I don’t know how many of you know this, but the Writer’s Guild is set to strike on November 1st – a little over two weeks from now – if things aren’t worked out between them and the major studios. To put it plainly, don’t get too comfortable with any of your favorite TV shows. There might be enough to last you until Christmas, but that’s about it. “Heroes”? “House”? Any of the “CSI” or “Law and Order” shows? Your new favorites like “Pushing Daisies” or “Private Practice”? A long strike means they’re all gone, maybe even ’til next fall, possibly forever.
You might be spending the next year watching bottom-of-the-barrel reality and game shows, along with months of reruns you’ve thrice digested. Sure, for some of you, who cares? More time reading, less time for your kids to be sitting in front of the tube, and besides, there’s always sports. If you don’t give a shit about TV, you’ll have nothing to miss.
For a lot of other Americans, though, it will really suck. The people it will suck the most for, of course, are writers working in Los Angeles and New York, people who depend on that paycheck just like you depend on yours. You may think of all Hollywood writers as sitting by their pool with a laptop, a martini and a fellatrix, but that’s a convenient canard.
The vision of the writer as a spoiled, pretentious hack is a vision that serves the major studios when these sorts of battles are fought in the courtroom of public opinion. Sure, there are the multi-millionaires too busy driving their Porsches to finish assignments, but the vast majority are working moms and dads trying to get gigs any way they can, hopefully scoring something every other year so they can sock money away before they’re too old to be taken seriously. The rest are twentysomethings desperate for health insurance and a shot at proving everyone in their tiny hometown they aren’t crazy.
In the larger picture, this country routinely derides and disdains creative people – there’s a reason the Suits who started the dot-com craze in the mid-90s called all writing “content”. By referring to all words, pictures and ideas as simply Product, they were able to marginalize it and de-mystify the process by which it’s created. That attitude has taken firm root in all major companies, where the only real “idea” anyone wants to hear is one the company can patent.
God forbid you try freelancing. The tax laws and health benefit woes alone make sure even the heartiest of creative types run back to their 9-to-5 desk jobs to be properly anaesthetized.
The Powers That Be would like you to believe that any creative endeavor can be done by anything south of a Taiwanese computer and north of a chimp. The fact is, creating a movie or a decent TV show (or hell, even a good website) is incredibly hard, which is why so few succeed. Besides, strip away the creative magic around a company and what have you got? Cold steel, rebar and concrete.
I think about the air-traffic controllers that Reagan fired in the early ’80s and how that must have devastated them. I know many of them filtered back to the job as the years wore on, but how did all those guys get through those early months? Sure, it’s hard to imagine your Hollywood TV writer swapping stories in a bar with an air-traffic controller from St. Louis, but they’re both just people trying to market the only skill they’ve ever had.