‘Brokeback’ Miller: the economics of protest

Event: Larry Miller, owner of the Utah Jazz, a television station, a number of car dealerships, and a few movie theaters, was confronted on a local radio show that one of his theaters was going to be showing “Brokeback Mountain,” a movie about two gay cowboys. A day before opening, the theater pulled the film.

Reaction: Critics contend he’s limiting free speech. Supporters counter that he is merely exercising it. Handwringers bemoan how this will affect economic investment and tourism in the state. And the film’s distributor might sue for breach of contract.

My take: It’s about money.

Although he is inclined to make knee-jerk decisions, Larry Miller hasn’t achieved the financial success he has by being an idiot. He knows what his customers want, and he caters to those desires, but only as far as it makes him money. Although he might be influenced by personal taste or morals (cf. his investments in Mormon cinema), I know enough people that have had direct dealings with him (my late father-in-law included) to say that he doesn’t run his business by asking himself, “What would Jesus do?”

In other words, he’s like any other business owner, and he is in the movie business to make money. Likely hearing how well “Brokeback Mountain” was doing at downtown’s independent Broadway Theater, he (or likely his theater chain manager) booked the film. When he sensed there might be negative publicity, he pulled it.

Whether it was a morally correct decision for Larry Miller honestly doesn’t figure in to it, in strict business terms. Thomas Sowell put it this way: “Capitalism knows only one color: that color is green; all else is necessarily subservient to it, hence, race, gender and ethnicity cannot be considered within it.”

Businesses that take public stands on certain issues have done so because it makes good business sense. It might save them money, it might score points in a consumer market, or it might attract a lucrative demographic—whatever the reason, the business benefits, and I think Larry Miller has decided that aligning himself with Utah’s dominant conservative majority places his businesses in a better financial position.

Now for individuals who are disappointed (or frustrated or indignant or whatever) about this decision, they must keep this financial aspect in the forefront of their minds. Again, it’s about the money, so while posting to message boards or writing letters to the editor are pretty effective means to air grievances and let off steam, the better way to successfully challenge a business’s practices is to boycott it.

The consumer boycott is a powerful weapon in producing change and one that is too often overlooked. With the recent Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the passing of Rosa Parks last autumn, I’ve been thinking of the 1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott and how the success of that protest arguably sparked the civil rights movement. While rereading some of the specifics, I am struck by how difficult it was to actually maintain the boycott. Black taxi drivers were fined for offering reduced-rate rides, police officers harassed carpoolers, some protesters resorted to horse-drawn buggies to get around, and after 381 days the united and disciplined actions of the boycotting African-Americans (along with their white sympathizers) resulted in not only desegregated buses, but the successful demonstration of non-violent resistance in effecting change.

Boycotts don’t always require so much of us, but we as a people have become so used to convenience and comfort that to protest in a real, substantive way is quite nearly beyond us. Unfortunately, we also have fallen victim to the mindset that “I am just one person, I don’t make a difference,” and these twin attitudes of laziness and helplessness only further enforce repetitive behavior that is not in our personal, moral, or financial best interests.

Instead, recognize the power money has and actively use it to influence business behavior. If you dislike what a movie portrays, don’t go see it. If you disagree with how a business acts, boycott it[*]. And if you believe in a movement, use your money in support of it.

* okay, that’s a somewhat silly example, but valid nonetheless.

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My political leanings

In the current political season, I am decidedly undecided.

At first I thought I might not be really undecided, that I might be one of the persuadables, a group that just might be the real NASCAR dads and soccer moms of this election. But then I came upon some pretty thorough online quizzes, with the following results:

At Advocates for Self-Government, I came up as a Centrist, with a Personal Self-Government Score of 50% and an Economic Self-Government Score is 40%.

After a visit to Politopia “The Land of Really Pathetic Avatars” I found myself in the middle of Centerville (i.e. Squaresville).

At Political Compass, I was momentarily startled with the results that on the Economic Left/Right scale, I was a -2.00, putting me in Kucinich, in Gandhi, in Mahler territory—yes, I want to smash the machines of our industrial overlords and join with the proletariat! But then on the Social Libertarian/Authoritarian scale, I came back to the middle with a modest -0.46.

Armed with this knowledge of my centered-ness, I reached the only conclusion possible: I’m politically boring.

Sigh. Maybe if I move to a swing state…

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Why I won’t see Passion

So I was talking with my friend Keith a few weeks ago about upcoming movies and he mentioned The Passion of the Christ. He asked whether I was going to see it, it being rated-R and all. I told him “no,” based on the rating, and he brought up the old “If the Book of Mormon were a movie, it would be rated-R” argument.

Now that the movie is out now, I have a bigger reason: it doesn’t sound like the Christ I believe in. Apparently the movie focuses on the last 12 hours, emphasizing his pain and suffering in all the glory of Dolby-surround and CGI-enhanced effects to the exclusion of anything else, with quite a few reviewers saying it is the most violent movie they have ever seen.

There’s no baptism, no 40 days in the wilderness, no temptation from Satan, no Sermon on the Mount, no calling of the apostles, no raising of Lazarus, no bread and fishes, no parables, no triumphal entry–just blood and guts and pain, pain, pain.

Christ suffered and died for me, but he also lived and loved for me too. His teachings bring me peace, and his resurrection gives me hope.

And it doesn’t sound like 2 hours in a movie theater to see this film will give me any of that.

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