“Vote with your wallet” is a common free market refrain. Allegedly you’ll let the company know you support a product by paying for it. If you dislike Wal-Mart’s treatment of employees and engagements with sweatshops, you don’t buy anything there. And if you like that organic grocery on the corner, then you buy everything you can there in encouragement. There’s are flourishing e-communities of consumers who only buy self-published indy books for just these reasons.
But economic moralizing like this forces your message to be simple. In the last week, I’ve been wondering about the lack of nuance in “voting with your wallet,” thanks primarily to The Secret World of Arriety.
The Secret World of Arriety is a Japanese film by Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki's an incredibly lauded and popular director, responsible for Spirited Away, Ponyo and Howl's Moving Castle. The Walt Disney Company bought the rights to distribute his movie in the U.S., like they do with all of his stuff. Before you grumble about the evils of Disney, recognize they paid to widely release a foreign 2D cartoon in our theatres. A wide release for any foreign film is hard; The Artist had to be a heavyweight Oscar contender just to get billionaires to consider distribution, and that was from Europe. When you compound that Arriety is an Asian movie, the chances of it otherwise showing up at the multiplex are alarmingly small.
Now let’s grumble about Disney. They removed the original Japanese voice track from The Secret World of Arriety, and recorded a fresh lip-synched English voice track. This is typically called “dubbing,” and is the alternative to subtitling a film. U.S. audiences notoriously dislike reading subtitles while watching a movie and are more likely to turn out in larger numbers if it’s dubbed instead of subbed.
Purists, particularly the kind of film fan who wants to experience something closest to the director’s original intent, were naturally unhappy with the change. Now all those voices Studio Ghibli had honed and coached were out in favor of Tobe McGuire and Amy Poehler. Instantly you got people buying foreign DVD’s, torrenting subtitled copies, and the argument, “Vote with your wallet.” In this case, that meant not paying for a movie that was presented in such a form.
But it’s not so easy to vote with my wallet here. Refusing to paying to see this movie does not send the message that I dislike dubbing. It’s a lost ticket sale on a foreign film, so the message they get is, “Another white guy won’t pay for foreign films. Let’s do Transformers 4.”
There’s no nuance in this protest. There is only the money a corporation can make off distributing movies I deeply wish would flourish in American markets. Friends, what do you do here?