Workers of the World, Unwrite!

There’s something particularly odd about the Writers Guild of America strike. I mean, I understand the mechanics and the reasons behind the strike, but it’s extraordinarily difficult to work up a proletariat lather about Harvard graduates making $200,000 and up a year in a dream job because they’re not making a few cents every time someone in Madrid decides to watch streaming video of the Jimmy Kimmel show making fun of the mentally handicapped.

I actually do remember the previous writers’ strike, a little over twenty years ago, when I was in my formative years and pretty much the entire reason for my existence was very close to being destroyed. Television had effectively halted, and every frame of reference I had to American culture and life in general was about to be stopped cold, replaced with a so-called decathlon of comedy that threatened to replace my own core of being with the Billy-Connely era Head of the Class episodes. It took almost six months for the strike to end, a time I can only equate with the Bataan Death March in terms of horror and impact.

The most disappointing part of the strike is that if there is one thing that solidarity amongst comrades universally creates, it is a vaguely defined chant with which to slightly embarrass their bourgeoisie oppressors. Alas, even though these individuals are writers, their chants so far have been pretty lackluster. It’s been a week of such gems as “Hey, hey, ho, ho, royalties for internet streaming video and DVD compilations of sketches we have written have got to grow.” Apparently, being on strike means not writing, even if that means writing slogans directed at your corporate bosses, and the union bosses won’t allow the quality of writing to exceed anything above the level of USA Original Comedy Series.

The actual details of the strike are, like pretty much all sets of negotiations since the first shot was fired in Homestead, a series of increasingly mundane details that become astronomical in the aggregate. And, of course, it’s also a large part of corporations and union workers trying to swing their junk around like lightsabers to see what connects first and with the most impressive display of fireworks. In this case, it’s mostly a matter of royalties. The biggest issues are DVD sales and internet episodes, which writers get a small and zero amount, respectively. Writers are generally ranked well below the actors, directors, show runners, advertisers, costume designers, set designers, and random audience members in terms of respect, pay, and recognition.

The DVD issue is simply a renegotiation of an existing price. Currently, the rate set for residuals for the home video market was agreed to when VHS tapes were pretty much the province of pornography and what I can assume four billion versions of Gallagher stage shows, neither of which tend to rely on the expertise of writers. As time as gone by, of course, VHS and then DVD sales have exploded to the point where it is many times higher than the actual box office and first-run network television. The writers are contending that the rate should be doubled…from four cents to eight cents, approximately, a figure that is almost comical in its minutia until one realizes the sheer number of copies of Lost that have been sold this season, at least in terms of how many used sets I see for sale in college fire sale pamphlets.

The other main issue, internet episodes, is probably of more concern. Currently, writers get a big goose egg in terms of royalties. The studios are concerned that these episodes are mostly an unknown commodity; the internet itself has just now set up a shaky alliance of funding in the form of unstable Google Sense ads, tiered paid access, and elaborate pyramid schemes that apparently hinge on sending email greeting cards en masse.

Many actors, producers, and other Hollywood elites have joined in support of the strike. One of the stranger alliances is that of Jesse Jackson. This does seem to be a bit odd since Jackson’s presence seem to fit too diametrically opposing entities, his role as a defender of African-American interests, and the interests of network television, the collective lot of whom could easily be mistaken for the audience at a Fallout Boy concert.

While the strike continues, one individual is trying to work behind the scenes to see if an agreement can be reached: Arnold Schwarzenegger. He seems oddly appropriate for the role; since he is an actor, he has a somewhat legitimate reason for being involved (though, certainly, not as a writer, unless you count that article for the Nietzsche Review he wrote decades ago) and, as a politician, would like to broker (and, not coincidentally, take credit for) an issue that has effectively been grinding a rather major industry in his state to an embarrassing halt. Whether he will be successful or not remains to be seen. In the meantime, a rather informative documentary about unfunny lesbians called Caroline in the City is about to start. I hope it’s good, because 22 weeks is a long, long time.

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