Impact of Celebrity on Entertainemnt as a Form of Communication

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Honoring One of The Greats: Jonathan Taplin for USC Commencement Speaker

Young adults graduate from the University of Southern California each year and take their first steps into the real world. They leave college and often times go on to lead comfortable and relatively happy lives. Some become influential leaders in their fields of study, and others become significant contributors to their communities. Students begin may different professions when they leave school. The success they have in their given field is influenced by the education they received and lessons they learned while attending school. The University of Southern California’s mission is “the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit.” This robust task is accomplished through the commitment and loyalty of faculty, staff, students and alumni to the University. The faculty in particular have a large impact on the students who leave USC. One man has not only impacted his students positively, he is also constantly contributing to the field of communication. Jonathan Taplin is an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California in the Annenberg School for Communication and has been working in the field of communication for the past twenty eight years. Taplin has worked as a tour manager for famous musicians, is a famed movie producer, a consultant, and the creator of Video On Demand and its first company Intertainer. His numerous accomplishments and dedication to the University of Southern California’s student body makes him an amazing candidate for the commencement speaker and worthy of the honorary degree from USC.
An honorary award is given to a person who has “made outstanding contributions to the welfare and development of USC or the communities of which they are a part; and looks to elevate the university in the eyes of the world by honoring individuals who are widely known and highly regarded for achievements in their respective fields of endeavor.” Jonathan Taplin upholds the goals of a USC honoree with his dedication and commitment to the communication field. Taplin began influencing the communication field while working as a tour manager for Bob Dylan. For the next seven years after his graduation from Princeton he worked with Dylan and The Band and then went onto produce films such as Mean Streets with Martin Scorsese. From 1984 until 2000 Taplin was immersed in the business of media and communication. With his work as a consultant for Disney and Merrill Lynch and the CEO of the first Video On Demand company, Intertainer, Taplin has continuously positively influenced the communication entertainment field.

These contributions each have their own merits and fall into a few important categories of assessment. In the book,
Meaningful Work: Rethinking Professional Ethics by Mike Martin from Chapman University, Martin discusses the three factors that are looked at in assessing achievement: attention to craft, personal compensation and moral commitment/concern . When choosing a commencement speaker and honoree it is also important to keep the four goals that USC looks to achieve when awarding an individual in mind: honor individuals who have distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements in scholarship, the professions, or other creative activities, honor alumni and other individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the welfare and development of USC, recognize exceptional acts of philanthropy to the university and/or on the national or world scene and elevate the university in the eyes of the world by honoring individuals who are widely known and highly regarded for achievements in their respective fields. All of Taplin’s contributions to the field of communication and his community respectively fall into these three categories as well as fulfill the goals that USC looks to accomplish

Martin defines craft as, “desires to achieve expertise and desires to manifest technical skill, theoretical understanding, and creativity” (Martin, pg.22).
Taplin as the creator of Video On Demand (VOD) has proven his expertise in the field of communication with his innovative and creative approach to methods of accessing broadband entertainment. VOD is a revolutionary new technology in the communication field that allows users to have television content that is immediately accessible to them in the form they wish to receive it, and still of high quality. It is a digital form of media, which has revolutionized the way viewers interact with the content they desire. In an interview I conducted with Professor Taplin I asked what exactly sparked his interest in VOD. He expressed his previous disappointment and frustration with structure of content availability. He realized that people wanted immediate satisfaction and availability to content they enjoyed. Since he had been a producer of films he had a different outlook on how to provide consumers with the content they wanted. Technology driven companies had tried to create a VOD platform but were unsuccessful because they did not have a full understanding of what the consumer was looking for. A creative perspective paired with a vast amount of knowledge of what people wanted allowed Taplin to actually create a wide reaching and productive form of VOD. In the USC Honorary Award qualifications it is said that an individual who is awarded should have "distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements in scholarship, the professions, or other creative activities." Jonathan Taplin's creation of VOD helps to distinguish himself as a creative and innovative leader in the field of communication as well as technology.

Taplin’s creation of VOD goes hand in hand with his company Intertainer . The management notes that their success is due to the fact that “The principals of Intertainer have joined together to build a broadband program service in the belief that the entertainment industry is at the threshold of a major paradigm shift in programming. Their collective relationships with the highest level of content providers, combined with a unique technological perspective gained over years of working in the cutting edge of new media, provides a competitive advantage over those approaching broadband delivery from a more hardware-oriented viewpoint.” By using his expertise in the field of communication Taplin was able to build the first successful launch of a working and marketable entertainment supplier. Taplin along with his colleagues have been awarded the licensing and patenting rights for VOD. The acknowledgment of Intertainers gift to the communication field and the awarding of patent rights prove Taplin as a man who is highly regarded in his field. Providing entertainment is a key channel for communication. Entertainment is one of the most influential forms of communication because it portrays values of a society while providing a form of marketable enjoyment. The ways in which people access their entertainment is just as important as the information they are receiving. VOD and Intertainer gave the public a fast and easy way to access information specifically related to their wants and desires.

James Freedman in his work
Liberal Education and The Public Interest discusses how recently Universities have begun to award celebrities or those involved in the entertainment field he says “ any aspiration to populate an American peerage is surely trivialized by decisions to garner a fleeting moment of public attention by awarding an institution’s ultimate accolade to mere celebrities- who are often famous principally for being famous” (Freedman, pg.126). Freedman, as well as other purists, believe honorary awards should be reserved for those who contribute to society in a “more beneficial manner.” While Taplin is an acclaimed film producer, and VOD does promote the entertainment field, it does not mean that his contributions to the field of communication are not noteworthy. VOD as well as his work with film have reached a mass audience and contributed to the expansion of different forms of communication and entertainment. Taplin’s dedication to his work and deep understanding of his craft outweighs the idea that celebrity and entertainment are trivial matters in society and should therefore not be recognized.

Taplin has also reached his highest potential in regards to personal compensation such as money, power, authority, and recognition. Martin establishes personal compensation as an important category to take into account when assessing an individuals worthiness of an honorary award. Professor Taplin has worked in many different areas pertaining to the field of communication, whether it be as a tour manager and producer of films or an advisor to famed entertainment companies he has established his authority in each role he has commanded. A short
biography of Taplin’s accomplishment outlines his steps towards ascertaining himself as a power in the communication world. He began his path towards success while acting as an investment advisor to Bass Brothers and helping them in their successful attempt to save Walt Disney Studios from a corporate raid. Through his knowledge of the field of communication and experiences with Bass Brothers he went on to serve as vice president of Merrill Lynch’s media mergers and acquisitions department. While working with Merrill Lynch he accomplished such achievements as helping landscape the leveraged buyout of Viacom entertainment and then went onto become CEO of the first VOD Company Intertainer.

Not only were Taplin’s accomplishments in the business aspect of Communication he also established
his name through his creative work as a producer (including the Academy Award winning film Mean Streets) and tour manager of such great artists as Bob Dylan and Janice Joplin. According to Martin “expertise is acquired through higher education and developed throughout a career”(Martin, pg.21). Taplin’s expertise in the field of communication is obvious in the previously noted achievements. Some may question how is this related to the criteria of compensation, expertise in a field establishes authority in a field which in turn allows for recognition and praise by those in the field. Therefore Taplin’s expertise in the field of communication and entertainment allows him to establish his authority and a presence within his community and deems him worthy of recognition. USC establishes that when looking for an honoree they look to choose candidates that will “elevate the university in the eyes of the world.” Taplin’s company Intertainer is not only widely recognized in the communication field it is also the largest provider of VOD services making Taplin and his firm both well known and established in the field. This noteworthy contribution and status would help to elevate the USC Annenberg School for Communication.

Moral Commitment/Concern is one of the most important roles an honorary nominee must have towards their craft and their community. There are two categories in which Martin explains moral commitment; caring motives and integrity motives. Caring Motives relate to the moral commitment to ones clients, customers, colleagues and wider community. Jonathan Taplin has time and time again shown these characteristics in every contribution he makes. As co founder of
The Annenberg Research Network for International Communication (ARNIC) he has shown his loyalty to the school, his craft and the wider community. ARNIC "studies the emergence of new communication infrastructures, examines the attendant transformation of government policies and communication patterns, and analyzes the social and economic consequences." These studies are performed in a multitude of third world countries and developing nations. Every year projects are constructed and implemented in order to provide different forms of technology to these nations that will benefit them and advance them in their development. Taplin's commitment to providing all communities with technology and communication resources is an example of his moral concern and establishes his integrity. The workshops that are held by ARNIC provide the communities in which they are held with outstanding contributions of technology and knowledge as well as enhance the welfare and development of third world countries and people. Taplin looks to further his as well as others contribution to the field of communication and in doing so is conscientious of the efforts he makes to improve the field of communication.

Loyalty to his colleagues and peers is seen in a testimony he presented to the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, discussing “Competition, Innovation, and Public Policy in the Digital Age: Is the Marketplace Working to Protect Digital Creative Works?” In this work Taplin urges congress to not interfere with Digital Right Management and allow digital media companies the opportunity to create their own forms of protection of content and combat piracy in the way they best see fit. Throughout the entire testimony Taplin recognizes artists and their concerns with what digital media could do to the entertainment business and is empathetic and understanding. He provides alternative forms of combat to piracy and ensures that his company Intertainer and he are personally working to combat these problems. The loyalty to those in fields in which he is a part is undying, and his commitment to benefiting his consumers and the greater community is unparalleled. In his testimony he says, “The company that I lead today, Intertainer, was started in 1996 with the notion that digital broadband networks would be the conduit for on demand delivery of the best of American culture into the home. My vision is to enable Americans to have instant access to the immense library of film, television and music content that this country’s artists have been producing for decades.” This statement shows Taplin’s commitment to integrity. He has a “desire to meet ethical standards governing his profession and in other ways seek moral aims by working as a professional”(Martin, pg.23).

One may wonder what appeal Jontahn Taplin would create as a commencement speaker to the student body. His expertise is mostly in communication and not all students have earned degrees from the field. In an interview I conducted, I asked him what his advice would be to students and what values does he look to uphold and portray through his work and actions. He answered me very simply, “I would like to remind everyone that what is popular is not always necessarily good. I grew up in a time where artists and musicians and entertainers made a difference. What they did changed our world and as picturesque or naïve as it may seem I believe that is what life is all about.” As an individual who has lived and truly experienced life, Jonathan Taplin has the ability to remind the USC student Body that whatever they may do the most important thing to remember while doing it is to be happy and feel as though they are making a real contribution to society. Freedman reminds universities that “In bestowing an honorary degree a university makes an explicit statement to its students and the world about the qualities of character and attainment it admires most (Freedman, pg.117).” By choosing Jonathan Taplin USC would be letting the world know that the University values individuals who make a difference and believe in the beauty of individuality. Taplin’s accomplishments and moral integrity make him both a worthy and exceptional candidate for commencement speaker and honoree of USC. Martin said, “A life is more than outward events, and we understand persons only when we grasp the value commitments embedded in their motives, character, and worldview” (Martin, pg.16). By having Jonathan Taplin as the commencement speaker USC would be affording its student body a rare opportunity to learn from and better understand a man with a wealth of knowledge and expertise in life.