I Saw Jack Valenti Tonight

Normally I’m not one to gush about celebrities, nor am I particularly inclined to gush about this particular celebrity, but I find it worth mentioning that I saw Jack Valenti tonight. That’s Jack Valenti, head of the Motion Picture Association of America. What’s odd about it is where I was.

I attended the Washington chapter of the Society for International Development’s annual dinner–mainly to prove to myself and others that, though I choose not to use or wear them, I have social skills and dress clothes I look good in.

So I see this really short old guy standing across the room from me, and I’m sure I’ve seen him before on the talking head circuit–but I couldn’t place him. Small wonder. This bunch, who mainly deal with Third World (er, Developing World for the politically correct) aid, is not the first place I would expect the head of the MPAA to be.

It’s just as well I didn’t place him until he was mentioned, as I would have had to fight my temptation to ask him some sharp questions about how union gaffers and best boys with guaranteed wages are affected by marginal profit losses from piracy; how he squared the losses from Chinese duplication with losses from a few college students who download three-inch-wide copies of popular movies; how he rationalized “copy protection” methods that do not prevent copying but prevent you from playing legal copies on unapproved operating systems; and how he squared all of this with his defense of taking tobacco money to positively portray smoking in movies while simultaneously insisting that other people’s First Amendment rights should not extend to fair use of the same material. Oh, and I’d love to know when the Enron-esque accounting of movies leaves movie studios drowning in money while insisting that films like Terminator 2 lose money or make a negligible profit–at least to the IRS–will end.

Somebody hasn’t paid their fair share. Jack Valenti, I’m looking in your direction.

And to anyone who doubts that I might not have asked some or all of these questions–I once confronted a former professor at one of my best friend’s wedding about the fact that he blew off a recommendation he was supposed to write for me that prevented my application to a grad school being completed. I was tactful, but I also didn’t let him get away with it, either.

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