shyster: noun shy·ster ˈshīs-tər : a dishonest person; especially : a dishonest lawyer or politician
A couple of nights ago a ‘pilot’ for Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series aired in the US (watch it below) and it really is emblematic of the way that capitalism stymies creativity. The Wertzone has a good run down on the shite that the shiteing shysters have shysted but the tl;dr of it is that Red Eagle media acquired the rights to produce other media based on The Wheel of Time and then proceeded to turn every single venture into a complete and utter clusterfuck. The rights were due to revert to the estate (Jordan died in 2007 leaving his epic series to be completed by Brandon Sanderson) this coming Wednesday (12/02/15) and so Red Eagle produced the pathetic short video below in an attempt to retain the rights. One assumes that they wish to now simply sit on them until the current popular interest in epic fantasy has waned and then try to get funding for a big budget Game of Thrones style epic. If you read the Wertzone article you will see that they have a track record of being clever like that.
What has this got to do with capitalism stymieing creativity you ask? Well, to put it bluntly capitalism allows business interests to control and dictate the activities of creative people and groups. The general argument that capitalism encourages development through offering financial incentives to creative people is contradicted by the simple fact that financial remuneration for the arts is utterly pitiful. No one decides to study art because they want to get rich, they may have pipe dreams of hitting it big but that’s not the driving force behind their creativity. The desire to create is a very human one and people express it in all manner of different ways from painting through writing, teaching, engineering, mathematics, in all manner of fields and disciplines. People do this simply because they are people, not because of the slim possibility of there being a massive pay check at the end of the day.
What people desire is shelter, food, sex, society, company, and everything else is just a bonus. If it weren’t for capitalism forcing people to engage in meaningless labour for the profit of a tiny parasitic minority creative individuals then people would be fully able to follow their creative urges and so we would be gifted with an even greater abundance of wonderful things with which to enjoy our lives. The actions of Red Eagle media are perfectly legal and are to expected in a capitalist economy, they would be insane to simply give up the rights they have acquired and from which they may potentially be able to draw a profit. If our economy were organised differently however (from each according to ability, to each according to need perhaps?) then there would be no issue here. The estate of Robert Jordan wouldn’t have the incentive to reclaim the rights and Red Eagle wouldn’t have the incentive to hang on to them. It would be possible to have the work produced as a visual drama by those who love the books, by those who love acting, by those who love film making, by those who love sound recording, and so on. Surely that would be preferable to the present situation?
“I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”
― Stephen Jay Gould, The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History
I love that quote though I would take it even farther. How many Tolkiens, Del Toros, Ligottis, Mievilles, Jacksons, Wintersons, Atwoods, Salingers, and so on have we lost to mines, to factories, to call centres? How many cancer cures and startling feats of engineering have we lost to 40-50 hour work weeks, to work days so long that when the work is done all that’s left is to sleep? There is a lot that is fundamentally wrong with how we organise our society but the amount that we deny ourselves through the perpetuation of capitalism has to be one of the most tragic.