… And Justice for All
“Justice is done, Seeking no truth, Winning is all, Find it so grim.” James Hetfield
“And I'll sit here and wait While a few key congressmen discuss and debate Whether they should let me be a law, How I hope and pray that they will, But today. I am still just a bill.” School House Rocks
The Spears vs. Disney verdict rattled state capitols. With public outrage nipping at their heels, legislators in Sacramento and Albany moved swiftly to outlaw child labor in the entertainment industry.
California Assemblyman Gabriel “Rufio” Pempengco (D – Anaheim) still boiled from an audition for a Disney show three decades ago. As the lead singer of the Filharmonics, he had won California's state glee club competition and placed 2nd nationally. As he auditioned for the title role in a new singing show, “Real American Teen,” the producers stopped him and asked why he was auditioning if he wasn't American. This flummoxed him. Rufio had never questioned his Americanness. He was American. His parents and grandparents were Americans. His grandfather immigrated from Cebu, in the Philippines, and worked directly with Larry Itliong to organize Filipino farmers throughout California. Together with Cesar Chavez, they waged the Delano grape strike. His grandparents marched 300 miles with thousands of protestors to the steps of the state capitol, winning the first labor contracts in the history of American farming.
But none of that mattered. They were looking for a real American teen, i.e. white. He and others that didn't fit this description were viewed as counterfeit Americans. Rufio stung with rejection. He turned his theatrical skills to politics, where his booming voice commanded crowds. His family's history of labor advocacy cemented him as the political choice for unions. Now, as he stood in the capitol building looking out on where his forefathers had protested, Rufio knew he had a sacred duty to protect the suffering and oppressed. A bill to end child labor in the entertainment industry would be an easy, low hanging fruit to satisfy his constituencies.
Bill 925, the Child Entertainer Endangerment Act also known as the Spears-Jackson Act, banned the use of child labor in entertainment for those under the age of 15. On top of this, the bill created prohibitive burdens to hiring young adult entertainers (YAE), ages 16 to 21. The bill taxed employers an amount equal to ten percent of the wages for any YAE. These funds would pay for the State Youth Mental Health Agency to ensure the sanity and well-adjustment of these entertainers. Each year, all youth actors, models, singers and dancers would be required to undergo a thorough mental health evaluation. Any hint of a disturbance would require intensive cognitive behavioral therapy paid for by their employer.
Heads in boardrooms spun as they read the final bill. With briefcases held like shields, teams of accountants convinced executives how catastrophic the costs would be to comply. Risk-averse insurance companies threatened to drop all studios that continued to employ child entertainers. These factors, combined with the threat of more lawsuits, made it financially impossible to employ YAEs.
In Albany, a copycat bill moved through the New York State Assembly and Senate. Broadway carved out an exemption by proving that children who are theater geeks are much more grounded and that their Broadway fame rarely splashes beyond the Great White Way. Opponents of this exemption cited the Anna Kendrick phenom. But teams of statisticians proved that although she was indeed exceptional, she is not the rule.
Opposition grappled with how to respond. Legal departments were asked how the entertainment industry could lobby and lobby hard to abort this bill. In the end, this crippled industry feared retribution if it fought these bills. A public now sympathetic to the plight of child actors might turn on them and turn them off.
Public support for these bills grew. Protestors marched around the entrance to Disneyland, led by Anita Gallagher. Over a megaphone, she cried.
“Save our Children! Oh won't someone please think of the children!”
For Anita, this campaign had a two-fold benefit. First, it provided her with free publicity as the 24-hour news cycle churned on this scandal. And second, in her own little corner, she dreamt of becoming a singing sensation. If these bills were approved, she would have less competition to worry about.
Both bills were passed with unanimous support and signed in star-studded press conferences by Governor Mary Carey in California and Governor Jimmy McMillan in New York.
Bills enforcing youth vaccinations, incentivizing municipalities to fluoridate water and an emergency bond to fund innovation to combat climate change were tabled during that same session. Each of these bills would help millions more children than Bill 925 ever would but wallowed because these were nowhere near as exciting and thus couldn't be exploited for campaign donations.
Each bill granted a six-month sunset period before enforcement. Family sitcoms and teen dramas had to find clever ways of getting rid of the roles of sons and daughters. Lazy writers gifted characters with full scholarships to boarding schools in other states. In dramas, most young characters were killed off. By fall's sweeps week, a heartbreaking epidemic pushed all youth roles to extinction. Only General Hospital capitalized on this trend by employing a team of hunky epidemiologists who would sweat, shirtless, long into the night, attempting to uncover the cause of, and a cure for, this heinous child-killing disease.
A few shows Dashed their problem. The trend harkened back to the youthful Stacey Dash, who played a high school girl well into her thirties, first in the movie Clueless and then in the TV-show version of the film. But most producers scoffed at this gamble, worried that these stars would age too quickly and cause a Jerri-Blankification of their shows.
Disney backed its assets up and focused on rebranding. While the animation studios and amusement parks tilt-a-whirled unscathed by public scorn, its live-action divisions tanked. Disney hired the same public relations firm that helped the Catholic Church. The One True ChurchTM needed to reinvent itself after the Great Molestation Scandal decades earlier. The firm worked diligently to reform the Church's craven image after local parishes and the Holy See ignored and hushed up thousands of children who were sexually abused by priests.
The Boston-based PR firm attempted to reignite passion for Disney and the Disney Channel. Name recognition was high, but most people had never developed an affection for the Disney Channel. And, after the trial, most Americans could only see its shows through this lens. After sinking $50 million into the campaign, Disney's stock still held steady at 10% of its pretrial high. With no other choice, Disney severed its cancerous live action studios before it infected other divisions.
The laws sent shockwaves into all corners of the entertainment industry. The recording industry had thought itself immune. The dreadful prognosis trickled down from one management consultant, Jan Glass. Heralded as organizational oracle, Jan could plot the movement of a thousand independent factors that would swell into a wave able to topple an entire industry. Before an emergency meeting of the Recording Industry Association of America, she presented the bad news to the top executives.
“We all know that pop stars have a shelf life of sevens years.” Jan walks them through a 3D holopowerpoint presentation of her trademarked pop star product maturity timeline.
“With their second and third albums as the most profitable. The fourth and fifth albums are usually lackluster, but people buy them out of loyalty to their idol. And, with touring, these stars remain at peak-earning potential. Now, for a pop star to be ready for primetime, she needs to have at least three years of experience refining her image, her singing, and her lip-syncing skills.
“Gentlemen, must I remind you of the shrieking lumps of clay we start with?” The presentation unfolds to show footage of a harsh, early performance of a teenage Beyoncé Knowles with Destiny's Child.
Halfway through the song, Jan stops the video and grimaces through her glasses.
“As the ascendant Queen B states in the song: 'No, No, No, No'!”
Video of 15-year-old Rihanna singing Whitney Houston shanks this point home with her vocal's dull edges.
“Now, what does this mean for the recording industry? Gentlemen, in one year, your supply of raw star material will dry up. Live-action Disney and Nickelodeon shows have served as feeders for the recording industry for four decades. Men, the new law severely restricts hiring singers until they've reached 21. This means that their first albums won't arrive until they are 22 or 23. By the time they reach peak-earning potential, they will be in their late 20s. Over the hill! Twice the age of the coveted 'tween and teenage markets!”
Jan waits a beat for the group's hubbub to die down.
“Now gentlemen, I've spent some time looking for solutions. The best I've come up with thus far is a finishing school for new pop stars. Think of it as a working farm, where our clay is plucked, tweaked and molded for primetime. Korean music studios have run these pop star puppy mills for decades. We can sell this as an exclusive conservatory.
“I know what you all are thinking. Price tag! The costs for this could reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars and we could probably only rely on 20% of graduates becoming thriving, lucrative pop stars afterwards. This would be enough to keep profits soaring. But the large, upfront costs necessary to avert industry extinction would require coordination between the different record companies.”
The suited men snooted at the thought of investing together in this endeavor.
“Another option would be to import professional singers from other countries. Aliens like Justin Bieber, Shakira and Drake have all grown on American audiences. Of course, only after they'd been transformed for an American audience. India, Vietnam and Egypt are churning out high-caliber singers at a low, low cost.” This last suggestion brought only scowls from the beige faces.
“Gentleman, you need to act and act fast before your revenues plunge.”
“Sure, Jan.” The president of Sony says as he rolls his eyes.
Jan fumes from the podium.
“Fuck them all,” she thinks as she storms of the stage.
The meeting adjourns with no solution. A few executives smile, happy to kick the responsibility down the road for whomever replaces them after they retires to a tropical island paradise... perhaps Tan Penis Island.