Valuing the Invaluable

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I sat across from a 40 year old male producer who said women, in Los Angeles, in their mid 30’s, in entertainment cannot expect to have the career they aspire to reach AND get married and have kids with supportive husband (financially and/or otherwise) because it’s a diminishing return on investment.

He went on say that those same women can’t compete with the hot 20 somethings because successful men in their 40’s in LA are f*cking a different one every night.

…yeah I know right? A few things ran through my mind as I worked my way through my glass of champagne across from this man who – let’s just say – continued to be himself.

  • This is a common opinion among men in this town.
  • What he’s saying about f*cking a different hot girl every night is true.
  • Holy shit I need to move back to my hometown, like yesterday.
  • This man (and those men) are making up for all the women in his/their 20’s that slept with the older “successful” men that he/they now are. (I suggested this theory and he emphatically agreed.)
  • Why is it like this here?

I’m going to say right now that I don’t have an answer. Instead, I have a few ideas that collectively make up this LA entertainment dating molotov cocktail culture.

Let’s start with the obvious – careers in entertainment are hard for everyone, men and women. There is instability, competition, no guarantee, risk and doubt. This is the foundation that we are dealing with and within an extremely expensive town. Add to that the bleakness of our American economy outside our entertainment bubble, it becomes even more scary and depressing. The middle class beyond LA have been priced out of the basics of the American dream – a living wage, house, healthcare, and pensions. We all know that the “if you just work hard enough you’ll succeed” doctrine doesn’t apply to the entertainment industry, but I would venture to say that it’s on the brink of myth across many career paths.

So at the base of this cocktail we have economic instability. Next we have the massive shift of men and women’s roles in society. Like our new media landscape – we are in uncharted territory. As little as 50 years ago the cultural expectation was men work and provide financially for their wives and family. Women stayed home or had some nominal career. Employers and employees accepted that and paid accordingly. After a couple of generations of women in the workforce, there is an expectation for women to have a career, take care of themselves financially and eventually contribute that to the family pool. I think this is where things begin to get murky to our modern men.

“…in very primitive societies, men and women provided about equal resources to their tribes; women gathered nuts and seeds, and men hunted big game. In fact, for much of human history, men and women contributed fairly equally to the family economy.”

from The Art of Manliness: Provide

Men and women contributed equally in an incomparable way. Like apples to oranges, you cannot compare the value of hunting vs cooking. They work together. With women in the workforce earning a living with dollars that can be measured and compared there is now competition. Cue the song Anything you can do I can do better. Competition and rivalry are close cousins, sometimes hard to distinguish.

Back to our Molotov recipe: economic instability, competition between the sexes and the final ingredient is the misconception that stay at home women are a financial burden vs. an asset.

At salary.com you can add up the value of their contribution in dollars if you price out the work they do for the household –roughly $250,000. This does not include a few things that I feel are controversial, but relevant: surrogates, social escort and sex. In a monogamous relationship, there are social and sexual expectations. If you have to pay for someone appropriate to bring to your work/social events and someone to satisfy your sexual needs is going to add another $100K+ easily. The average surrogate salary is $150K, per child. We are now at $500,000+ salary for a stay at home women/mom equivalent.

So what is the antidote to this koolaid so many entertainment Angelinos have been consuming? It’s at the heart of Mr. Return on Investment’s blind spot: Companionship. Beyond all the statistics and science what is not being acknowledged are the things you can’t put a price on – companionship and all that encompasses. Like the thing itself, companionship cannot be adequately defined. I will only say that there’s a comfort in 10,000 shared hours of day to day dumbness and that comfort is critical. A routine that evolves between two people that is unique unto them. A routine that become personal history and it is invaluable. I don’t believe LA culture considers the companionship element to be inherently valued the way that other cities do. Los Angeles has forgotten to value the invaluable. They pay or prey for it.

In a business of disposable celebrities, let alone unknown actors/writers/directors etc, I don’t fault the dating instincts of Mr. ROI and many others. In fact, an industry veteran told me he has seen the artist crossroad moment over and over again – is the career struggle worth the personal price? He said women tend to have that moment in their mid 30’s, men in their late 40’s early 50’s. My industry veteran friend has seen this phenomenon play out again and again over a 30 year span. No one wants to be a statistic, but it is nice to know that that particular ‘come to Jesus’ moment for the “relationship single” artist is normal… aaaaaaaand it isn’t likely to change. The same way the routine of small town life isn’t likely to change. Valuing the invaluable is a great way to rise above the dominant norm. Wherever you are in your life or in the world, value the invaluable. Identify what that is specifically to you and the relationships that intangible lives in. You’ll be sure to get your return on investment in those relationships and beyond.

Katie Wallack

About Katie Wallack

Born and raised in Alaska, Katie graduated from Trinity College with a Theater and Dance degree before moving to NYC. She settled in LA 5 years ago. Some of her recent credits include the a supporting role opposite Nicolas Cage in the thriller ‘Frozen Ground,’ the lead in indie feature ‘You or a Loved One’ and starred opposite Danny Trejo in the comedy pilot ‘What Would Trejo Do?’ She also directed, co-wrote and starred in her first short ‘Type Cast’ currently running on Funny Or Die. In addition to her theatrical work, she has been seen in numerous national commercial campaigns including Dish Network’s spokesperson, Chase and Chevrolet. A compilation of her work is available at www.katiewallack.com. “I am excited to be a monthly contributor to Ms. In The Biz. The opportunity to add my voice to the chorus of women in entertainment is an honor.”