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98.09.02
There's Something About Harry.

How a twenty-six-year-old college dropout became the king of "film geeks" -- and the bane of big Hollywood studios.

98.08.20
The Second Coming.

Jesus and Elvis meet Dolly.

98.08.12
New Definition.

A preview of the Oxford English Dictionary's electronic edition points the way to a new kind of reference work.

98.08.05
The Lolita Effect.

What Vladimir Nabokov and Bill Clinton have in common.

98.07.30
Normandy: 1944

As Saving Private Ryan sweeps the country, learn about the reality behind the celluloid images.

98.07.22
Investigating the Renaissance

An interactive exhibit shows how digital imaging can reveal a painting's secrets.

98.07.15
Miles Ahead

An elegant multimedia tribute to the music (and commercial appeal) of Miles Davis.

98.07.08
Eminent Domains

Making sense of the great Internet land grab.

For more, see the complete Web Citations Index.
Celebrity Trades
September 10, 1998

The Hollywood Stock Exchange "We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc.," the business guru Tom Peters proclaimed in his controversial Fast Company article, "The Brand Called You." "It's that simple. And that hard. And that inescapable." While it may have come as news to the victims of corporate downsizing, Peters's advice seems little more than a statement of the obvious in Hollywood, where personal promotion and packaging have been elevated from a business to an art form. Skeptics need look no further than Madonna and Michael Jackson for case studies in the rise (and demise) of personal brands. In an economy of buzz where fortunes are notoriously variable, becoming (and remaining) a hot commodity has always been the name of the game.

It comes as no surprise, then, that this celebrity fame game has finally made it to the Web, in the guise of a commodities market. Public figures can now go public via The Hollywood Stock Exchange, a new twist on E-trade's online trading contest and the multitude of other online trading games (a.k.a. stock-market training tools) that have supplanted Solitaire and Minesweeper as the procrastination tools of the wired workplace. Now when users aren't compulsively checking live stock quotes or reapportioning their mutual funds, they can offload underperforming Leonardo DiCaprio bonds or get a piece of The Rock 2.

Market trend The rules are simple. Granted two million Hollywood Dollars each at the outset, traders build portfolios by buying and selling shares of MovieStocks and StarBonds based on "what they like and what they've heard about," converting mindshare into real shares. Choices range from the highly speculative, rumor-driven Concept stocks (Blade Runner 2, The Monica Lewinsky Story) to pre-production Development stocks (All the Pretty Horses, American Psycho), to already-rolling Production stocks (Angela's Ashes, Austin Powers 2), and finally to relatively stable Release stocks, completed films just released or about to make their way to the screen (The Slums of Beverly Hills, Cube). Four weeks after a movie's release in theaters, the stock is delisted from the Exchange at a price equivalent to the film's gross sales to that point, and traders are left to take stock of their profits or losses.

StarBonds, on the other hand, are rated like bonds -- from AAA for sure bets at the box-office (Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt) to D & U's (default and unrated) for actors appearing in no- or low-grossers, such as veterans of the art houses (Kenneth Branagh), up-and-comers (Parker Posey), and market has-beens (George C. Scott). Unfortunately, just as with the U.S. economy, what matters is not necessarily what's measured. Values such as talent and artistry are difficult to quantify, which accounts for why the only numbers that are factored into a performer's StarBond rating are box-office sales. A lifetime of memorable performances in sleepers may earn an actor a posthumous biography and a cult following at the video store, but not a AAA rating at HSX.

Quotes for Leonardo DiCaprio If the recent turmoil in the real stock market holds any lessons, it's that Wall Street is kindest to long-term investors. On the HSX, long-term investors are more often than not hard-core fans whose passion has led them to thoroughly research (which is not to say stalk) their stocks. These traders invest both as a show of support and because they believe in the talents of the performers they've invested in. Does it pay off in the end? It would be nice to think that this market rewards its fans' loyalty. To think otherwise is liable to lead to depression.

--Gina Hahn


Discuss this Web Citation in the Technology & Digital Culture conference of Post & Riposte.

Gina Hahn is The Atlantic Monthly's special projects editor.

Copyright © 1998 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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