Working Class Hero

I’ve been interested in Christopher Dodd’s attempts to establish a voice as the new leader of the MPAA. One of the themes that seems to be coming up quite a bit is the idea that, despite the red carpet and other forms of glamor, Hollywood is also a site of (blue-collar) labor.  It’s a theme in his comments about piracy from ComicCon a few weeks ago when he sought to define piracy as a crime against labor:

[Piracy] also affects all the names in the closing credits and so many more –middle class folks, working hard behind the scenes to provide for their families, saving for college and retirement. And since movies and TV shows are now being made in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, movie theft harms middle class families and small businesses all across the country.   Those who steal movies and TV shows, or who knowingly support those who do, don’t see the faces of the camera assistant, seamstresses, electricians, construction workers, drivers, and small business owners and their employees who are among the thousands essential to movie making.

More recently, Dodd has deepened this message in a speech he delivered a few days ago, in which he explained that Hollywood needs to market itself better as an institution, comments that echoed his ComicCon speech, again characterizing Hollywood as a “a blue-collar industry,” while adding that if you commit piracy, “you’re stealing from the middle-class people whose families rely on this industry to make ends meet and build a better future for themselves.”  There have been attempts to connect piracy to a crime against labor in the past, but it seems like an explicit approach for Dodd here. And, quite obviously, there is some truth to Dodd’s arguments, in that the movie industry is supported by a wide range of blue-collar and white-collar work that typically isn’t visible on-screen, although Dodd is (most likely) much more concerned about protecting the industry’s financial bottom line.

After attending a panel on piracy (mostly about video piracy) at this year’s MIT conference, including Jinying Li’s excellent discussion of piracy as an alternative public sphere in China, I’ve become more attuned to these sorts of debates, and Li’s talk in particular, raised some questions about the role of China’s movie quota system in driving the distribution of many American films underground there. John Caldwell’s Production Culture is also a key text in thinking about depictions of labor in Hollywood, as well, but I think it will be interesting to see how Dodd uses the idea of below-the-line labor in order to craft his message about Hollywood.

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