This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.
If you're an American actor, Michael Douglas thinks you should get off Twitter.
Speaking to the Independent, Douglas said this:
"There's something going on with young American actors—both men and women—because the Brits and Australians are taking many of the best American roles from them. Clearly, it breaks down on two fronts. In Britain they take their training seriously, while in the States we're going through a sort of social media image–conscious thing rather than formal training. Many actors are getting caught up in this image thing which is going on to affect their range. With the Aussies, particularly with the males, it's the masculinity. In the US we have this relatively asexual or unisex area with sensitive young men and we don't have many Channing Tatums or Chris Pratts, while the Aussies do. It's a phenomena."
I love Michael Douglas, and so do you. (If you don't, go watch The China Syndrome, Romancing the Stone, Wall Street, Falling Down, The American President, Wonder Boys, Traffic, and Behind the Candelabra, then you can come back and finish reading this.) But that was a baffling statement. To start with, the USA may not have a lot of Channing Tatums or Chris Pratts, but they still have 100 percent more than the rest of the world.
But the point Douglas is making—that American actors are soft and more concerned with their image than their training—is a riff on a meme that's been around for decades. His father, Kirk Douglas, was usually the go-to name when unfavorably comparing modern actors to their predecessors. "They don't make 'em like Kirk Douglas anymore!" We're so far down that rabbit hole, we're at "They don't make 'em like Chris Pratt anymore!"
But leave aside the point about self-conscious stars for the moment, because the primary argument that Douglas is putting forward is based on a faulty premise: that Hollywood belongs to America.
It's not hard to see why Americans think this, and we've certainly heard this complaint many times before. "Amazing preponderance of Brit and Aussie actors in US TV and films," tweeted Jason Alexander. "Conclusion: we must really suck."
I feel for them. After all, Hollywood is quite literally based in America, and its product (films about Americans being American) is overwhelmingly made in America with Americans. But this is where they're the victim of their own market dominance.
The ongoing monopoly of American film and television across the Western world means that it is financially unviable for some countries to create their own entertainment. Australia has a 55 percent minimum local content quota for commercial free-to-air TV stations. The cost of importing a glossy, proven product from overseas is far less than taking a risk and producing your own show. If this quota didn't exist, the entire industry would implode.
Meanwhile, Australian cinema is, and always has been, subsidized by the government. It is considered a cultural imperative for us to have some sort of film industry, because if we left it to the open market it simply would not happen. That's why there's no Australian equivalent of a Paramount or a Universal, no multi-billion dollar entertainment conglomerate funding high-budget cinema. The average budget for an Australian film is $11 million. The average budget of a Hollywood film is $71 million. The odds are not in our favor.
The fact that Australians aren't spending enough to keep our own industry afloat is all the more shocking when you see how much we spend on entertainment. We currently spend $1.12 billion on film. 2.47 percent of that goes to Australian films. A decade ago, it was 3.8 percent. In the 1980s, it was 11.49 percent. We're being squeezed out of our own market, and we're the ones doing the squeezing.
This story is so familiar, the "Why don't Australian films do well at the box office?" article is now a regular fixture across all Australian newspapers. Microsoft Word now comes with an Australian box office article template.
Hollywood, on the other hand, has conquered the world. It now measures its films' successes based on international box office, which is why moderate domestic performers such as Pacific Rim can get sequels based on worldwide gross, or why films such as 2012, Mission: Impossible 3 and Transformers 4 are taking advantage of the bourgeoning Chinese market by featuring flattering sequences that take place in China.
So we can't really take Hollywood seriously when it complains about all the Australian actors flooding the market. If they want to switch places, we'll gladly take a multi-billion dollar industry in exchange for a Yankee invasion. But complaining about people being attracted to the most successful cinema industry in the world (unless you're willing to learn Hindi) is like advertising that you have the greatest, freest country in the world, then complaining when immigrants turn up to be part of it. Who would be that stupid?
The journey to Hollywood is the journey to Mecca. Arriving there is considered the very definition of success in an industry that is, by necessity, powered by money in a way that no other artform is. Hollywood's success is so great that it has all-but-destroyed the chances of our own films succeeding in our own country, and if the price they pay for that is an influx of Hemsworths, then they can deal with it. Meanwhile, Douglas can console himself with the fact that America not only has the monopoly on cinema, but on the world's collection of Chris Pratts and Channing Tatums.
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