Tuesday, January 06, 2009

America: The Land of The Lost

Sacrilege Warning

Warning dear readers, I'm about to piss all over something you may hold dear -- especially if you were raised around the time I was, a time when watching schlock Saturday Morning TV was the only thing to do. For the younger FeriCyde chat readers: there was a time when you couldn't use a game system or surf the web to shed some spare time as a wasted youth. Oh, and the "wasted" here isn't referring to any drugs, it's more a concept of wasting time.

The hallowed ground I'm about to piss upon is the old Saturday morning TV show, The Land of the Lost. Like disco (sorry, there's another demographic that's probably going to be sore), some things about the 70's were really, really bad, but for whatever reason, a whole generation embraced them and they became embedded as memes in our subconscious. Like bad subroutines in the collective minds of the mainframe that runs the zeitgeist, every once and a while you stumble upon a whole batch of things that don't add up -- or rather shouldn't, but there they are.

Hollywood, in its infinite lack of creativity, has decided that it's time, in 2009 to do a remake of the "Land of the Lost" as a full-length feature film. You read a lot of fan complaints from people that are upset with Hollywood for making a favorite book into a film, or for pissing on hallowed ground doing a remake and getting some obscure fact wrong, or for in some cases, driving all over the plot of the original material so badly that no one can even recognize the connection (see the latest remake, God forbid, of the Planet of the Apes, for example -- if you can sit through it, that is).

This isn't one of those posts -- this is pretty much the opposite.

I'm sitting here thinking "Some things were meant to die." Land of the Lost was a seriously bad piece of television. It was so bad that my brothers and I would watch it only if all other vectors for entertainment were lost. Like we had checked all other channels -- the count is 2 other channels on TV in mid-Missouri, by the way -- and say, pro wrestling was on one (don't think today's Pro Wrestling -- think something much more local and much more pathetic), and say, a farm report was on the other.

But I digress: Land of the Lost was horrid. The acting was bad, the props were bad, the writing was bad, heck, even the opening sequence effects looked like they were shot by a 3rd grader in his garage. Remaking this is on the order of, say, a remake of Starksy and Hutch (crap, there goes another demographic). Yeah, I know, they remade that too. Complicating this badness, and gut-reflex, "remake" mentality, they "updated" the series in all of it's sad, pathetic glory -- and made new episodes. Now my own son has bad memories of the show in his subconscious, to match the ones in mine.

That's my point: Hollywood can't seem to embrace any kind of creative new idea. They have to revisit crappy old ones for a few reasons. For one, there's a certain amount of nostalgia that will drive people into a theater to say, waste 10 good dollars and 2 hours of their time to be mind-numbingly insulted at an intellectual level. For another, it's such a safe bet to do this that the cash for the venture is easier to raise than say for some new film idea or plot that no one else has ever tried.

Which brings me to part of our present situation -- you knew I was going somewhere with all of this toward the automotive industry and our government, didn't you? You didn't? Sorry.

The Land of the Lost is fractal image of what's wrong with our culture as a whole. We have become more enamored with backing schlock things that have a marginal success ratio than to try new things that haven't been tried, have much higher payout if they succeed, but are somewhat risky as a venture.

Let's revisit the recent "bail-out" request to congress. Here you have the big three, appearing in front of congress, hands outstretched, saying "Help! A bunch of jobs are going to be lost if we go down!" What's wrong with this picture? How about the fact that GM ispaying their CEO in excess of 14 million dollars. Even assuming worse than reported conditions -- say an average line worker taking home 140k a year, the guy is in front of congress, asking for an allowance, all the while making 100 times (possibly more like 150 times) what his line workers make.

Yeah, lots of things are wrong with this picture. For one -- GM is a manufacturing company -- 100 to 150 line workers in this day and age with some decent automation can likely produce quite a lot of product. Oh, and where were you guys for the past 20 years, worried about jobs and local economies all the while shipping local jobs to other countries and giving yourselves bonus for the transaction?

I'm not going to say they were doing anything illegal. Heck, our government has even gone as far as to make the climate balmy for such things and encourage people to move their stuff out of this country. No, I'm going to say it was, however, immoral. The people that built GM were more than the executives -- the workers, at the end of the day, good or bad, working on good or bad cars -- those people are (or were) owed something when it comes to the success of the company.

By the way, in case you think I'm a one-sided person here -- I'm not a big fan of what the Unions were doing in this transaction either. I do think, however, that if a company is successful the workers should share in that success. They shouldn't find their jobs gone one day to another country where the pollution controls, compensation and treatment of people don't align with what counts as acceptable here. The workers that helped GM be a success should share in that success. Similarly, in bad times, they should willing take a pay cut -- all the way up to the CEO, who should recognize that he's not worth 100 to 150 line workers. Can he get paid this amount? Sure! Is it legal? Sure.

Is it ethical? No, it's obviously not.

I'd love to say that the answer is regulation, but in this case I'm not sure what to do about it. Like the way our news system is fundamentally broken, the auto industry is facing a multitude of crisis. In this dimension, the guys at the top (all ready to work for just one buck now that they've been caught with their pants down), obviously aren't all that accountable for their failures. Some people want to compare the automotive bailout to the banking bailout as a justification -- two wrongs in this case, definitely don't make a right.

Speaking of accountability, we need to revisit the SEC. These people were supposed to be watching out for things like Ponzi schemes, and have supposedly audited Madoff's company 8 times in the past 16 years. It's time for some people to go to jail. Time for Congress to recognize this for what it is -- it's a moral crisis of Biblical proportion. These people (the SEC) were obviously not doing their job.

Bail-outs? Some victims of this thing want the government to bail them out. Banks are going down, charities are going down -- all kinds of things are going down in the face of the Madoff scandal -- but let's not have our government go down with it. The more I see of bailouts, the less I see value. In these trying times we shouldn't be bailing out banks or auto companies. The mentality seems to be along similar lines to breathing life into things that are dying. I think this is flawed thinking and corporate welfare -- worse, they're taking money from the taxpayers at the bottom to fund the bad ideas in a big, bad way. Like a remake of the Land of the Lost, it's cash being spent on a bad idea.

Maybe, like all bad ideas, some things were meant to die. Let's not remake America as the Land of the Lost. If we're gonna put some investment into something, we need to take some risks on some creative new ideas.


Dustin said...

It appears we share the same views on this subject. Although I did not have the opportunity to see Land of the Lost, which is probably a good thing. :P

John Bogdan said...

I agree with your comment that our government should not be involved in these bailouts. I would, however, go a step further: our government is using this opportunity to nationalize industries such as the automotive, financial, and health care. As evident in the news, they are using this money as an excuse to dictate how a business should function.
Your villian in many of these instances is the CEO. I feel this is misplaced. Frankly, I don't care what CEO's make as long as we have a true free market system(not the crony capitalism we current have where companies can petition an all-powerful government to limit competition). The market (ala Adam Smith's invisible hand) will take care of any "excessive" compensation. My concern is a government run amok that is completely reshaping our lives and doing away with capitalism. Talk about a ponzi scheme! What do yo call Social Security or the excessive gov't debt that steals from our progeny to benefit those today?

FeriCyde said...

Good points John. I read a recent view by (I believe) Warren Buffet stating something parallel, in essence that the bailouts were hurting companies that were doing business fairly and with true accountability. In this regard especially we're witnessing some serious damage to the free market.