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Monday, November 21, 2016

Why Entertainers Should Not Discuss Politics or Social Issues

The recent Hamilton controversy raises several issues that range far beyond the stated content of the post-show monologue directed at the Vice President Elect.

One of the issues is the wisdom of entertainers, in any field, opining on political or social matters of the day.

The classic entertainment rule was that public declarations on anything in politics or culture was not merely considered unwise; in fact, many talent agents, producers and other "gatekeepers" for performers made it clear (officially or unofficially, in written contracts or with the stern talking-to) that such comments were forbidden, off limits, verboten.

Back then (and still true in a large regard today), the reason was pretty clear: Such opinions rarely, if ever, helped the bottom line. It's pure good business, pure good show business.

Why is that the case? Wouldn't affinity with a star, agreement or sympathy with his or her positions, help drive ticket sales, record sales, licensing revenue and so on?

Yes, potentially -- but the opposite is true too. 

The best example is demonstrated by the relatively new trend towards identifying the sexual identities of comic book heroes. (Full disclosure: I am not a comic book fan, never was, so the field is rather alien to me; the advantage is that I can discuss this issue unemotionally.)

Prior to the last twenty years or so, comic books and their derivative cartoons, movies, etc., rarely delved into the personal lives of their characters. Even with characters whose superhero identity and storylines often involved their "mortal" alter ego and attempts to hide their "real" identity (think: Peter Parker and Spider-Man), the personal lives and intimate exploits were typically rarely or never explored in plot lines. (The more recent cinematic iterations of characters are a sharp departure from this classic treatment.)

I contend that part of the mystique and allure of superheroes, or many fictional characters, is the mystery of the unknown. Since the fans don't know much about a certain character, they can imagine those traits, those realities, and project their own values onto their character. This type of fan identification, the projection, the daydreaming if you will, might seem juvenile to some, but it is the fuel behind a lot of the fan interest behind certain stars and shows. It is the kindling wood underneath a lot of the chatter, the water cooler talk, that in turn spurs audience interest in existing fans and drives new interest. (Because ratings, book sales, etc., matter; it's all about metrics, and revenues.)

Answer these questions, and I'd argue you are sucking the oxygen out of the room. Out goes the fire. Isn't that what the new comic book writers are doing, when they declare that a certain superhero has a particular sexual identity, or religion, or whatever?

While such decisions are currently trendy, I contend they play to the affinity of one group -- typically a small group -- but do so at the expense of diminishing or destroying the imagination of the rest of the audience, and as a result experience a net loss.

In show business, folks, numbers matter. See above: it's all about metrics, and revenues. 

For additional fuel to this fire, consider the now-iconic ending in 2007 of the final episode of the HBO mob/family drama "The Sopranos," best characterized by a series of answered questions in the last episode (i.e., shootings of various characters) and some totally unanswered hanging questions regarding the main family characters (e.g., everyone in the Soprano nuclear family). While the show was undoubtedly wildly popular and even considered a cult classic during its run, the series' ending likely enhanced its stature above its prior heights. 

Returning to the original topic of stars interjecting politics or social commentary into their show business characters, their performances or even just interviews with the entertainment media, I would argue it simply is not good business.  I believe the most successful entertainers know that.

Before you conclude I am wrong, ask yourself this: When was the last time you ever heard anyone in the Kardashian daughters -- the offspring of a famous Hollywood lawyer -- discuss politics?

That's exactly the point. Those daughters know better, have been taught to know better. For once, follow the Kardashians' example!

Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer who runs his own independent law practice as well as a consulting practice on blockchain technology, media and political / policy matters. 

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