"Now listen here you bloody orcs!" Nothing is more wounding to the charismatic leader than the perceived "disloyalty" of those given the privilege of serving him. For Sir Peter Jackson, NZ Actors Equity are nothing but a brood of ungrateful extortionists. Is he about to punish them by taking The Hobbit offshore?
IT’S BEEN UGLY. The news media has been calling it an "industrial dispute", but more and more evidence is emerging that the furor over the production of The Hobbit has been almost entirely of Sir Peter Jackson’s own making.
The CTU President, Helen Kelly, summed up the feelings of those most closely involved in the controversy when she accused Jackson of behaving "like a spoiled brat".
Like so many egotistical and paternalistic business tycoons before him (Andrew Carnegie springs to mind) Jackson has been willing to go to extraordinary lengths to prevent his employees from either joining or forming a union. (That’s right, I said "employees", because no matter what the film industry bosses say, that’s exactly what actors and technicians working on a long-term project like The Hobbit are.)
Men like Jackson demonstrate what the founder of sociology, Max Weber, called "charismatic leadership". At the heart of this, the most ancient form of leadership, is the concept of loyalty.
For the charismatic leader the intense bond of personal fealty is all-important. Those who follow the charismatic leader do so because he has demonstrated extraordinary ability. He is a superior being, and that not only gives him the right to lead, but also imposes a moral obligation on all "lesser beings" to follow.
The trade union is thus the mortal enemy of the charismatic leader – even though it recognises, albeit tacitly, his singular power and authority. Against this "one", argues the union, we must counterpose the "many".
The union is thus – in Weberian terms – a manifestation of the most modern, "rational-legal", form of authority. It is a collective method of goal-setting and decision-making, based on rules and processes set in place not at the whim of a single individual, but through the democratic deliberation of the group. In place of the intense emotional bond linking the charismatic leader to his followers, the trade union substitutes the even stronger bonds of solidarity.
It is surely no accident that Jackson made his reputation translating the work of J.R.R. Tolkien to the big screen. For what is Tolkien’s great trilogy if not a marvelous, magical, but essentially anachronistic evocation of the charismatic and traditional forms of leadership which, even in Tolkien’s childhood, were fast disappearing from the Western world?
In his own eyes, Jackson is a Gandalf, an Aragorn, a Boromir figure: a person full of intrinsic power. By challenging that power: by telling him that such "lesser beings" as actors possess an equal right to shape the world in which they live and work; Actor’s Equity has struck a blow at the very heart of Jackson’s self-perception – and he is fighting back.
He’s not alone. Around Jackson’s banner have gathered every solipsistic libertarian geek, every Ayn Rand devotee, and every National and Act Party voter yet to fathom that while it is often the charismatic entrepreneur who begins the great tales of capitalism, it is the rational-legal or "bureaucratic" modern corporation that finishes them.
No wonder, then, that Actors Equity is being assailed by the Weta Workshop technicians. There is a world of difference between the clever boys and girls who work alone in front of a computer screen, and those quintessential collectivists –actors. The English language has for centuries possessed a collective noun for "a troupe" of actors. It has yet to find one for CGI wizards.
The deep prejudices that so many New Zealanders harbour against trade unions speak eloquently of the "rugged individualism" so intrinsic to the Anglo-Saxon settler cultures. For these folk, New Zealand was the place in which their "extraordinariness" was bound to be seen more plainly than in the overcrowded homeland. It was to be the place where little men became big.
The idea that a man only reaches the heights by climbing on to the backs of other men simply didn't occur to them.
This country will never reach its full potential until it finally enters the modern age and accepts that the corporation and the union – both of which are founded on the principle of rational-legal authority – are brothers under the skin. The most progressive elements in our society have always known this. As the late Bruce Jesson shrewdly observed: "National knows how to govern for capitalists, but only Labour knows how to govern for capitalism."
I fear that day is a long way off. Listening this morning to Radio New Zealand’s Geoff Robinson, with all the treakly sanctimony of a reactionary Anglican parson, bestow his blessing upon a breakaway "union" of scab actors, was a truly dispiriting experience. It reminded me that when Sid Holland’s National Government brought in the 1951 Emergency Regulations suspending (among many other rights and liberties) the freedom of the press, not one of the editors of the 170 newspapers then published in New Zealand was willing to risk jail by challenging the State’s right to censor the news media.
Radio New Zealand is to be congratulated, however, for broadcasting the interview with Steve Zeitchik of the Los Angeles Times. Zeitchik’s answers to Patrick O'Meara's questions concerning the fate of The Hobbit strongly suggested that in releasing a statement confirming last-minute doubts about the film’s ultimate location, Warner Brothers were simply humouring their temperamental, tantrum-throwing Kiwi producer.
It is now very clear that if the production of The Hobbit does go offshore, it will be entirely the decision of the charismatic Sir Peter Jackson’s wounded pride.