Tuesday, August 3, 2004

The following is a plank that was introduced, but is now mysteriously missing from the Democratic Party Platform:

There are two Americas — one for people who can afford to go to movies and one for those who cannot. Rich Americans can obtain high-quality education on important national and international issues by attending lucid documentaries such as Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/ll.” Poor Americans must rely upon old-fashioned methods of acquiring information, by reading books and newspapers and listening to biased right-wing radio programs, tasks consuming valuable quality time that could be better spent around the kitchen table with children.

From 1990 to 2004, average ticket prices rose from $4.22 to $6.26, an increase of nearly 50 percent. To put this in perspective, the price of a barrel of oil today is only 4 percent above its price in October 1990. This unwarranted increase in ticket prices is driven by rapacious mega-corporations, which are concerned only with the bottom line and not the welfare of consumers. Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney, once said: “We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make a statement. To make money is our only objective.” The profits generated by “The Lion King” exceeded $1 billion, and revenues of the top 10 media conglomerates increased by nearly a third between 1995 and 2000.

Hollywood accounts for 85 percent of worldwide movie screenings and earns more than half of its revenues from overseas sales. It also rips off the American consumer to subsidize these sales abroad. Movie ticket prices are dramatically lower in foreign countries. An adult ticket to “Spiderman 2” in Ottawa is 18 percent lower than in Manhattan. Movie ticket prices in Mexico City average $3.50, while adult ticket prices in New York City are now regularly $10. Must our veterans and senior citizens trek to Canada or Mexico to view movies? While even the newest movies are made readily available on DVD in foreign countries like China, the industry fights to prevent Americans from importing these low-cost alternatives.

Contributing to this rise in ticket prices are the outrageous salaries of undeserving corporate executives and movie stars. Ben Affleck earned $600,000 for his work in “Armageddon” in 1998, but $12.5 million for “Gigli” in 2003. How many hard-working Americans have seen their rate of pay increase 20 times over the last five years? Did Mr. Affleck or the executives who produced “Gigli” offer to refund their salaries when losses on this film reduced Sony’s profits and share prices, lowering the value of many Americans’ pension funds?

The movie industry also serves unhealthy portions of high-priced, high-cholesterol carbohydrates in its theaters. Gaudy and seductive advertisements prior to each movie prey upon young children, encouraging consumption of empty calories and contributing to the serious problem of obesity.

To protect its interests, the movie industry contributes heavily to political parties. A fund-raiser for a presidential candidate raised $5 million in June of this year. It also employs well-connected lobbyists, such as Jack Valenti (formerly press secretary to Lyndon Johnson) and now Dan Glickman (formerly secretary of agriculture in the Clinton administration) as its Washington representatives.

It is time for new initiatives in government policy. A commission to investigate the practices of this industry and to formulate needed regulations is urgently needed. The millions of Americans who work hard every day at minimum wages should not have to worry about sacrificing food, clothing and shelter so that their children and elderly parents can go to movies. A tax credit for tickets would help those who are deprived, so that they, too, can share the benefits of movie attendance already enjoyed by those who are more fortunate.

Bryan L. Boulier is a professor of economics at George Washington University.

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