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Tuesday, January 03, 2012

A moral question

You probably want to read about the Iowa caucus results right now. God knows why; the whole business strikes me as rather less significant than the pundits pretend.

Right now, I'd like you to chew on a moral conundrum which may or may not have political implications.

The video featured in the post below inspired me to visit various web sites in order to scoop up "Alan Moore stuff." As you probably know, Moore has been engaged in a decades-long battle with DC comics over the rights to his most famous work, Watchmen, which he never wanted to see adapted as a film. DC now wants to churn out sequels and action figures and god-knows-what-else, all to be created by hirelings.

In the interview here, Moore reveals that he might have earned a couple of million dollars had he signed over all rights to Watchmen.

His refusal of this rather impressive offer strikes me as an honorable decision. Downright saintly.

Then again: What would be the saintly decision?

Think of the families living in cars who might be able to get into homes if that money were put to charitable purposes. Think of people who need medical treatment...

On the other hand: If all artists refused to take a stand for integrity, then the entire world of art would become like that nightmarish town in China (I forget the name) where thousands of "artists" working under slave-like conditions produce fake Old Master canvasses for Israeli "students" (wink) to sell in America.

In the interview, Moore details how he allowed a friend of his named Steve Moore (no relation) to write a computer game version of Watchmen. He gave his assent only because Steve Moore needed the work and his brother had a serious medical condition. Basically, the company used the friendship between the two Moores to perform a rather obvious bit of emotional blackmail. It all ended badly, of course.

Now, I think that Alan Moore has made the correct decision in not taking that two million dollar payoff. Correct for him.

The existentialists -- remember them? -- used to place great weight on the concept of authenticity. Situations often arise in which one cannot hope to perform the morally correct action, because any choice will have a serious downside. Under certain circumstances, one can only act in an authentic fashion -- that is, according to a personal code. Think of Bogie at the end of The Maltese Falcon.

The classic example goes back to World War II. You're a young man working on a farm in France; your father is dead, your mother is old, your sister is quite young. The Nazis invade. A friend asks you to join the Resistance. Do you go underground?

If you do, your mother and sister will endure enormous hardship. They may not survive. But when you offer this excuse, your friend sneers: If everyone refused to fight the Nazis on such grounds, the Resistance would not exist.

There is no morally correct choice. There is no holy book which tells you "Under circumstance X, perform action Y." There can be only an authentic decision. A decision that is right for you but not necessarily for the next person.

So. Let's say that you are a talented writer. You have created a novel or a comic book or -- how I hate this word! -- a property that Hollywood wants to adapt. They offer a million bucks. You have every reason to believe that, no matter how cleverly you try to structure the deal, they will rape your work bloody in every conceivable hole.

On the other hand: Think of the good deeds you can do with that money.

(For the purposes of this thought experiment, you are not just a talented writer but a saint, or at least an incredibly wonderful person.)

What is the morally correct thing to do?

If you can't answer that question -- and I doubt that you can -- then try this: What would be the authentic thing for you to do?
Suppose you send a novel to a publisher who rejects it. Then the novel shows up as a movie a couple of years later (to the point of even using the same dialog and character names). Every lawyer you contacts wants big bucks to file suit. Do you sell everything you own and mortgage your home, putting your wife and small children in dire straits? Or do the villains skate away?

It's not Nazis, but it is a moment.
Bob, copyrights and patents are noting more than a piece of paper that gives you the right to sue those who infringe on your work. Ask Philo Farnsworth how that worked out for him.

Joe, here's a question about what is legal and what is moral. You have a family of 7 children and a wife, you live in the Washington DC area in a home large enough to accommodate that family. Your former home in Pennsylvania is a two bedroom house. You cyber school your children and the school district in PA picks up the tab because that house is listed as your residence. Oh, and BTW, at one point in time the house was devoid of furnishings including curtains on the windows. It might be legal but is it moral?

Google or Lexus-Nexus Rick Santorum and Penn Hills School District.

Bungalow Dick for President.

Just a thought, on late night cable TV they used to advertise Starving Artists Paintings for cheap. I guess they weren't lying about the starving part.
study the rap world a bit closer. I think it was Master P who was offered a large chunk of money to "sell out" but instead formed his own publishing company and has made many many many times more money as a result.

I would suggest that anybody talented enough to create a marketable product could also generate a decent wage working for others, saving up their earnings, and then doing their own project with their own funding.

One danger to this approach could be working on a project that is dangerously close to one's own idea, at which point they could be accused of theft, unless they had already copyrighted their own idea.

So the sequence of events would be, create great product ideas, work for someone else, save up money, then make your own project yourself.
I see no moral question in the novelist's dilemma. In my universe, neither art nor money has any special ethical status. Artists should be free to do whatever they want with their creations.

Just for fun: What if the novelist takes the million dollars, only to find that Hollywood has vastly improved his or her work, producing a masterpiece far beyond the original creation?
What would be the authentic thing for you to do?

Hmmmm - In fantasy land I could always write another novel, comic book or produce an even better work of art - so taking the money for an existing one to be raped, as long as any "message" remains intact, and using the money for good causes (those I would see as good)seems most authentic.
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