Too Big to Fail?
MICAH LOEWINGER From WNYC in New York, This is On the Media, I'm Micah Loewinger.
NEWS CLIP Tonight, we're taking a closer look at disturbing data that shows a rise in depression and suicides in men.
MICAH LOEWINGER There's mounting evidence that men and boys are struggling, but understandably, that can cause some cognitive dissonance.
RICHARD REEVES The idea of gender equality was synonymous with the causes of women and girls for, I don't know, let's say, 10,000 years until yesterday – culturally speaking.
MICAH LOEWINGER Also, the congressional hearings about Ticketmaster's monopoly weren't the first time the company had been called to the Hill.
NEWS CLIP Pearl Jam played Capitol Hill on Thursday to begin 3 hours of testimony about Ticketmaster.
MICAH LOEWINGER Meanwhile, an old antitrust case in Hollywood has inspired modern day comparisons.
PETER LABUZA Streaming prices are going up. Your Netflix account or Disney Plus account for HBO Max account as they've been able to eliminate all the competition, they raise prices.
MICAH LOEWINGER It's all coming up after this. From WNYC in New York.
[END OF BILLBOARD]
MICAH LOEWINGER This is On the Media, Brooke Gladstone is out this week, I'm Micah Loewinger. This January saw a record number of mass shootings.
NEWS CLIP A mass shooting in Florida that the police chief there calls the most people he has ever seen shot at one time.
NEWS CLIP Authorities saying that three people have been shot at the Potomac Avenue metro station there.
NEWS CLIP Heartbreak and outrage tonight in West Baltimore as our city sees yet another mass shooting.
MICAH LOEWINGER These kinds of tragedies have historically shared some things in common. At least half featured weapons purchased legally. The perpetrators usually range in age from their late teens to early forties. And then there's this.
NEWS CLIP According to the Violence Project, a nonpartisan research group, 98% of these crimes have been committed by men. That's from data going back to 1966.
MICAH LOEWINGER But men don't just hurt others. They self harm, too.
NEWS CLIP Numbers show men are 3 to 4 times more likely to die by suicide than women.
MICAH LOEWINGER A recent New Yorker piece, “What's The Matter With Men” chronicled how boys are falling behind in school and in the job market. All data points that have been boiled down to meet zingers on the talk shows.
NEWS CLIP That's a lot of maleness coming to the fore and announcing itself in violence and racism because they're lonely and lost...
NEWS CLIP They have grown up in this culture, which everyone from politicians to oh – Gillette and many major firms have said, you know, men are the problem. Masculinity is the problem.
MICAH LOEWINGER And on the Internet, the manosphere has found its most viral messenger yet in Andrew Tate, an influencer who was arrested in Romania on allegations of rape and human trafficking.
ANDREW TATE Not only should women clean up, women should clean up, unprompted. I pay for things unprompted. You don't have to ask me. I'll get my wallet out, don't even check the price of the bill. My card always works. So when you walk into a house and you see mess, why is your lazy ass not doing the right thing and start picking and cleaning up? This is the whole world we live in now. Double standards. It's okay for me to do the masculine thing, but it's not okay for you to do the feminine thing. Women should clean.
MICAH LOEWINGER Everywhere I look, I see coverage of big problems affecting or caused by men. Yes, some of this is political rhetoric – fanning flames, but some of it reflects real anxiety. A 2020 academic study titled the “American Family Survey” found that conservative and liberal parents alike said they were more worried for their sons than their daughters.
NEWS CLIP I have an eight year old son and I'm seeing him absorb what manliness might mean.
MICAH LOEWINGER This is the moderator of a YouTube debate organized by VICE last month between so-called modernists and traditionalists featuring non-binary people, gay men, black men, white men and Asian men.
VICE CLIP When I was young, being a man, you had to be tough. And now, to me, being a man is a lot different. Now to me, being a man is knowing when to be soft, knowing that you don't always have to run the charge. You can actually listen.
VICE CLIP My take on masculinity is not about talking as much as doing. A man has to be efficient, competent, and be willing to do what it takes for themselves and their loved ones.
VICE CLIP I believe manhood is clearly defined by God. It is the perfect example of what a man should be.
VICE CLIP I'm not really masculine myself, so I feel like I'm like the wrong person to ask.
MICAH LOEWINGER Richard Reeves is a senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution and author of the new book of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male is Struggling, Why It Matters and What to Do About It. He says the mainstream political discourse around men is fundamentally broken. Richard, welcome to the show.
RICHARD REEVES I'm happy to be here. I should be clear at the outset that my focus here is on the approximately 95% of men who are cisgender and heterosexual. It's not that there aren't many, many other issues, some of which overlap for other men, but this is squarely focused at that particular group of men.
MICAH LOEWINGER You write about how many advised you against writing this book. I also want to acknowledge the cognitive dissonance of the thesis and the book that some listeners might identify, which is that men and boys are struggling at a time when men still very much run our society. And there are many ways you could quantify this. There are three times as many men in Congress than women. Less than 10% of the Fortune 500 companies are run by women. And casual misogyny is pervasive throughout our culture.
RICHARD REEVES The way you answer the question depends on where you look. So if you look at the apex of our society, it's absolutely true that there is still a long way to go. And I would say, especially in the U.S. in terms of female representation in politics, for example, and in boardrooms and in other areas of society. And as it happens, I'm married to a woman who's trying to raise money right now for a start up business. And so I know in a very personal level that only 3% of capital venture money goes to female founders. I'm reminded of that on a, I think, a daily basis. But those challenges remain largely at the top of society. But if we look further down, then we see a very, very different picture for working class men, for black boys and men, those with less economic power. There's a very different story. So it can simultaneously be true that men at the top of the distribution are doing better on many fronts, including in terms of earnings. It can also be true that most American men are earning less today than most American men did in 1979. And so this is very much a class and a race story. And the problem is that if your world, let's say, is one of the upper middle class right at the top of society and you're looking up, then it's hard to see the boys and men who are struggling. But that's because you're looking the wrong way. You might be leaning in – to use Sheryl Sandberg's famous phrase – but you're not looking down.
MICAH LOEWINGER I want to kind of tick through some of the points of your research. Let's start with education. What are some of the markers that men and boys are struggling?
RICHARD REEVES In 1972, when Title IX was passed to support women and girls in education, men were about 13 percentage points more likely to get a four year college degree. Today, women are 15 percentage points more likely than men to get a four year college degree. So there's been this huge overtaking in education. We also see that in high school, where girls account for two thirds of the top 10% of students ranked by GPA, whereas boys account for two thirds of those at the bottom. In the average school district in the US, girls are almost a grade level ahead in English and dead-even in math and in the poorer school districts, a greater level ahead in English and quite a long way ahead in math as well. You don't see such big gender gaps in upper middle class or richer households, richer neighborhoods, partly because the parents with resources are able to actually invest more heavily in their boys. And so to some extent overcome some of the disadvantages they might otherwise face in the education system.
MICAH LOEWINGER You cite as one of the potential causes of this education gap, the different speeds at which our brains develop. You point out that men's prefrontal cortexes only catch up with women in their early twenties.
RICHARD REEVES The way the education system is currently structured does build in something of an advantage for girls and women because the prefrontal cortex of girls develops early than boys, largely because that's triggered by puberty, which occurs earlier in girls than boys. And the prefrontal cortex is an interesting part of the brain because it's the bit that helps you turn in your chemistry homework on time. It's the bit that is sometimes called the CEO of the brain. It's about non-cognitive skills, organizational skills, etc.. And so to turn your chemistry home again on time, you have to take your chemistry homework home. You have to remember to take it back in. You have to remember that you have a chemistry class to go to. So it requires a whole bunch of skills that are not really about smarts. It's not true that girls are smarter than boys or the other way around. There's no evidence for a gap in terms of that. And interestingly, S.A.T. and A.C.T., the standardized test, there's really no gender gap there. But in GPA, there's a huge gap because GPA rewards turning in your homework on time.
MICAH LOEWINGER Which I think sets us up to talk about some of the discrepancies that you've observed in the labor market, where men's participation fell by seven percentage points in the last 50 years. That's 96% employment to 89. Notably, the largest drop has been among young men ages 25 to 34. That would be my age group. And you point out that one in three men with no more than high school level education are unemployed, which is a staggering 5 million people. What happened there?
RICHARD REEVES It used to be true that men could actually do pretty well even without much education for all kinds of reasons, including sexism, but also just because there were a lot more jobs around. or sometimes called strong back jobs. So you had a high school education, you could go to a factory, etc.. But those jobs just aren't there in the numbers they were any more before. And so less skilled men in particular are really struggling in the labor market. And those are the ones also whose earnings have dropped so that even if they're in work, we've seen a stagnation of male wages in the middle and bottom half of the distribution.
MICAH LOEWINGER Sometimes this is crudely framed as like the brawny jobs versus the brainy jobs.
RICHARD REEVES The Bureau of Labor Statistics actually has a measure of jobs that require physical strength, and the number of jobs that require any kind of serious physical strength has now dropped to below 10%. It's not that there are none, but it used to be closer to 30%.
MICAH LOEWINGER And alongside this is a pretty striking mental health crisis. Young men are four times more likely to die by suicide. And according to Pew, drug overdose deaths among black men in the U.S., more than tripled between 2015 and 2020.
RICHARD REEVES I was very struck by a study published in the British Medical Journal by a scholar called Fiona Shand, where she and her colleagues looked at the words that men use to describe themselves before suicide or attempted suicide. And the two most commonly used words were “useless” and “worthless.” The sense of like use and worth. I do think it's an uncontroversial statement to say that it's pretty universal human need to be needed. Your family needs you, your employer needs you, your community needs you. You have a specific role in society. And I see suicide rates and other mental health problems as symptoms of a deeper malaise, which is, for many men, a loss of purpose, a loss of meaning, a loss of a sense of how should I be in the world? And that's a crisis that we should take very seriously. And the solution is not to say – yes, let's go back to the old world, where men were heads of the household and the primary breadwinners. And that worked really well – because guess what? It didn't work very well.
MICAH LOEWINGER Speaking of turning back the clock, now that we have a snapshot of these disparities, I want to talk about our albeit broken political conversation and how it's metabolized some of these data points. I think it's really clear how the American right has capitalized on this big time.
SENATOR JOSH HAWLEY I want to focus tonight on the deconstruction of men, not because I think men are more important, but because I believe the attack on men has been the tip of the spear in the Left's broader attack on America.
MICAH LOEWINGER That's Missouri Senator Josh Hawley speaking at the National Conservatism Conference in November 2021.
RICHARD REEVES It's pretty clear what he's doing here. He's taking this sense that men are struggling. That many boys are struggling in school. Many men are struggling in the labor market. Many dads are struggling to be in their kids' lives. Those are facts true and in many cases getting worse. And what Hawley is doing and many others are doing is channeling that and helping to turn it into a grievance and then saying, yes, we see you're struggling and guess whose fault is It's the fault of the left because they don't care about you – and in fact, they think you're toxic. They think you're the problem. They think, to borrow a phrase from a lot of men's rights activists, "that women have problems men are problems." And they're turning that against the left. My take of this is that if real problems are not addressed by responsible people, by mainstream institutions, they metastasize into grievances. And once they become grievances, they can be exploited for political ends without any tangible solutions. The best that he can do or has done so far is to say we should bring back marriage and bring back manufacturing. Okay. Good luck with that, Senator. There hasn't been a single marriage promotion policy that's worked in the U.S. and bringing back manufacturing is a pretty tough thing to do. Even Donald Trump couldn't talk manufacturing back into existence. Then it just goes against many of the trends in the global economy. So that doesn't matter. The point is not to offer solutions that are actually workable. The point is simply to activate the grievances. And so reactionary politicians around the world, as not just in the U.S. to look at South Korea, look at East Germany, look at Brexit, are actually really working with the grain of this male malaise and turning it to their political advantage. But there are no policies. The cupboard is bare in terms of actually doing anything.
MICAH LOEWINGER Meanwhile, you believe that the left is basically in denial that this is even a problem. That there are these systemic issues affecting men. This is not the language that you often hear on the left – you believe.
RICHARD REEVES I think the problem is that the response from the left has largely been one of an echoing silence. The left really hasn't engaged with these issues very much at all. It almost seems intellectually impossible for those on the left to say, well, actually there are some inequalities going the other way now as well and take seriously the issues of boys and men. And I get it. There's this kind of visceral reaction. There's a reflex, even perhaps among people listening to our conversation have this reflex – 'like really?'
MICAH LOEWINGER Well, we're both white guys and we're speaking on behalf of all kinds of people in this conversation.
RICHARD REEVES Sure. And so that 'really?' response is entirely appropriate. And so it's like, yeah, really, look at these data points and then we can discuss it and so on. But don't suggest that it couldn't even be possible that there are these inequalities going the other way. If the right is trying to turn back the clock to some extent on women, I think the left are too often turning their back on boys and men or worse, sometimes suggesting that if there are problems that boys and men are having, it must be their fault. And so this is the rare occasion when the left is willing to use a kind of very individualistic diagnosis of what's happening. Typically, the left are more comfortable as structural suggestions as to what's happening. There's this sense from the left is like, even if we agree, you're struggling where they're going to say it's your fault. You just need to shape up and maybe you're a bit toxic as well.
MICAH LOEWINGER You've used that term toxic masculinity. I'm sure it means different things to different people. I'd like to know how you define it and why you don't like the term.
RICHARD REEVES It used to be quite a useful term and obscure corners of academia. It was used by people looking at very violent offenders – men for whom their ideas of what it meant to be a man had become psychologically very strongly connected to violence. Then it broke out into the mainstream in about 2016. And my problem with it is twofold. One is it's just used completely indiscriminately to describe any kind of behavior that the user of the term disapproves of. The other big problem with it is just by putting the word toxic next to the word masculinity, it gets very close to the kind of Puritan ideas of original sin. There is something toxic within you and it allows, again, reactionaries, allows those on the right to be able to plausibly claim "they don't like you. They're not on your side. They think you're toxic."
MICAH LOEWINGER I think my favorite version of the toxic masculinity critique, which you cite in your book comes from YouTuber Contra Points, a.k.a. Natalie Wynn in her 2020 video titled 'Men.'
NATALIE WYNN We say look, toxic masculinity is the reason you don't have room to express your feelings, and it's the reason you feel lonely and inadequate. So while feminism tells women you hate your body and you're constantly doubting yourself because society did this to you and needs to change. We kinda just tell men you're lonely and suicidal because you're toxic. Stop it. We tell them they're broken and without really telling them how to fix themselves.
MICAH LOEWINGER I think in your book you also point to moments where the political left – the Democratic Party – has missed opportunities to proudly use government to help men, because perhaps, as you argue, because of fear of what celebrating men might signal.
RICHARD REEVES President Biden signed the infrastructure bill into law and bit more than two thirds of the jobs from the infrastructure bill will go to men, predominantly working class men, and a little bit disproportionately working class men of color, it looks. Did the administration say that? No.
MICAH LOEWINGER Which would have prompted questions, you know.
RICHARD REEVES Yeah. But let's have that conversation. On the other hand, student debt cancellation was described as a gender justice issue because two thirds of student debt is held by women, because women go to college much more than men. You know, the college debt thing was going to – by and large, help upper middle class women. The infrastructure bill is going to help working class men, especially Hispanic working class men. And so it seems to me that should be possible for administration to say there's all kinds of problems. Some of these problems affect different groups, but actually working class men have not been doing very well in America in recent decades. And the infrastructure bill is going to help working class men.
MICAH LOEWINGER When it comes to employment opportunities, you see potential in encouraging men to get into jobs that have been historically women dominated — health, education, administration and literacy, or the acronym that you use, HEAL. What would this fix about issues of the labor market and what are some of the strategies you suggest?
RICHARD REEVES What's really striking is that as we've desegregated most of the professions and occupations that were previously very male dominated, it's not true for all but things like law and certainly the higher status ones. A lot of the STEM jobs, most scientists in the US today are women. Medicine, etc. have really just become quite gender equal now. But areas like social work, teaching and psychology have become more gender segregated in recent decades. They've become much more female. So those are professions that were pretty gender equal in 1980, but now they're very strongly skewed towards women. So it's gone from like 40 50% male representation to 20% male representation. If we think it matters, which I do, to be able to access male therapists or to have men in our classrooms. Then the fact there are fewer and fewer over time should be something that we're paying attention to and maybe even doing something about.
MICAH LOEWINGER At the top of the conversation, we touched on the fact that men still, you know, largely hold the reins of power, especially if you look at, as you described it, the apex of society, and that there has been such a large gender imbalance for so long, the playing field has barely evened out. And in many areas it hasn't. And the fight for gender equality has also made room for people in the LGBT community to succeed as well. So I guess I'm trying to get at what's at stake here if trends continue and boys and men fall behind.
RICHARD REEVES Turns out that it does matter if there's a big gender inequality in education, for example, like for men as well as for women, Actually getting a decent education is increasingly important in the labor market. And so looking forward, if men are struggling in school and college, they're not going to earn as much. And that's just bad. It's bad for families, it's bad for society. A world of floundering men is unlikely to be a world of flourishing women and children because we typically are kind of in households and communities together. So that's really what's at stake here. I think that for a long time it made sense to look at the world through kind of one lens, which was let's look for the gender inequalities where women and girls are behind boys and men. Just keep looking for those, keep working on those. And so the idea of gender equality was synonymous with the cause of women and girls for, I don't know, let's say 10,000 years until yesterday, culturally speaking. And so the adjustment that requires the kind of mindset adjustment that requires is huge. I get it. I feel the cognitive dissonance myself. But there are now just enough signs in mental health, in employment, in education, where there just really are some kind of growing problems for boys and men that if we don't address them now, that they're not going to fix themselves.
MICAH LOEWINGER Richard, thank you very much.
RICHARD REEVES Thank you. Great conversation.
MICAH LOEWINGER Richard Reeves is the author of the new book Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do About It.
Coming up. When Pearl Jam went to Washington. This is On the Media.
MICAH LOEWINGER This is On the Media, I'm Micah Loewinger sitting in for Brooke Gladstone. This week, Beyoncé announced her upcoming world tour. And, well...
NEWS CLIP I love some Queen B, but here we go again. Presale tickets are underway on Ticketmaster. Another chance for the online entertainment box office to redeem itself following several past ticket sale fiascos.
MICAH LOEWINGER The most notable of those fiascos, the one that led to a congressional hearing, happened last November.
NEWS CLIP Ticketmaster essentially broke down during the pre-sale for Taylor Swift. Tickets leading to a major meltdown from Swifties heard across the Internet.
MICAH LOEWINGER Last month, senators convened to hear testimony from a Top Live Nation executive, that’s Ticketmaster's parent company, and from competitors in ticketing and concert promotion, antitrust experts and a musician — a significant step forward in what could turn into a consequential antitrust case.
NEWS CLIP Senators say the recent merger between Ticketmaster and Live Nation made the company a monopoly, giving them control of 70% of the industry.
NEWS CLIP This whole concert ticket system is a mess. It's a monopolistic mess.
MICAH LOEWINGER The senators and their comments drew inspiration from Swiftian lyrics.
SENATOR You have to have competition. You can't have too much consolidation, something that, unfortunately for this country, as a ode to Taylor Swift, I will say we know all too well.
SENATOR Ticketmaster ought to look in the mirror and say, I'm the problem. It's me.
SENATOR A purchaser of a ticket being able to sell it to someone else. I think it's a nightmare dressed like a daydream.
MICAH LOEWINGER That last voice was Mike Lee, the Republican from Utah. This hearing was a rare bipartisan affair, perhaps because Ticketmaster seems so unpopular right now, or because no politician wants to be seen as squaring off with Taylor Swift.
MOE TKACIK They came armed with the lyrics, but none of them, however, used the great lyric "Did you hear my covert narcissism? I disguised as altruism like some kind of congressman.”
MICAH LOEWINGER Maybe that wouldn't have served their interests, but it would have been topical.
MOE TKACIK Would have been self-defeating.
MICAH LOEWINGER Moe Tkacik and Krista Brown, are researchers at the American Economic Liberties Project, a left leaning think tank, which is part of a consortium that is pushing for the DOJ to break up the Live Nation monopoly. I spoke to them about an article they co-wrote that appeared in The American Prospect about Ticketmaster's 40 plus year history. The story starts with Fred Rosen, CEO of the company from 1982 to 1998, who, with one move, reinvented the industry.
KRISTA BROWN In the eighties, he kind of flipped the entire ticketing service on its head by paying venues to get exclusivity for long periods of time. Ticketron was a monopoly beforehand and had the majority of the ticketing services for concert venues. But they had venues pay them for the service. And instead, Fred Rosen made fans pay for what was essentially a kickback to the venue for exclusivity.
MICAH LOEWINGER They invented the service fee, which is basically offsetting that big principal amount of cash, the initial buy off, and they were spreading it over ticket sales that way. Is that the idea?
KRISTA BROWN Exactly.
MOE TKACIK And in addition, they would give these venues a big advance on the service charges they were going to bring in. They started off oftentimes around $500,000. By the mid-nineties, there were some estimates that they were getting as big as $5 million. Similarly with the big rock promoters and the rock promoters often sort of controlled the venues where they had a lot of sway over what the venues would do, Ticketmaster would advance non-recourse loans to help the promoters bid on the most expensive acts. Ticketmaster was almost like a financing company, but it is an anti-competitive strategy.
MICAH LOEWINGER Is it legal?
MOE TKACIK That's actually not as clear cut a question as we would probably like it to be. If you sell something below cost such that nobody can compete with you and stay alive, that is illegal or has traditionally been illegal. It's called predatory pricing. The thing is that in the 1980s, courts really started to chip away at the doctrine that had deterred companies from using that strategy. And by the early nineties, when the Internet entrepreneurs – we're talking Amazon. But we're also talking Cosmo.com and Pets.com. Predatory pricing really became the reigning business model of every company in Silicon Valley for many years. And no one would ever think that something like that was illegal today. But certainly in the 1980s, Ticketmaster was often accused of illegally predatorily pricing its services.
MICAH LOEWINGER And then in 1991, Ticketmaster bought Ticketron from giving Ticketmaster 90% of the market. Meaning, if you were a touring musician in the nineties, you were likely working with Ticketmaster whether you wanted to or not. And Pearl Jam, the legendary grunge band from Seattle, did not want to work with Ticketmaster.
KRISTA BROWN Yeah, they didn't want to work with Ticketmaster because they were, as you said, this grunge band that was kind of anti consumerism. They really didn't like the idea that their tickets might be unaffordable to some, especially due to this company that they couldn't avoid, and that just felt wrong to them. They wanted to keep their $20 per ticket and Ticketmaster very quickly said, We're not going to allow you to do that. That's not a) going to work for us. Probably because they wouldn't have been able to cover the venue payments that were keeping their exclusivity, but also because they didn't want other bands to get away with a similar arrangement. And so Pearl Jam retaliated with what little they could by, creating a tour that avoided Ticketmaster completely.
MICAH LOEWINGER And that basically entailed going to out of the way towns and venues and kind of just rethinking the concept of a rock tour altogether.
KRISTA BROWN Completely.
MICAH LOEWINGER Did it work?
KRISTA BROWN No, unfortunately, it really didn't.
MOE TKACIK Pearl Jam were trying to get everybody to take a pay cut, basically. Ticketmaster started using the concert promoters, a group called the North American Concert Promoters Association, to basically say: we're not negotiating this with you. Our service charge is what we decided. It is our unilateral decision. So they sort of reached an impasse. And Pearl Jam saw from some of the factors that the North American Concert Promoters Association, that it wasn't just Ticketmaster that they were trying to negotiate with. It was this whole sort of ecosystem that Ticketmaster anchored, but the rules were enforced by this concert promoter. So they realized that there was this bigger machine that was against them and that just sort of started to manifest itself in many ways, some of which Ticketmaster had no control over whatsoever.
NEWS CLIP It was another wild ride this week on the rock'n'roller coaster that is the Pearl Jam tour. Last Saturday in San Francisco, Eddie Vedder, who'd been hospitalized earlier for a stomach virus, left the stage after seven songs unable to continue.
MOE TKACIK They played this one show in Salt Lake City, and I forget what the venue was.
MICAH LOEWINGER It was on the Wolf mountain ski slope. They had to get real creative with their bookings.
MOE TKACIK Yes, Apparently it was extremely, extremely cold in the summer in Salt Lake City. And all the fans just wanted to go home. It was a freak weather event. There was a fairground in San Diego where they organized another of their shows that was a non Ticketmaster venue. But the San Diego Sheriff's Department wrote up a 14 page memo entreating the powers that be in San Diego to cancel the event because it was just too much of a security risk and the promoters didn't know what they were doing. And it turned out that there was some security consultant who had worked for the concert promoters that had been involved in drafting this memo, and maybe they'd been put up to that. There were all these things that seemed to happen along the way.
NEWS CLIP On Sunday, Pearl Jam suddenly canceled the remaining ten shows of its 15 day 12 city tour because of, quote, continued controversies associated with attempting to schedule and perform at alternate venues. In other words, the difficulty of finding arenas which are not in business with Ticketmaster has become more trouble than it's worth.
MICAH LOEWINGER President Bill Clinton's Justice Department was watching this Pearl Jam debacle play out in real time. The DOJ asked the band to file a complaint, and Congress invited Pearl Jam to testify in a hearing about Ticketmaster in 1994.
NEWS CLIP Pearl Jam played Capitol Hill on Thursday as guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament were at the House of Representatives to begin 3 hours of testimony about Ticketmaster.
MOE TKACIK I think that the hearing was most memorable for just being a massive media spectacle. MTV News was a huge deal at the time. Everybody watched it on a daily basis.
NEWS CLIP Some House committee members had fun with witnesses, perhaps better known by some of their younger staff members.
NEWS CLIP I want you to know, I think you're just darling, guys.
NEWS CLIP Others with a musical bent identified or tried to. I was trying to learn Black and Alive, [LAUGHS] and I'm still working on it.
MOE TKACIK So those were the most memorable, like snippets from the hearing, best told to the media. When you go back and read the transcript of the hearing, there are so many memorable moments. Aerosmith's manager showed up and testified and gave some really fascinating testimony.
AEROSMITH MANAGER Steven Tyler, Aerosmith's lead singer, said to me, Mussolini may have made the trains run on time, but not everyone could get a seat on that train. That's the problem that Aerosmith and I have with Ticketmaster.
MOE TKACIK There was a rock historian named Dave Marsh, who really explains the whole structure of how the industry worked. R.E.M.'s manager showed up, so there was a lot of really interesting testimony, but it was sort of seen as a big media spectacle at the time.
MICAH LOEWINGER In 1995, after the hearings, the Department of Justice issued a strange two sentence press release announcing that they were done with the investigation. What was their explanation? What happened?
KRISTA BROWN Well, they didn't give an explanation, which is why it was two sentences. It raised a lot of eyebrows. People who had been asked to be interviewed for the investigation. They didn't even do the interview. And these were sources that would have had a lot of useful information, kind of in a retaliatory sense of how powerful Ticketmaster was. So at the time, there were reports of a lot of confusion around why it was dropped.
MICAH LOEWINGER So as Ticketmaster was coming to dominance within the ticketing industry, there was a similar consolidation within the rock radio and concert promotion business led by a company called SFX, which would later be bought by Clear Channel and renamed Live Nation. So how did SFX build its parallel dominance in the concert promotion business?
KRISTA BROWN Robert Silverman was a young man from the Bronx and he had historically been in the business of rolling up radio channels.
MOE TKACIK So Silverman sells out, sells his radio station roll ups to a group that then became Clear Channel and gets into this concert promotion business and buys something like 20 independent kinds of promoters virtually overnight. Between 1996 and 1998, it was like a bomb went off.
KRISTA BROWN There were a lot of local stories around how initially the promoters wanted to remain independent, but within a year or two would sell out and SFX gained massive market share at the same time as Ticketmaster did. And actually the two of them had exclusivity. So Ticketmaster had an exclusive arrangement with SFX from the early nineties. So they were again working in tandem despite the fact that they would not merge for another 20 years.
MICAH LOEWINGER And in 2010, Ticketmaster and Live Nation officially merged. How did this deal between these two massive companies, both with a known history of anti-competitive practices, get by regulators at the time? How the hell did they get approved?
MOE TKACIK I think that a lot of it honestly had to do with the fact that it was 2009 in the depths of the recession. It was a really desperate time for concerts. People weren't spending as much money on going to see live performances. So I don't think that in the grand scheme of things, the Obama administration was in the mood to be rejecting mergers, even though it was clearly anti-competitive and joining two very anti-competitive forces.
MICAH LOEWINGER After the Senate hearing on Ticketmaster, are you more hopeful? I mean, do you feel that the winds are changing or will this public reckoning just vanish overnight like it did with Pearl Jam?
MOE TKACIK There's a hugely different antitrust landscape. The questions that the congressmen asked at the original Pearl Jam hearing, the way that the whole ordeal was approached by our public servants was like it was a sideshow. It was sort of superficial. They were trying to get autographs for their kids. There was that whole vibe to it, and that was very different. We have a really renewed bipartisan conviction that antitrust laws are something that should be enforced again. And you saw that on display at this hearing.
MICAH LOEWINGER Krista, why do you think this renewed scrutiny of Ticketmaster matters so much like what's on the line here?
KRISTA BROWN That's a good question. I think ultimately, you know, it's a ticketing service and this is not the most important story in market dominance out there, but I think it's one that everyone is aware of.
MICAH LOEWINGER Because young people, people who may not pay a lot of attention to politics in the news, they like music.
KRISTA BROWN Absolutely. It is a swelling movement and so many fans are willing to speak out about it. I think it is the type of suit that would restore the public's faith in our regulatory body.
MICAH LOEWINGER Krista, Moe, thanks so much.
KRISTA BROWN Thanks for having us.
MOE TKACIK Thank you.
MICAH LOEWINGER Krista Brown and Mo Tkacik coauthored the piece “Ticketmaster's Dark History in The American Prospect" last month.
Coming up when trust busting came to Hollywood. This is On the Media.
MICAH LOEWINGER This is On the Media, I'm Micah Loewinger sitting in this week for Brooke Gladstone.
We just heard about one big company holding sway over concert venues, ticket sales, merchandizing, all the ways musicians really make money. Naturally, this has affected the creative product itself, shaping which artists can afford to tour and make music for us. Now we turn to another antitrust case in the arts, a time when the government successfully broke up the major studios that ruled Hollywood in the 1930s and ‘40s and unleashed an era of independent filmmaking. Historian Peter Labuza says that moment offers lessons for how to think about the ubiquity of today's streaming services like Netflix and Disney Plus. I asked him to take us back to before the trust busting when five big studios dominated the industry during the so-called golden age of Hollywood.
PETER LABUZA There's these touchstone films like Gone With the Wind, which remains the biggest film of all time, adjusted for inflation.
RHETT (GONE WITH THE WIND) Where should I go? What should I do?
SCARLETT (GONE WITH THE WIND) Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.
PETER LABUZA Or The Wizard of Oz.
DOROTHY (WIZARD OF OZ) There's no place like home.
PETER LABUZA It's a Wonderful Life, which I'm sure many people watched over Christmas.
ZUZU (IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE) Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.
PETER LABUZA Each one of the studios. There were five big studios at the time. Some of these are studios, you know like Paramount and MGM and Warner Brothers. They were producing over 100 films a year. Right now, a studio like Disney will release into movie theaters, maybe about eight or nine.
MICAH LOEWINGER That sounds great. I mean, high artistic output. Some of the quote unquote, best movies of all time. I mean, why did the government say we need to step in and start regulating Hollywood?
PETER LABUZA The studios made the movies, they distributed them, and then they owned most of the big, important movie theaters you went to see. If you were an independent movie theater, you could buy films from the studios to show. Now, the problem was, if you wanted a big film starring Clark Gable and Joan Crawford, the studio would sell it to you for a weeklong release. But then they would make you buy 11 other movies at the time. This was known as a block, and this was known as block booking. The problem with that is those 11 movies were really, really low quality movies. They were like cheap westerns. They had no stars. You're losing money on that process if you're the independent movie theater owner. And if you're in a small town, right, that only has one movie theater and one movie house, then you're really only get what that one studio that kind of controls that theater gets to say that you get to see that week.
MICAH LOEWINGER And so the government sued the studios in 1938, and the case eventually went to the Supreme Court. The court sided with the government. And in 1948, we got the Paramount Decrees, which basically forced the studios to stop block booking and sell off their movie theaters, or at least separate them into a different part of their business. How else did the so-called Paramount Decrees change Hollywood?
PETER LABUZA Well, the big thing that they said is you can no longer sell these movie packages. Each film had to be sold one by one to different movie theaters. But that's what really, really changed. Each film now has to compete on the open market, and this wildly changes the types of films that were being made. The studios really start to focus on the blockbuster. These are films like The Ten Commandments.
TEN COMMANDMENTS You are not worthy to receive these Ten Commandments.
PETER LABUZA Ben-Hur.
BEN-HUR You. I said, no order for him.
PETER LABUZA The Sound of Music.
[CLIP OF "DO-RE-MI" FROM THE SOUND OF MUSIC]
PETER LABUZA But then you have all these independent filmmakers who are making sort of interesting social dramas. You have the rise of actors like Sidney Poitier, and then when you get to the sixties, you get the sort of new Hollywood. These are films like Bonnie and Clyde.
BONNIE & CLYDE This here's Miss Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow. We rob Banks,.
PETER LABUZA The Godfather.
THE GODFATHER I want to make you an offer you can't refuse
PETER LABUZA Easy Rider.
EASY RIDER You got a helmet? Oh, I've got a helmet. I got a beauty.
PETER LABUZA Really what you see is a sort of new niches of audiences appear. It's not everyone going to one type of film. It's audiences being able to find their own type of films and go to different type of theaters. You get arthouse theaters that will be showing foreign films from Italy, in France and Sweden.
MICAH LOEWINGER So breaking up the big companies had massive creative consequences that basically created what we think of as like modern cinema culture.
PETER LABUZA Exactly. The studios had been largely conservative in even making those blockbusters. Right. Those are conservative types of films that aren't meant to be stylistically unique, that are just meant to appeal to every type of sensibility. And then you get these people like your Martin Scorsese and even the early films of Steven Spielberg that are kind of made more independently and made with a lot more artistic daring that really pushes what types of movies audiences might be interested in watching.
MICAH LOEWINGER Obviously, the big Hollywood companies were still around, but they focused on making fewer movies a year, bigger blockbusters, rather than just kind of flooding the market with junk.
PETER LABUZA They didn't need those B-movies, right? There were independents who would make those for them. They could focus on a few blockbusters and then they would make these deals with these independent filmmakers. Right? They would want to attract someone like John Frankenheimer, who made The Manchurian Candidate and be like, We want you to make a film. Here's the check, and we will distribute it. And we're not going to control all that process because we trust you more than we trust ourselves to kind of work in this new type of financial environment.
MICAH LOEWINGER And by the 1980s, the picture of this post-Paramount Decree landscape was as clear as ever. But the law and. How antitrust was enforced changed quite a bit under President Ronald Reagan. What happened?
PETER LABUZA You know, if you've covered antitrust on the show before, this name, Robert Bork, has possibly come up. He was this legal scholar in conservative movements who developed this idea of the consumer welfare standard, which said, when we think about competition and markets, we should focus on what the consumer pays at the end of the day. Which really helped change a lot of thinking in both conservative and liberal antitrust scholarship. You know, let markets regulate themselves. And giant companies are totally okay and good. The studios back in the sixties and seventies had already started to become part of these larger conglomerates. So, you know, Paramount was bought by an oil company called Gulf and Western in 1967. Warner Brothers became a bigger company called Warner Communication. And then, of course, Columbia Pictures, which now is technically under Sony, was bought by the Coca-Cola Company. So what really starts to happen in the eighties is the Paramount Decrees still exist. They're on the books, but there's a lot of exceptions being allowed.
MICAH LOEWINGER I want to jump forward to 2020 when the Department of Justice, under President Donald Trump, requested to end the decrees, which was approved by U.S. District Court Judge Analisa Torres. What was her rationale for ending this legal framework that dictated 70 years of Hollywood?
PETER LABUZA Basically, there was a huge review within the Department of Justice under Jeff Sessions at the time to look at what are called horse and buggy decrees. Right. These consent decrees from 60, 70, 80 years ago that might not be helping companies at all. Now, there's a few reasons that I think she was justified in doing this. One, certain major companies like Disney were never beholden to the decrees. Right. Disney was an independent distributor at the time. So what is the point of these consent decrees that apply to slightly smaller companies like Paramount but don't apply to Disney? And I think the most important thing she said is if this is something that will help these big companies compete with streamers, companies like Netflix and Amazon, then maybe giving them the option to possibly purchase theaters could be beneficial in the end. Now, none of the major companies have made a decision to invest or buy these theaters. Disney owns like two movie theaters – Netflix owns two. We'll kind of see the effects that might pop up in the next few years. But really, the new market concentration is in how the studios are looking at streaming.
MICAH LOEWINGER Does Disney need to get into the movie theater business? Does Netflix need to get into the movie theater business? They already have ways of distributing their films. The audience is already there. Of course, these companies also make movies. I mean, Netflix, Amazon, Disney Prime and HBO Max. Aren't they kind of running afoul of that same production and distribution framework?
PETER LABUZA I think that's where people who look at antitrust in the movie industry today look at the problems of streaming and see it kind of recreating those frameworks. And I think if you look at the independent producers of today, you kind of see parallels with the frustrations that the independent producers of yesterday had to have. I think a good example would be like the Daniels, right, who wrote and directed Everything, Everywhere, All At Once.
MICAH LOEWINGER Nominated for Academy Awards.
PETER LABUZA A lot of Academy Awards. Made a lot of money at the U.S. box office, mostly through word of mouth, started in a few theaters and grew and grew. They now have a deal with one of the major studios. You can make a film and make it into a word of mouth hit, but it's so much harder when streaming has become the dominant environment and the economics of streaming are so different, right where you get paid all the money upfront as opposed to sort of getting a small share of the profits down the road. So you kind of have to just sign away a first look deal, which really frustrates a lot of talent.
MICAH LOEWINGER Okay, So you've made one point in favor of rethinking that streaming paradigm that we're now in.
PETER LABUZA Mm hmm.
MICAH LOEWINGER Just to play devil's advocate a little bit. You pay 15, 18 bucks for a movie theater ticket that is like, in theory, a better viewing experience. But for that same price, you get a month of a streaming service. Isn't this set up, at least economically better for most of us?
PETER LABUZA The big thing that everyone is about to realize is streaming prices are going up. Your Netflix account is going up. Your Disney Plus account is going up. Your HBO Max account is going up. As they've been able to eliminate all the competition, they raise prices. So it might seem cheap right now, but it's about to get more expensive. And if you look at how these streaming companies’ financials are doing, they need to make more money. There's a reason that this is going to be the year that Netflix cracks down on password sharing. All these studios have realized that they no longer want to spend that same amount of money to even make quality content. And they want to focus on just enough to make you not cancel. Right. So HBO Max is going to go through this whole thing this next year now that they're owned by Discovery of bringing a lot of Discovery shows on to HBO Max. So that's, you know, your Food channel, your Travel Channel, a lot of reality shows. And so that's the kind of part that recreates that A-movie B-movie divide we talked about in the 30s, right, where there's going to be these things where you have to subscribe for this, but you're getting all this low quality content you can produce for much less that are really the bulk of what shows up on a streaming service.
MICAH LOEWINGER You described how the HBO Max changes are going to affect viewers. Is there another example of that?
PETER LABUZA When you show up on, say, the Netflix home page, they will put the letter N representing that it's one of their own productions. And I think if you've been watching Netflix, you're seeing more and more of those programs showing up on that home page, whether those are the things that are attuned to your algorithm or not. Right. I think that's one of the biggest changes that I think a lot of consumers are understanding. The algorithm is just trying to push their own prioritized content, whether that's the stuff that you actually care about. And I think that's become an issue for a lot of the streamers where that algorithm is no longer tailored to your interests. It's just tailored into something that will prioritize the bottom line of the company itself.
MICAH LOEWINGER Do you think there's any chance that the FTC under Lina Khan would pursue antitrust action against these streamers?
PETER LABUZA You know, the thing about antitrust cases is they take sometimes decades. The case against the studios opened in 1938, and it closed for a few years during the war and then got reopened. Right. But it took essentially ten years for that case to go up to the Supreme Court. So I don't know if this is a priority in Chairman Khan's office. I know that a lot of people have been advocating for at least more open looks into how is this working and is there different ways we might be able to set rules about pricing or about ownership that could fundamentally change the way that these things are being made? And I think there's a lot of advocates out there that would like to see it.
MICAH LOEWINGER Peter, thank you very much.
PETER LABUZA Thanks so much for having me.
MICAH LOEWINGER Peter Labuza is a film historian and a researcher with the International Cinematographers Guild.
That's it for this week's show! On the Media is produced by Eloise Blondiau, Molly Schwartz, Rebecca Clark-Callender, Candice Wang and Suzanne Gaber with help from Temi George. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineers this week were Andrew Nerviano and Sham Sundra. Katya Rogers is our executive producer. On the Media, is a production of WNYC Studios. Brooke will be back next week. I'm Micah Loewinger
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.