DAVID KRONEMYER: It was a beautiful Monday morning in Los Angeles, and I was excited. I was going to work at RAND! Somehow, I had talked myself into a position there, to head up a proposed Institute for the Study of the Economics of Culture. It seemed like a great opportunity, because it would give me a chance to combine two of my interests – that is, economics and culture – in what appeared, at least, to be an academic setting. RAND is what has come to be known as a “think tank.” I did not see any tanks there, like the kind the military uses for mobile gun turrets, or like the kind a fish might inhabit, but I did like to think, so it was a good fit. I bought a nice new sketch-pad of fine parchment paper, and a brand new mechanical pencil. I was ready to take notes, commence analyzing, and hit the ground running.
Part of the attraction was that extremely interesting building perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, in Santa Monica, California. It drew me in, redolent as it was of the Cold War, that secret era of Southern California history, irrevocably scarring so many (me most emphatically). I particularly was reminded of my days in elementary school, when we were told we’d be able to survive nuclear war for another thirty seconds or so, if only we “duck and covered” under our school desks. Just thinking about it now, gives me the chills. I previously had worked in another iconic Southern California setting, the Capitol Records Tower in Hollywood, which was a far more benign presence. So, in any event, this would make two.
I. My First Day at RAND
My boss was Robert Reville. He was an expert on the economics of occupational safety and health laws. For example, they might impose excessive costs on companies, as workers gallivant about, seeking out opportunities to injure themselves. He introduced me around to the rest of the group. “This is Dr. Jones, this is Dr. Smith,” etc. “Wow,” I said, “we sure are in great shape with all of these doctors in the house!” “No, no,” my boss said, “we aren’t medical doctors, we’re all Ph.D.s.” “Can I be a doctor too, then? I asked. “No,” he said, “even though it’s a post-graduate doctoral degree, your’s doesn’t count. Only people with Ph.D.s can be doctors.” “Oh,” I said, more amused than crestfallen.
Then he introduced me to Steven Garber. “Dr. Garber will be your economist,” he said. “Great,” I exclaimed, “my own economist!” “No, no,” Reville said, “he’s also working on other projects, too, he’s just assigned to you for any economics questions you might have.” “What else do you do?” I asked him. Garber replied, “Well, in addition to a whole bunch of stuff I can’t talk about, because it’s so highly classified, I also work on the economics of military recruiting.” “Oh, you mean, like how much to pay new guys to get them to join the army?” I asked. “No,” he said, “not exactly. We know we can pay them as little as possible, and still get them to serve. My particular specialty is the optimum location for recruiting offices, so they ensnare the maximum number of applicants possible in a given community – like, right next to bars and strip clubs. And high schools.”
“Fascinating,” I replied. “And what brings you to the economics of art and culture?” “Well, I’m a big jazz fan,” he said, pointing to the iconic black-and-white photograph of noted Harlem jazz musicians, stapled to the wall of his office. I dared not tell him that, during their entire lifetimes, all of the artists in that picture, however esteemed, probably sold only a fraction of the records of the last Britney Spears album.
Reville saved the best for last – his colleague Fred Kipperman. “He’s our development officer,” Reville said. Which means, his job is to raise money. All I could perceive was a trained ferret, perched on a chair in his office, the lights off, a leash around his neck, smiling unctuously and sweating profusely.
II. Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
The first and most important thing to remember about RAND is that 99% of its funding comes from the Federal government. RAND performs many tasks for the Feds, all the way from second-guessing the CIA to looking for UFOs. However, there’s still that 1%, so RAND needs to raise money money, too. In other words, for anything non-defense-related, you need to convince somebody, or some institution, to sponsor your work. That money is referred to as “soft funding,” and it was Kipperman’s job to raise it, or at least mobilize the institution’s name and reputation to get it raised.
This dynamic was a puzzle to me when I got there, and I regret to report the passage of time has not helped me achieve any greater insight. RAND attempts to portray itself as an academic institution, devoted to such verities as the pursuit of knowledge and understanding. But in fact, everything that happens there depends upon raising money from the very people you intend to study, and, potentially, criticize.
While there are a handful of private donors, most of the non-governmental funding comes from large corporations, like insurance companies and institutional foundations – the people most vested in a particular outcome. Thus, all of the private money that comes in does so with a concealed agenda. That agenda is: make findings, or reach conclusions, in our favor. Put your imprimatur for accuracy and independence, on our point of view.
And RAND invariably does so. Not explicitly, or with reference to a particular case – that would be far too obvious. Rather, the studies it authors are constrained by the “background” of the industry sponsoring whatever it is that’s being studied. This matrix of cultural practices offers up a disclosive space – a “clearing” – defining roles, context and significance. The “industry” in turn is made up of institutional players – not individuals, or claimants, or persons outside of the status quo, and especially not persons who are aggrieved. Rather, the institutions are the ones who establish the rules of the game, the terms of discourse, the length and width of the playing field. And this is how RAND gets itself co-opted, even with its eyes wide open. It simply can’t help it, given the way it’s structured its business affairs.
Kipperman was skilled at – well, ferreting out funds from these types of places. A month or so earlier, he’d gotten some insurance company to pay $1.5 million for some study. And then some foundation had contributed another $1.5 million to examine the inner consciences of boards of directors. “David,” he said to me, “we view you just like our insurance company! You’ve got to go out and raise $1.5 large for this Institute of yours to get off the ground!” I turned to him in amazement. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said. “The streets of Hartford are paved with gold. Mine aren’t!”
III. Days of Wine and Roses
RAND’s parsimonious climate had a pervasive and peculiar impact on everything else at the institution, not directly related to the core mission. For starters, there were no facilities, and no resources. On my first day there, Reville showed me to my office. He forgot to mention I’d be sharing it with several colleagues, both of whom (I’m sure) were equally disconcerted at my arrival. It made talking on the telephone and working on the computer rather difficult, but isn’t that what company’s for? Climactically, it was pleasant enough; it opened out into a courtyard. There was no air conditioning, but pleasant sea breezes wafted through the open windows.
I received a thoughtful welcoming present, which was a coffee cup. It was emblazoned with the RAND’s motto: “Objective Analysis – Effective Solutions.” I wonder how much they paid some new-age management-speak consultant to dream that one up. I whipped out my pocket edition of Derrida’s Guide to the Deconstructed Universe, but unfortunately it wasn’t much help in contextualizing this peculiar motto. I know you’re thinking this is so preposterous that no company in its right mind actually would make a coffee cup with such a trite cliché imprinted on it. So, to dispel your doubt, here’s a picture:
The Internet connection was slower than dial up. I overheard a conversation about this once, as it was a popular source of griping. “The classified sectors soak up all the band-width,” seemed to be the received opinion. A related peculiarity was the limited syntax for e-mail addresses. Evidently, the computer equipment was so archaic, it could not accommodate more than seven characters in a name – like a car license plate, I suppose. So rather than being firstname.lastname@example.org, which would have been normal, I was email@example.com, which struck me, at least, as being a little too familiar.
This constricted climate of economic scarcity promoted the fecund proliferation of an officious bureaucracy of counters, talliers, and pencil-pushers. Nothing could be accomplished without a charge number. You could not make copies by yourself – everything had do go to a central duplicating facility. RAND had what looked to be a lovely library, but you couldn’t wander through it and then check out a book. Rather, this required the intercession of a library assistant – almost like a priest, at mass – to go get it for you. Assuming you knew what it was. I’m sure that somewhere, deep in the bowels of the building, there was a room of green-eye-shaded accountants, furiously cranking the levers on their Marchant calculators. Because of this apparatus, the overhead draw on contributed funds was massive.
One of my favorite past-times, particularly when conversation got too multi-voiced in the office, was to wander the corridors of the abandoned basement. The firm, it transpires, was in the process of constructing a brand new office building, right next door. The old one was going to be torn down. So it was in a state of, shall we say, disrepair. In fact, it looked as though they’d stopped doing anything with it, several years earlier.
But I found the basement irresistible. It drew me in like a tractor beam. Long, stale, sunless corridors, cracked linoleum at your feet, illumined by flickering fluorescent light-fixtures. Like something out of (or inspired by) Last Year at Marienbad. Nary a footstep now treads down those halls, which had overheard such secrets, hushed whispers, momentous occasions and portentous events.
One day, to my surprise, I turned the corner, and there, sitting in his cell, was none other than Manuel Noriega, the ex-dictator of Panama. Seeing as how I did not know him personally, but recognized him from his many media appearances, I hastened to introduce myself. “How are they treating you?” I asked. “Si si, not so bad. Every now and then some junior CIA type comes in and we do some more – what is it, water-surfing? Boogie-boarding? No, no, water-boarding. But it is more for his pleasure, than mine.” I told him that the U.S. actually had given Panama the canal. “Yeah, I heard about that,” he replied. “But how about all of the new peoples who are there now, think of all of the opportunities for a little friendly mordida!” I said I had to leave, but I’d be back. “Please bring me some of the CDs by the band Pink Floyd,” he said. “They are like the thinking man’s AC/DC – I got so sick of all that puerile metal crap they were blasting at me when I was in the compound.” “Better than Sadam Hussein,” I replied. “They got him in a spider hole, and it didn’t look as though he was enjoying any music!” “They got Sadam, too?” he replied, querulously.
The building was surrounded by armed guards, presumably, to protect the defensies. One day, an intruder entered the building – probably some deranged mental patient, “mainstreamed” back into society against his better interests, sunning himself on the beach at Santa Monica, who decided to come on in and take a look around. Claxon horns and sirens sounded. Quasi-military looking personnel appeared from nowhere. They had shiny “General Patton”-style silver helmets, polished to a lustrous patina. A loudspeaker instructed: “stay in your rooms and lock your doors!” Without question, it was the most exciting thing that happened all year.
IV. Nobody Is Listening, and Nobody Cares
It was apparent to me about 24 hours after I had arrived that there was no call for an Institute for the Study of the Economics of Culture. Especially one the entertainment business was expected to finance. In truth and fact, there is nothing more hilarious than the idea of people in Hollywood giving money to RAND. People in Hollywood hate giving away money, to begin with, even for the most meritorious causes. And, like I said, everybody believes that RAND is a front for the CIA, or whomever, and the last thing it needs is additional contributions from private citizens.
One day I was perusing the list of RAND’s Board of Directors. I recognized the name of Amy Pascal, who was the President of Sony Pictures, a major motion picture studio. I pointed this out excitedly to Reville, and said I was going to see if they might be of any assistance in the fund-raising project. “Absolutely not,” he replied. “Why not?” I asked, querulously. “Because we don’t want the Board of Directors to do anything,” he said. “I see,” I said, with a mixture of chagrin and bemusement.
Furthermore, there is one and only one issue the entertainment business (broadly understood) cares about, and that is, the (alleged) piracy of intellectual property rights. And, this is the carefully-guarded purview of their trade associations, which are, the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc. (“MPAA”) (for the movie business), and, the Recording Industry Association of America, Inc. (“RIAA”) (for the record business).
My efforts to reach out to them were a complete fizzle. Fact of the matter is, there is no room on the field for another contender, no matter how qualified. The MPAA and RIAA are touchy to the point of being jealous of their own limited (and shrinking) purview. This is nothing against them, or the people who work there – in a time of scarce economic resources, the natural tendency is to circle the wagons, it can’t be helped. The employees of those organizations feel a genuine need to remain employed, so they perpetuate the very issues they are supposed to solve. Then, they assiduously deploy themselves to work on those same issues to the exact point where, on margin, it appears they are doing something useful and productive.
In fairness, the companies have a point, too, which is – why fund something beyond its natural capacity to furnish useful results? They all are incredibly wealthy global multi-media conglomerates. Too much trade association activity and you’ll get a lot of lobbying and governmental intervention, but nothing productive will come of it – in terms of net money that will flow to the bottom line. For this reason, the companies that are members of trade associations (a) have no intention of resourcing them beyond the level that is notionally effective, and (b) especially have no intention of starting up something that walks, talks and acts like a trade association, i.e., an Institute for the Study of the Economics of Culture. They know they must have something, to address governmental and regulatory issues of common concern, and so they do – but just barely, and nothing more, thanks anyway. By and large it’s just window-dressing, to show that they care.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. I haven’t seen an entertainment company ever where the accountants aren’t busy yelling, “We need more accountants,” and the lawyers aren’t busy yelling, “We need more lawyers.” Fact of the matter, though, is that people like accountants and lawyers are a cost center, not a source of productive revenue. Furthermore, they create issues and problems. Hire too many accountants, all of a sudden they’ll be liaisoning with their fellow accountants, and your royalty audits will spike. Hire too many lawyers, and all of a sudden you’ll be embroiled in a bunch of lawsuits. It’s just the way they think, the skill-sets they deploy.
The companies’ main push right now is to dissimulate. Their main interest is to confuse the terms of the debate, for example, by conflating the innocuous practice of peer-to-peer (“P2P”) file-sharing with genuine forms of economic piracy, such as counterfeiting. What they need are marketers and advertisers, not Institutes of thus-and-such.
The reason why main-line entertainment companies now face challenging times is because of the changes wrought by the digital revolution. Any other business sector would have welcomed such a paradigm shift, as an opportunity to revamp its business practices.
Not us, though! For example, in their antediluvian wisdom, the major record companies launched a jihadist-like series of lawsuits against their most active customers – primarily, college students – alleging they were infringing copyrights. In fact, P2P file-sharing probably is one of the most effective marketing and promotional tools ever devised. Among other beneficial consequences, consumers actually are listening to music they want to hear. Ironically, only a few years ago, the industry was paying millions of dollars in payola, to try and get people to listen to the same tepid releases, on the radio. And the industry still pays millions of dollars a year to an ever-shrinking retail base for slotting allowances, end-caps, other preferred product placement consideration, advertising programs, “buy-it-and-try-it,” “test-spin,” etc. Record company merchandise return policies guarantee that retailers incur little product cost on an unsuccessful release, because they can return whatever they bought (an amount frequently dictated by the record company) for full credit against an applicable price which, frequently, they have yet to pay. They are buffered or indemnified from the risk of marketplace failure. Their economic value is less than zero, because they cost money to fabricate, handle, distribute, market, advertise, promote, etc. They are a liability, not an asset. In the meanwhile, unlike P2P file-sharing, the amount of consumer impressions the record has achieved, is nil.
The music industry is a fertile source of other bewildering economic behavior, such as Universal Music Group’s recent refusal to transact with iTunes. UMG is the world’s largest record company, and there is no scenario that makes economic sense for the leader in any industry to pick up its marbles and go home, or, at least, threaten to. That type of behavior is appropriate only for an influential minority which, by doing so, can extort entrepreneurial rents far beyond its contribution to market share – like a tie-breaking party in Parliament, or the Israeli Knesset. The industry leader always will lose more than it will gain.
Another enlightened responder is Viacom, which with much kerfuffle recently launched a lawsuit versus YouTube-Google, also alleging copyright infringement. There is no copyright infringement when some college student in Des Moines uploads a funny clip from The Daily Show to YouTube. Furthermore, even if there was – and there isn’t – the promotional value far exceeds the amount of any economic damage. Elasticity of demand is so thin for these transitory kinds of marketing impressions that, if associated with a counterpart cost to the consumer, they would have no value at all. Studies purporting to show millions of dollars in industry losses due to alleged piracy of intellectual property are uniformly flawed, in that they assume the economic value of a lost sale is equal to the economic value of a full-price sale. In fact, once the market has been saturated – everybody who wants one, has bought one – there are no more further sales, except at a dramatically lower price. The cost to generate any further sales at any price point far outstrips the amount of revenue they potentially might yield. Consider, for example, transactions for used books and CDs on Amazon, which better establish the market-clearing price. In many cases, this is less than a penny, and even then a penny is a proxy for zero, because the only potential source of revenue for the seller is the differential between Amazon’s shipping allowance and the seller’s actual shipping costs. Factoring in cost of goods and seller transactional costs, it’s hard to see how it makes any sense.
Just as importantly, this is how silly programs like The Daily Show achieve their aura of contemporaneity, their cultural currency. Sumner Redstone should give thanks to God every day that YouTube is there serving up clips from his TV shows. Any creator of a proprietary work of intellectual property should offer up praise and thanksgiving whenever there are consumers around to sample it, discuss it, talk about it, recommend it, and maybe even buy it. Because it has no intrinsic value, it’s not worth as much as you think, and it’ll be worth even less by this time tomorrow. It creates precious marketing impressions, which are the key to unlocking whatever economic value still might exist.
Bewilderment in the face of new technology is one of the surest signs off a genuine paradigm shift. This one isn’t like the transition from LPs to CDs, or when television came along to threaten the hegemony of theatrical distribution. In those cases, the entrenched competitors successfully adapted to, and imposed themselves on, the new media world. Goods still could be purchased and sold at some relationship to their cost of production and distribution. This, however, is different – a lot different. Best part is, watching how the troglodytes lumber through the forest – people like Sumner, and Bob Welch, to pick another old-media apologist. It’s like a bad reality TV show, where they’ve been plucked out of their posh offices, and plunked down in the middle of some god-forsaken, jambalaya-fueled street party. They didn’t see it coming, and never knew what hit them.
V. The Thought Leaders
I’ve always been interested in “causal” relationships between media and real-world events. “What causes what” is intrinsically interesting, but the power of something as evanescent and intangible as media to provoke a human response, is particularly bizarre. For example, does violence on television promote violent behavior in youth? Or, does pornography promote violence against women? Lacking so much as a charge number, I began working with these issues. The primary answer to questions like the ones I posed, is a cultural one. Though there are interesting bywaters and alley-ways, running the gamut from philosophy of mind, to Marshall McLuhan, to neurophysiology.
One day Kipperman slinked his way into my (our) office. “I’ve got a great idea,” he said. “Well,” I conceded, “all of your ideas are great.” Now Kipperman, as befit his station, was well-versed in new-age management-speak. “What we need to do,” he said, “is convoke an assembly of thought-leaders. You know, mover-and-shaker types, the ones at the top of the pyramid.” “OK,” I said, “and what are they going to do for us, again?” “They’ll help us take a look at the landscape, skim the trees, see what’s down there.” “Umm, I think we already know that,” I said. Kipperman continued to babble incomprehensibly. Best case for what he was saying, was: not only might the thought-leaders be induced to jettison morsels of insight, the better for us to hoover up; they also might be conduits to money.
So I got busy, send out e-mails to 50 or so well-placed colleagues, all of whom were delighted to show up, if for no reason other than to partake of the ever-decaying cold-war ambiance of the premises. Like for me when I got there, I’m sure it was the first (and only) time any of them ever had penetrated the cordon. Many of them even asked to bring friends and associates.
I organized an agenda. There would be three speakers, followed by Q&A. The first speaker was Reville. The second speaker was Garber. And the third speaker was me.
Turns out that RAND was enamored with PowerPoint. Released in 1995 by Microsoft, PowerPoint quickly became the standard in corporate presentations. Cynics might see this as but one aspect of Microsoft’s comprehensive plan for world domination. I have a different take, though, which is that PowerPoint is responsible for more corporate sonambulism than just about anything else that ever has hit the boardroom – not to mention some of the worst presentations, ever. It is an archaic technology, worse than the overhead projector, the film-strip, or the chalk-board. By chaining the speaker to a pre-determined agenda, it eliminates any potential for improvisation, extemporaneity, or risk. It therefore suffocates any vestige of creative thinking. Maybe this was why my colleagues at RAND were so in love with it.
RAND, naturally, had a person dedicated to making PowerPoint presentations – Laura Zakaras. Not just taking your ideas and drawing cute stick figures – but literally authoring the entire performance. “Her job,” said Reville, is to assemble all of our PowerPoint presentations. You just tell her what you want to say, and she will capture its essence and put it onto slides.” “Wow!” I replied, as enthusiastically as possible. Although I have no evidence on this point, my personal opinion, on the basis of how I subjectively perceived their interactions, is that Garber and Zakaras were having an affair.
So, I came up with some ideas, Garber did, and so did Reville. Though his contribution mainly was pre-canned sound-bites about how great the institution was and why everybody should give money to it. “These aren’t direct donors,” I reminded him, trying to tap into Kipperman’s game-plan. “These are people whom we think have the potential to influence primary donors.” “Oh,” he said.
My best idea was for a slide inspired by Dr. Strangelove. It incorporated a quote from the screenplay – a shout-out, if you will, to my employer – beneath the image of an exploding A-bomb. Here it is:
“As I recall the article said a Doctor Otto Strangelove, at the Bland Corporation, was working on the idea.”
I told Reville I’d like to insert this somewhere in my presentation, preferably near the end. I said, “It’ll liven things up. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of mildly-ironic self-reference.”
I could tell right away, though, that Reville was terrified. In fact, he actually started trembling – quaking in his boots, lest the thought-police from headquarters helicopter in during the middle of the seminar, and scurry him off. Maybe even now, in the ostensible privacy of his office, they were able to read his thoughts. So, no slide. I should have snuck it in, anyway. But, I had no ability to do so, seeing as how Zakaras was the one who controlled the sequencing and ordering of slides on the computer. Ah, those devious checks and balances.
It was the day of the big event. The auditorium was filled with friends and colleagues, every last one of whom I’d recruited. Every last one a thought-leader, that’s for sure. Unfortunately, I’ve never heard worse presentations in my entire life. Reville mumbled, paused awkwardly, repeatedly interjected useful phrases like “um,” “you know,” and “it’s like.” Garber was no better, with the possible innovation of smacking his lips vigorously between slides and squiggling a laser pointer around as he did so. I watched in amazement, because all they did was stand there like zombies, monotonically reciting the text of their slides. Maybe Zakaras secretly ran the place, after all!
The peoples of the audience were rolling their eyes. One of them – a noted commentator on the entertainment business – later said, perceptively: “I knew it was over when they started talking about piracy, because with that kind of a pejorative connotation, I could see right away where their principles lie. I thought they had a reputation for being more even-handed.”
Then, I got up to speak. I had an outline, of course, but about half-way into it, I realized the outline and the PowerPoint slides – helpfully prepared by Zakaras – didn’t match. In other words, unrehearsed, I was supposed to deliver a corporate, institutional message that was completely different than the one I had planned. “Oh well,” I thought to myself, and soldiered forth with my remarks, pretty much ignoring the slides. Making contact with the audience. Speaking cogently and forcefully on interesting issues that I knew a lot about, and cared about, too. Which, of course, was a fatal breach of protocol. Not so much because of the substantive propositional content of the message. But rather, the fact that it was different than the one appearing on the slide.
VI. The Dénouement
Reville called me aside after the thought-leaders had left. Their thoughts following them, I suppose. “David,” he said, “I was very disappointed in the presentation.” “Why?” I asked. “I am scared by the concept of recoupment,” he said. I swear to God, this is a direct quote.
Now, “recoupment” is a concept from artist contracts, I probably mentioned once or twice during the course of my presentation. Basically, the way it works is, the entertainment company advances funds to the artist to create the work, which it then repays to itself out of royalties as copies of the work are sold. But it isn’t like a loan, because the artist isn’t unconditionally liable for repayment, no matter what. It’s been around since, oh, let’s say, the invention of the concept of artistic works in ancient Greece.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or act amazed, so I picked something inbetween – a puzzled, quizzical look. “How so?” I asked. “Was there something I didn’t explain clearly?” “No, (of course) I understood what you were talking about. But I think it’s a frightening concept. And you didn’t tell the audience the reason why.” This would be the audience, of course, comprising the thought leaders, who deal with concepts like recoupment all the time.
Poor Reville. I didn’t know if I should offer to take him home so he could get into his PJs and have a warm glass of milk, or what. “Scared” by recoupment? The economics of recoupment may be inequitable – it’s hard to identify any other industry where the manufacturer isn’t required to bear the fixed cost of a work’s creation, as just another cost of production. But I don’t know if I’d characterize that as being “scary,” or react to it by becoming personally frightened.
“I think the issue’s somewhat different,” I said. “I think they may have gotten spooked by all this talk about piracy and the like.” “Oh, but we’re all against pirates, aren’t we?” he replied. Clearly, missing the point. In fact, clueless with respect to the point. “Oh well,” I thought to myself. “It wasn’t going to work, anyway. Not at this place, not with these people, not in my lifetime.”
The next day, Reville called me into his office. “You’re pretty good,” he said. “But you’re not good enough for public policy studies.” I barely could contain myself from doubling over in spasms of incapacitating laughter. “Public policy studies,” my ass. As I was sitting there, listening to this apparatchik pontificate about how great he was, my mind started to wander. Come to think of it, I had established genuine rapport with several of the characters in the basement, such as Sr. Noriega. In fact, it might be possible for me to innovate some different intelligence-gathering methods and techniques. Because whatever it was they were doing now, sure wasn’t working. Getting into their world, getting to know them better, their issues and concerns, actually might extract some useful information from them. Whereas, all that was being extracted now were their teeth. I thought about mentioning it to Reville, by this time all I heard him saying was “blah, blah, blah.” But it would be so off-message, it only would confuse him needlessly. Or, maybe, scare him.
I saw Kipperman glowering outside of Reville’s office, as I left. “The firm has been good to you,” he said. “Yes, I agree,” I replied, “especially seeing as how I have had free range of the basement corridors.” “The what?” Kipperman stuttered in reply, half in astonishment, half in bewilderment.
For a while I had been trying to hook up with Kevin McCarthy, the one person there who actually was interested in, and knew something about, the economics of culture. Over the years McCarthy had published several studies with intriguing but meaningless titles such as “The Performing Arts in a New Era,” “From Celluloid to Cyberspace – the Media Arts and the Changing Arts World” and “A New Framework for Building Participation in the Arts.” Ironically, I finally got to meet him, and take him out to lunch, on what was like my second-to-the-last day with the firm. He was a wizened patriarch, impossibly old, with great bushy gray eyebrows and a huge mane of hair. He was like a precursor, or a forbearer – an aged Prospero, who had washed up on the Santa Monica beach down below.
“There are no grants left,” he said. “I am down to my last several months. Nobody here is interested in what I do. There is nothing left for me.” I asked him how he saw the future direction of the institution. “What direction?” he replied. “It’s nothing but smoke and mirrors – a shark swimming through the water, in search of prey. There’s no there, there.” And with that he vanished, leaving only a wisp of smoke at the table.
As I walked back, along the beach, I asked myself: was there something I should have done differently? Would it have helped if I were, like, smarter, or less outspoken about the ideals in which I believe? I mulled it over for a while. Then I realized there are things in life that just whoosh up and overwhelm you, like passions and emotions. When this happens, you can’t even cope with it, much less manage it. It’s out of control. The only response you possibly can have is one of wonder, or awe. It was another one of those pretty Los Angeles days, and I smiled as I walked along the beach.