Tabarrok on Hollywood, Screenwriters and Alienation: Nice Theory in Theory

GMU economist, MR blogger and brother of a film producer Alex Tabarrok writes:
Although Hollywood does sometimes produce leftist films like "Reds," it has no deep love for socialism [...].

But Hollywood does share Marx's concept of alienation, the idea that under capitalism workers are separated from the product of their work and made to feel like cogs in a machine rather than independent creators. The lowly screenwriter is a perfect illustration of what Marx had in mind—a screenwriter can pour heart and soul into a screenplay only to see it rewritten, optioned, revised, reworked, rewritten again and hacked, hacked and hacked by a succession of directors, producers and worst of all studio executives. A screenwriter can have a nominally successful career in Hollywood without ever seeing one of his works brought to the screen. Thus, the antipathy of filmmakers to capitalism is less ideological than it is experiential. Screenwriters and directors find themselves in a daily battle between art and commerce, and they come to see their battle against "the suits" as emblematic of a larger war between creative labor and capital.

That's a nice little theory, but it has the central weakness of explaining to much: I bet the average movie character laments alienation more than the average GMU economist, but compared to real life, in which most people have jobs they don't particularly like and tend to "feel like cogs in a machine rather than independent creators" because the former describes them better than the latter, alienation plays a small role in Hollywood films. (Perhaps Hollywood screenwriters write lots of alienation into their scripts only for "the suits" to take it out again?) By way of contrast, you see it quite a bit in state-subsidized European films.

Most social scientists need to get out more, and I don't mean to the movies. Let's start by taking their cars away.

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