Earlier this week, Congress held hearings to probe Ticketmaster, which has long been one of the most hated companies in America. Members of Congress were ostensibly there to grill Ticketmaster’s parent company Live Nation over its “monopoly” power and poor business practices that have led to website crashes, ticket fees, and long wait times for concertgoers. Legislators deemed the antitrust inquisition necessary after the ticket distribution giant angered millions of fans with its online meltdown after tickets to Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour recently went on sale.
Despite the serious nature of the investigation into Ticketmaster, the legislators leading the hearing often laced their questioning with performative puns and cringey zingers from Swift’s songs. “May I suggest, respectfully, that Ticketmaster ought to look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m the problem. It’s me,’” said Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, quoting one of Swift’s latest hits. These cringe-inducing soundbites were quickly posted on the legislators’ respective social media pages, amplified by the corporate media, and celebrated by Twitter users who don’t appreciate the irony of members of Congress calling out others for running a corrupt and dysfunctional organization.
However, the attempts to appeal to the youths are not just cringey, they expose how much performative nonsense perverts serious hearings. Ticketmaster is clearly a growing problem for Americans and could very well be in violation of U.S. law. Will Congress take action to sate the ire of pop star fans and save Americans from yet another out-of-control company? History says no.
Long before distressed Swifties were deprived of a chance to see their childhood idol on stage and more than a decade prior to the Obama-era Department of Justice-facilitated Live Nation and Ticketmaster Entertainment merger in 2010, Congress hosted a similar inquisition into Ticketmaster’s potential abuse of power.
In 1994, global grunge sensation Pearl Jam expressed the desire to cap their concert tickets at $18 with a maximum $1.80 service fee. The band’s concert coordinator, Ticketmaster, which was raking in around $7.5 million in annual profits at the time, was unwilling to budge on its high and profitable service fees.
It didn’t take long for the band to cut ties with Ticketmaster, cancel their tour, and, at the behest of the Clinton-era Department of Justice, file an antitrust complaint. They accused Ticketmaster of price gouging via fees and gatekeeping large venues in major cities so that any bands that refused to work with the company couldn’t perform there.
Investigations ensued and members of the House of Representatives, eager to get in on the celebrity action, hosted a subcommittee hearing about the complaint on June 30, 1994. Pearl Jam, notorious for avoiding the media spotlight, suddenly captured the attention of the nation — and Congress — with their antitrust plight.
“This summer we just decided that we didn’t want the ticket prices to be over $20,” the band’s bassist Jeff Ament explained during the hearing.
Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard, similarly, expressed the band’s desire to keep tickets affordable for fans.
“Many Pearl Jam fans are teenagers who do not have the money to pay the $30 or more that’s often charged for tickets today,” he explained. “It is well known in our industry that some portion of the service charges Ticketmaster collects on its sale of tickets is distributed back to the promoters and the venues. It is this incestuous relationship and the lack of any national competition for Ticketmaster that has created the situation we’re dealing with today.”
Much like in the 118th Congress’s Swift shoutouts, media such as CNN at the time highlighted how legislators “had fun with witnesses perhaps better known by some of their younger staff members.”
“I want you to know I think you’re just darling guys,” one congresswoman gushed during the hearing.
Onlookers erupted with laughter after another legislator sheepishly admitted he tried to learn several of Pearl Jam’s biggest hits including “Black” and “Alive” on his instrument at home.
Despite all of the attention Pearl Jam’s star witnesses garnered during the hearing, Ticketmaster faced no consequences. A couple of Democrat legislators made a lousy attempt to act on Pearl Jam’s testimony by introducing a bill that would force Ticketmaster to merely disclose “the amount of any additional fees and charges beyond the face amount of such tickets.”
As evidenced by the current congressional hearings, that bill, the rest of Congress, and the DOJ failed to rein in Ticketmaster.
As a result, just one year after they parted ways with the ticket distribution company, Pearl Jam, desperate to play at venues in towns bigger than Casper, Wyoming, was back in Ticketmaster’s back pocket.
Thanks to Congress’s inaction, Ticketmaster has controlled a key part of the entertainment industry for well over three decades. Now, Ticketmaster is more powerful and profitable than ever, but Congress is still holding the same hearings.
Resorting to puns and fawning over rockstars isn’t going to solve Americans’ problems. Grandstanding may get likes and retweets, but it’s a poor excuse for legislating.