Way back at Oscar-time, a little government agency called the Internal Revenue Service made an announcement that it was cracking down on the "gift bags" Oscar presenters had been getting for decades, and would henceforth consider the spendy swag (this year's "bag" was rumored to be worth about $100,000) to be taxable income. On Thursday morning, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS) -- those folks who run Hollywood's most pretigious self-congralulatory event, the Oscars -- and the IRS simultaneously released press releases that they had "reached a settlement" on the goodie-bag tax. Gee, it must be nice to have the weight to get the IRS to negotiate with you like that. Last time I checked, they didn't give a whit about my opinion on how much money they want from me each year.
Gifts, sayeth the IRS, are given soley out of "affection, respect, or similar impulses for the recipients," and gift bags and gifting suites (where celebs can come in and build-their-own-swag-bag) do not quality as such. Well, duh. Frankly, I'm surprised it's taken the IRS this long to get around to nailing celebs for expanding their already exorbitant salaries with free goodies like $10,000 watches and spa trips to Hawaii. (There's a great aside in the Variety story linked to above about an unnamed star who gave a $10,000 swag-bag watch to his mother -- who then tried to return the watch for cash to a Beverly Hills store. Nice try, lady.)
What, oh what, will Hollywood do without its swag? Don't fret -- celebs will still be able to get their swag, they'll just have to fill out tax paperwork in order to claim it. Or they can give it away to charity. Oscar presenters next year won't be given the option -- the AMPAS board voted in April to do away with gift bags -- but AMPAS prez Sid Ganis says, "We still want to be able to express our gratitude, and we'll figure out a way to do that that doesn't come with a tax bill attached." So there, take THAT, IRS. The Hollywood Foreign Press, which runs the Golden Globes, is expected to bring the issue of gifting celebs up at the next Board meeting. But whatever will the swag kings (and queens) of the world do, if the awards shows and festivals stop needing them?
The best thing that may come out of all of this? An end to the predatory marketing companies who have taken over Sundance and attracted celebs with only the diciest connections to indie film to the fest (whatever will Sundance be without Paris Hilton running around in fur boots and nearly falling drunk over balconies?). With no swag around to attract all those celebs who are more interested in snagging armloads of freebies, the Sundance folks might actually be able to get back to running a film festival.