Shameless film politics

It’s bad enough that the film industry operating in North Carolina—pretentiously called Hollywood East—periodically interferes with commuter traffic,(link) usurps police resources needed for keeping the peace, and, in fact, sometimes disturbs the peace in residential areas; but why does our state and local political class persist in subsidizing a business that promotes the ugly, violent side of fiction?

Cassie Foss reporting on a recent N. C. Governor’s Conference on Tourism in a Wilmington StarNews article describes the current film noir: “bleak and gory thrillers” and “angsty, hyper-sexual teenage dramas,” set in “post-apocalyptic industrial sites” (the things that may influence an occasional deranged youth to massacre school children). Further, she writes, “the fictional societies are more dystopian and divided than earnest and hopeful.”(link)

Well put, Ms. Foss. But it’s a sad commentary on the pathetic state of American filmdom; and shameless that locals who pridefully promote the high “quality of life” in this area support it. Phony, hypocritical elites of the artsy-crafty set plentifully inhabit these environs. And we have our share of greedy politicians and bureaucrats—always ready to tap the public purse for their personal glory.

State and local self-serving tourism bureaus push for more visitors and lobby legislators. They feed off public emotions, especially the younger “fanatic” visitors who crave to see film locations, such as TV series’ “Dawson’s Creek” and “One Tree Hill,” produced in the Cape Fear area. Social media- and celebrity-obsessed youths may swell the touring crowds, but I doubt that they contribute much to our economy.

Important questions about the film fervor are rarely asked by press or politicians: Who actually benefits? And, Is it all worth the public cost? Tourism groups “capitalize” on filming activities, writes Foss. She cites a few Wilmington businesses that apparently benefit financially. And, of course, greedy government officials always get their cut of any take; including the tax burden they shift to other citizens with film subsidies. Tourism offices are tax supported, as far as I know.

The State of North Carolina has a Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development. Taxpayers also support a N. C. Film Office, and Wilmington has a Regional Film Commission.(link) It’s unclear what general public benefit they provide, but we know employees exist primarily to hype the film industry, and fawn over and “honor” film executives and actors, as Foss’ article reveals.

This is another unaccountable publicly funded system, run by people who don’t even know why tourists visit. Kim Hufham of the Wilmington Convention and Visitors Bureau told reporter Foss, “visitors are aware of our reputation as Hollywood East,” but she doesn’t know if “they’re here specifically for that.”

Citizens have no idea if film ventures are cost effective—more public benefits gained than costs incurred. Oh sure, bureaucrats can tell us how many people called their offices or how many flyers they handed out. And we can find out how much a production grossed, or that “Hunger Games…earned the state about $2.5 million in publicity revenue.” But what about the total public costs compared to overall public benefits?

But, who cares? This is just one more way some of our money is taken and spent by government on unnecessary projects that benefit only selected people. Nobody will march in the streets to protest this. Americans have become immune to the shameless ways in which our federal, state and local government operatives misuse their powers and our money.

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About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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