Ain’t no business ethics like show-business ethics


When I was about 12, my father, an investment banker,  asked me if I wanted to go into finance just like he, my uncles, and grandfather all had. I told him absolutely not because finance is too much about being dishonest and unethical. When I told him I’d rather work in the entertainment industry he called up my uncles, told them my thoughts on finance versus entertainment, and had a good laugh.

Ethical scenarios in show-business are different than most of the scenarios we’ve looked at so far. Where as cases like Enron and Nike focus on the ethics of a big giant corporation manipulating little common folk, often times in show-business it’s the little guys manipulating the big ones. Perhaps that’s not the best way of putting it; it’s more like larger than life guys manipulating a larger than life industry or company. The industry is chock full of interesting of ethical/unethical situations from David Geffen forging a letter from UCLA to prove to William Morris Agency that he graduated, to Ari Emanuel sneaking out of the International Creative Management office at midnight with crates of company files to go start his own company Endeavor. Among the most interesting ethical/unethical actors is Michael Ovitz, who’s been all but banished from the industry since being CEO of Disney/a power-agent at Creative Artists Agency and has publicly claimed the “gay mafia” of the industry is responsible. The entertainment industry is like an oil well waiting for a prospector (like this class).

Paper 2 I plan on tackling a few of these ethics in the entertainment industry scenarios, tying them all together, and then contrasting them with the ethical scenarios we’ve looked at in the past. Jim Berg recently left ICM after being forced out of a partner deal and took “half of the firm’s clients with him”, as someone in the industry put it. The actors within this particular industry are so intrinsically competitive that their actions sometimes border on the unethical, but if and when do they cross the line?

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6 thoughts on “Ain’t no business ethics like show-business ethics

  1. I was a huge fan of Entourage and I know Ari Gold’s character was based off Ari Emmanuel. I would say a good area to look into is the tactics of different agents, whether they are involved in entertainment or sports. I remember one episode when the producer got Vince to come back from Mexico just to use him as leverage to get Emile Hirsch to sign for less money. Stuff like that, although small, is all over the industry. Maybe point out areas like that.

  2. Great post! I really like the title, and was pleasantly surprised when your post started off in a different direction than I expected. I’m a little concerned that many of the examples you gave involve agencies considering the fact that I want to be an agent for my career. Hopefully I won’t find the pressure to act unethically in this industry to be as bad as people make it out to be.

  3. It is not an unknown fact that the entertainment industry is seen as unethical. This is a very creative topic. I think focusing on a cone or two major cases would really be beneficial to creating a valid argument in your paper that you can relate to the larger ideas we have been studying.

  4. One twist on virtue ethics, as I think about it, is the idea of the relevant “moral community.” SO, in this case, the super-aggressive actors may think of themselves as virtuous relative to that community even if their behavior is unethical from various deontological perspectives (it is wrong to steal).

    A different, more social-science-y (not a real word) is how markets of status and reputation control or govern behavior. In other words, in a system (creative industries) that relies so heavily on deal-making and temporary organizations or alliances, one’s status is a valuable asset. THis may be amplified by the underlying difficulty to standardize a successful creative product. Anyway, do these “unethical” actors suffer in terms of loosing out on future deals? Does their status suffer?

    “Creative industries” is DEFINITELY a keyword scholars use to examine the sector. I wonder what happens if you search for ethics in creative industries…

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