VIEWPOINT: Greed is ruining the entertainment industry
February 2, 2023
Taylor Swift is projected to become a billionaire after her upcoming Eras tour. Like many fans, this information came as a bit of a shock to me. But when faced with the knowledge of her economic stance, a war was waged between my inner giddy fan-girl and my anti-capitalist politics.
I was inclined at first, blinded by my admiration, to believe the first defense I could find on social media. Swift would be the first person to reach billionaire status ethically. After all, her money comes entirely from her own labor: the music she writes and performs herself, right? There can be no exploitation if it is all coming from your own labor.
However, this naivety could only last so long. You do not have to look any further than Swift’s last album release to understand what—or rather, who—is being exploited. The tragic truth is that it is mostly her fans.
She drastically over prices tour tickets by thousands of dollars, uses marketing manipulation in her merchandise, consistently releases mediocre and cheaply done remixes of whatever song does the best on an album, and so much more. For the past 16 years, Swift’s fans have served merely as an opportunity to her, another penny in her already overflowing pockets. Every aspect of her career is about maximizing profits that she, evidently, does not need.
By pointing these things out, I am by no means trying to attack Swift herself, but rather the society we have created that pushes celebrities to abandon the meticulous care and attention that should be afforded to their art. They have exchanged intricate craftsmanship for whatever buzzword-filled song will prove the most lucrative.
No artist sticks to their passion anymore either, left and right celebrities are dropping clothing lines, makeup and skin care products, headphones, you name it. Whatever their managers think will be a quick and easy profit once they have acquired an impressionable audience.
This is, of course, a depressing turn for music as an art form, but the problem displayed is much bigger than that. The true issue lies in greediness and the general desire for blasphemous amounts of money. This stands for everyone, not just celebrities.
What I now understand is that even if Swift had earned all of her money herself—if we knew she paid her production team a livable wage— she still would not have become the first ethical billionaire, because it is not possible. There are two factors that contribute to my belief that billionaires are horribly unjust.
She drastically over prices tour tickets by thousands of dollars, uses marketing manipulation in her merchandise, consistently releases mediocre and cheaply done remixes of whatever song does the best on an album, and so much more
The first is the principle that there is no way to acquire such extensive amounts of money without ripping someone off at some point along the road. According to Annuity, if someone were to make the average U.S. family income of around $65,500, it would take them about 14,810 years to make a billion dollars. This is obviously not applicable to certain celebrities who make far beyond that, but acquiring that amount of money is still almost unheard of, even for them. Some of the most successful actors and musicians of all time such as, Lucille Ball, Tom Hanks, The Rock, Michael Jackson, and Whitney Houston are or were multimillionaires, but never came close to touching billionaire status.
The second factor, is that even if I were to be proven wrong one day, if someone were to authentically work themselves up the economic ladder without starting off ahead or pushing others down, I still would never believe that someone needs that much money. Especially just for themselves, if they are unmarried and without children. Nobody should be able to, in good conscience, sit with that much money while the world suffers economically.
It has been theorized for years that Dolly Parton, an esteemed household name in country music, and the richest country singer in the U.S, has had the potential to reach such status but never achieved it because of her extensive list of philanthropic donations.
After spending her childhood in severe poverty, I now doubt that there is anything Parton believes she is too poor for. She lives a lavish lifestyle, is cared for and happy, all without billions of dollars. Instead of making her life more extravagant, she makes it possible for impoverished children to learn to read with the Imagination library, and sends highschoolers from her hometown to college through the Dollywood Foundation.
As of 2020, combined in roughly 12,000 billionaires, sits the accumulated wealth of 10.2 trillion dollars. It is estimated that it would currently take 37 billion dollars a year until 2030 to end world hunger. After the necessary seven years, it would add up to 259 billion dollars. That is one fiftieth of their combined net worth. If such a small number of people are capable of making such considerable change, but choose not to act on it, how can a society ever say they are humane? That they deserve such outlandish privilege?
Elon Musk, specifically demonstrates the selfishness that often coexists with this level of wealth. In an effort to respond to the aforementioned accusation of inattentiveness to starvation, Musk claimed that he would be willing to pitch in 6 billion dollars if anyone could give him a plan that would incite actual change.
According to Oxfam, “He got in return a proposal that would save 42 million people in 43 countries from starvation.” Astonishingly, Musk never responded, and never made any reference to his statement again. All 42 million of those people continued to starve while the fraction of Musk’s net worth that would save their lives, sat instead in his bank account, unnoticed and unneeded.
Since, Musk bought the social media platform Twitter for 44 billion dollars in Dec., stocks have plummeted, the usability of the app is deteriorating, and usage is at an all time low. He was willing to essentially throw away 44 billion dollars to ruin a social media platform on a whim yet could not acknowledge the 6 billion dollar plan he himself committed to.
As individual people, most of us teenagers making minimum wage, there is not much that we can do to combat the accumulation of wealth in the one percent besides getting angry. While it is true that protests and boycotting companies like Amazon are meaningful choices that people make, western society has been this way since industrialization and it will stay this way until the elite develop a sense of humanity.
We are starting to see this in Bill Gates, who has made a pledge to allocate “virtually all” of his wealth to charity by the end of his life. Most of his donations as of now have been to the foundation he co-chairs with his ex-wife, Melinda Gates. This is the action that I hope to see taken in the future: a goal from people in power, followed by the necessary steps to actualize it. I can only hope that Gates sets a precedent that can be followed in the near future as he also asks those in his position to follow in his footsteps.
“I have an obligation to return my resources to society in ways that have the greatest impact for reducing suffering and improving lives,” Gates said. “And I hope others in positions of great wealth and privilege will step up in this moment too.”