For the first time in five years, Ben is taking this week off from writing The Transom, and handing over the duties to a cast of smart, talented writers. Today’s edition is courtesy of Peter Suderman, a Senior Editor at Reason, who you can follow on Twitter @petersuderman. Read his work at Reason here: http://vlt.tc/202t Enjoy!
How are presidential campaigns like Hollywood movie franchises? Stick with me and I promise you’ll find out. Let’s start with “Minions,” which opens this weekend. http://vlt.tc/202u It’s a spinoff of the wildly successful “Despicable Me” cartoon franchise that tells the origin story of the pint-sized yellow henchmen from the first two films. http://vlt.tc/202v The film serves as a waypoint between the second installment in the main series and the inevitable third sequel, and a somewhat desperate attempt to expand the franchise into a larger cinematic universe. Welcome to franchise nation.
The pill-shaped creatures can barely talk (they speak in a mostly incomprehensible childlike babble) and in the first two films served mostly as absurdist comic relief. But now they’ve been promoted to leading roles. It’s as if someone saw Star Wars and decided to make an entire movie about the Jawas. http://vlt.tc/202w Or the Ewoks. We know how that turned out. http://vlt.tc/202x
“Minions” is a little better, but it still smacks of the same dull corporate instincts. Buy the plush toy! Eat the Happy Meal! (And cover your ears; the talking toy might swear at you. http://vlt.tc/202y ) As Village Voice movie critic Stephanie Zacharek sighs in her review, “Hollywood lives by the simple, sad axiom ‘Where’s the money, there’s more money.’” http://vlt.tc/202z
“Minions,” naturally, is expected to make a villain’s lair’s worth of money this weekend: Early projections peg the movie’s domestic take at $100m plus, putting it on the path to becoming one of the highest grossing animated films ever. http://vlt.tc/2030 It’s not the money that’s the problem. (There’s nothing wrong with making money!) It’s the creative shallowness these sorts of franchise extenders represent, and, in some sense, enforce. Must every franchise become a sprawling expanded cinematic universe? Must every beloved supporting character get his or her own feature-length origin story?
Disney apparently thinks so. Earlier this week, the company, which bought the rights to the entire “Star Wars” universe from George Lucas for $4 billion in 2012, announced that it would produce a Han Solo origin film as part of its forthcoming “Star Wars Anthology” series—standalone adventures designed to hold over audiences in between installments in the new trilogy. http://vlt.tc/202t Granted, it’s not entirely bad news. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the creators attached the Solo film, are the wonderfully inventive duo behind the “21 Jump Street” comedies and “The Lego Movie.”
Even still, there’s something bleak about going to the movies in an era of strip-mined nostalgia. This year alone has already feature updates and quasi-reboots of “Mad Max,” “Jurassic Park,” and “Terminator,” with the J.J. Abrams-helmed “Star Wars” still to come.
The expanded universe mania is taking over television too. Next month, AMC launches “Fear the Walking Dead,” a West Coast spinoff of the network’s massively popular comic-book-based zombie drama, “The Walking Dead.” http://vlt.tc/202t Early next year, Warner Brothers and DC Comic are set to add a third series, “Legends of Tomorrow,” to the CW’s growing small-screen superhero universe. http://vlt.tc/2033
Movie studios, meanwhile, are taking cues from television and putting together TV-style “writers rooms” to help ramp up their franchises, or potential franchises. Universal has one for a planned series of films featuring classic movie monsters. http://vlt.tc/2034 There’s another one for the “Transformers” films. http://vlt.tc/2035 There’s even a writer’s room for what looks to be a sprawling, multi-threaded, gender-inclusive revamp of the “Ghostbusters” franchise. http://vlt.tc/2036 Who’s excited about a Slimer spinoff series? I wonder what the gooey green ghost was like as a kid.
The problem these franchise expansions are trying to solve is that movies are incredibly expensive to advertise, but marketing is easier on films that involve recognizable properties. In Hollywood parlance, they’re “pre-sold.” Marketing costs for big-budget films have grown enormously in recent years, sometimes reaching 200 million dollars or more. http://vlt.tc/2038 Even a shoestring indie comedy can cost 20 million or more to market when picked up by a major studio. http://vlt.tc/2039 Hollywood wants to make movies about characters and properties you’ve already heard of because, well, you’ve already heard of them.
It’s essentially the same problem faced by political candidates; more than anything, they need name recognition. That’s why the front-runners for the two major political parties right now are Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. http://vlt.tc/1xsy http://vlt.tc/203a They’re both pre-sold—extensions of preexisting political franchises that have already demonstrated some popularity and success. Where there were votes, there are more votes. Or at least that’s the hope.
But there are dangers to this strategy in both politics and pop-culture. Mine too deep, extend the franchise too far, and you end with a dud that kills the brand. And if you stick with the same old familiar set of characters and ideas too long, you’ll eventually find you don’t have anything left to work with. You can only keep making “Terminator” movies, http://vlt.tc/203b or nominating Bushes and Clintons, for so long before the public eventually loses interest—and you suddenly find you’ve got nothing left to sell.
Have you subscribed to the feed for our daily radio show in iTunes? It’s already in the Top 50 politics shows. http://vlt.tc/1vko Listen live at 4 PM here. http://fdrl.st/radio
Greece faces a financial reckoning with Europe, but no one wants to take responsibility for letting it happen. http://vlt.tc/203c “The ball is in Greece’s court,” Pierre Moscovici, the European Commission’s senior official for economic and financial affairs, said Wednesday, echoing a theme heard regularly in European capitals and the bureaucracies of Brussels as creditors demand evidence that Greece is willing to take concrete steps to get its finances in order. But Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of Greece said the situation was a European problem, in need of a European solution. “We all understand that this debate is not exclusively about one country. It’s about the future of our common construction, the eurozone and Europe,” he said Wednesday, making his case that the only way out is for the other euro-linked countries to drop their insistence on painful austerity policies.” Greece has (finally) sent in its last-minute bailout proposal: http://vlt.tc/203d They want at least 55 billion dollars. http://vlt.tc/202t
How states can effectively end the federal income tax—and why they should. http://vlt.tc/2021 “In Texas, taxes on income are against the state constitution. However, Texans still pay the federal income tax. In principle, the state could effectively end the federal income tax by using two surprisingly simple and straightforward legislative maneuvers—neither of which involves secession. Texas could choose to send its federal taxpayers a check in the form of a state tax credit equal to their federal income tax liability. It could then pay for the credit by increasing the state sales tax in a revenue neutral way. Effectively, that would mean the end of all income taxes in the state while significantly raising sales taxes. This isn’t about cutting taxes per se; rather, this is the tax swap to end all tax swaps.”
Jeb Bush says Americans need to work longer hours, takes heat, says his remarks were not properly understood. http://vlt.tc/203f “Bush's camp, however, said the former governor's comments had been taken out of context. “Under President Obama, we have the lowest workforce participation rate since 1977, and too many Americans are falling behind," Bush spokesperson Allie Brandenburger said in a statement provided to The Huffington Post. "Only Washington Democrats could be out-of-touch enough to criticize giving more Americans the ability to work, earn a paycheck, and make ends meet.”
RELATED: Bush elaborates on his work hours remark. http://vlt.tc/202t Bush and Hillary Clinton fight over work hours on Twitter. http://vlt.tc/203h This study found that more hours worked correlated with more drinking. http://vlt.tc/203i Underemployment amongst college grads remains higher than before the recession. http://vlt.tc/203j
SENATE REPUBLICANS AREN’T EAGER TO USE RECONCILIATION TO REPEAL OBAMACARE:
Jennifer Haberkorn and Rachel Bade. http://vlt.tc/203l “The chairmen of the key Senate committees overseeing Obamacare — Orrin Hatch of Finance, and Lamar Alexander of Health, Education, Labor and Pensions — say they haven’t drawn up reconciliation plans, saying doing so is up to leadership. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), a member of the Senate leadership and a point person on health policy, said there’s no rush to do reconciliation immediately — and that Senate leaders haven’t decided on how to use the fast-track budget tool.
“There’s no timeline on the reconciliation bill, so it can be used at any point,” Barrasso said, even though the GOP’s own budget resolution had instructed five health care committees — two in the Senate and three in the House — to come up with a repeal plan by July 24.”
TAKING A JOB AS A VIRTUAL GIRLFRIEND:
Kashmir Hill. http://vlt.tc/203k “It was surprisingly easy to get a job with Crowdsource, the St. Louis-based start-up that provides Invisible BFs and GFs. I just had to give them my name, address, and the ability to make deposits into my PayPal account. Bam. Hired.
“Crowdsource has over 200,000 “micro-workers” around the world who do tiny tasks for tiny amounts of money. Most of the jobs I saw there involved writing product descriptions and doing Google searches for a few cents. To qualify for the “Be the Boyfriend” and “Be the Girlfriend” jobs, though, I had to take a 40-minute copywriting test, which checked my understanding of basic grammar. (Crowdsource’s spokesperson had given me permission to sign up for the service for journalistic purposes, but they did not otherwise help me out.)
“There are no awkward first dates to woo your partner when you’re an Invisible. A sound grasp of noun-verb agreement is all you need to prove you’re a good virtual lover. (I’m a wordsmith by trade so I managed to pass it.)”
HARPER LEE’S GO SET A WATCHMAN:
Read the first chapter. http://vlt.tc/203p “Since Atlanta, she had looked out the dining-car window with a delight almost physical. Over her breakfast coffee, she watched the last of Georgia’s hills recede and the red earth appear, and with it tin-roofed houses set in the middle of swept yards, and in the yards the inevitable verbena grew, surrounded by whitewashed tires. She grinned when she saw her first TV antenna atop an unpainted Negro house; as they multiplied, her joy rose.
“Jean Louise Finch always made this journey by air, but she decided to go by train from New York to Maycomb Junction on her fifth annual trip home. For one thing, she had the life scared out of her the last time she was on a plane: the pilot elected to fly through a tornado. For another thing, flying home meant her father rising at three in the morning, driving a hundred miles to meet her in Mobile, and doing a full day’s work afterwards: he was seventy-two now and this was no longer fair.
“She was glad she had decided to go by train. Trains had changed since her childhood, and the novelty of the experience amused her: a fat genie of a porter materialized when she pressed a button on a wall; at her bidding a stainless steel washbasin popped out of another wall, and there was a john one could prop one’s feet on. She resolved not to be intimidated by several messages stenciled around her compartment—a roomette, they called it—but when she went to bed the night before, she succeeded in folding herself up into the wall because she had ignored an injunction to PULL THIS LEVER DOWN OVER BRACKETS, a situation remedied by the porter to her embarrassment, as her habit was to sleep only in pajama tops.
“Luckily, he happened to be patrolling the corridor when the trap snapped shut with her in it: “I’ll get you out, Miss,” he called in answer to her poundings from within. “No please,” she said. “Just tell me how to get out.” “I can do it with my back turned,” he said, and did.”
The Transom recommends Ledbury shirts. Receive a credit for your first purchase here. http://vlt.tc/16w6
The surprising, delightful, small-scale success of The Awl. http://vlt.tc/203m
BUILD ME UP, BUTTERCUP:
Extremely well-trained bullmastiff helps bring in the groceries. http://vlt.tc/203n
Peter G. Peterson Foundation, Fiscal Policy Content Producer. http://vlt.tc/203o
ITEMS OF INTEREST:
OPM admits Chinese hackers stole personal data on about 21.5 million Americans. http://vlt.tc/202d
22 million affected by OPM hack, officials say. http://vlt.tc/201m
Sen. Ben Sasse: Washington does not take cybersecurity seriously. http://vlt.tc/202e
Lindsey Graham calls for 20,000 ground troops in Iraq, Syria to defeat Islamic State. http://vlt.tc/201z
Rick Perry shows the GOP how it’s done. http://vlt.tc/201n
Jeb Bush’s summer surge. http://vlt.tc/201i
Bush super PAC rakes in 103 million in first six months. http://vlt.tc/2028
Jeb Bush was right: Americans need to work longer hours. http://vlt.tc/201o
The mysterious Columba Bush. http://vlt.tc/201w
Walker leads Bush in Iowa. http://vlt.tc/2029
Donald Trump, clickbait. http://vlt.tc/2025 GOP leaders fear damage to party’s image as Donald Trump doubles down. http://vlt.tc/201h
RNC Chair Reince Preibus calls Donald Trump to say “tone it down.” Trump says the call was congratulatory. http://vlt.tc/202i
GOP long-shots plan early-state ad blitz. http://vlt.tc/2024
Weekend with Bernie: Rolling Stone profiles the socialist Democrat who’s doing unexpectedly well. http://vlt.tc/202a
Sanders’ momentum won’t last. http://vlt.tc/202b
Rand Paul says Hillary Clinton lied about arms in Libya. http://vlt.tc/202c
Who leaked confidential information about Supreme Court deliberations? http://vlt.tc/201s
Saving Hamilton? Treasury secretary resists calls to put a woman on the $20 instead. http://vlt.tc/201y
South Carolina House approves removal of Confederate flag. http://vlt.tc/201g
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signs bill to take down Confederate Flag. http://vlt.tc/202f
Michigan judge bullies kids in open court for not wanting to see their dad. http://vlt.tc/202g
Paul Krugman debated Steve Moore on the economy, Obamacare, and more at FreedomFest. http://vlt.tc/202h
A father’s struggle to stop his daughter’s adoption. http://vlt.tc/201j
The problem with polygamy. http://vlt.tc/201l
The sexual train wreck behind ‘yes means yes.’ http://vlt.tc/2022
Colorado won't fund birth-control initiative. http://vlt.tc/201k
Oregon and commercial surrogacy. http://vlt.tc/202j
Ohio Gov. John Kasich talks up Medicaid expansion in Nashville. http://vlt.tc/201t
Medicare plans to pay doctors for counseling on end of life. http://vlt.tc/201v
Utah fails to expand Medicaid. http://vlt.tc/202k
Medicare proposes paying docs for end of life counseling. http://vlt.tc/202l
Even liberals think that Obamacare’s premium hikes are serious problem. http://vlt.tc/202m
For churches that won’t perform same-sex weddings, insurance begins to look iffy. http://vlt.tc/201p
Senate Dems divided over revoking charitable tax status of religious schools. http://vlt.tc/2026
Meet Jerry Seinfeld, Thought Criminal. http://vlt.tc/203r
Sarah Palin pulls plug on internet subscription-channel. http://vlt.tc/201x
12 signs you might be a terrorist, according to the TSA. http://vlt.tc/202r
Electric plane to fly English channel. http://vlt.tc/202o
Yahoo will enter daily fantasy sports market. http://vlt.tc/2023
Chat apps take a swipe at Facebook. http://vlt.tc/201q
Andy Greenwald on the second season of FX’s surprisingly mediocre vampire series, “The Strain.” http://vlt.tc/200z
Editors Keith Phipps and Scott Tobias on the end of The Dissolve and the future of film criticism. http://vlt.tc/201r
The trailer for season five of “Homeland.” http://vlt.tc/202p
Billions - Follow the Money tease. http://vlt.tc/2020
Call of Duty: Black Ops 3’s crazy zombie mode. http://vlt.tc/202q
One-Minute Time Machine. http://vlt.tc/2027
Dear people who live in fancy tiny houses. http://vlt.tc/201u
Ike Brannon on the China meltdown. http://vlt.tc/203q
My memory of your face. http://vlt.tc/203t
“When people diss the government — we’re really dissing ourselves and dissing our democracy.” – Hillary Clinton http://vlt.tc/203s