A few days ago Utah entrepreneur Larry H. Miller decided to not have any of the theatres he owns show the movie Brokeback Mountain. Responses have been positive and negative. Aside from the issue of whether you think Miller should or should not have allowed the movie to be shown in his theatres is the matter of what a business owner should and shouldn’t be allowed to do. If you’re expecting a post that talks about morals, politics, bigotry, etc., this isn’t it. I’m just using this as an intro to the topic of business regulation.
Ok, so Larry H. Miller owns a few theatres. Should he be able to decide what is shown in the theatres that he owns? Of course. They’re his theatres. If he wants to show The Land Before Time on every screen 24/7 he should be able to do that. Of course he’d go out of business right quick, but that’s also his right. The only regulations he has to obey are those set by law. I hear there may be some contractual issues in this situation between Miller and the movie distributor. I’ll assume that Miller was fully aware of any contractual obligations and the consequences of pulling out of a contract at the last moment and was willing to deal with them.
Do people have a right to protest Miller not showing a movie they think should be shown? Of course they do. Do they have the right to boycott his businesses? Of course. If you say that the gays boycotting Miller’s businesses equates to blackmail or strong-arm tactics then you would have to say that a conservative organization boycotting Target for not allowing the Salvation Army to solicit donations in front of their stores is also using blackmail.
The chances are that nobody will ever try to legislate that theatre owners have to show certain movies, but my worry is that society might be moving in that direction. Maybe it won’t manifest itself by movie theatre owners being forced to show a movie they don’t want to, but maybe it will be government-set caps on executive compensation, or the government deciding that businesses should be required to provide health benefits for all full-time employees. Just because you think someone should or shouldn’t do something, does that mean you want it to be enforced by the government?
Why did I write “theatre” instead of “theater”? Just to annoy people who think it should be written the other way.