the pulse

Nothing like the Elks Lodge to put strike in perspective

It's Christmas Day and there's a fire roaring nearby. I just spent a better part of the morning and afternoon volunteering at an Elk's Lodge in Lake Arrowhead, Calif., to feed hundreds of those who are far less fortunate than I this holiday season. It was a heartwarming way for a nonobservant Jew to capture the Yuletide spirit. I heard no mention of "writers strike" or "failed negotiations." Instead, it was "more stuffing" and "give it gravy."

Here were people — proud people — simply looking to feed their families and make sure their kids walked away with a toy or two from Santa and the elves. Those were the only "residuals" on the table.

But enough with the sentimental stuff. We know all too well that mainstream America has trouble understanding — or caring about — the knotty issues that separate the warring factions in this fractious labor dispute between the WGA and AMPTP. They, after all, don't have a horse in this race. I don't either, but I'm close enough to the daily sturm und drang to be disgusted and ashamed for an industry that I have spent the better part of my adult life covering as a journalist.

The strike eventually will end. Showbiz life as we know it will go on. But I doubt it's ever going to be the same.

Not to sound naive, but I'm disgusted that this thing has degenerated into childish bullying and unseemly name-calling.

Why can't they all just be grown-ups about this and acknowledge there ain't no good guy or bad guy but two sides that fundamentally disagree and are reaching to uncover common ground?

I'll tell you why. It's because this thing long ago ceased to be just about holding down costs and/or landing the best residuals deal for the rank-and-file.

It's about boys and the size of their toys, and everyone else is unfortunate collateral damage.

When the smoke clears, it now seems likely that a TV season will be in ruins, that a pilot season will have been rubbed out, and that whatever trust once existed between scribes and the studios for whom they create will have been badly shaken. This is no longer a pessimistic view but a realistic one.

This column was originally going to look at the implications of the decisions by the late-night talk show hosts to sign agreements to go back to work next week. I was going to take them to task for undermining the WGA cause in the interest of serving more individual shorter-term interests. But upon reflection, I now get it that Jay Leno, David Letterman, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Conan O'Brien and Craig Ferguson are simply doing what they have to do to survive in the every-man-for-himself world that this strike has revealed.

I believe them when they say this is about their staffers, who were about to be put out on the street, perhaps a month or two removed from being in line for an Elk's Lodge holiday meal.

The writers about to head back out onto the picket line need to understand this is no longer simply their fight but everybody's individual battle. Supporting the WGA cause isn't necessarily an investment in the working person's future anymore, because the future looks increasingly uncertain.

And as a result, solidarity's suddenly just another word for nothing left to gain.