What Does “Chief Creative Officer,” Or Anything For That Matter, Mean?

Jared Leto is taking over a streaming service. There’s a lot to unpack here.
Jared Leto Joker Suicide Squad
Warner Bros.
By  · Published on May 24th, 2017

Jared Leto is taking over a streaming service. There’s a lot to unpack here.

In the end, capitalism comes for us all, which is why the recent decision by arthouse/indie film streaming platform Fandor to shutter Keyframe, their digital magazine, was distressing but not particularly surprising.

Previously a home to some of the best video essays on the internet, the work of founding editor and master of the form Kevin B. Lee, Keyframe had been increasingly nudged toward more commercial subjects, which ultimately proved untenable. This is not the first time something like this has happened, and it will not be the last as long as the click is the sole measure of internet worth, and the means to get that click is universally considered to be the familiar. And if this were the entirety of the story, I would have done what I did, which is to sigh and say “I hope another outlet hires Kevin to make video essays for them, because he rules” without feeling the need to write a whole piece about it. But the saga took an unforeseen twist this week, one that warranted some words: Fandor hired Jared (fucking) Leto as “Chief Creative Officer.

First, “Chief Creative Officer” sounds like a cop who fingerpaints with donut crumbs, which would be a great Jared Leto character. Second, since you probably can’t get promoted to Chief of Police as that kind of cop (well, unless you’re Jared Kushner, so don’t rule it out entirely), “Chief Creative Officer” probably means something else. So, third, back to square one: what the fuck does it mean? Is he curating their film library, either in a hands-on fashion or some broader sense? If so, why him? Why Jared Leto, poetaster actor, sort-of musician? If it’s for name recognition then why pick someone whose most recent acts of note have been turning in the worst performance ever to win an Oscar in a cacklingly transphobic bit of solipsistic Method wank and, on his next job, being shitty to his Suicide Squad co-stars, who subsequently shunned him? As a PR move, it’s little better than hiring Jared Fogle.

Well, that last paragraph happened. But aside from any operatically vituperative feelings, one may have the particular Chief Creative Officer (and once you get done declaiming the phrase in a reverb-y old monster movie voice), the question arises of what exactly makes this a good business decision. If “Chief Creative Officer” is a paid position, this particular hire is not the cheapest one.

If it’s not, the PR issue mentioned above comes into play, and even among people who don’t hold an antipathy toward Leto the “why him?” element still holds. If, despite the clear conclusions drawn from the shuttering of Keyframe and the severing of ties with its staff, the impression Fandor wanted to make on investors was that they were looking to maintain their name-recognition as a longstanding destination for lovers of international and independent film, it would make sense to hire a “Chief Creative Officer” with at least some experience in that realm. If, as is apparent from the hire they made, the sought impression is one of an organization slouching toward the mainstream, it would have behooved them, not to be too indelicate, to ally themselves with someone more popular.

Taking a step back, the rationality of the decision may not matter at all, since the endgame, in this case, is to attract venture capital. And, with apologies for shattering anyone’s illusions, capitalism is not a rational system, and nor is it one that organically reacts to demand with proportionate supply. Capitalists, in the non-pejorative sense of people who possess capital, may believe themselves to be acting wholly rationally in their investments, but ultimately their decisions are based on their own squishy, emotional, hormonal whim.

For the “stick to movies” crowd, a ready example is the behavior of movie studio executives: think first of how many remakes and reboots there are of source texts that just so happen to totally coincidentally date back to executives’ childhoods. Then, consider how many of those movies turn profits. Then, out of that drastically smaller subset, consider how many of those movies make money for reasons wholly separate from the nostalgia value of the source text (a fancier way, for one example, of saying Baywatch is going to make whatever money it does from The Rock, with a potential boost in India from Priyanka Chopra, not from the vigor of the Baywatch brand).

The world of venture capital is an even more whimsical realm. Recently a bunch of people got massive amounts of VC funding to make a fucking $400 juicer with proprietary juice bags that you could squeeze with your hands. Venture capital cannonballs into money pits almost as stupid all the time, and it’s entirely because the venturers are acting on their whims, investing in people they have connections with. Capitalism is alchemy, only where your dad comes by and replaces the chunk of lead you’ve been casting spells on with a piece of gold, and then the Wall Street Journal congratulates you on being a powerful wizard.

All of this may seem to be getting a bit afield from the question of why the fuck Jared Leto just got hired by Fandor, but I think a proper embrace of the stochastic nature of existence is a healthy bulwark against excessive confusion, because it strengthens one’s ability to shrug stuff off and say “sometimes shit’s just weird, man.” And enough time watching sports, specifically post-game press conferences where the athlete is trying to get the reporter to fuck off, will keep the truism “it is what it is” (Aristotle’s “A is A” in much less oblique form) well in the front of one’s mind.

The only thing I’m sure of here is that I miss Fandor, and it still exists. Sort of.

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Columnist, Film School Rejects. Host, Minor Bowes podcast. Ce n’est pas grave, y’all