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Malcolm X and Capitalism -- Writer's Poke #333

“I have a copy of Malcolm X,” I said, “can we do a public screening at the college for Black History Month.” Sure, the librarian told me, but she reminded me that the DVD I had was licensed solely for my own personal viewing. If I wanted to screen the movie in public, the college would need to purchase a public-viewing license from the production company. And how much will that cost? I wondered. She emailed the company, and they told her the cost would be $500.

Even though I had the DVD in my possession, we weren’t allowed to use that copy. Instead, when we paid the $500 fee, the company sent another copy of the movie. To the naked eye, it looked exactly the same as my copy, but knowing that it cost $500 made it special. I should point out, too, that the licensing agreement was for a one-time public viewing. Just because we paid $500 didn’t mean we had the right to show it over and over and over again.

So we promoted the event around campus. We promised popcorn and soda. We even promoted an essay contest tie-in to the movie. This would be a huge, well-attended event, for sure. And assuming we scored a large crowd, no administrator would bother us about the $500 now removed from the Library’s media budget.

On the night of the screening, the big crowd never materialized. A total of seven people arrived to watch the film; of the seven, only three ended up participating in the essay contest. And no DVD police were anywhere in sight that evening. We could have used my copy of the DVD and saved the college $500, but I don’t hold any animosity toward the production company. They deserve their money; after all, someone had to fund the making of the film. They’re in the business to make money, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m just thankful Malcolm X was made and that seven more people had the chance to see it.

Companies in capitalist societies are in business to make money. Is it appropriate, then, when they are sometimes viewed as being greedy for simply trying to live up to their purpose for being?

“When we hang the capitalists they will sell us the rope we use.” – Joseph Stalin


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