Hollywood’s Perception of Value Versus Real Value

America emulates movieland’s way of measuring the worth of things, which teaches us to place the perception of value over value itself.

by Neal Gabler, in the LA Times

Hollywood Values (Christopher Serra / For The Times)

Believe it not, there was actually a time not so long ago when civilians outside the entertainment industry didn’t have a clue what movie happened to top the box office on any given weekend. Now just about everybody in America knows the top grosser by Sunday night, and they can expound like industry veterans on what film has “underperformed” or which might have “legs.”

By the same token, there was once a time when no civilian could tell you who was the highest-paid actor or actress or which ones had the greatest personal wealth. (For the record,Tom Cruise, according to Forbes, is worth $270 million.) Now we not only know salaries, we often know what percentage of the gross some actors and directors receive.

The point isn’t that we are more knowledgeable than previous generations or that Hollywood has become more transparent. The point is that we have become obsessed with measurable worth. Movie grosses, TV ratings, salaries, lists of the most powerful are all ways that a society sets a valuation on things — the perception of value as opposed to value itself. Another way to think of it is that valuation is to value what popularity is to being the best.

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In Hollywood, valuation matters, which is why we get so much of it. Although there are a few deviants like Martin Scorseseand Paul Thomas Anderson, whose films are more esteemed by critics than by audiences and who nevertheless survive and are even lauded, entertainment subsists on grosses and ratings. That is what pays the bills, but it is also what chiefly feeds the status. And in a way, Hollywood, by inundating us with all these rankings and by reinforcing this tendency in the culture, has done such a good job of promoting valuation at the expense of value that we now live in a valuation society where valuation subordinates nearly everything else.

One might even say that America has been remade in Hollywood’s image, not so much because it emulates movie glamour or behavior or language but because it emulates Hollywood’s way of measuring the worth of things and teaches us to place the perception of value over value itself…

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Gabler, author of “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood,” “Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination” and other books, is writing a biography about the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.