Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive!
CounterPunch’s website is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. We are supported almost entirely by the subscribers to the print edition of our magazine and by one-out-of-every-1000 readers of the site.
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:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
Ralph Nader
Are You Ready for Democracy?
Chris Martenson
Hell to Pay
Frank X Murphy
Power & Struggle: the Detroit Literacy Case
Chris Knight
The Tom and Noam Show: a Review of Tom Wolfe’s “The Kingdom of Speech”
Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
Libby Lunstrum - Patrick Bond
Militarizing Game Parks and Marketing Wildlife are Unsustainable Strategies
Andy Thayer
More Cops Will Worsen, Not Help, Chicago’s Violence Problem
Louis Yako
Can Westerners Help Refugees from War-torn Countries?
David Rosen
Rudy Giuliani & Trump’s Possible Cabinet
Joyce Nelson
TISA and the Privatization of Public Services
Pete Dolack
Global Warming Will Accelerate as Oceans Reach Limits of Remediation
Franklin Lamb
34 Years After the Sabra-Shatila Massacre
Cesar Chelala
How One Man Held off Nuclear War
Norman Pollack
Sovereign Immunity, War Crimes, and Compensation to 9/11 Families
Lamont Lilly
Standing Rock Stakes Claim for Sovereignty: Eyewitness Report From North Dakota
Barbara G. Ellis
A Sandernista Priority: Push Bernie’s Planks!
Hiroyuki Hamada
How Do We Dream the Dream of Peace Together?
Russell Mokhiber
From Rags and Robes to Speedos and Thongs: Why Trump is Crushing Clinton in WV
Julian Vigo
Living La Vida Loca
Aidan O'Brien
Where is Europe’s Duterte? 
Abel Cohen
Russia’s Improbable Role in Everything
Ron Jacobs
A Change Has Gotta’ Come
Uri Avnery
Shimon Peres and the Saga of Sisyphus
Graham Peebles
Ethiopian’s Crying out for Freedom and Justice
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail