Recently the New Zealand media has been awash with hysteria over The Hobbit. Because some actors who were part of the union dared to ask for comparable wages with their American counterparts for doing the same job in the same conditions on the same film, the executives at Warner Brothers threatened to take the film off-shore. Suggestions were Poland or Czechoslovakia, because it’s cheaper. There was outcry.
This did lead to some interesting asides as an article in The Guardian speculated where certain scenes might be located if set in Britain (let’s not forget; where the book was originally written). The Shire is described thus; ‘Tranquil and pastoral, the Shire is home to the Hobbits, a bizarre race of tiny, shoeless, greedy, pipe-smoking, badly dressed little men and matronly wives.’ The suggested location was therefore Luton town centre. The forum was opened up to the public to propose where they would shoot The Hobbit – the first answer was, ‘I would shoot the hobbit in the face’. My, how I laughed.
According to some sections of the population The Hobbit can be set nowhere but New Zealand, never mind the fact that JRR Tolkien never even visited here. For a nation that has been proudly churning out ‘New Zealand-made’ garments from sweat-shops in China for years because it’s cheaper, the righteous indignation feels a little hollow. These are probably the same people who illegally download films and music, thereby killing the performance industry to save themselves a few dollars.
Many extras and people who don’t actually make a living through acting are claiming, ‘I’d do it free’. How helpful is that really? For some reason many sections of society seem to think that because actors love their job, they should be paid a starvation existence, if at all. I’m not sure I follow this argument – are we saying that lawyers and surgeons hate their work? After all, no one expects them to work for free.
It seems that the nation has finally woke up to the fact that people don’t adore them the way they think – they just use them because their labour is often cheaper than in other (generally unionised – i.e. fairly paid) countries. So I woke up one morning last week to find that John ‘I made fifty million pounds out of screwing people like you’ Key has changed the labour laws overnight, and denied one of the workers’ primary rights – that of collective bargaining. Yes, you read that right: 300 years of workers’ rights sold to Warner Brothers. It may not be Mickey Mouse, but it’s certainly goofy.
Corporate greed triumphs once again, as you would expect from the despicable I’m Alright Jack politics that epitomised the Thatcher era (during which this particular Jack made his millions), but the fact that a Prime Minister can directly intervene in a commercial venture and bribe a company to come to his country (Warner Brothers will receive $25 million in tax breaks) so it receives worldwide exposure is disgraceful. New Zealand scenery will once again be on the big screen and it will do wonders for the tourism industry (the same Guardian article points out that, ‘prior to those films it was just bungee jumping and binge drinking, but now the spectacular scenery is its own selling point’), but the actors will leave. He has made sure of that.
When all that is left are right-wing propaganda mainstream X-box American remakes in ten years time, people who voted for this slippery snake will have only themselves to blame. I will be boycotting the film of The Hobbit when it finally comes out, even if it does star Richard Armitage. Admittedly, I am only one person and will not make much of an impact on the American/oops, I mean New Zealand (there appears to be little difference) dollar, but like the actors who fought for their rights I am prepared to stand by my beliefs. (Plus The Hobbit is one of only two books I have ever started and not finished out of sheer boredom.)
Meanwhile in France, such things would not pass without a ripple. President Sarkozy’s attempt to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 drew mass protests and strike action from the workers. It was said to cost the national economy €400 million a day and yet 70% of people supported the unions who called for these strikes. Jean-Luc Hacquart, a representative of the CGT union in Paris (Confédération générale du travail) – the strongest union in France – said (albeit doubtless in French),
"Democracy is not a carte blanche given to people to do what they want between elections. It doesn’t work like that."
George Orwell wrote in Nineteen Eighty-Four, “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face— forever.” If only people were less apathetic and more socially minded in this country, the hard-fought rights of the workers would be safeguarded rather than tossed aside for the benefit of a group of hairy-footed cellar dwellers. I mean the fictional hobbits – what were you thinking?