Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Why Movies and Wars Are Similar

Slate has an interesting article mining a scholarly "metapaper": The Moviegoer - What social scientists and economists can tell us about our cinematic preferences. By Michael Agger.

"Here's how the authors summarize the process by which expensive bombs like The Adventures of Pluto Nash come into the world: '[W]hen costs are sunk progressively and information on a project's quality is revealed gradually, rational decision makers can carry projects to completion that realize enormous ex post losses.' Rational decision-making led to a $100 million film with Eddie Murphy running a nightclub on the moon in the year 2087. That's funny."

I assume that the same logic applies whenever a small group of decisionmakers get together and decide to do a project. Like, for example, the Iraq war.


Anonymous said...

Come on, Bill. The analogy between a movie and the war in Iraq is incredibly flawed. Producers can control films totally if they desire. There are are no combatants to defeat on the set Free will there is modulated and the unexpected is generally predictable.

Bill Harshaw said...

You're right. Producers have much more control than Presidents and no adversaries to worry about.

But the point, and it may be clearer if you read today's post, is that, easy as a producer's job is, sometimes very smart people with a proven record of success still come together to make absolutely terrible movies. I think the research that was cited was trying to explain why that might happen.

Maybe we can both agree that we won't really know whether the Iraq war was worthwhile for 20 years or so. (People are still debating Vietnam 40 years later.) Seems to me the point is that decisions to go to war and to make a movie aren't like deciding to buy car A versus car B, where you have all your information at the time of decision. Instead, a president has partial information, invests his money and troops up front, and hope it all comes right in the end.

Anonymous said...

Good point, Bill. My bureaucratic career consists primarily of making decisions to determine what is not yet known--not always well. As we say to prosecutors who criticize our investigations, "heck, anybody can solve a case that is already solved." The same holds for foreign policy...and movie-making, I suppose.