies currently showing in the theater’s newspaper advertisement.

Svitil’s response indicates to me that a theater can show a film with no intent to promote it. But I believe that a reading of Rule 12 makes it clear that the Academy’s intent was to limit Documentary Feature nominees to films that more than a smattering of people would pay real money to see, or that theaters would at least try to convince people to see. Based on the information available, it appears that “Taxi” did not draw anything resembling an acceptable audience. I further believe that theaters carrying the film may not have even tried to draw an audience. If I’m right, is this because the producers knew that any promotional efforts expended would in any event be futile?

Then, going back to the question I asked earlier, why make the documentary at all?

You’ll still make it if you believe that it will impress film festival audiences (not relevant to Rule 12′s “Qualifying Exhibition” or “Rollout” compliance requirements) and, in turn, the Hollywood elite. There’s clearly nothing wrong with that. But the question is whether such a film, given the intent of Rule 12, should be eligible for an Academy Award and the free publicity it gives to a Documentary Feature and its cause.

It’s one thing, in the name of a strong belief in a cause, to make a movie you know will lose money. It’s quite another, in the name of promoting that cause, to produce a movie that you are nearly certain almost no one in the public will bother to see, but will nonetheless impress the award-givers. Call it the moviemaking equivalent of “teaching to the test.”

I believe that the makers of “Taxi,” in their zeal to tell their “Widespread U.S. Torture” story, went around the intent of Rule 12 to make a political point they couldn’t have made to more than a very few people inside or outside of the fever swamp without Academy assistance. If that’s true, I further believe that because of the movie’s agenda, many Academy members, to the extent they even cared about the intent of Rule 12, may not have minded that they were being played. Thus, “Taxi,” which couldn’t hope to succeed in the marketplace, “succeeded” nonetheless, while Old Media, searching for any reason to continue its serial Bush-bashing, gleefully lapped it up.

Meanwhile, Oscar Night TV audiences continue to dwindle, as more viewers conclude that the Academy Awards is a celebration of, as the Steely Dan song says (warning: profane word at link), “show biz kids making movies of themselves,” with the theatergoing audience as an afterthought, if that.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Both Dem Candidates Buy into the Myth of ‘Deindustrialization’

Note: This column was originally posted at Pajamas Media on Thursday under the title “The Assembly Line Is Healthier Than You Think.”

_______________________________________________

Though they have their disagreements, Democratic presidential contenders Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who faced off in Cleveland, Ohio Tuesday evening, clearly agree on one supposedly “obvious” thing — that manufacturing in the United States is in decline.

Mr. Obama’s economic platform calls for a “comprehensive energy independence and climate change plan (that) will invest in America’s highly-skilled manufacturing workforce and manufacturing centers” — as if there isn’t enough investment now.

Mrs. Clinton, in the “Strengthening the Middle Class” pitch at her web site (Item 2 near the bottom), says that “the manufacturing base can be re-energized,” apparently assuming that it is currently lackluster.

The candidates are worrying needlessly. American manufacturing on the whole is, and has been, growing.

You wouldn’t think so from reading the Mainstream Media. Reporters, politicians, and others repeatedly note that manufacturing’s contribution to the economy has fallen from about 25% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the mid-1960s to just over about 12%. That line of reasoning is supposed to end the “deindustrialization” debate.

It does. But it’s the deindustrialization argument that disintegrates — once you remember that today’s economy is over 3-1/2 times bigger than the economy of 1965.

This chart, based on data at Uncle Sam’s Bureau of Economic Analysis for components of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and GDP growth through 2006, shows how manufacturing has grown in real terms (2007 data is not yet available):

1965to2006GDPmfgGrowth

As you can see, the real value of manufacturing output grew at an average rate of about 1% a year from 1965 until 1982, the bottom of the post-Carter Era recession. From that year on, through the remaining Reagan years, Bush 41, Clinton, and first few years of Bush 43, manufacturing growth averaged about 1.5% a year.

In 2003 and 2004, in their attempt to set the presidential table for Democratic candidate John Kerry, some commentators (examples here and here) tried to portray the manufacturing sector as approaching death. Those reports were, and are, to say the least, exaggerated. From 2003 to 2006, manufacturing growth averaged over 2.3%. There’s every reason to believe that real growth in manufacturing continued in 2007.

Okay, what about the decline in total manufacturing jobs? Well, that’s due to productivity, and calls for a history lesson.

In 1945, 16% of Americans worked in agriculture. By 2000, that percentage had shrunk to 1.9%. Yet, as with manufacturing, and despite steep, long-term, productivity-driven drops in the prices of agricultural commodities, agriculture’s GDP has grown consistently in real terms — but just not as fast as other sectors in the economy.

When’s the last time you read somebody fretting over the “de-agrification of America,” and longing for workers to head back out into the fields? And why would it be a bad thing if, over the next few decades, we’re able to get ever more value out of manufacturing with fewer people as long as overall unemployment stays low?

There are two remaining issues to address.

One is the unevenness of manufacturing growth throughout the country. Tuesday’s debate site is among the areas, along with Metro Detroit and others, largely in the Midwest, that have experienced real manufacturing declines.

But why is that? I would suggest that the following table, which compares the state and local tax burdens of the various states in 2007 and 2003, provides a large part of the answer (source – The Tax Foundation):

StateLocTaxBurdens2003to2007

It’s clear that very few states have done a good job of keeping their residents’ tax burdens under control during the past four years. Manufacturing in high-tax Ohio has suffered greatly, as it has in top-tier taxer Michigan. The Buckeye and Wolverine States’ high and rising tax burdens have driven many businesses away, and caused others to look elsewhere at expansion time.

By contrast, next-door Indiana isn’t perfect. But when Honda was looking for a place to build its next assembly plant, it chose a Hoosier State site in Greensburg over one in Ohio. It’s not difficult to see why. Meanwhile, low-tax states like Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia have landed several major auto plant prizes, and most of the parts-feeding plants that go with them. A state that wants manufacturing to grow has to work on creating a climate conducive to growth. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama can’t do that for them.

The other looming issue relates to national security. It may be that our inability to make things ourselves might make us vulnerable to a hostile foreign power that could withhold those things from us, or gain concessions by threatening to. I believe there is some substance to this argument, especially as it relates to retaining or rebuilding a domestic military-equipment manufacturing capacity and (if there is even any left today) a machine tool industry. But I don’t think you will read tomorrow morning that either Democratic candidate attempted to address how to do that, or even recognized its importance.

Positivity: Lucky Soldier Wins $1 Million

Filed under: Positivity,US & Allied Military — Tom @ 6:55 am

From Mead, Washington:

Though He Hit the Jackpot, Sergeant Plans to Return to Iraq for a 3rd Tour
Feb. 28, 2008 —

After completing two tours in Iraq, Sgt. Wayne Leyde won $1 million from a scratch-and-win lotto ticket on Tuesday.

Now that he’s won, Leyde, a 26-year-old member of the Washington National Guard, says he’s still going to volunteer to go back to Iraq for a third tour and won’t spend any of the money in the meantime.

Leyde was driving near his home in Mead, Washington when he stopped at a store on the side of the road and bought a ticket.

“I decided to walk into a local Zip Trip. I got a Coke and beef jerky and walked up to the counter and thought I’d pick up a few scratch tickets and try my luck. I was on my way out when the lady said, ‘Do you have a lucky scratch coin?’

“I said ‘no, you gave me a dime and nickel back.’”

“She said ‘no, try this,’” handing Leyde a penny. “On my way home I started scratching tickets. They were losers. I’m thinking, boy, that lady didn’t know what she was talking about.”

Leyde couldn’t believe it when he scratched a winning ticket, but he still plans to return to Iraq.

“It was a commitment I made about three months ago. I’m going to stick to it,” Leyde said about his decision. …..

Go here for the rest of the story.