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Ripoff Artists

by Neena Louise

I have a really hard time feeling sorry for highly successful television, movie and music artists who claim they are being "ripped off" by the small segment of the public that tries to acquire their works for free.

First it was the actor's strike. The union claimed the strike's purpose was to "protect the little guy". Oh, really? Then why is it that Elizabeth Hurley (a big star) got a slap on the wrist and a relatively small fine for crossing the picket line (though I never actually saw any pickets), yet some poor schmuck of a struggling actor got banned from the union for life because he simply went on an audition during the strike? When he found out about the strike, he didn't return for the callback, but he is still banned for life. This is "protecting the little guy"??? And am I supposed to feel sorry for big stars with multi-million-dollar paychecks while starving artists just get hungier? Puh-leeze!

Now I see that recording artists are organizing themselves to "protect their interests". I can understand them wanting to protect the ownership of their own music, but protecting their paychecks? Considering many television stars make $500,000+ a week, movie tickets cost around $10, CDs cost around $20, concert tickets run from $50 for a nose-bleed seat to $1000+ for a prime seat, cable and satellite can be $100 a month, and I have a very hard time being sympathetic. Knowing that the artists themselves have little or no control over what entertainment companies charge doesn't make me any more sympathetic when I hear them snivel about the marauding public that's out to send them to the poorhouse by using the Internet or stealing cable/satellite signals.

It was the same "we're not going to get paid" whining I heard in the '70s when audio cassettes became popular. The same scare-mongering story I heard in the '80s when VCRs became popular. The same "oh woe is us" story I heard in the '90s when CD burners became popular. Now it's the Internet and DVDs. I don't know what they're so afraid of. People who want free entertainment are going to get it one way or another, no matter what is done to deter them. That's the way it's always been. The internet, CD burners, DVD burners, VCRs, audiocassettes...none of these technologies has slammed artists into the poorhouse (nor will they).

I would think artists would be better served by embracing new technologies and using them as a tool to improve and promote their work, rather than impotently criticizing them. If these artists are so bound and determined to protect their livelihoods, then they should concentrate on putting out quality entertainment, not snivel about a few dollars. True artists don't care much about making big bucks, anyway. The ones that seem to complain the most are established artists that seem to feel the millions they already make isn't enough, and curse anyone who can't afford to see their concerts/movies or buy their CDs/DVDs/videos. They seem to have forgotten (if they ever even cared) how hard the average person has to work to have enough discretionary income to spend on entertainment. Shame on them. It might be gum money for them, but it's a sacrifice to others - a sacrifice they line the artists' and companies' pockets with. These aren't true artists at all - they're just greedy.

Though it's true that many artists are at the mercy of the companies that back them and often must do what they are told in order to get paid at all, it doesn't mean they have to stand for it once they are established. If the public loves them, and they truly care about their craft, speaking out against the big business behind them (which the public generally despises anyway) isn't going to ruin their careers. There is the exception (as always) of that whacked-out nut job Michael Jackson in his very public criticism of Sony, but Jackson is such a freak that he doesn't seem to realize he is the biggest has-been since Liz Taylor. So that doesn't count. Generally, I've heard very little complaining about the backing companies - all I've heard from many (though certainly not all) successful actors and musicians is sniveling about how the public is ripping them off. I guess they have forgotten who made them successful in the first place.

I, for one, highly resent the assumption that I - as an entertainment-buying member of the public - am a thief, making a concerted effort to rip them off any way I can. That's just not reality. Sure, many download an MP3 or two, but most people I know do this as a "sample before you buy" tactic, rather than a "tee-hee, I can get this for free" thing. Case in point: I finally made the plunge and bought a DVD player. However, I was most distressed when I realized my 13-year-old Triniton lacked the necessary video jacks to hook it up. But I have a relatively new VCR with video jacks, so I hooked the DVD player up that way. No good. DVDs are protected and most cannot be viewed through a VCR. Because, of course, I'm going to make dozens of copies on my VCR and sell them on the street. Puh-leeze! I just want to watch the DVD I just shelled out thirty bucks for. I have no intention of making any copies and/or selling them and I highly resent the implication that I am. So now I have to watch DVDs on my 13-inch office TV while I decide if I'm going to allow myself to be forced to buy a new television - just because the video company thinks I'm a thief. I am incensed.

I've said it time and time again: develop something good, and the audiences (and revenues) will follow. Put out crap and no amount of technology (or lack thereof) will save it. They ought to stop complaining about money and go back to creating quality - you really can't do both. The lust for the Almighty Dollar seriously detracts from the creative process and if these people want to call themselves "artists", they should stop trying so hard to be tycoons.
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