AOL merger’s a jolt to the Hollywood psyche

THE AMALGAMATION OF TIME WARNER and AOL has been analyzed to death from a financial standpoint, but its impact on Hollywood’s psyche has been ignored.

I was reminded of this by a chance meeting last week with a prominent psychiatrist who treats some of the industry’s major players. “In layman’s terms, the merger has unnerved people,” the shrink told me. To illustrate, he cited the following colloquy with one of his patients, a top industry executive. To preserve privacy, let’s call them Arnie and Dr. Zeitgeist.

“I feel disoriented,” Arnie complained to his shrink. “I feel whipsawed by conflicting emotions.”

“Describe them,” said Dr. Zeitgeist.

“For one thing, I keep reading that people like me have become more important as a result of these mergers, but I feel less important. In fact, I feel downright irrelevant.”

“Why is that?” asked Dr. Zeitgeist.

“The newspapers say ‘Content is king.’ The Time Warner merger suggests that the hot shots of the Internet will pay anything for our shows.”

“Good. Then you feel reinforced.”

“No I don’t,” said Arnie. “I’m just a pawn in the hands of these superdweebs. Giants like Rupert Murdoch and Sumner Redstone will have to crawl before the AOLs, Yahoos and Microsofts. It’s creepy.”

“You’re displaying normal responses to exponential change,” the shrink said reassuringly.

“I know how to sell to a show business guy. How do I sell to someone wearing a pocket protector?”

“That’s a matter of cultural adjustment … ”

“I’m also feeling guilty. Very guilty,” Arnie went on.

“Is it performance anxiety… ?”

“I feel I have to apologize to my wife and children because I’m not worth a zillion dollars. Until now I have always felt like a successful man, but everywhere I turn I bump into some kid who just made $500 million from an Internet startup.”

“The numbers are changing,” Dr. Zeitgeist said. “You are a product of the Old Economy. You now must attune yourself psychologically to the New Economy.”

“BUT I DON’T UNDERSTAND the New Economy,” Arnie continued. “On Monday Microsoft is taking over the world. On Tuesday the government is breaking it up. The ground keeps shifting under me.”

“Think of this in terms of opportunity.”

“Opportunity? I’m looking for opportunity, but I’m getting confusion. I mean, I ask my broker whether I should buy shares in the new combined company. So he says, ‘That depends on whether you want to measure value in terms of cash flow, multiples of revenue or Internet page viewings.’ I don’t even know what he’s talking about.”

“You’re overreacting to the changing lexicon of our business culture,” Dr. Zeitgeist countered. “You must attune yourself to a changing generational vocabulary.”

“Changing, shmanging. I liked things the way they were. I make a movie. Someone distributes the movie. Someone else pays to see the movie. That’s a business. Showing movies on the Internet that people can see for nothing — that’s not a business. I don’t know what that is.”

With that the session ended. Dr. Zeitgeist prescribed Prozac and a two-week vacation and gave Arnie a copy of the new book “Cyberspeak for Dummies.” He also urged that he buy shares in the new AOL Time Warner to reinforce his sense of connection to the New Economy.

Dr. Zeitgeist, however, did not feel he’d truly helped his patient. His intuition was confirmed when Arnie stiffed him on his bill.

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