Friday, June 09, 2006

Crashing the studio

An interview yesterday on Terry Gross' Fresh Air illustrated the conflict between progressives and old-guard Democrat apparatchiks.

John Lasseter, chief creative executive of Pixar, Inc, was the director and animator of Toy Story, Toy Story II and A Bug's Life. He spoke about his background in animation and his former jobs with Disney (which now owns Pixar). In college he worked on the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland and later for Disney's animation group, from which he was fired.
I was a young animator working there straight out of CalArts. It was a time when the Disney animation studio was being run by kind of animators that were the second-tier animators during Walt's time. They were creatively in charge through attrition as opposed to talent, really.

And all these young people were coming in from CalArts and we were on fire. We had seen ... Star Wars had come out, Close Encounters, you know, the work of Scorsese and Coppola and they ... the cinema was changing, you know, and I just like, we were just so excited about what we could do in animation. And these guys were threatened by us.

I mean, classmates of mine were Tim Burton, Brad Bird, John Musker. I could just go on and on. Leaders in the industry today were all my classmates. We just wanted to do cool things.

And I never stopped. I kept suggesting things right and left and trying things out. And I literally had one of the guys tell me, "You know if we want your ideas, we will ask you. Just sit down and do what ... just do what you're told. If you don't want to do it, there's a line of people outside the door that will do it."

And I thought to myself, whenever I am in charge, I am never going to say that to a young person who is so excited and trying to make the product better. And it's interesting, because so much of my management style at Pixar is made up of what I learned not to do during that time.

And so I never shut up and that's why eventually they fired me. And I went off to northern California and worked with Ed Campbell and Lucasfilm, and the rest is history.
Today, mainline Democrats had best figure out, there isn't a line of "other" people outside the door. Progressives are the line.

Those Democrats threatened by progressives' enthusiasm had best take a lesson from Lasseter's experience, and from his successes. The smart ones, like Walt Disney himself, will recognize talent among the "new guard" when they see it and be visionary enough to let it develop, for now and for the future. "Second-tier" political operatives will be too busy defending their turf to notice they have a dwindling amount of turf left to defend.

Too many party organizations are in danger of dinosauring out for lack of new blood, new ideas and new technologies. They fear change and loss of control more than they fear Republicans and losing elections. They shouldn't. Renewal is the Democrats' future. There is no other option.

But progressives should also take a lesson. The pushback they're seeing from traditional Democrats is typical of human nature, not uniquely pathological. It won't be much better elsewhere. Try getting anywhere quickly with a committed single-issue ideologue.

It will take building trust to overcome resistance, and the patience needed for that is one of the things most lacking among progressives. Given the state the country is in, the sense of urgency is natural, as is the frustration that comes with the pushback. Learning to recognize resistance, understanding it, and learning either to work with it or work around it is the challenge.

Because unless progressives plan to expend themselves building a third party from scratch (not recommended), there is no "northern California" to escape to. We make our stand here.

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