Sunday, March 5, 2006

The Envelope, Please

By Mitchell

Let us take time out from the recent unpleasantness to offer a moment of silence for the Academy Awards. Yes, the Oscars are being handed out tonight, in show that has gone from being must-see TV to few-may-see TV. The fact that very few have even seen any of the nominated pictures (most of which are well outside the mainstream of middle American thought) only adds to the lack of importance the Oscars have achieved.

For what it's worth, speculation is that the Best Picture award will go to either Crash, the optimistic portrayl of a facist America, or Brokeback Mountain, which is either (a) a sensitive love story, (b) a cautionary drama, or (c) a piece of homosexual propaganda.

And that brings us to the topic of this post. I don't know how many are aware of this, but one of the producers of Brokeback Mountain is Bill Pohlad, son of Minnesota Twins owner Smilin' Carl. Bill has been quoted in several articles as saying that although they knew it was a special film, he and his partners had no idea it would be such a success. For them, the artistic merit of this special project was paramount.

What's interesting about this is the difference in philosophy between Bill and his father, Smiling' Carl. Carl has had great success in his time as owner of the Twins - two World Series championships, three additional division titles. However, for Carl, the bottom line has always been the bottom line. Never mind that he is one of the wealthiest owners in professional sports - it all pales besides the need to show a profit. If the payroll gets too far out of hand, threatening to disturb the bottom line, then it's time to cut costs and trade players. Despite the fact he could finance a new ballpark with some of his pocket change, he works resolutely to force the taxpayers of Hennepin County (Minneapolis) to pay the bulk of the cost with a small percentage increase in the sales tax, under threat of moving or contracting the team.

Bill, on the other hand, seems to be from the traditional school of thought for artists, who believe that art is its own reward. To listen to him, one would think that any profit for Brokeback Mountain (sensitive love story, cautionary tale, homosexual propaganda) would have been beside the point. One article, discussing various film projects on which Pohlad had passed, said "Although they and other projects offered to him became successful, he [Pohlad] said, they didn't deliver 'the kind of stamp we want to put on the industry.' "

Ironic, isn't it? Carl, the ultimate businessman, looks not at the artistic success of his team, but at the only thing that matters - making a profit. His legacy lies not with championships, but dollar signs. Bill, the son, cares only about the artistic merit of his movies, with everything else being "icing on the cake."

Carl has been trying for several years, without success, to sell the Twins. The Pohlad sons are said to be in favor of keeping the team in the family, so they can continue to operate it as a family business after Carl leaves the mortal coils of this world.

And this begs the question: what happens then? Will Bill remain consistent with his philosophy, looking at the artistic success of the Twins (read: winning) as the only important thing and the bottom line being of secondary importance? Or will he assume Smilin' Carl's guise and demand a public subsidy for any movies he produces, claiming, as his father has insisted for so many years, that he should be guaranteed a profit on his investment? Will he bring in Jack Valente, the movie industry's version of baseball commissioner Bud Selig, to back him up, threatening to move his movie producing operation to another city if he doesn't get his way? Will he contract the whole operation, selling it to Paramount or one of the other big studios?

For years, we've been lamenting the lack of consistency in American political thought. Now, it turns out there isn't even any consistency in the way two members of the same family run their businesses. Who can keep up with it all? The legislature may wind up passing financial aid for the wrong Pohlad. And then what happens? One can only imagine how this story will end. As a matter of fact, maybe someone should make a movie about it.

Nah, it'd never sell...

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