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It will come as a shock to no one that I support the writers in the Writers Guild of America’s strike action against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. This is something of a no-brainer when we hear the producers plead deficit financing and fiscal uncertainty in the press while boasting to the business community of record earnings and the imminent prospect of a great big profitable digital future in cyberspace. The writers, meanwhile, lobby for a tiny crumb from this super-sized buffet and are told to go hungry.
Overly simplistic? I think not. The writers are already far ahead in winning the hearts and minds of that portion of the public that actually cares, though even the mainstream media appears to be looking at the walkout solely in terms of how it’s destined to impact consumers in the short term as it relates to primetime TV. No “Lost”! No “Heroes”! No “Scrubs”! How will the republic survive?
A more relevant and pressing question, of course, is how will those who work in the industry survive? I’m not talking just about the writers but all of those below-the-line employees on shows who are about to be put out on the street just as the holiday season dawns. War remains a bitch, and war is indeed what’s now ripping Hollywood apart.
While the scribes have thus far demonstrated an impressive unity both among themselves and with their showrunner and union brethren as the strike winds down its second week, that tight solidarity promises to be challenged with increasing frequency as the weeks pile up and move potentially into months.
One of the most effective weapons in the WGA arsenal is also its nastiest: fear and the potential persecution of those guild members who dare attempt to work as strike-busting scabs in defiance of the walkout. On the WGA West Web site, it calls for members to keep an eye out for such lawbreakers and rat ’em out.
While this is simply the way strike enforcement works, it affords AMPTP president Nick Counter an opportunity to speak out against how WGA leadership is “asking members to inform on each other” and creating “a blacklist of those who question its tactics,” as Counter charged on Tuesday.
This is the kind of stuff that you say when you’re looking to create union-busting fissures and disharmony where none yet exists, ultimately leading to disarray and implosion. But the truth is that support for a cause is strongest when the peer pressure is so great as to turn unqualified adherence into a moral imperative. That’s surely what we have here.
Even those WGA members who wouldn’t necessarily back the strike with all of their heart and soul are required to walk the picket line without complaint so as not to diminish from the unified front. So, too, are series showrunners who have pledged to do no work until further notice obliged to adhere to the pact irrespective of any internal ambivalence, since to do otherwise would surely doom their future employment prospects.
To be sure, those same showrunners have got to be dying inside when they hear reports that the network and studio executives are viewing their boycott in support of the strike as an opportunity to railroad through casting decisions and script changes that would previously have incited a battle. They’re now forced to watch helplessly from the sidelines, and you know many would hightail it back to work if they could.
The thing to keep in mind is that, while presenting a unified front during a strike is nice, it’s oft merely an illusion. Particularly in Hollywood, solidarity’s just another word for, “It’s still all about me.”
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