two things that make me angry

I’ll put the important one first: a lengthy article on Dubai that frankly just turns my stomach, presenting both the dark underside and the artificially bright topside of that city. I presume not everybody in Dubai is like the Emiratis and expats quoted there, but that’s the image of Dubai I’ve seen marketed: a sunny playground for shopping and leisure, to be enjoyed by the wealthy — just don’t ask what’s propping it up.

The second one’s smaller, but closer to home: apprehension about Pixar’s latest, Up. Why the apprehension? Are they worried it will be a flop? No; in fact, everybody’s pretty much assuming it will be a critical and commercial success. But probably it won’t be as big of a hit as (say) Toy Story, and (perhaps more to the point) it doesn’t have all the merchandising opportunities of that film, and so nevermind that Pixar has yet to release a single film that could be termed a critical or commercial flop; some corners of the industry are worried that Pixar’s films aren’t as lucrative as they used to be, and this is a problem. Not that they aren’t profitable; they are. But that they aren’t always increasing in profits.

I find that outlook diseased. Here we have a rock-solid company that has, since its inception, turned out quality entertainment that also brings in a nice, healthy return on the investment of making it. But hits, it seems, aren’t enough; they must be mega-hits, and ever-growing in size, or Wall Street will flip out.

Can you say “unsustainable model”? I can.

Anyway. I’ve had those tabs open in my browser for a couple of days, but I decided not to rain on Easter Sunday with them, so you get them today. Enjoy. So to speak.

0 Responses to “two things that make me angry”

  1. kathleenfoucart

    RE: Pixar— I feel the same way. It doesn’t make sense to me how people/companies think things can and must keep growing at all times. I can understand not wanting to go backward. I can understand that there are points when growth is desirable and necessary. But to ignore stability and quality for growth only? As if that’s the only measure of success? I just don’t get it.

    • Marie Brennan

      I can (slightly) understand when the growth is a corollary of inflation; if your numbers stay truly flat, then they’re actually declining. But only slightly even then, because I don’t think an occasional decline is (or should be) the end of the world.

      • tchernabyelo

        Yeah, you’d kind of think that with recent events and the current economic climate, Wall Street might have learned to be a touch more sanguine about expectations for “every bang being bigger than the bang before it which was the biggest bang ever”.

        But it seems it takes more than a global economic downturn to drum sense into the fund managers and share dealers of this world.

  2. tchernabyelo

    The Dubai article came as no great surprise to me. I haveheard it described as “true, but ridiculously one-sided” from someone who spent time in Dubai, but I suspect that “spending some time in Dubai” is not enough to uncover the dark underbelly of rampant capitalism in parts of the world that haven’t had the luxury of 100+ years of government legislation and unionisation to ameliorate the excesses.

    • Marie Brennan

      No amount of one-sided-ness in reporting is going to erase the wrongness of the immigrant labor situation. Unless that turns out to be made up out of whole cloth — which I doubt.

      Also, I don’t think there’s any arguing the utter environmental clusterfuck of development there. The water situation is a disaster waiting to happen. (Or, perhaps more to the point, a disaster in progress.)

  3. scottakennedy

    There’s a cogent response to the NYT reporting on UP which rips apart their article pretty thoroughly. Simply put, the NYT relies on bad figures, and seems to dismiss global rather than domestic box office. Ratatouille is Pixar’s #3 money maker of all time.

    The bottom 3, which don’t quite fit the NYT meme that movie-tie toys makes the best box office:
    Toy Story
    A Bug’s Life

    The whole article is worth reading

    • Marie Brennan

      Wow — the clarification makes me even more pissed off, because it removes even the faint justification for saying Pixar’s recent movies are economically dubious.

      I’m not surprised, though, to discover the numbers are bogus; I’ve read any number of pieces about how arbitrary and unrelated to reality the accepted narratives of film success and failure can be. (Like the “giant flop” of Sahara — a movie that actually made a respectable profit. But it’s had legal troubles between Cussler and the production company, and those look even more interesting if you go around saying the movie was a financial disaster.)

      • c0untmystars

        I think Hollywood invented underhanded accounting. People are flipping their shit about what’s been going on on Wall Street with the giant bonuses for people who were running their companies into the ground (talk about an unsustainable business model) but that’s nothing to what screwy shit the industry gets up to just to prove that on paper, no movie is ever profitable, so any percentage of profit sharing that they promised the actors, directors, etc. never has to be paid.

        • Marie Brennan

          Yeah, I’ve heard that, too. If you listen to studio accountants, they’ve never made any profit at all. Ever.

          If I should ever be so lucky as to get a movie deal, I need to remember not to accept a profit percentage if I can get money up front instead.

  4. daobear

    Here here. I fully agree on both points. 🙂

  5. nojojojo

    Wow. That Dubai article blew my mind. I suspected it was bad — no place can grow that large, that fast, without a massive labor system; that’s how slavery came to be in the US. But this confirms my fears.

    I’ve got a cousin living there among the expats, apparently the mistress of an Emirati man. I was worried about her already, now I’m much more so.

    • Marie Brennan

      As an expat, she’s in a privileged position, from the sound of it. But yeah, I don’t know that I would feel safe dealing with that legal system.

      • nojojojo

        Well, that’s the problem with a system like that, isn’t it? Not just the legal aspects. In a slave state, no one is in a truly privileged position; their privileges can be yanked quicksmart if they don’t remain complicit in the system. And it sounds like anyone without privileges in Dubai is up a very polluted creek. =(

        • Marie Brennan

          Exactly. I hope your cousin ends up okay.

          • kurayami_hime

            Follow the rules and you’ll be fine. Don’t and you’re f-cked. This applies to the privileged and the non-privileged alike. Talk to my aunt sometime if you’d like more information from someone who lived there for a substantial length of time.

            I suppose I’ll go read the article now.

  6. c0untmystars

    I will join the chorus of “unsustainable business model”. That’s one of the reasons I quit writing screenplays… the entertainment industry is so full of that kind of toxic thinking even on the lower, more-insulated-from-the-Wall-Street-types levels.

  7. tybalt_quin

    Re Dubai, the article doesn’t surprise me. I worked in Abu Dhabi for 7 months at the turn of this century and the problems regarding overcrowding for migrant workers and work conditions were all well known. Many of them live in settlement camps well outside the city perimeter and are bused in – you knew where the camps were because of the smell. Under the law that sets out the levels of blood money payable in the event of a death of serious injury, the life of an Indian or Pakistani worker was worth less than a camel.

    The other dirty little secret that doesn’t get talked about is the camel races. The jockeys are children brought over from Pakistan and promised an education in return for looking after and riding the camels for the benefit of western tourists. The education never materialises, there were stories that many children were expected to live in the stables with the camels and when they get too big to be able to ride them anymore, they’re dumped back in Pakistan with v. little money and no opportunities.

    Prostitution was officially non-existent in Abu Dhabi. In truth, it was everywhere. One of my mates lived in a hotel (a big, Western chain hotel) that was known locally as Shag Towers because there were so many Ukrainian and Russian prostitutes there. AIDs officially doesn’t exist but HIV rates are bound to be high – I actually got solicited once in a pub because I was sitting with two male clients and the hooker offered a foursome. All ex-pat workers have to have a TB and AIDS test as a condition to receive a work permit – if you fail either then you are immediately deported.

    Drug use amongst Emirates is another little-talked about secret. There was a guy in AD who used to hook people up with their narcotic of choice – well known on the party circuit amongst westerners and Emiratis alike. What was less well known was that the guy was also in the pay of the local police force and paid them commission. If a customer didn’t pay him on time, he made a phone and the police would come around and start arresting people. Drug possession and trafficking is a capital offence in the Emirates.

    The sex inequality problem is well known. The day after I arrived in AD a woman was stoned to death for adultery in one of the smaller Emirates. I lived next to the British embassy so got to know some of the staff. One of them told me the story about how he’d had to help a woman who’d gone out to work in the morning, leaving her boyfriend in the shower. She got back to find the shower still running – her boyfriend had had a massive heart attack and died. She did what anyone would do in that situation and phoned the ambulance, who turned up with the police in tow. One of the policeman casually asked her why there were no wedding photographs in the appartment and she said it was because they weren’t married. The policeman arrested her on the spot for adultery. The Embassy had to get involved and managed to get her released without charge (after she’d spent the best part of a week in prison) but she had to leave the country that night, with the Embassy having to organise the transportation of her things. She lost everything.

    There are a couple of things I could share about Mansoori, who gets mentioned in the article as an opponent of the system. When I was in AD he wasn’t known as an opponent. He actually did pretty well out of the situation – his problems started when he began to get above himself and court publicity for his practice.

    As the article suggests – none of it is sustainable. The authorities haven’t put sufficient infrastructure in place and there aren’t enough qualified people who can help manage the issues. In 15 years, I won’t be surprised to find Dubai as a kind of ghost town because people have abandoned it for the next new, shiny thing.

    • Marie Brennan


      Re: ghost town — I think you’re right. It doesn’t sound like the beaches are in great shape anymore, and with the economic downturn the tourism isn’t what it once was; I can easily imagine a pretty severe collapse there.

Comments are closed.