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Arts and Culture

This Isn’t ‘Entourage’: Hollywood’s Talented, Ambitious and Broke

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Posted on Oct 3, 2010
AP / Amy Sancetta

A giant Oscar waits in plastic wrapping for someone to find him useful.

By Howie Stier

(Page 2)

He’s spent a good part of this year working on a stop-motion animation project which went to DVD and for which he was paid $50 a day. He was also given one of discs, which is now on the pile with 30 years of accomplishment. The day a reporter visits, he’s got folding money for a burrito and is elated to have a coupon for a free one. He’s working on a custom painting, made to order for a Craigslist advertiser for $100. A similar work of his hanging in L.A. graphic art gallery Wacko sells for $800. Hickerson looks across his bed out the living room window. “Tomorrow? Tomorrow I’m looking for work. I don’t have a whole lot going on.” 

*  *  *

“The future will be like that film ‘Children of Men,’ except instead of no babies, there’ll be no money,” says stand-up comic James Adomian, opening his set at Los Angeles eatery Taix. The old school French joint—all oak and damask upholstery and etched glass—is hanging in there serving a $9.99 chicken plate du jour and draws the young with nightly alt rock and comedy acts. “I just made a major purchase,” he goes on, flourishing a pair of eyeglasses. And that’s no joke. The comedian went some three months before scraping up enough cash—he’s got no credit cards—for lenses. And tonight, once again, his polished, high-energy act will not draw a dime. At 30, James Adomian is a vet of a Comedy Central tour, was featured on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” and used to pull down $2,000 per appearance at college comedy nights where his George W. Bush impression, the role he aced in “Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay,” went over big. “Then it all kind of vanished like Cinderella. I knew it was coming and braced for it but it knocked me over pretty hard.” 

Now he is shacked up with six roommates and had to rely on a Hollywood food pantry and a weekly care package of vegetables from his brother to make it through winter and spring. Adomian performs regularly at the improvisation comedy theater The Upright Citizens Brigade (where this writer learned a great deal), which celebrates an existential worldview, that the universe isn’t guided by reason, that it is absurd, and so Adomian is prepared for these days, almost reveling in the downturn. “The silver lining is I look better,” he says, having dropped 40 pounds to a lean 180 as a result of his forced diet, combined with walking around L.A. since giving up his car. “It got broken into, the starter died and it was all a matter of $400 to fix it all. I didn’t have it.”

He is ambivalent about the Internet and its paradox. “We’re all perpetually putting up material on Funny or Die and and people are seeing you all the time, but never hiring you. Everybody is expected to work for free or very little.”

But the recession has also inspired Adomian, not just with material but also to undertake an ambitious cross-country, 11-city stand-up tour. “It’s the Breaking Even tour. I’m going to try and keep accounts and see if I end up with something extra in the end, but I doubt it.” He will be performing alongside local comedians at small clubs and bars and will earn a split of the door while shelling out neither agent fees nor for hotels, “except for one night in New Orleans, otherwise I’m on the couch. Being in comedy I’m lucky to know a lot people.” 

Prepping for his quixotic tour, he has accepted as his duty the need to address the culprits of our economic malaise in his material. For example, he’s driven to speak of credit card debt and the threats of collection agents. “When the social contract is broken by rich and powerful people, the rest of us should reciprocate. Banks are pulling scams with the law behind them, so morally there’s nothing wrong with not paying debts. Now, that will be disguised in layers of humor, or you’re just preaching.”

And most heartening, Adomian eschews cynicism. “I want to encourage people facing a bleak future to hold their head up high. And if I get a big pile of money, I’ll fix my teeth.”

*  *  *

“I worked at the largest, oldest talent agency in the world. I was getting fast-tracked when I quit,” a former music biz agent says. “I saw how unstable the music business became.” Within the small milieu of agents who book musical acts at arenas and theaters across the country, everyone knows everyone, and to avoid future conflicts, the agent gets anonymity here. “No one will tell you there’s no money being made. But that’s the case.” Lean and alert, he looks like any other Los Angeles hipster rocker in skinny jeans, and on a recent late afternoon, when talent agents are suited up in offices, he’s at a cafe with the newspaper. Before heading to his restaurant gig to prep for the dinner crowd, he explains to a reporter how the pop music business, from the bands that make the music to the agents who book them, is in disarray.

After putting in his time as an assistant—the lowest rung in the biz—for a couple years, he scored a Hollywood dream job as a junior agent with William Morris. Regularly he put in 10- and 12-hour days booking acts from Christopher Cross to Alice in Chains at colleges and clubs, never breaking for lunch, working phones in his office and spending the evening networking, making connections in order to succeed.

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Napolean DoneHisPart's avatar

By Napolean DoneHisPart, October 7, 2010 at 9:06 am Link to this comment

Thanks SamoSamo… checking that out now!

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By samosamo, October 6, 2010 at 6:53 pm Link to this comment



Not wear it out, but try this, ‘short and sweet’
written by roy harper and david gilmour. This one
is acoustic, and then there is one that is electric
with both gilmour and harper.

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, October 5, 2010 at 8:05 pm Link to this comment

Felicity—I didn’t mean art in terms of some sort of Platonic absolute.  I mean stuff that functions as art.  If a graffiti writer puts something on a wall and someone else likes it, recognizes it as art, then it’s art.  The same for museums, galleries, Sunday painters, garage bands and Youtubists.  It seems to me that the modern United States is thoroughly soaked with art and artists.  Maybe it’s just the decadent area I live in.

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Napolean DoneHisPart's avatar

By Napolean DoneHisPart, October 5, 2010 at 7:29 pm Link to this comment

Thanks Volma, that is Roy Harper’s lyrics of a song of his entitled “The Game.”

SamoSamo turned me onto that song, and I found a link which is just above that post of that poem / lyrics.

Here is a live recording of Roy singing in Germany I think… its a long song with two video parts..

I suggest both listening and reading along the lyrics… inspiring, moody, deep… 

The Peaceful Revolution has already begun…

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Volma's avatar

By Volma, October 5, 2010 at 3:50 pm Link to this comment

Napoleon: The poem, is this yours? Regardless it says it all, really very nicely…This expresses the unexpressed…I feel very aligned emotionally with what this is speaking to…Thanks

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By felicity, October 5, 2010 at 12:17 pm Link to this comment

Anarcissie - There’s really no such thing as ‘proper’
art if you believe that art is in the eye of the
beholder.  I look at graffiti and see art and I look at
graffiti and don’t see art. 

I visit museums and art shows and see crap while the
person standing next to me sees art - in my case, the
more abstract the better is generally what I like. 
Most of my friends think it’s “ridiculous.”  So there
you go, it’s all in the eye of the beholder.

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, October 5, 2010 at 11:30 am Link to this comment

felicity—You’re saying that none of the stuff I listed is proper art, or you don’t see any of it going on?

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By felicity, October 5, 2010 at 11:06 am Link to this comment

Anarcissie - Unless you’re being flip, your comment
makes truer the truism that art is in the eye of the
beholder.  (I forgot to mention that the ‘arts’
included writers, musicians, composers, playwrights,
and theater groups - in case you need more grist for
your mill.)

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Napolean DoneHisPart's avatar

By Napolean DoneHisPart, October 5, 2010 at 10:52 am Link to this comment

Great point!

“That’s why Hollywood is in trouble.  We have lots of little dream machines now; we don’t need the big ones any more.”

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By raykeith7, October 5, 2010 at 10:43 am Link to this comment

How could this ever happen in Hollywoodland?
It’s good to know that the recession is over-
Welcome to the New America- cant we just admit we are in the beginning of the second depression?

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, October 5, 2010 at 10:40 am Link to this comment

What philistines?  Graffitists stand ready to decorate any boring blank wall for you.  Garages vibrate to weird electronica.  People post movies to Youtube faster than you can watch them.  Millions daily (or at least on Sunday) attack the more traditional arts, belaboring canvases and clay and cellos with their visions.  We are anything but a nation of philistines.  We are drenched with art.  It’s coming out of our ears.

That’s why Hollywood is in trouble.  We have lots of little dream machines now; we don’t need the big ones any more.

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Napolean DoneHisPart's avatar

By Napolean DoneHisPart, October 5, 2010 at 9:33 am Link to this comment

True felicity… we haven’t the slightest clue what the ‘norm’ or temperature of society was back then..

And true, to suggest stuff like that will get so many names called at you, you’d think you are the one that is crazy when you read history and see what most miss.

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By felicity, October 5, 2010 at 9:24 am Link to this comment

We’ve become a nation of philistines. But we weren’t
always so. 

At the time of the Great Depression when conditions
across this land were far worse than they are now,
Congress established the Federal Art Project (1935)
which employed virtually all the major American
artists. Public buildings were adorned, art centers
and galleries were established…The Project lasted
until 1943.

Anyone suggesting anything like this today would be
laughed off the floor of the House.

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By David Donnell, October 5, 2010 at 8:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In the future the lighting will be bad as will the roads and plumbing. The “middle class” will be exceedingly rare and represented usually as a relatively brief employment period for middle youth individuals.

Television will continue to spiral downwards in content with the continued profusion of banal “reality” programs that require no writers, sets, directors, actors, grips, plots, or scripts. Special lighting consists mostly of night vision.

Reruns will become high class entertainment as “Truth, “Destination”, “Fear”, “Want”, “Factor”, Dancing, with (or without stars), talent, no talent, young talent, old talent, ghost, scare, paranormal, lame games, there is no bottom as destructive capitalism destroys itself, its markets, and its consumers. 

There’s your Milton Friedman/Ann Rand/Gordon Gekko “market correction”: Everyone starves and dies (think of the 1845 Irish potato famine - starvation in the midst of plenty).

There is no such thing as a “free market” or “Free trade”; They are ideals, concepts not unlike Plato’s perfect mirror world, Aristotle’s crystal spheres, or “True” democracy. Nice in theory - they don’t exist. Same for “market choice”: HFCS instead of Sugarcane put into EVERYTHING? “Self serve” checkout? Global military dominance - Destination truth? No one asked me or any of my friends. Don’t recall when we’ve had a public vote on any of these things. Do you really think the population has had any choice in this?

Capitalism and democracy* are not the same thing and often are mutually exclusive.(*constitutional federated republic with democratically elected executives and legislatures for the smart-ass snippy)

Free markets and Tax cuts are only for the billionaires as only the “little people” pay taxes. The big thieves hang the little ones.

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By samosamo, October 5, 2010 at 7:44 am Link to this comment


What is a point or points of interest to me is how
much the economic monopolies are running
rough shod over people who have talent but
because the law enforcement and justice system
seems so well bought off and useless in
enforcing antitrust laws that the few who live the
ultimate dream of horizontal integration(like billy
gates’ microsoft) where they have full control and
benefit of their product who so many use, that it
is no concern if someone else would be able to
create an alternative product, well steve jobs
comes close.

Then there is the vertical integration where
entities(corporations) own everything to do with a
product and service like movie making that
includes the ownership and control of every
process involved in making a movie or in the
music industry producing the music.

Both of these set a very few people in control and
benefitting the most with the help of a rigged
justice system that limits ever more the small
businesses that should be necessary in a
functioning economic system.

Definitely a case for the vast part of the money
ending up in just a few people’s hands, the top
.001% of greedy people. So hollywood ain’t broke,
it is much to do with the few hoarding all the
‘wealth’, whatever that is.

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, October 5, 2010 at 7:11 am Link to this comment

Well, a lot of people have a day job, or do temp work from time to time to fund something else.  Of course, this doesn’t give you the time or resources to be a total professional, but maybe people don’t care about that any more.  They would just as soon watch funny cat videos on Youtube as buy a ticket to see Avatar.  And they might not have the ticket money anyway.

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By tedmurphy41, October 5, 2010 at 5:38 am Link to this comment

To supply your labour for little or no payment is only viable if the individual/s concerned has/ve an independent source of finance, otherwise it just will not work.
You cannot go into a supermarket or restaurant for goods without the means to pay for them; you could, I suppose, say to them that because you, personally, work for nothing or very little money, you expect them to do likewise but I do not think that this appeal to their good nature will hold much water.

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By samosamo, October 4, 2010 at 8:56 pm Link to this comment



Thanks for the video links. I have followed
harper since 1973 and the only video clip I’ve
seen is from the David Gilmour vhs tape with
harper and gilmour singing ‘short and sweet’.

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, October 4, 2010 at 7:58 pm Link to this comment

I don’t think it’s a matter of theft.  Even if not a single frame of a Hollywood movie was ever copied, the changes in the technology of production and distribution would be putting established enterprises through a wringer.  That’s how capitalism works, ‘creative destruction’ and all that.

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By King of Clover, October 4, 2010 at 5:02 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I love the line:

“Where have you been?”

“It’s alright we know where you’ve been.”

Wrote in the 70’s and means everything today.  We are all tagged and monitored.  Every one of us.  All transactions, conversations, dreams, and information is monitored.  It’s Biblical in scope.  The Machine actually mines our memories and dreamlife for information and then uses our own thoughts to manipulate us.  It’s like a feedback loop nightmare.  It seems worse than the Matrix, really.

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Napolean DoneHisPart's avatar

By Napolean DoneHisPart, October 4, 2010 at 4:59 pm Link to this comment

Good stuff, thanks SamoSamo!

There’s an owl in the valley fixing his prey
He’s not counting the tally
It’s down to what comes up before the day
And the trees in the orchard were taken from a narrow view of time
Where the minds of the tortured perpetuated patron saints of crime
Oh civilisation.

I can fit into your puzzle but it’s hardly, hardly ever a hold
And I’ll tell you, yeah yeah, tell you the trouble
The habits I’ve got are more than 10.000 years old
And we cannot sell our souls to learning morals
Big brother is no place for us to slide
We cannot live by numbers or on laurels
And hardly on how far from death we hide.

And it’s not a case of rampant paranoia
But just an age I’d love to see unborn
Not that I’d be missing playing Goya
More like I feel awkward passing on
Civilisation, civilisation down to my children
Without a question.

While the prophets of freedom, battery farming brains for narrow minds
Have decided, yes they decided that meaning is far beyond the lives they left behind
As two thirds of the population dine
On scraps in shadow lengthening with time
While propaganda spreads the same old theme
You is me and we can change the game, bullshit.

Oh but how many times have we written these lines
And delivered these signs and not made it happen
Walking the tightrope of taking our head off
Losing the rhythm, idealising and all criticising
And not realising that we’ve changed and left and we’ve gone.

And sad to be leaving the things we believe in but time has a way and we fly
The next age is born and the old hands are gone and done in the wink of an eye
No point in passing bad reason good guessing, no time for massing much more than can flourish with love.

And right now, my darling, I’m lying here dreaming of feeling, no daylight between us
So wherever you are and whenever I’m there is someplace we’ve got to be ours
Can we right-heartedly stand in this light and see what might turn out to be crazy enough, enough to be we ?

When we’ve had a past sad enough to last for sometime into the future
These storms have torn and true love is alone and the past is almost a failure
Consciences burn in the programme turn, computing the social behaviour
But yoke revolts, the foundation bolts and cries for yet another saviour.

And I’d pack my things on a pair of wings and tomorrow I’d be parting
With the summer birds and the winter herds for a place to face a new heart in
But it makes no difference, where I am I’m in the game first hand
There are no certain answers and no time to understand
The rules are set to paradox, coercion and blind faith
The goal’s a changing paradise, a moment out of date
The dream is righteous grandeur fit to flood the universe
The fact is more than meets the eye but less than runs the earth, running the earth.

And the prisoner of the present paces up and down inside his cell
He’s the living replacement, somersaulting from this psychic well
Screaming : ‘I’m the sponsor of a hell’
Voices like the sea inside a shell
Telling me I cannot stake a claim
Possession is a clue but not the game
So please leave this world as clean as when you came.

So please leave this world as clean as when you came
Please leave this world as clean as when you came
Please leave this world as clean as when you came
Please leave this world as clean as when you came.

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By Lady R, October 4, 2010 at 4:13 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have just one thing to say:  “Fuck Hollywood and the shit it puts out.”

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By samosamo, October 4, 2010 at 2:47 pm Link to this comment



listen to this from roy harper, ‘the game’. guitar,
david gilmour.

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By WriterOnTheStorm, October 4, 2010 at 2:46 pm Link to this comment

Stier’s report from the trenches of Hollywood, disheartening as it is, paints a
pretty picture. By suggesting that Hollywood’s ills can be ascribed to the current
economic downturn, he implies that once past the bad patch Tinseltown’s
metaphorical McMansion will once again be up to its attic in starlette-dripped

We’ve heard this before. A couple of years back it was the ignominious writer’s
strike that was the problem. Before this it was all those amateur dramas, the
ones written by non-writers and acted by non actors—I think they call it
reality tv for some reason—that was the root of Hollywood’s downfall.

All of this was probably an attempt to divert attention from the elephant in the
room—you know, the one eating the metaphorical Jackson Pollack you’ve
been trying to unload and urinating on the metaphorical Astin Martin you can’t
afford to service. Well that elephant goes by many names, but the most
accurate one is digital theft.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The internet was supposed to set us free, not
cut us loose. But entropy, not just a natural phenomenon, but a social tendency
as well, ensured that all of us would seek the easiest path to entertainment, and
damn the consequences.

One of those (damn) consequences was the dizzying ascent of reality tv. It was
Hollywood’s reaction to a paradigm shift in the market. In increasing numbers,
consumers began downloading programs to watch commercial free. As
advertisers got skittish, the networks looked for ways to entice viewers to watch
the original broadcasts. Quality took a back seat to immediacy. Disposability
became an asset.

There’s still money in Hollywood, but at the moment it’s all dressed up with
nowhere to go. The ground is shifting under well-heeled feet. Where things are
going to shake out is anyone’s guess. But anyone betting on a return to
business as usual is likely to get bitten in their metaphorical ass.

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Napolean DoneHisPart's avatar

By Napolean DoneHisPart, October 4, 2010 at 12:39 pm Link to this comment

Oh Pink Floyd

Images so strong.. but wait til the end of the video, for then the real machine is EXPOSED!!!!

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, October 4, 2010 at 12:04 pm Link to this comment

Lots of people do art because they feel like it.  However, some people want to do it all the time, perhaps so they can get really, really good at it, and in that case, unless they’re rich, they have to find some way of getting paid to do it—paid by people, directly or indirectly, who may have far nastier lives and work to get through than the artist.  The Hollywood dream machine did that for some people for a while.  Now it’s going away.

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D.R. Zing's avatar

By D.R. Zing, October 4, 2010 at 11:48 am Link to this comment


Must say your comment made me laugh.  The universe is on a slightly different measure of time than us bipedal hominids. For example, it did reward Van Gogh and Emily Dickenson—after they were dead.  Van Gogh had to rely on his brother for paint. Emily was a recluse lucky enough to have a home and Sister Sue.

Hmm.  Is there a door to the cave?

I like that insight. Still, all in all would you mind representing me in my attempt to sell an aborted galley copy to Black Sparrow. The book was all ready to go when the publisher folded in the heat of the recession. 

@Anarcissie, spot on as usual.

@Queenie, see 12-Monkeys, Memento, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Like Cheech said in The Lion King:  If this is torture, chain me to the wall.

@NapoleanDoneHisPart, uh, that would be the news media you are talking about.  Cartoonists are heavily censored in today’s new media. You try to be a satirical critic of society while writing for children, Puritans and furniture stores—those are the folks that decide what goes in your local newspaper. 

As for me, I loved this article. It shows the IMF and the World Bank are succeeding in sinking their hooks deeper into the US economy. What those Friedman economic institutions have done to the world, they’re now doing to us. Kind of a jolt, don’t ya think?  See The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Kline. 

And now a little ditty from an obscure British band of pinkos:

Welcome my son
Welcome to the machine
Where have you been?
It’s alright we know where you’ve been
You’ve been in the pipeline
Filling in time
Provided with toys and scouting for boys
You brought a guitar to punish your ma
And you didn’t like school
And you know you’re nobody’s fool
So welcome to the machine

Welcome my son
Welcome to the machine
What did you dream?
It’s alright we told you what to dream
You dreamed of a big star
He played a mean gituar
He always ate in the Steak Bar
He loved to drive in his Jaguar
So welcome to the Machine

—“Welcome to the Machine”
—Roger Waters
—Music by Pink Floyd

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By justtrust, October 4, 2010 at 11:03 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As a society it seems as though our goals have grown to be fucked up. What happened to the days when people created simply for the act of creating? There is no art in Hollywood. No expression. Artists have always been those who struggle the most and the fact that they started to make significant amounts of money for a brief period of time was just luck. If people would be concerned with actually living life and expressing one’s self I think the Universe would reward them.

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Queenie's avatar

By Queenie, October 4, 2010 at 10:58 am Link to this comment

I feel very sorry for anyone who has lost their job. Anyone. Especially creative people.


The crap being shoved onto the public nowadays is nothing to shed tears about. For years I have seen the downward spiral from excellence to mediocre pap.

I do not watch tv nor do I go to the movies or rent them. I don’t buy music. What I buy was made in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Mostly. And most of that made by the Brits. Call me an Anglophile, simple-minded or just stuffy but I can’t abide shitty acting or production nor do I enjoy violence in my entertainment. There is enough already.

The golden age of entertainment is over.

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, October 4, 2010 at 7:47 am Link to this comment

In the case of ‘Hollywood’, there are at least two major problems.  One is that the people who formerly bought tickets, albums, and so on have much less disposable income than they used to.  (That situation has multiple causes.)  Another is that the industrial conditions of production and distribution have changed radically in the last several years.  People and companies tied to the older modes of production suffer a significant diminution of business when the conditions of the business change.  That has been going on since the onset of industrialism at least.  Industrialism giveth, and industrialism taketh away.

As far as I know, government-funded arts programs have never been a significant factor in the popular arts.

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Napolean DoneHisPart's avatar

By Napolean DoneHisPart, October 4, 2010 at 7:32 am Link to this comment


Oh the minstrels are having a hard time coping with their position as weapons of mass distraction for the populous, the chattel?

They are unsure if they’d like to be manipulated to further manipulate the masses and take the public’s eyes OFF the crooks and political criminals and ON themselves and pieces of expression… but they only express false hope and far out NON solutions… for they’ve been focused on landing jobs and jumping through hoops to be loved and employed… and only touch politics as how one pokes at poop with a stick.

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By jT, October 4, 2010 at 7:27 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

as a former agent myself, I fully understand the predicament these people are
in, but have little sympathy for them.  the whole business of agenting is largely
unnecessary and any performer with half a brain can figure out how to do what
they do, but unfortunately, many are lazy and have huge egos that prevent
them from representing themselves.

as for the other people mentioned in the article, I do feel bad for their
dilemma, but 35 yrs. old isn’t ancient (try being my age - I’m in my late 50’s)
and I doubt seriously that he won’t be able to find something in his field
eventually, just not at the kind of money he once commanded.  it’s true that
newer technology and better trained kiddies have rendered a lot of craftsman
obsolete, but maybe now people will be forced to think more outside the box
in order to utilize and be compensated for their talents instead of just
expecting it.

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kerryrose's avatar

By kerryrose, October 4, 2010 at 5:33 am Link to this comment

I wish the author would discuss specific political and sociological reasons for this to be happening to creative people in the last two years.

Has there been an axe taken to federally funded arts programs?  Are no collectors buying?  I would like to understand the background.

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By TongoRad, October 4, 2010 at 4:36 am Link to this comment

These folk’s predicament has become the new normal in America.

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