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January 28, 2008
The Writers’ Strike:
Only in America
The list of “Only in America” jokes has been circulating on the Internet
for over a decade, spreading such wisdom as “Only in America . . .do
people order a double cheeseburger, fries and a diet coke,” and “. . .
can banks leave all doors open and chain the pen to the counter.” Still,
the ultimate proof that our country stands apart is that only in America
can writers go on strike.
Around the world, coal miners, medical personnel and teachers engage in
a never-ending tug-of-war with ministries to secure a living wage. The
Writers Guild of America strike began on November 5 of last year after
months of negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and
Television Producers over royalties from Internet-streamed content.
The last time the writers walked out was in 1988 and it cost the
industry $500 million. The repercussions of this strike are resonating
with the studios that have had to put popular shows like “CSI: Miami”
and “Grey’s Anatomy” on hold and cancel the Golden Globes. The Oscars
are currently up in the air.
Many actors, including George Clooney and Katherine Heigl, have been
vocal about their support for the strikers and have promised not to
cross picket lines. The threat of getting pelted with rotten tomatoes in
your vintage Valentino may also be a deterrent, but let’s give them the
benefit of the doubt.
Only in America does the entertainment industry’s involvement in
politics usually amount to people with multiple rehab stints giving
unsolicited advice on foreign policy. Or winning the governorship of
California. Whatever. The writers’ strike, however, is different.
one hand, writers going on strike is an affirmation of the seriousness
of the profession and the significance of the underappreciated art. On
the other hand, while having Hollywood writers go on strike may seem
frivolous – is the $100,000 you got for the last screenplay just not
enough? – it may be an indicator of a disturbing turn of events.
After all, if Hollywood writers have to go on strike – an original
screenplay will fetch a minimum of $106,000 dollars from major studios –
then maybe I need to give some serious thought to my job security.
reality, the strike is proof that behind the smoke and mirrors of awards
shows and TV drama are thousands of people who, like other workers, have
to seek agreeable conditions and respect from their industry. This too
is their last resort – besides the lucky few whose work and talent
provide us with the brilliant dialogue in “Ugly Betty” – 48 percent of
the Guild’s members on the West Coast are unemployed.
the writers have something going in their favor, it’s that they are the
grey eminence that runs show business. Unlike assembly workers, they
cannot be outsourced (though I’d like to see the “Saturday Night Live”
skits written by Bangladeshi comics). While only in America would the
studios cancel profitable shows enjoyed by the world public instead of
giving writers their due, they need to recognize that without the
writers, the show can’t go on. Even in America.
© 2008 North Star
Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.
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