Through the White Looking Glass: How People of Color are Portrayed by Hollywood

Just this past week a well-intentioned look at racial relations hit the theaters, Black or White. No sooner did it make it’s critical review debuts than did people in the film community begin to take notice of its very white point-of-view. In her brilliant piece in Forbes on the film, and how it dangerously waddles into “white savior” territory, Rebecca Theodore (@FilmFatale_NYC on twitter) notes the following:

The movie is chock full of Black tropes and stereotypes…“Black or White” practices the same type of lopsided storytelling where Elliot’s alcoholism is contextualized with the death of his wife, yet the Black characters are devoid of any kind of complexity or humanity. While Elliot harbors very bigoted views, his thoughts and actions are still framed with a sympathetic gaze while the Jeffers family is essentially penalized for their own family dysfunction and deemed unworthy of raising Eloise.

When the creators tried to promote the film with the hashtag #LoveKnowsNoColor – many reacted with similar disdain, recalling how it is avoiding the discussion of color and resulting prejudice altogether. It is in avoiding this topic of race/color that creates so much discomfort and misunderstanding. To say there is no color is exemplary of how for whites, it’s not about color, because whites are not qualified by the color of their skin by society at large, they are not “people of color.” White people don’t fear being stopped by police, or having people lock their car doors as they pass, because for them, there is no color. To deny the topic of color is the epitome of white privilege.

And this is the problem, these well intentioned films get filtered through the White point-of-view. These progressives are essentially the white-savior types themselves, attempting to educate people on a topic they themselves barely understand. And it is in this misunderstanding that people like Ms. Theodore note is just as problematic as blatant discrimination and prejudice.

But how and why does this even happen? Simply because most films are written by White people, commissioned by White people, directed by White people and marketed largely by White people. More specifically, by White people who before their time in big cities home to many media companies, had very little interaction with the Black community.

Allow me to contextualize my own authorial bias. I am a native of the five boroughs of New York City. Unlike many of the Midwestern transplants and folks that come from homogenous White townships and counties to places like New York and Los Angeles, I grew up in an ethnic enclave of many races, religions and beliefs. Flushing, New York is probably one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in New York City. I grew up with “Black friends” just as I did with Italian friends, Chinese friends, Irish friends, German friends, British friends …only I never called them my “black friends” any more than I called my Italian friends “my Italian friends.” I don’t think White people realize how ridiculous they sound when they qualify someone by their background in one context, but never for other white people.

The problem with onscreen representation of People of Color is not just that it is filtered through a White Point of View, but an ignorant one. I don’t believe it is intentionally ignorant, but until we have a serious conversation about race and how where we come from shapes that impact, I don’t believe we will overcome this racial tension and bias. You may be well-intentioned, but when you come from a small town with a >2% Black population in the whole county to Hollywood, you are unintentionally biased by your own upbringing.

“No, not me, I am racially tolerant!” folks may say. This is the problem, instead of getting defensive, try and listen for once, try and see the other point of view instead of looking at the topic through your own White looking glass defense. I want people to really question the way they view folks of color. I want people to really think about when they moved to the city, who did they hang out with? Other folks from the same state, probably from similar economic backgrounds, but most importantly: other White people. I look at these folks, and see people scared of their own progressive White shadow. They really have hid from the fact that they have no concept of what it means to be Black in America, or what growing up in a racially diverse community is like. They are White, their POV is White, they only know White – specifically 98% White.

This film should be a calling-card for diversity in Hollywood. We need to have more point’s of view behind the scenes in order to have a more impactful and sincere version of our diverse culture. We need more films written by POC, directed by POC, promoted by POC. The main force behind the film, the screenwriter/director of Black or White grew up in a town with a .91% Black population!  Not even 1%!!!! The producer grew up in suburban Alabama, which needs no introduction to race. The star, Kevin Costner, grew up in suburban (mostly White) California. All three men are middle-aged, and White. Their POV is middle aged and white.

Of course the other issue here is that you don’t want to typecast POC into only writing/sharing culture about themselves. Why is it someone who grew up in a town with less than 1% Black population can write about Blacks, but a Black man or woman is mostly reserved for “re-writing Black characters” or “Black comedies?” We definitely need to see a more authentic POV, but the other problem is in the way Hollywood typecasts career roles for one race, but not the other.

Lets get real about racial representation on film. The same goes for one-dimensional women, damsel in distress, rescued by smart man tropes for female characters written by guys. Diversity isn’t just common sense, it helps paint a more true/diverse picture of our greatest cultural export: film/TV. And oh, by the way, it sells pretty well too. If that cultural export is largely filtered through the White Looking Glass, then we are doomed to only be sharing a small sliver of our cultural bias: the White male POV. So today, whether you are a creative or not, step outside your comfort zone and ask questions, listen and stop getting defensive. Improving diversity begins with learning how to exit your own unrealized biases by taking those important steps toward understanding.

American Sniper, Selma & American’s Love for Revisionist History

A week after the Academy announcements and American Sniper has made nearly $200m domestic. The snubbed Selma has made only $35m in a similar period of release albeit with significantly less theaters in wide release. There’s no question that the awards buzz around Sniper coupled with an excellent trailer/marketing campaign put a lot of butts in the seat. However, Selma has a close to 100% Fresh rating, and it was still nominated for Best Picture. Why haven’t more people gone to see Selma, and why is Sniper, also a non-fiction prestige piece, so much more succesful? Perhaps it has something to do with the way Hollywood and thus American culture looks at revisionist history.

There’s a scene in American Sniper that shows Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) and his wife (Sienna Miller) watching the tragedy of September 11th, 2001 unfold on television. Almost immediately thereafter we fast-forward in narrative to the Iraq War. In his controversial piece on American war films as fairy tales & folk lore, Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi noted that this narrative seemed to suggest the two were related. Of course, any student of recent history or those of us paying attention know that they are not related at all.

We invaded Iraq under false pretenses. Whatever your opinion of Chris Kyle, he was not fighting for our freedoms the way some would like to suggest. He was merely a pawn in a modern day game of thrones, one delicately orchestrated by Cheney and his private contractor agenda. While Bin Laden escaped to Pakistan after 9/11, unscathed for nearly a decade until his death, nearly 5,000 American troops died in a distraction war. Anyone who supports the troops and sought revenge for 9/11 should be deeply disturbed by that.

Instead, Sniper skips over all the controversies of the Iraq War and instead focuses on Kyle and his record number of “savages” killed. Savages of course being the token word used by Kyle in his book telling the tale of his record number of kills. Most disturbingly, that when one sniper began to approach his number, he magically found a way to outdo him, racking up several more. Did fate really seem to give him that opportunity, or was Kyle so engrossed in this psychopathic competition that he chose to kill innocents too? Nobody denies that his job was hard, I won’t agree with Michael Moore that snipers are cowards. I will agree with the criticism that this film seems to glorify and portray sympathetically a person who by all DSM V definitions is a psychopath. Nobody enjoys killing, even where it is part of their job; anyone who would kill with a smile on their face is a psychopath.

So the criticism lamented at Sniper is that it takes a simplistic look at the Iraq War to the point of moral hazard and historical revision. Furthermore it makes a hero out of a very controversial figure. Yet, America has reacted with jingoist fervor, calling it one of the best films of the year. Taibbi and others have been criticized as anti-American, pussies, liberal America haters and many other insults for daring to criticize the dangerous revisionist look at the topic front and center of the film. It is almost as if we are back in 2003 debating what the world and many here at home have come to call a wrongful war in violation of international law.

Meanwhile, nobody seems to talk about Selma and how it actually tries to correct revisionist history. We are taught here in America growing up that Lyndon B. Johnson was an ally of the civil rights movement with the passage of the 1965 Civil Rights Act. What we don’t learn is that the decision to pass this bill was not an overnight consideration. What makes Selma so good is that it undoes this sympathetic look at LBJ and others by showcasing how hard it really was to convince white men in power that Black lives mattered. It had to come to daily showcases of violence to the point where White America became outraged to get DC to act. This isn’t an anti-LBJ film as some smear campaigns want to suggest, it is an honest look at a man who struggled to come to terms with what he knew was right but in the face of political realities could not come to act on soon enough. Furthermore, Selma shows how DC was also monitoring King and his movement through the FBI. These orders came from Hoover, Johnson and others from the Dixiecrat South.

No, it’s not nice to imagine that our president was unsympathetic of racial issues until political inconvenience made him act. However it is the truth. 1965 was a time of racial upheaval in America, where it was more normal to hold racial prejudices than to not hold them. In 2015, the smear campaigns have tried to paint Selma as historical revision from a Black point of view, and I believe that has kept people out of theaters.

Whereas American Sniper makes it’s revisionist look at recent history the center-point of it’s successful campaign, Selma accused of the same historical revisions has kept people away. Of course any historical scholar will tell you that Selma is more historically accurate with its subject than Sniper is. That’s telling because on the one hand, Selma takes an unflattering view of history, correcting our nations revisionist telling of the LBJ-MLK story, American Sniper takes a fairy tale look at an unflattering point of our history by essentially revising it through a jingoist lens.

From an early age we are taught to pledge allegiance to America, to uphold the ideas and values of American exceptionalism. We constantly compare our nation favorably to the way things are done in other nations, and take a sympathetic and often revisionist view to our nation’s deeply dark and troubled history. No country is free from historical turmoil. Yet it seems that here in America we like to portray ourselves as holier art than thou. The rest of the world sees this and point to our numerous hypocrisies from our ideas about Democracy to citizens privacy, civil and human rights.

The way we choose to look at our nation through the lens of exceptionalism and ethnocentrism prevents us from being open to an honest look at our history. The indoctrination by our corporate media and educational system prevents us from getting an honest perspective on the truth. The truth is sometimes pretty ugly. And in the case of history as entertainment, it seems most people prefer the fairy tale version of it.

Martin Scorsese’s SELMA

It’s just before everyone in town leaves LA for the holidays. The freeways are actually moving (well sort of). The line at the coffee shop is noticeably shorter. The assistant has less than 150 emails in their inbox on a Monday morning. Nobody feels like working, but there’s still some work to be done…

Martin Scorsese recently wrapped up his Martin Luther King Jr. biopic, SELMA. Unfortunately, the film has exited post-production too late and will miss some of the awards nomination voting deadlines.

Paramount has apologized, and said there will be no screeners because of this. And that was that.

Only it wasn’t, among those 150 emails this morning was a vitriolic rant from Scorsese’s people. “If you don’t get a screener out to the Guilds before Christmas it will be your head on my plate at Christmas dinner.”

That was the first of many such rants. The folks at Paramount then began to scramble. Scorsese’s people demand that screeners still be given out, after all there’s still the PGA nominations and most importantly the Academy Awards. If no screener is given to the DGA members, how will Scorsese return to Oscar glory?!

Thankfully everyone worked together and Paramount was able to get out screeners before SELMA’s limited release on Christmas Day. The film ranked highly among the PGA’s nominations for best picture of the year, and Scorsese is poised to take home the Best Director statue according to industry trades. A leader in best picture, and a monumental achievement for all involved.

Except that’s not at all how it happened.

SELMA is the brilliant work of indie director Ava Duvernay, a black woman. Prior to SELMA, she was known for taking home the Director Award from the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Despite showing immense talent and becoming the first black woman to be nominated for a Best Director Golden Globe, her and her film have failed to garner many other nominations.

While the Globe’s news is great, SELMA and its achievements are noticeably missing from the PGA nominations, often considered a predictor for Best Picture of the Year at the Academy Awards. Unlike the hypothetical Scorsese story, Duvernay’s people never apparently pushed hard for the release of a screener. Paramount never seemingly tried to get a copy out to those who vote in the Academy Awards and for other important accolades.

As a result of not trying to produce a screener copy, people have been left to either see the film in theaters or at Guild/Private screenings. Not enough people saw SELMA to actually vote for it, and so it has been left off of many important ballots.

As of it’s nation-wide release, still no screener copies have been made available to the Guilds. The deadline for Academy Award voting ended January 8th, 2015.

The entitlement among many in Hollywood is that “no screener, equals no vote.” This is especially hypocritical among an industry that strongly equates lost ticket sales to free views of films. While I will not equate film piracy with screener viewership, I find it deeply hypocritical that industry folks would themselves not champion their own advice of monetarily supporting art with a ticket purchase.

The result unfortunately is that SELMA will struggle to gain enough support for a Best Director nomination, or Best Picture. If it does secure these nominations, it remains unseen as to whether or not there will still be enough people to see the film to submit final votes of nominees by February 15th, 2015.

This is a classic case of double standards. If it were Scorsese’s film, I have no doubt that more would have been done to get a screener made up and distributed. And I say this not because he is a white man, and Ava is a black woman, but because of how Hollywood bends over to the established.

The problem with this double standard is that where the establishment is largely white and male, this negatively affects those who are not. If we treat Scorsese differently than Ava because of his pedigree, then we have automatically contributed to a double standard, whether it be racially motivated or not.

Unfortunately the result is potentially a racially dubious outcome in that a black woman may be left off of the Academy Awards ballots, denied her chance at making history.

We as an industry need to be a lot more concerned with how we treat new talent coming up. If we are to preach that it is truly a meritocracy, then women and people of color will be championed as often and as much as their white male colleagues. SELMA has shown this is not the case. The Black List, where film executives list of their favorite unproduced screenplays, had less then 10% females on the list. Could it be that more men’s scripts are circulating around town and promoted over women and people of color’s specs? The Black List seems to suggest that yes, that is the case.

The industry contributes to a double standard because it absolutely does not equally promote, rep and fight for women/people of color the way it does white men, especially established white men.

If SELMA is left off of Academy ballots, Hollywood will have no one to blame but themselves and their double standards. And perhaps in a parallel universe, Scorsese would have walked home with another Oscar.

Why Aren’t More Men in Hollywood Mentoring Females?

It’s no question that when it comes to breaking into the film/TV industry it’s not only what you know, it’s who you know. Increasingly young talented individuals with promise net their opportunities through networking and finding a position as an assistant in order to gain valuable insight into the business. Alternately, others seek counsel, advice and feedback from esteemed members of the film and television community. While many various forms of mentorship exist, one form of this practice barely does: males mentoring females.

I don’t need to re-post the litany of studies showing gender and racial discrepancies in “above the line” positions in Hollywood. By now I’d imagine most are familiar with the gaping statistics between male/female opportunities in writing, directing and producing roles.

Many experts contend that the best way to provide for more diversity is to increase the mentorship of young women and people of color. If more women and people of color are mentored by those in power (the majority of those people being white men) then it stands to reason that more women and people of color would get opportunities to advance.

Unfortunately, the reality is much different.

A recent study conducted by The Harvard Business Review over a period of several years tracked male and female mentorship of individuals with MBAs in top firms across the country. The study concluded that while females got a lot of mentorship, they struggled to be promoted as often as the men who were also mentored. The study noted a trend of perpetual mentorship of women that rarely resulted in suggested placement, or sponsorship.

The study suggested that instead of mentorship, programs in corporate settings should be more focused on sponsorship than perpetual advice-giving.

HBR notes:

Men and women alike say they get valuable career advice from their mentors, but it’s mostly men who describe being sponsored. Many women explain how mentoring relationships have helped them understand themselves, their preferred styles of operating, and ways they might need to change as they move up the leadership pipeline. By contrast, men tell stories about how their bosses and informal mentors have helped them plan their moves and take charge in new roles, in addition to endorsing their authority publicly.

This seems true of Hollywood as well, whereas most women tend to remain perpetual assistants, more often than not it is men who are referred for development executive positions or other promotions that women see less of.

The more troubling trend in Hollywood is that few white men actually mentor women or people of color to begin with. In his blistering critique of Hollywood and race, Chris Rock noted being given his chance by Black comics. Rock in turn noted how he tries to help other up and coming Black artists. Talk to many women, and the result is the same, women helping other women.

Rarely do you hear of the times when white men step up to mentor and sponsor women. There are several possible reasons for this trend, but one seems to come up most frequently: sexual attraction.

Each time the question is asked, “how come more men aren’t mentoring women,” men in the business say it’s because they don’t want to murky the boundary between professionalism and personal relationships. The gross assumption is that because of the amount of time spent together, it is assumed the woman may develop romantic feelings for her mentor. An interesting conversation to that effect occurred on twitter a month back where a notable screenwriter critiquing the practice noted, “there must be certain landmines to avoid,” referring of course to sexual relationships. Another writer/comic took it a step further saying some men don’t mentor women because “men are creeps.” The conversation in full can be read here.

I find these assumptions most unfortunate, but in a business full of attractive people and rampant flirtation and sexual advances, it does not shock me. Most women at one time or another have felt they were victims of unwanted sexual advances. Other women have even felt attracted to their mentor, or professional colleague and have willingly engaged in a sexual relationship. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find my own former mentor extremely attractive, and that I would be hard pressed to turn him down if it ever came to that.

Unfortunately, this power dynamic is one that also can encourage abuse or unwarranted assumptions. Even where two people are perfectly capable of having a casual sexual relationship and maintaining professional courtesy, this rarely ends well for the woman. For one, people will likely find out and that looks worse on the woman’s part, professionally speaking, than the mans. Another reason is women more often then men are assumed to find emotional attachment in the act, and so men get defensive as a result.

The easy advice to give here is to avoid such a professional/romantic entanglement. The better advice here would be to suggest folks merely act like adults.

This shouldn’t even be a valid excuse. To assume women shouldn’t be mentored by men because of sexual tension or attraction is absurd. In the 21st century to even be having conversations like the one linked to above is frankly asinine. Yet in Hollywood it is probably the biggest excuse for men not mentoring more women. It is almost analogous to the 60s, where some men would avoid hiring attractive secretaries because of their wife, or that some men would get rid of women they’ve slept with after they felt the woman was becoming too clingy. It’s almost like an episode of Mad Men, except it’s no longer 1965. But yet it’s still always the woman’s fault, and the woman pays the price.

Ultimately, whatever ridiculous excuses are given, the stats reflect a growing gap between male and female mentorship and subsequent opportunities.  If we are to change things we need to put all cultural assumptions and excuses aside and tell the white men in power to help those underrepresented. We cannot just leave it to statistical minorities to mentor other statistical minorities. If that were the case, the stats would never change. While it is no doubt easier as a white guy to promote and champion the kid who’s “just like me,” that only continues to restrict opportunities for people who are not white, upper-middle class men. I’m not sure there’s any easy answer to this problem, but I do believe it begins with white men actually taking action to live up to their vocal support for diversity. It’s time for white men to actually mentor those underrepresented in the Hollywood community, and stop leaving it to be the problem of other underrepresented artists and leadership figures.

No Sony and Charlie Hebdo Attack are Not Comparable

After a long, humiliating two weeks of embarrassing internal data leaked by the Sony hackers, the saga appeared to take a somber tone. Despite no mention of North Korea in the hackers initial contact, after weeks of press speculation, the hackers followed up with a threat, a violent threat – remove The Interview from theaters, or face a 9/11 style attack on theaters.

After Sony gave theater chains the option to yank the title, many followed through with that option, pulling the film. Not long after, the FBI came forth with less than circumstantial evidence blaming North Korea – this in spite of many security experts pointing to strong evidence of an inside job (including chat room communications and former employees with access/motive). Running with the FBI’s insistence on a Nation State attack, Hollywood took to social media to mourn like a post-9/11 community all in spite of no blood spilled.

The offense? That some two-bit dictator could control speech.

Here’s the thing, even if you do accept the North Korea narrative, it was ultimately theater chains who elected to pull the film. It was Sony who suggested (likely against legal pressure) to offer chains the option of doing so. It was Sony, who prior to releasing the film on VOD, that caved to demands. And if scripts with controversial political narratives are avoided in the future, that will be because of corporate self-censorship and a philistine attitude toward art and risk-taking.

Several weeks later the unthinkable happened: 12 people killed because of terrorists taking offense to political cartoons. Three radical Islamist perpetrators stormed the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, killing 12 including several prominent French satirists and cartoonists.

After it became clear that it was religious extremism in response to unflattering satire, many took to champion the right to free expression and the right to create.

Hollywood took it a step further, linking the attacks on Charlie Hebdo to the Koreans alleged attack on Sony. Chris Dodd, chairman of the MPAA, stated in condemning the attacks in Paris “Our industry has experienced firsthand cowardly attempts (to destroy) freedom of speech, and we offer our expression of support.”

The difference is the MPAA openly supports the censorship of content every day with their prude rating system. Corporations will have censored themselves by avoiding politically controversial material in the future. Sony and theater chains pulled The Interview.

Hollywood is a victim of self censorship. Charlie Hebdo is a victim of pursuing a noble art in spite of a Fatwa declared against their artists and publication. Hollywood’s threats ended with unsubstantiated threats made against a bro-comedy which were dismissed by the FBI. Charlie Hebdo never had a warning, 12 died.

Prior to the attack, in spite of receiving death threats, and after a Dutch cartoonist nearly paid for his life because he portrayed the Prophet Mohammed in print, Charlie Hebdo cartoonists like Jean Cabut, still went to work to create their political satire; their art. The French continue to push boundaries creatively, and do not cower before corporate pressure or radical views aimed against their work.

So sorry to those who side with the widely circulated Variety article linking the two incidents together, but they are NOT AT ALL comparable.

If anything, perhaps the true artists in Hollywood and beyond will look to be inspired by the courage shown by these artists. Perhaps we should be taking a stand against self censorship, not caving to it. True art persists in spite of forces against it. Free speech is speech that remains undiluted in the face of corporate or religious censorship. True art was attacked today, and true art is what should be celebrated, not some poor attempt to selfishly draw a correlation between major events.

The Walmartification of America

The greatest threat to the economic and cultural well-being of this country is the “Walmartification” of America. Businesses getting larger at the expense of small business, workers & consumer choice. Sure it may seem that TV at WalMart is reasonably priced, but we pay for it in multiple ways beyond the $500 in physical cash.

Every election year we hear politicians scrambling to pander to middle class voters about bringing back manufacturing jobs, and reviving good old-fashioned American labor. Here’s the thing – those jobs are never coming back, so it’s time we stop pretending that they will.

Competing with this political narrative is the “pro-small business” narrative. The politicians love the small business buzzword, because it reminds people of small town America, the little company that could. Here’s the issue with that, most politicians don’t share the same understanding of that definition. A small business according to our government is one with up to 1500 employees and as much as $35 Million in revenue!

Meanwhile, most small businesses lining Main Streets across the country lie shuttered and vacant in the looming shadows of WalMarts, Targets and Best Buys. We have no choice any more. If it’s not at Walmart, it’s at Target. If it’s not at Target, it’s maybe at Best Buy. Meanwhile all this shit comes from the same factory farms in China. We have but the illusion of consumer choice; a bunch of big box retailers with the same cheap stuff.

It doesn’t stop at big box retailers either, it transcends to our cultural output as well. Hollywood studios today comprise part of major conglomerates. Time Warner, Sony, Disney, Fox and Viacom own nearly all of the media you consume. They are all voracious consumers of intellectual property rights (like comic book rights) and lock up these rights to produce the same re-spun media for you to consume. No longer can you find a film like The Godfather at the movies – it’s all special effects heavy actioners with budgets of $200 Million and marketing budgets to match. There is no money left over for risk taking, and this is very much by design.

The root of a lot of these problems lie with an MBA mentality of obsessive balance sheet watching & quarterly profits pursuits. No amount of money is ever good enough, these companies are forever hungry for more. So these companies find ways to squeeze out growth even where their products aren’t selling as much year-over-year. How do they do this? Layoffs and outsourcing. Wage reduction. Who does this reward? Shareholders and senior management. Everyone else be damned. And it’s worked perfectly too, the Dow Jones has soared since the recession. Meanwhile in 2014, the stratification between the rich and the poor is worse than it’s ever been.

The only place left to shop is WalMart or it’s variations, because the people can no longer afford to have choice as small businesses have been wiped off the map by large retailers and outsourced labor. The government dutifully plays it’s part with an annual average of $400 Billion worth of tax-breaks and subsidies such as rural ground-breaking opportunities for WalMarts and Targets that Small Business could never qualify for.

America is no longer the land of opportunity the way it once was. These companies that started off small now run the show with government lobbying. They make it hard for any business to compete against them. Even laws that sound good in theory, like the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act benefit Goldman Sachs more than the fledgeling investment firm, because they can afford the capital requirements, legal hires to navigate the new climate, as well as the fees when things go wrong. We have created so much bureaucracy, taxation and special interest carve-outs that small businesses cannot afford to compete with established companies. This too is by design.

Small Business cannot afford to survive in America, and if that is the case, then innovation cannot survive either.

We are at a critical point in our nations history. The rapid Walmartification of America since the recession has left us with depleted consumer choice, stagnant wages and ghost towns across the heartland of this country. The average American is witness to close to 2500-5000 ads per day (or 1.8 Million per year). Most of these ads are also from the same few companies with increasingly stratified control of our economy and consumption options. We are left constantly wanting to buy, buy, buy – and from student loans to home loans and credit card debt we’ve become slaves to banks and debt collectors.

So what are the solutions? It’s two-pronged really.

1. Consumer Power

We may not have a lot of choice, but we can be smarter about how and where we spend our money.

In spite of less choice, small businesses have been able to pop up here and there and we should lend them our support even if their products cost a bit more. The extra money you spend is supporting freedom of choice, innovation and American jobs.

How much stuff do we really need? What year is your phone from? Or your television? Did your old device work? If so, why did you replace it? We are constantly replacing stuff that works even though we don’t need it. While planned obsolescence is certainly a strategy on part of these large corporations, we can at least invest in quality and hold onto it for longer than two years. Europeans certainly seem to do this, I saw more iPhone 3GS models than 6’s in Paris (November 2014). Living within our means could shave off extensive credit card debt and provide financial peace of mind.

Stop supporting crappy entertainment sequels. You cannot complain about lack of originality while purchasing tickets to Spider Man. Support an Indie Production, or the awards-grabbing prestige pics like The Imitation Game or Inherent Vice instead. Support films with a diverse cast and projects made with and by women and people of color. If all these studios do is study balance sheets for shareholders, show them the sort of films you want to see by refusing to buy into pre-established franchises.

2. Technology

Silicon Valley is probably the last refuge of American innovation. With far less restrictions and regulation on the internet than in the physical marketplace, start-ups continue to grow from small ideas to game-changing companies and applications.

Entertainment produced via crowd-sourcing and direct input from consumers, using analytics provided by new data analysis tools that gauge user preferences online can create new niches and better aimed programming. Bypassing archaic distribution structures like multiple release windows & physical theaters may allow for filmmakers to control more of their product and create more freely outside traditionally stale-minded corporations.

Education and open-source access to materials can provide intellectual growth and excitement, like new digital libraries. Reform our copyright law to make it work as a temporary license and not a perpetual property right from which to extort ludicrous fees. A more reasonable approach to IP law could see a renaissance in derivative inspiration of works and access to software that teaches and enlightens.

The only way all this innovation can work to correcting a stale climate is by keeping away the corporations and their lobbying efforts to regulate our internet. SOPA, PIPA and various efforts at anti-Net Neutrality are ways that the corporations can control information, access to it and deplete choice and stifle innovation to preserve their profits. We cannot allow the Walmartification to continue into the online sphere. Nothing these companies and their PR agendas and purchased legislators say has substance other than their true intentions: kill off this source innovation and competition.

The internet and technological innovation is the small business economy of America – and the world. The internet is the way to solve societies problems. Free and open access to the tools of technology is the seed that sows new ideas and great things from it. It is the last bastion of true creativity, freedom of ideas and communication and businesses that have changed our lives. It is the last true source of competition, direct user feedback and input and a true capitalist economy. So don’t let the corporatism advocates take that away. Because then Walmartification is all we shall have.