Creative math

Surely, I’m not the only one who’s tired of box-office press that goes only for the total amount of money a movie has made? By sheer gross revenue, every new blockbuster is going to seem like a bigger deal than previous ones, simply because of two things:

1. Inflation

2. Population growth

Any measure of how successful a given movie is has to take those two things, plus production, marketing and distribution costs, into account.

An example (with some completely hypothetical numbers), to show how this works:

Awesome Dude and his Awesome Buddies, released in 2009, was made with a budget of $90 million. It took in $100 million in the US. At the time of its release, there were ~300 million people in the US, and average ticket price was $10. This means that approximately 10 million people saw this movie, or about 1/3 of the population.

Three years later, they release Awesome Dude II: Space Boogaloo. This time, the bigger, more expensive cast meant that the movie cost $120 million. But! The movie made more money than its predecessor! It made $125 million! It beat the record set by the first film, so it was clearly more successful, right? Right?

Well …

First, it only made $5 million in profit–not just a smaller number, but a smaller percentage of its budget.

Ticket prices have risen to $14. To match the take of its predecessor, it should’ve made $140 million.

This also means it only sold ~9 million tickets, rather than 10 million. Also, the population has increased, so it’s even a lower percentage of the population in general.

So …. Was Awesome Dudes II a bigger success than the first? No.

I mention all this because two things are bugging me today: Irresponsible entertainment journalism parroting press releases about box office records, and the fact that the same crappy math is being used in politics, to “prove” that Obama has been terrible on the economy. Despite the fact that every real measure of the economy has improved under this president, his opposition is pointing ONLY to the hard-number size of the budget deficit.

This is stupid for two reasons:

1. Inflation

2. Lower tax rates, especially on the rich

Obama has sharply curtailed spending, but he’s not getting as much in revenue as he should, because unemployment is higher (fewer people working = less in income taxes) and the tax rates on the upper end are near an all-time low. An increase in population has offset some of this, but until employment picks up (it is, actually, but we won’t see the results of that for a couple years, yet), the influence of that number is negligible.

Bottom line: Obama has been more efficient on a leaner income than any president in recent history, and yet he’s still getting lambasted (theoretically because he hasn’t completely gutted social services and given all that money to the military so we can blow more people up to prove how macho we are.)

The worst part about this is that that lower tax rate is such a huge contributor to the deficit, and yet the GOP is the one driving that. They created the conditions that have increased the deficit, and yet they’re blaming Obama? Clever trick, that.

Honestly, when even the Wall St. Journal is pointing out that you’re barking up the wrong tree, it’s time to stop flogging that particular lie. And the rest of the media needs to stop parroting this creative math as if it were genuine. We expect that kind of PR-spawned boilerplate from entertainment media. That it’s also happening in political coverage is a serious breach of journalistic ethics.

(See also: Flat tax rates are not inherently more fair. The percentage of incomeĀ paid by the poor for basic living expenses is astronomically higher than that of the rich. Even with some legitimate increase in costs for housing, clothing, etc., at higher incomes, some things just don’t increase in cost at the same rate. A guy who makes 3,000% of the minimum wage isn’t paying 3,000% more for a gallon of milk. Unless he has his own private dairy where the cows eat organic alfalfa sprouts and have a full-time udder massager on staff. Or something.)


About Shawna (A Mediated Life)

Writer, singer, parent, fan, media maven, and general ne'er-do-well. Fierce protector of the rights of the disadvantaged and endless pontificator on subjects both ridiculous and sublime.
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Ethics, Journalism, Politics, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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