FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Prostituting the Hobbit

by BINOY KAMPMARK

Life has truly imitated art in New Zealand.  J.R.R. Tolkien might have well been amused about the idea that the filmic adaptation of The Lord of the Rings would take such hold in soil 12,000 miles from England.  It did, and with spectacular success.  So, what of the prequel, The Hobbit?

The production of this movie has been beset by troubles.  For one thing, Warner Brothers has not been too happy with the state of the country’s employment law.  That old hoary chestnut was the bane of contention: Should workers associated with the film be considered either employees or contractors?  Changes made by the Labour government in 2000 gave courts an incentive to focus not on the wording of the agreement so much as the relationship of the contracting parties.  Confusion has, however, surfaced.  Did the company actually demand that, or did the government pre-emptively determine the nature of the case?

Warner Brothers has claimed that threats of industrial action by the Actors Equity in New Zealand boded ill for the smooth running of the $670 (US500) million project.  Sir Peter Jackson, erstwhile hero in bringing the production to New Zealand in the first place, was none too pleased with the letter sent by The International Federation of Actors to US directors of the production company 3 Foot 7 Ltd on August 17. The contents were simple enough.  Members were not to act in the film until the producers had bargained with the union.  Jackson was more than peeved, claiming that The Hobbit was blacklisted before a single word had been mentioned to him by the disgruntled NZ Actors Equity Union.  Middle-earth, as a consequence, would be moving offshore.

A national panic has ensued.  Even the government (witness the views of Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee) has been considering an increase in subsidies to keep the film’s production in the country.  Furthermore, The Hobbit might well have the potential to wreak havoc on New Zealand’s law of employment, with the Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly calling Warner Brother’s challenge offensive to the country’s ‘concept of sovereignty.’

Professor Paul Roth, an employment law specialist at Otago University, has also joined the ranks of critics, smelling the mephitic wafts of national inferiority.  ‘If that’s what the Government wants, it can do it.’  In so doing, it would demonstrate New Zealand as a country ‘teetering on Third-World status’, prostituting itself ‘to get more employment into this country’ (Oct 23).  The only sequel following on from this prequel will be a legislative storm that might well undermine employment entitlements in any industry the government considers at risk from foreign competitors.

Whoring in the name of financial success in the movies is not a new thing, whatever pure arguments might be made against it.  But it can be regulated.  The economic arguments are valid enough – one should support local film industries and their actors as best as possible.  Keep an eye on those international anti-union bully boys and make sure they don’t muscle in on local industry.  Things have been particularly pressing of late with the economic down turn, so getting money for the shooting of a block buster film was not going to be an easy task, whatever successes had come before.

These, in New Zealand’s case, have proven to be considerable.  Back in 2002, the Wall Street Journal reported that the trilogy – all shot simultaneously – saw the employment of 20,000 locals.  Some $310 million was expended on the project, and the important thing, as the Journal noted, was that most of it was spent in the country.  Then came the tourists, wanting a slice of the Middle-earth experience at the ends of the world.

This shabby debate has now reached such proportions it supposedly induced weaknesses in the New Zealand dollar.  The magic of Middle-earth was evidently working, battering the currency as news of Jackson’s decision to move production overseas came to light.

The film’s impact on the national identity of the country is hard to assess, but probably difficult to exaggerate.  But it is fundamentally perverse.  The idea that ‘Middle-earth’ is a New Zealand nationalist construction is like calling Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle opera Australian because it was staged in Adelaide.  The Bayreuth festival goers might have a thing or two to say about that.  Despite this kafuffle, the concerns regarding employment remain.  Everyone, in short, wants to prostitute themselves for the Hobbit.  The last one to laugh at this affair would surely be Tolkien himself.  And perhaps that wise pimp, Bilbo Baggins.

BINOY KAMPMARK was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

 

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 22, 2017
Mike Whitney
Liberals Beware: Lie Down With Dogs, Get Up With Fleas
John Grant
On Killers and Bullshitters*
Peter Linebaugh
Catherine Despard, Abolitionist
Patrick Cockburn
The Bitter Battle for Mosul
Ted Rall
Sue the Bastards? It’s Harder Than You Think
Yoav Litvin
The Emergence of the Just Jew
Kim Scipes
Strategic Thinking and Organizing Resistance
Norman Pollack
Mar-a-Lago, Ideological Refuge: Berchtesgaden, II
Fred Donner
Nixon and the Chennault Affair: From Vietnam to Watergate
Carl Kandutsch
Podesta vs. Trump
Ike Nahem
To the Memory of Malcolm X: Fifty Years After His Assassination
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Tough Talk Won’t Fix Chicago
Paul Donnelly
Betsy DeVos and the War on Public Education
Ebony Slaughter-Johnson
The End of an Alliance for Police Reform
Richard Lawless
Wall Street Demanded the Nuclear Option and the Congress Delivered
Liaquat Ali Khan
Yes, Real Donald Trump is a Muslim!
Ryan LaMothe
“Fire” and Free Speech
CounterPunch News Service
Bloody Buffalo Billboards
February 21, 2017
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Finance as Warfare: the IMF Lent to Greece Knowing It Could Never Pay Back Debt
CJ Hopkins
Goose-stepping Our Way Toward Pink Revolution
John Wight
Firestarter: the Unwelcome Return of Tony Blair
Roger Harris
Lenin Wins: Pink Tide Surges in Ecuador…For Now
Shepherd Bliss
Japanese American Internment Remembered, as Trump Rounds Up Immigrants
Boris Kagarlitsky
Trump and the Contradictions of Capitalism
Robert Fisk
The Perils of Trump Addiction
Deepak Tripathi
Theresa May: Walking the Kingdom Down a Dark Alley
Sarah Anderson
To Save Main Street, Tax Wall Street
Howard Lisnoff
Those Who Plan and Enjoy Murder
Franklin Lamb
The Life and Death Struggle of the Children of Syria
Binoy Kampmark
A Tale of Two Realities: Trump and Israel
Kim C. Domenico
Body and Soul: Becoming Men & Women in a Post-Gender Age
Mel Gurtov
Trump, Europe, and Chaos
Stephen Cooper
Steinbeck’s Road Map For Resisting Donald Trump
February 20, 2017
Bruce E. Levine
Humiliation Porn: Trump’s Gift to His Faithful…and Now the Blowback
Melvin Goodman
“Wag the Dog,” Revisited
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima: a Lurking Global Catastrophe?
David Smith-Ferri
Resistance and Resolve in Russia: Memorial HRC
Kenneth Surin
Global India?
Norman Pollack
Fascistization Crashing Down: Driving the Cleaver into Social Welfare
Patrick Cockburn
Trump v. the Media: a Fight to the Death
Susan Babbitt
Shooting Arrows at Heaven: Why is There Debate About Battle Imagery in Health?
Matt Peppe
New York Times Openly Promotes Formal Apartheid Regime By Israel
David Swanson
Understanding Robert E. Lee Supporters
Michael Brenner
The Narcissism of Donald Trump
Martin Billheimer
Capital of Pain
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail