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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Downloading Communism

About a week ago, the Motion Picture Association of America shut down, a popular site to download movies and music for free. The MPAA replaced the main page with an ominous ad that read, in big red letters, "You Can Click, But You Can't Hide." (See for spoofs on the MPAA notice.)

The "Big Brother" factor of the notices reminded me of the "Pirating MP3s is Like Downloading Communism" posters from yore (ie 2-3 years ago). I chuckled at the satirical implications of the poster as I read it hanging on the door of a dorm room. Recently, though, as I rethought the meaning of the poster, I wondered: Isn't there always a bit of truth in humor?

[Thanks for your help on arteries and communism, Carla.]

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It is a historical fact that there is less artistic output in socialist societies as compared to capitalist societies. It can be assumed that an artist in a socialist society, because she lacks the motivation to attain a significantly lucrative profit for her work, is less likely to write that hit song or to paint her masterpiece. Despite the popular appeal or mass consumption of her work, she will still be making the same as a doctor or lawyer or cook.

Even though not all artists create for profit or popular appeal, there are some that do - and they sometimes succeed. When asked once why he writes songs and plays guitar in Aerosmith, Joe Perry answered "Because it was the easiest way to make the most amount of money in the shortest period of time." To say that U2 is charging $165 for a ticket to shows on their upcoming tour because they just want to break even would be ridiculous. Some artists make art for money, and some of that art is the most enduring and recognized in the world. An artist has a greater potential to make his millions in a capitalist society than a socialist one.

Here's where the whole MP3/Communist thing ties together. Downloading MP3s for free is like not paying the artist for his work, it's like taking away his incentive to make millions. Without this dream of being a millionaire, it can be assumed that an extremely talented yet profit-driven artist would be less likely to make art as he realizes he might be able to make the same or even more as a teacher or lawyer or doctor. It then follows that situations like these may be those that contribute to the hisorical fact that there is less artistic output in communist societies compared to capitalist societies. In a communist society there are less artists producing less work because there is no more money to be made as an artist compared to any other profession. Even though some of the best artwork was not made for profit, some of it was.

"Pirating" MP3s is like "downloading" communism in that it reduces the potential for an individual artist to make a lot more money than the people around him. It questions the faith we put in people to do things for money, and to do them even better for more money. In a small way it threatens to topple the pillars of the pursuit of success, to poison the rivers of ambition and greed that form the arteries of our capitalist society.

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