joanie thinks chachi is an unreliable narrator

10/14/07

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.

0 thoughts on “joanie thinks chachi is an unreliable narrator

  1. Lyle (erstwhile Bangkok Expat Mama, if anyone remembers)

    This is extremely depressing. I hope you and Tessa weather this well (if indeed the strike happens), and I wonder what our buddy Va. Heff. over at the NYT has to say about how said strike might affect American boob tube.
    Talking of boobs, and on a much happier note, I brought forth boy child #3 (no, he hasn’t boobs, but he sure likes sucking on mine!)on 30 September in Bangkok’s Samitivej Sukhumvit Hospital. His name? Iain! We threw in the extra ‘i’ as an old-fashioned nod to my mom’s Scottish heritage.

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  2. eric g.

    Props for using “fellatrix” and “canard” in the same sentence. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the networks tried to keep the shows running with teams of “replacement” writers like the NFL did in 1987? Think of the possibilities, as scab writers made irrevocable changes to our favorite shows: Grissom follows in Catherine’s footsteps and becomes an exotic dancer on “CSI”; an unfortunate typo sends Ice-T et al in search of kidnapped and maimed Ford Explorers; etc.

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  3. Piglet

    CENT ONE: I think everyone in Los Angeles above a certain income level is a spoiled, pretentious hack. When I get beyond the initial stereotype, I figure the spoiled pretentious ones are the executives who decide what gets written and produced, not the writers who are, after all, just following orders.
    CENT TWO: What’s a TV? I have a DVD screen. I understand “Heroes” was pretty good, and my library is getting Season One on DVD this month. I won’t mind seeing it then, along with about two dozen movies that looked vaguely promising in 2006 but not worth eight bucks.
    CENT THREE: If this strike impacts you, me and the ghost of my grandpa the wobbly salute you and wish you luck. I’ll visit you at the picket line and sing IWW songs until you beg me to stop.

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  4. Neva

    I second congrats to Lyle!
    I enjoyed remembering the Frog and the Scorpion tale. On a tangent – I recently heard another legend involving a scorpion recited in Francis Collins’ recent book… Once upon a time there was an old woman who used to meditate on the bank of the Ganges. One morning, finishing her meditation, she saw a scorpion floating helplessly in the strong current. As the scorpion was pulled closer, it got caught in roots that branched out far into the river. The scorpion struggled frantically to free itself but got more and more entangled. She immediately reached out to the drowning scorpion, which, as soon as she touched it, stung her. The old woman withdrew her hand but, having regained her balance, once again tried to save the creature. Every time she tried, however, the scorpion’s tail stung her so badly that her hands became bloody and her face distorted with pain. A passerby who saw the old woman struggling with the scorpion shouted, “What’s wrong with you, fool! Do you want to kill yourself to save that ugly thing?” Looking into the stranger’s eyes, she answered, “Because it is the nature of the scorpion to sting, why should I deny my own nature to save it?”
    I had two thoughts..
    Too bad we can’t all work for her instead of the scorpions of corporate America. And also, how many strikes might be prevented if health care was a right to all in this country?

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  5. Neva

    Okay, I just looked back and can’t find your link to the frog and the scorpion fable in your post anymore. Am I crazy? It was there before right?

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  6. Father Tim

    Very interesting post. I’ve been following this story from a distance and this was a handy Cliff Notes version of what’s at stake.
    Eric G., the PATCO strike Ian referenced made the possibility of the scabs writing for these shows the law of the land. Whether it is the GOP debates or the writers’ strike, the Gipper’s dead reach remains very long.
    Remind the next jackass who base their ’08 presidential vote on the “who I’d like to have a beer with” test that this shit is serious and has long-term ramifications.

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  7. Just Andrew

    so what exactly is this strike about? I’ve seen a reference to residuals, but that’s it.
    Honestly, the idea of writers being unionized and going on strike is a bit amusing to me. Kind of like if the nation’s florists went on strike – sure I like flowers, but, well, nobody but the florists stand much harm.
    There are a few shows I really like – but there aren’t new ones in the summer, there are shows I really liked (like SportsNight) that got cancelled and I survived without any major life altering issues.
    I’m sure a strike would bother the entertainment industry moguls, but the rest of america will be just fine.
    I guess this is one of the reasons I’ve become rather diillusionsed by the role of unions in modern US society.

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  8. Ian

    Lyle! YAAAAAYYYYYY! A bug hug from me, Tessa, and Lucy to Iain!
    Andrew, I know it’s not like a transportation strike that immediately affects everybody, but it’s bigger than just “writers want more money”. It’s a salvo in the war against people who create things, and though this strike is about movies and television, it can easily be construed to all art in America, and whether it’s worth anything at all. If you don’t see this as a deeply demoralizing development, I’d argue that most people don’t know how bereft this country would be if artists stopped creating things because there is no way to make a living. Perhaps that’s a whole other blog…

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  9. tregen

    Unplug the TV and throw it in the trash.
    Ian, I disagree that it can be construed to all art in America. I don’t know anyone in the hollywood business who has the goal of “making a living at it”… it seems like everyone here is trying to “make it big”. There are millions of artists around the world who do their art for the love of art rather than their desire to sell it and themselves as fast as they can.

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  10. xuxE

    i just applaud collective bargaining in general and putting yourself at risk as part of a labor collective. i don’t presume to know enough background about the issue as an outsider, but the fact that a group of individuals comes together to put their jobs on the line over an issue important to them says enough for me.
    go labor!

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  11. Just Andrew

    found this on the writer’s guild site:
    http://www.wga.org/subpage_member.aspx?id=2485
    seems to be the list of writer’s demands. Just a quick read through and I don’t pretend to be an expert on this, but from what I read the only things that aren’t about ‘more money for writers’ are:
    writers should be consulted about product placement in movies (oh come on)
    expand arbitration (fine, doubt the other side has a problem with that)
    something about work lists that I don’t understand – sounds like both are on the same page with it tho.
    more union rights for strikers (that just serves the union).
    so how is it not about money?
    I’d love to see an entry about your thoughts on art in america and how hollywood fits in or doesn’t, and would writers and actors be willing to strike and pay to help support ‘similarly valuable arts’ such as novelists, painters, sculpters and Brittany’s make up artist.

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  12. Just Andrew

    absolutely nothing – but if it is about money, say it is about money. Not trying to give Ian a hard time – I’m all for he and Tessa making scads of money. My point lies elsewhere.

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  13. Lyle

    Thanks xuxE, Neva, and single ‘i’ Ian! ;)
    The only other thing I can contribute to this comment section (I’ve been lurking all along but haven’t commented for ages), as I’m up to my eyeballs in newborn life, is that the prospect of TV bigiwgs filling up the strike void with even more ‘reality’ shows that require no scripts just makes me want to puke. We’ve already got ‘Wife Swap’ — what’s next, ‘Offspring Swap’?! Send the little buggers to a new fam and see how poorly they cope, what a laugh! NOT.
    Fingers crossed that reason prevails and 1 November passes uneventfully…

    Reply

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