Friday, May 27, 2005

Box Office? Try the Liability Office

Amazing: Edward Jay Epstein's look at the behind-the-scenes impact of insurance on movie-making. Nicole Kidman, for instance, is almost uninsurable due to her bum knee:
Kidman injured her right knee during the filming of Moulin Rouge in Australia in 2000, which resulted in two claims for delays and a $3 million insurance loss. In 2001, she quit Panic Room after three weeks of shooting because of her knee, a decision that almost resulted in the entire production being canceled and a $54 million insurance claim. Fortunately for the insurer, the producers decided to continue with a replacement actress, Jodie Foster. Still, they had to pay $7 million for the delay and additional expenses. As a result of all these claims, Kidman's acting career was in limbo.
(The book from which this piece was drawn sounds fascinating, too: The Big Picture: The New Logic of Money and Power in Hollywood.)

What really interests me, in the Slate piece, is the power exerted by private firms - the insurers - over the behavior of other firms (the movie companies) and individuals (the actors, among others). Though movie-making is clearly an extraordinary case of corporate power at work, it points in the direction of a topic which I think is woefully underexamined in contemporary culture: the invasive powers enjoyed by companies over citizens. I'd argue that companies are far more dangerous to our civil liberties than any government, even the federal. Getting crossed up by the feds is unlikely, for the average Joe or Jane. Being harmed by, say, a credit agency, an insurer, a credit-card vendor, or the phone-cable-internet company is not only more likely, but very difficult to effectively rectify. Surveillance by the FBI: unlikely. Surveillance by mall security: certain.

(Article tip from Gulfstream.)


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