Understanding Late Stage Capitalism

Late Stage Capitalism is a socioeconomic theory which maintains that Capitalism is an historically limited stage. Proponents of this theory suggest that eventually the pragmatic rational decision making of capital economies will result in hyper-conglomeratization, lack of competition, automation and a redistribution of resources and wealth to those who already have the most capital. If this sounds familiar, it is because this historically limited stage has run its course; capitalism is no longer the most efficient economic model on earth. As the term suggests we are currently living in the end stages of this economic system.

Political scientist and author Frederic Jameson wrote a book about this term in 1991, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. In his book, Jameson noted that the late stage of capitalism would come to dominate human beings – it is a moment where low and high art collapse, culminating in the postmodern consumerist stage where everything is commodified and consumable. Everything is for sale, and a few businesses begin to emerge as those who wish to sell you everything (Amazon, Walmart). In fact, most of what we buy and watch in the media is owned by one of less than ten conglomerates, as alluded to in the infographic featured above.

Some examples of this trend include conglomerates merging and buying up smaller companies to fold into their brand. Disney bought Marvel and Lucasfilm. They also own half the content you watch on television, including ESPN. Outside entertainment it is Amazon, who recently purchased Whole Foods, Ltd. For $13 billion in an effort to get into the grocery business in addition to selling just about everything else imaginable– and it is of course an entertainment content creator too. Yet it began as an online book store.

As rational economics suggest, these actors make decisions rationally, that is they make choices on the basis of sound logical principal in accordance with self interest. Businesses will make decisions rationally in order to expand value and increase market share in order to benefit share holders and themselves. It is this strict adherence to rational economics which also supports the theory that Capitalism is an historically limited stage.

Rational economics is not the best distributor of resources. In the early stages of capitalism there were many markets. Someone created a product, brought that product to market and those with means exchanged something of value in order to obtain it. When a competitor emerged with a similar product, it created competition. With competition, the market for a particular good or item would fall because there was ample supply of it. Since Capitalism adheres to rational decision making based on supply and demand, eventually these markets would be consolidated to better control prices in accordance with self interest. In order to act in self interest, many of these good-makers decided to merge and reap the benefits of lower costs of production, and higher profits for themselves. The result is less competition, higher prices, lower wages and extreme wealth inequality.

Capitalism is a ruthless system which does not care for the well being of its economic participants apart from those with the most means. It does not distribute resources efficiently because it was never designed to.

Case in point the global affordable housing crisis. A week ago, Grenfell Tower, a public housing complex in North Kensington burned to the ground killing around 100 people. The cause of the fire is not immediately known, but the lack of safety measures is. As the supply of valuable property in London and other major cities becomes scarce, investors moved in as rational decision makers looking to capitalize on real estate investment. The result is hundreds and thousands of properties taken off the market to act as land banks– investment properties, AirBnB rentals, and vacation homes for the rich both at home, and especially abroad. Instead of hearing Grenfell residents concerns, Kensington and Chelsea acted in accordance with rational theory as well. They chose to put the concerns of developers first and install cheaper flammable cladding to the Tower complex in an effort to save £5,000 and make the public unit look nicer to neighboring affluent residents which in turn raises more revenue. Not once did the Council or its contractors make a decision with the safety of its poorer residents in mind!

Rational decision making cares about one thing and one thing only – maximizing profit by reducing costs and acting with the benefits of the company or individual in mind. Nowhere in that calculation is labor, or negative externality considered. It is not to the benefit of the capital class to distribute resources to those with less. It is not to the benefit of the capital class to spend more to prevent negative externalities. The only thing which can do that is public policy.

What do we consider rights?

Is access to affordable and safe housing a right? Is it reasonable to make sure that those living in a given city have access to such housing before investment properties and those looking to make a quick buck off AirBnB? Should we tax or restrict investment properties in given cities where vacancy rates are low, and cost is too high? Is it reasonable to have housing that is safe and up to code?

Is access to affordable education a right? Is it reasonable to reduce the cost of college, including private elite universities so that middle and lower class residents can compete on the merits against wealthier students without burdensome loans? Should unpaid internships be made illegal so that those who cannot afford to work for free get the same experience early in their careers as those who can?

Is healthcare a right? Should we make a profit off of those who are sick or should we subsidize medicine and health services so that we can reduce cost and better distribute resources to those most in need regardless their economic background?

Is a clean and green environment a right? Should we place regulations to restrict polluting industries from contaminating the local community and furthering the climate change crisis? Should we take steps to prohibit certain products and methods of resource exploration to preserve life on earth and the safety of local communities?

Is access to financial products with clarity a right? Should we regulate capital markets so that institutions do not act without the well-being of their clients in mind? Should financial advisors be held to high standards and accuracy, and make decisions with their clients in mind? Should certain financial institutions have faster access to trading floors, which enable them to rig the market in their favor? Should roughly ten companies own everything we buy?

These questions must be answered by public policy makers. Late stage capitalism does not distribute resources efficiently because it is only concerned with self-interest. Therefore a capitalist market is not good at self-regulating itself and leading to the best possible outcomes for all. The logical culmination of this theory is mass inequality, lack of opportunity, fewer choices and the commodification of every aspect of life.

However not everything should be commodified. If we believe in meritocracy, we must make and lobby for policy which makes sure that resources are distributed in a more equitable manner. We must protect aspects of our society which unregulated capital markets do not value; such as the environment, the arts and those with less means to provide for themselves. We must encourage policy makers to take automation seriously, and make plans for a post-work economy. Finally, we must come to the conclusion that while Capitalism has done a lot of good for our world, it is no longer the most efficient system for all. It is time to look at what comes next, and how best to implement policy that respects both those at the top and at the bottom; a system which is equitable and based on merit. Late stage capitalism is a turning point in human history. Where we head next is up to the people and the world they want to see. It will be a tough fight, but it is a fight worth having – it is a fight for the future, and for a better world than the one we live in today.

How Do You Measure Progress Without Meritocracy?

It goes without saying that Hollywood is not a meritocracy. That’s evident even to those not actively pursuing it as a career. I wanted to focus on dissecting why this is particularly problematic for those without connections. More specifically, I want to see if I can answer the question of: ‘how does one succeed in an industry which is not merit-based?’

Around the time I moved to LA, I leveraged previous professional networks of mine from back in NY to have my resume reviewed by a major talent agency for the coveted agent training program. I quickly followed up, and within two weeks I was attending a recruitment seminar that less than one percent of all applicants get to attend. In a way this seminar is meant to assess whether candidates have what it takes to make a good agent. During panels, you will ask questions of employees all the while both agents and HR will be judging your questions, and general interaction with other candidates, and composure on the campus.

At the end of this two-day event, in which I did all ‘optional’ extra activities (a late night screening which kept us on campus for a total of 12h), I was offered a panel interview. I was the only LA-based candidate to be offered an interview with equity partners. The others all got one because they flew in. Some of my peers didn’t even get an interview weeks later. So this was a good sign. Also a good sign was that my peers considered me to be the strongest candidate. Many complemented me on my questions asked, and general knowledge. I emerged a leader in that recruitment class beyond a doubt. I also aced my panel interview, because I prepared a week in advance and knew how to pitch and confidently sell myself (a vital skill set for an agent). The HR person even gave me a wink of confidence as I left the room.

I felt amazing. I started to act like there was no way I didn’t get it. I truly believed I was on my way.

Three weeks later and my follow ups have gone unanswered. While some of the friends I made during the seminar also haven’t heard back, they never got a panel interview — I did. I was the only candidate not right out of school. At 28, almost 29, I was an average of 7 to 8 years older than my peers with 3 to 4 years of unrelated *paid* industry experience. At most they had internships, granted for top companies, studios and other agencies. We were told we’d hear back within two weeks, which is confirmed by Glassdoor.com in reviews of the whole process by those who got verbal offers. So as of this writing it looks as if I didn’t get the gig.

Shortly after my interview I had lunch with a friend who proffered similar advice to another friend (who herself went through the agency world). Both friends noted that even if I was the best candidate, I may not get the job. I didn’t really accept that because I didn’t want to. They noted sometimes it comes down to favors owed. Perhaps an agent needs to get his friends daughter on board because that friend helped his daughter get a job in another field. Maybe an agent has a family member they need to get a job, or a neighbor. Perhaps by hiring a certain candidate, it could give an agent an in with another company, investor or high net worth individual. All those candidates will be given priority over the best interview performance or the most qualified.

So how does one assess their progress in a system which is not merit based? I was given excellent feedback but still didn’t make the cut. I was considered a leader among my peers, and wasn’t offered a job.

The reality is you can’t assess your progress this way because those things don’t hold weight in a system which is not merit-based. Merit-based indicators therefore hold less weight than external factors such as professional or interpersonal networks and favors owed. Even writers who win contests will be placed lower on the priority scale than a recommend from someone an agent, manager or producer trusts and knows has good taste. Someone that is staffing a department or position will take someone they personally like over the most qualified as well – especially given the long hours spent together in this field.

So any advice peddler who tells you it’s about talent is leaving out critical context – it is about networks, personality and favors owed before talent. Yes to get anywhere you must still work extremely hard and be talented. However, one should still use those merit based indicators to prove to themselves that they are on the right path. I still got a panel interview. I advanced further than thousands of others who never got a reply. I was considered a leader by my peers. A producer has paid me attention for years. Others in the industry have praised my intellect and complimented my writing. People ask to read my work now. I get asked to meet in person (just not by Paris).

Eventually it becomes a numbers game. The more your stick it out, beyond mind numbering rejection, something will eventually pan out. So don’t be discouraged just because you didn’t get a gig, even if it went to someone’s nephew. Why? Because that’s not on you. It is not a reflection of you or your work. While it’s not meritocratic, it’s not a personal failure either. As long as you’re smart, capable and still drawing attention it’s not time to throw in the towel. It’d be a lot different if you got no feedback, or negative feedback. So keep trying and take stock in any positive feedback you get because you’re on the right path at the very least.

It’s not easy to find reasons to keep going in this field. Hollywood is an insanely difficult and very unfair business. It takes a certain charismatic and extraordinarily confident person to keep going despite all the rejection, little to no help and no high level ‘ins’ to the most coveted of jobs (like Agency work which opens doors like no other and is often required experience by many industry employers). So know what you’re up against, an unfair and unmeritocratic business that will punish more than praise you. When it does praise you, take stock in that and know you’re on the right path.

When We Stop Counting

In 2010, Tina Fey accepted the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. She noted that she is only the third woman to have received the most prestigious award in comedy. Instead of celebrating that fact,  she took issue with it and made a hopeful proclamation on the future of this industry:

“I do hope that women are achieving at a rate these days that we can stop counting what number they are at things.”

Before we stop counting, we must start achieving more. Tina understood that. Kathryn Bigelow surely understands that as the only female director to win a best director  Oscar. Acclaimed actress Jessica Chastain definitely understands that, remarking during this years Cannes Film Festival that the lack of female filmmakers has lead to a ‘disturbing’ portrayal of women on screen.

Yet despite the continuation of an ACLU investigation into industry hiring practices and a record low number of women to direct drama pilots in 2017, Hollywood is very good at patting itself on the back for smalls steps forward.

Wonder Woman, directed by critically acclaimed female helmer Patty Jenkins has been a smash success for Warner Bros. and is projected to earn at least $300m domestically. It has been more successful in its second weekend box office haul than both previous DCEU movies, and Suicide Squad. Hollywood is doing laps around its success and patting itself on the back for its feminism.

Yet, Jenkins had to fight against studio pressure to keep what is arguably the most iconic and feminist moment of the film– Wonder Woman’s venture into No Man’s Land. She also had to overcome a lack of publicity and advertising compared to the studios other DCEU films– the film only gained more of a P&A budget after its initial success and has largely gained cultural sensation status through word of mouth.

While the industry continues to loudly proclaim itself feminist for celebrating the success of Wonder Woman, it continues to backslide into old habits. Since WW, I have opened Deadline every day to read about white men with underwhelming resumes attached to studio projects. I read about white men going from epic box office bombs right onto attachments for new projects (the same forgiveness is a luxury rarely afforded to female directors). I have read only one article about a female director attachment, to a small indie thriller.

Film critic Maureen Ryan wrote about this tendency for the industry to backslide on diversity for Variety a few weeks ago— a day before the bow of Wonder Woman. Perhaps it was prophetic, but more likely it is due to the feelings of ‘been there, seen this before.’ Ryan noted regarding the slew of diverse shows recently canceled:

“Hollywood is way too quick to pat itself on the back for the smallest and most overdue steps forward when it comes to diversity, inclusion and representation — and the industry is far, far too quick to let the backsliding begin.”

The backsliding has already begun. In the case of Wonder Woman, as Yogi Berra would say “it’s deja vu all over again!”

Seeing such a huge turn out of women -and men!- for a femal-led and helmed superhero film is hardly surprising to women. What’s also not surprising to women is the understanding that female stars can carry a blockbuster film to success and that there are many talented women directors working, and deserving of the same chance at success.

The only people ever surprised by this are the male executives and predominantly male industry players reluctant to give women a chance in the first place. Yet these same studio executives and insiders are the first to celebrate and count women’s success as evidence that the industry is improving its diversity initiatives. Except it has hardly made a dent in the problem. Worse, the industry has -again- merely used a single feminist/diversity success as a red herring while it continues to fall back into old habits (hire the same white men & men just like them).

This isn’t the time to backslide. It’s the time once and for all to use the success of Jenkins and Wonder Woman to open doors for women of all backgrounds to write, direct, produce and star in major films. It’s time to hire more women below the line. It’s time for men to be more than allies just in words and use their power to actually mentor, support and hire women– not just men like them.

FACTS:

– Women can direct just as well as men.

– Women can star in successful blockbusters.

– Films with and by women make money.

– Women can write just as well as men.

– Women can produce just as effectively as men.

– Women can write and perform comedy just as well as men.

– Women can work in any position in this industry just as well as men.

Like Tina Fey, I’m tired of counting. So lets cut the the BS– talk is cheap. Action is what matters. It’s time to tackle this diversity problem once and for all. There are no excuses left!

 

 

The Curious Adventures of Lord Buckethead

Buckethead

1977, SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND

A three-wheeled Reliant Robin races down the pot-holed roads of Sheffield, England. Police chase after the black Reliant, barely staying upright with each clunking pothole it hits.

“We’ve got the Reliant in sight, over.” The cops close in for a pit maneuver, the cruiser strikes the reliant, sending it tumbling end over end until the heaping clunk of metal rests aside a sign post.

The cops surround the smoldering wreck, closing in on the drivers side when a BEAM OF LIGHT blinds them. A man emerges from the three-wheeler, his face bloodied and disfigured. In his hand, a relic, which emits the light and a HIGH PITCH. The man gathers his strength to speak, “here I have the power which shall defeat the Tories once and for all!”

In an instant, he vanishes. The cops look around at each other in shock…

…The same bright light fades to reveal an operating table. Several aliens, an evolved fungus of sorts, crowd around a surgical bay where the man from the reliant accident is being encased in a black suit. Finally, the alien leading the surgery, King Alienfungus the Sixth lifts a giant black cylindrical helmet– he speaks in clicks and grunts, when translated, “we anoint you Lord Buckethead, leader of the Gremloids, we return you to the year Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Seven to challenge Lord Thatcher, leader of the Conservative Cthulu Party.”

1987, SHEFFIELD.

A light streaks across the sky, a black reliant robin with jet engines activates its reverse thrusters, coming to a landing in the middle of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club. A match comes to a halt as the reliant lands. Lord Buckethead emerges, “fear not fellow men and women of the North, I have come to defeat Lord Thatcher.” The stunned silence is broken as a single can of beer bounces off his helmet. More soon follow.

“Get the fuck off the pitch you bucket muppet!” A rotund supporter shouts from the stands. More BOOs ensue.

“The Gremloids are on the working class side!” Lord Buckethead is determined to win over the crowd, when the lead official walks over and gives him a red card. Stunned, Lord Buckethead head butts the official and quickly enters the Reliant. Fans and players give him the chase.

The black reliant quickly rolls over on exit from the stands, flipping several times over before coming to rest in a pile of trash left over from the strike. With a mob of football fans at his heels, Buckethead rights the reliant before continuing along. More beer cans pelt the rear of the Reliant, when finally he activates jet thrust. The car quickly winds up on its two rear wheels and vanishes.

PLANET GREMLOID.

King Alienfungus the Sixth surveys General Election results. “141 votes, that’s it,” the leader clicks and grunts. He’s visibly upset, apparent even in his alien features. “Cthulhu wins again.”

“Your Leader, we can still convince Madonna to move to England and fake a British accent. She could win more votes, sir.” His footman seems convinced.

1992, ANOTHER FAILED ELECTION

A female servant enters the King’s quarters with a pink Milton Bradley dream phone. Pop music plays from its speakers. “King Alienfungus, it’s for you.”

Buckethead sits in a pub, on his pink dream phone. “King, I am sorry to disappoint we lost against John Major– but my sources say we can expect the second coming of Lord Thatcher in 2017.”

Across the pub, the bartender watches the Lord in his black costume. From a functional telephone of his own, “yes — there’s some loon in a bucket talking to aliens on a toy phone. Send the constable at once.”

A police chase ensues as the local authorities chase Buckethead in his black Reliant, and sure as shit, it is pitted and the rocket Reliant goes off the road and into a pond… and sinks.

LONDON, 2017.

Tourists gather round to watch a streak in the sky, it’s the black Reliant!

“See there Bradley, you said we could go on holiday in Australia the moment Reliants could fly!” Bradley’s middle aged wife beams with happiness before her less than pleased husband.

The Reliant lands atop the Tower of London. Buckethead exits. “Here, here, I am Lord Buckethead, sent by the Gremloids to lead the Party of Gremloid to defeat the agents of Cthulu in the General Election of 2017.”

“He’s a knight,” one tourist notes in Italian.

“What century is his armor from,” beckons another in Chinese.

Later, at a pub, Lord Buckethead takes a seat before a bartender. “Can I see a menu please?” The bartender points to a sign, No Helmets Indoors. “Ah you see I was horribly disfigured in a Reliant accident in 1977.”

The bartender rolls up his trousers to reveal a peg leg. “Me too, crashed into a van in 1976. First round’s on me.”

The press go wild as Buckethead announces his candidacy officially. “Lord Buckethead, where is your title from?” One journalist points a microphone at his helmet.

“It is inherited by ancient fungal aliens who started all life on earth.”

The press are eager to get clickbait headlines, so what the heck– “how can we contact these aliens,” asks a blogger.

“Do you have a Dream Phone,” Buckethead asks.

“A Dream Phone?”

“Yes, the toy phone from the early 90s is actually an intergalactic communication device– er never mind.” Buckethead makes his way toward his Rocket Reliant.

“If you win, will you get a car with four wheels?”

Buckethead turns around, “the Reliant is the people’s car. Not ever.” He gets in and blasts off, leaving thousands of frenzied reporters in the dust.

PLANET GREMLOID

King Alienfungus the Sixth is very old, he’s grown more spores and his gelatin body has thickened. He watches as Buckethead takes the stage to the left of Theresa May, who concedes the election to Labour. “Finally, we have defeated Cthulu and all its agents with a record 150 votes taken from the Tories in Maidenhead.”

Waiting on a train station platform, Buckethead contacts Alienfungus on his Dream Phone, “thank you for believing in me when no one else would.” No response on the other end. “Alienfungus?” A train pulls up, passengers stare at Buckethead on his toy phone as they walk by. “Alien fungus?!”

****

Eyelids open slowly, revealing a basement. The Dream Phone game is open. A Super Nintendo sits in the corner on a TV with dial switches. A 1990 World Cup Poster. Some moldy edibles by a man in black’s side, the black bucket helmet too. The man rolls over, comes to. He manages a grimace despite his slightly disgusted face as he turns on the television to hear: “Labour Shock in 2017 General Election.”

He turns it off, goes back to his Lord Buckethead helmet. “ay that was one hell of a forty year trip.”

END