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You Are Not a Pork Belly: Actors and Film Futures

Last week the United States Senate—a legislative body so useless that it makes one long for the days when its members would beat each other with canes—actually did something right. The Senate Agriculture Committee passed on April 21 a financial reform package that includes a ban on the kinds of motion-picture futures that have been proposed by Wall Street firm Cantor Fitzgerald and Indiana-based Media Derivatives. The derivative programs would essentially allow investors to gamble on whether or not a movie performs well at the box office. The bill must make its way down the Snakes and Ladders-esque path of Congressional democracy with the provision intact before the fate of film futures is known, but for the opponents of such markets—including the Motion Picture Association of America, most film executives, and pretty much anyone who has ever watched Rick Santelli on CNBC with a queasy sense of disbelief—the committee’s move was cause for a little fist-pumping.

It’s worth noting that this provision came out of the agriculture committee. Once upon a time, Americans produced useful things like grain and pork bellies, and we developed a system that allowed rich men to profit from gambling on those things. Now we make movies, and rich men want to gamble on those, too—making actors the new livestock.

Last week Sen. Al Franken—a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Screen Actors Guild—joined four other Senators in urging the Commodities and Futures Trading Commission, which had given first-stage approval to the new markets, to hold off on any further consideration until financial-regulation reform has passed. Producers and the MPAA argue that the futures markets would be vulnerable to insider manipulation and could damage a movie’s prospects. For actors, the concern should be the literal commodification of their work. Remember: You may be an actor, but that doesn’t mean you should be treated like a pig.

Pictured: These are not actors.

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