U.S. Lawmakers Are Looking Into the Cancellation of ‘The Problem With Jon Stewart’ ⇥ deadline.com
Ted Johnson, Deadline:
Members of a special House committee fired off a letter to Apple, questioning whether the decision to end The Problem with Jon Stewart was due to concerns over the company’s relationship with China.
The committee is asking for a briefing by the company by Dec. 15, and they also plan to speak to Stewart’s representatives.
I also found Apple’s apparent distaste for then-upcoming topics on Stewart’s show to be concerning, if those reports are accurate. It is hard for me to believe there would not have been a discussion about control over topics of investigation when this show was pitched. Perhaps Apple executives became more sensitive — it is still unclear.
Even if reports are true that the show ended over whether Stewart could investigate topics about China, it seems disproportionate for U.S. federal government officials to be looking into it. Hollywood productions trying to appeal to the Chinese market is a well documented phenomenon. But it is not really Chinese influence on movies as much as it is that major studios want to make money, so they want to release their movies in the world’s largest market for them, which is now China. But they are under no obligation to do so.
What these lawmakers appear to be mad about is the free market. Apple wants to make a lot of money selling devices it mostly makes in China, and it also wants to make a lot of recurring revenue by selling a streaming video subscription. It does not take a Congressional investigation; any idiot could see there would be a collision. But investigating incidents like this is apparently Rep. Gallagher’s role.
In an interview with Deadline, Gallagher said one of the problems the committee sees is “self-censorship on the front end.”
“What choices are they already making, knowing that they don’t want to offend China, when they decide to embark on a project? Ask yourself: When was the last time a movie featured a Chinese villain? I can’t think of one. Maybe that’s evidence that self-censorship is happening.”
Abram Dylan, writing for the Awl in 2012:
When American TV networks cut scenes it’s “edited,” and when China does it it’s “censored.” When Hollywood adds Hispanic characters and shies away from Mexican stereotypes, it’s catering to a growing demographic. When it changes the artistic integrity of Transformers 2,” Battleship, and — upcoming Chinese-financed, future Criterion Collection standout- — Iron Man 3, it’s “gripped” by a “pressure system.”
Transformers, Iron Man and Battleship are all three franchises that gave the U.S. military script oversight in exchange for cooperation. Was it a “pressure system” that “gripped” director Peter Berg when he cut a character from “Battleship” because the Navy thought a sailor looked too fat?
Note again the date; this is from eleven years ago, and we are still having the same complaints. As Dylan writes, there remain plenty of mainstream U.S. films with Chinese antagonists, if that is something you are concerned about; there are some even more recent, too.
The problem with the free market is that it rarely rewards artistic integrity, and that maximizing revenue often means trying to appease the widest possible audience. If a studio want to include a market of a billion people where personal expression is not seen with the same standards as in the U.S., it may need to make some changes. That is especially true for Apple as it risks losing access to its manufacturing engine. The problem these lawmakers have is with capitalism, not Apple specifically, but that is not really something they are able to admit.