(noun, etymology Dutch from ‘boedel’: estate, possession, inheritance, stock.). 1. Crowd, pack, lot, as in ‘the whole boodle.’ 2. a. Counterfeit money b. Money acquired or spent illegally or improperly, particularly when used in bribery for political purposes. 3. Slang for money in general.

Shoot the Screenwriter

Posted on: Jan. 31, 2012  |  By: Ronnie Kahn  |  Category: General

The Changing Money Myth

In the movie “The Artist,” George Valentin gets caught up with the advent of movie sound and left behind as an actor.  Like the typewriter repair person, he is rendered useless by technological change.  In a tribute to the old Hollywood silent days it is against all odds that a movie like this would be made since the new Hollywood is mainly sequels and over-the-top action with a sprinkle of a few indie films that are made without the use of studios or the off-brand version of the bigger studio.  Many movies never get made or if they do then they never get seen.  Like the technological change that make a rare few things go viral and everything else collect virtual dust, there is a lot of pressure for movies to make it big since there is so much money needed to get it made.  Similar to politics, in this type of structure it is tough for the cream to rise to the top especially when the milk is non-fat in the first place.

While movies may be seen as a single vision of an auteur they are really collaborative exercises.  The Artist director Michel Hazanavicius had to have help from Harvey Weinstein who, I’m sure, had to spend a lot of social capital as well in order to get the movie made.  This is not to mention who comes up with story ideas, actors that push to be on board or help get the movie made, a slew of producers and executive producers, and all the crew that is behind whether it gets made or not.

When a movie or a person is successful, we see it though as an individual working against all odds to break through.  It is one of the great American narratives of the myth of the “rugged individual.”  As for money, capitalism has this rugged individual in spades as we conjure up Carnegie and Rockefeller and now look to Gates and Buffett.  Another narrative, in the late 19th century, the world even went so far as to go by the theory of Social Darwinism where the inferior were replaced by the competition of the fittest business, politician, and other social forces.

The narratives of most any country are balanced off by liberty, equality, and fraternity.  We can think of these as the “I,” “We,” and “It” of how things are portrayed.  Even in dictatorships there will usually be strong fraternal groups, religions, and guilds that ban together.   The U.S. is heavily into the “I” side of the trio.  “We the People” is the de jure ideal while “I the People” is the de facto practice.  Many Asian cultures identify with putting group ahead of personal interest although this seems to be moving toward the “I” a little more each day.

While American culture is left to a Hollywood blend of the “I” worlds of video, celebrity, and youth and beauty there still coexists strong individual narratives left from bygone eras.  One of the strongest myths that still affect our view of money is the Western Frontiersmen.  He is a self-made, no bullshit hero who sets out for a new world before anyone else had the guts to do it.  This is do-it-yourself “my way or the highway” rhetoric.  In an “I” world, everyone is left to play the “blame it on the other guy” game. To be fair, we all need the entrepreneur who will put together untested risks and square peg industriousness.  The problem though is with narrative itself.  With storytelling comes a way of seeing the world.  Everyone on the narrative Kool-Aid though seems to live in an echo chamber where they are only able to see the world their way.  Isn’t Fox News or MSNBC just like watching the propaganda of an authoritarian or totalitarian regime? An entrepreneur is essential but alchemy is not science.  Narratives keep us from the types of discoveries that we need.  Narratives are about emotions and spin and keep us from deeper issues, principles, values, and morals.  Narratives are about image.  The Western myth is about not being weak.  You don’t nurture a child, you discipline them.  It is anti-social.  The world is good against evil, natural versus unnatural, and practical or impractical.  Yet money as well as politics is social.

Barack Obama seems to want to make the coming election about fairness while, of course, his opponents want it to be an economic referendum.  I guess he has been reading my blog and has finally come about to the importance of fairness.  Perhaps the election will be a choice between the “I’ and “We” in the successful entrepreneur Mitt Romney against the former political organizer Obama.  Whatever the choice, it is now ingrained that politics is theater and we elect a George Valentin or now Clint Eastwood type with their story and personality dragged behind more than what lies beneath.  Americans are strongly pulled toward not having government get in the way of the individual but they are also pulled at the same time to fairness.  Technological change creates new winners and losers as well as tax subsidies, social strata, mass decision making, and being in the right place at the right time.  American’s realize that a government playing favorites to the few is not about equality of opportunity though.  Success is just as much about the moves that others are making than it is about the decisions one makes alone.  Interestingly, there are very few narratives about fairness of the commons and the greater good that resonate over history.  As is our custom, we even tend to think of individuals when it comes to the greater good such as Gandhi or Dr. King.  The only narratives that gained interest in the U.S. in those regards were the Great Depression’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.  The Great Society’s lofty ideals though were plowed asunder by the Vietnam War and arguments over the role of the Welfare State.   Today, the label “liberal” is like Lord Voldemort meaning “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.”  More to the point, the question asked by voters of a presidential incumbent “am I better off than four years ago” needs to be rephrased as “are we better off than four years ago.”

Perhaps the technological change that George Valentin succumbed to was about his pride to resist change when things do not progress.  Perhaps, though, he saw that change in this case was built more on image than substance.  In the silent movie, you could actively read between the lines and imagine what the characters were saying or thinking.  You had those expressive faces to unleash fanciful scenarios for what lied underneath.  Sound would just passively steer and direct you.  Perhaps each new technological change removes us more and more from being artists and exploring with depth the intricacies and nuances that are being drubbed out by multi-tasking modernity.  A movement, like Occupy, turns energy into mass while narrative, on the other hand, keeps existing mass from turning to principles.  The old frontiersmen kept moving west while domesticating anything that he needed to until he came to the end of the line, Hollywood.  We are all image junkies now and some cowboy just shot the artist only to let him bleed out on the commons.

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