As this column went to print, from Islamabad to London to Paris to Moscow to Los Angeles -- wherever a flickering video image could reach -- the nerves of the world became more frayed this week with the images of mass demonstrations in the streets and the stunning announcement that Hollywood writers have gone on strike for more humane working conditions.
As a point of comparison, historians have had to reach back to the great general strike of 1926 in Britain, which was called in sympathetic protest against the national lockout of the coal miners, whose work hours had been extended and wages reduced by 25 percent, to assure continued high profits for the coal mine owners. The union refused to accept those conditions of employment with the clarion call: "Not a penny off the pay, not a second on the day."
Working men across Britain laid down their tools, stopped driving the buses, refused their employers' instructions from Aberdeen to Truro, from Manchester to London, in a historic expression of solidarity with their fellow workers. At the same time, the sons of the privileged, the well-educated, the overfed and overdressed fastidiously stepped into the employment breach in a desperate, if elegant, effort to keep the British economy going and to break the back of the "red" general strike. Sadly, the overdressed beat the underpaid. The strike was broken quickly, and as a result, today there are no coal miners left in Britain, while London is plagued by a surplus of stockbrokers, public relations professionals and art appraisers.
That is the challenge for all of us today. Each of us must decide WHICH SIDE ARE WE ON? at our moment of capital/labor crisis in the great struggle of the downtrodden Hollywood writers living in shabby Brentwood mansions and Malibu beach houses against the filthy bloodsucking wealth of the Hollywood industrialists who live in Beverly Hills supermansions and Malibu super-beach houses. It is the struggle of the owners of Gulfstream G350s vs. owners of Gulfstream G550s.
The contract between the 12,000-member Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers expired Oct. 31. (Who knew it took 12,000 writers to produce the dreck coming out of Hollywood these days?) Talks that began this summer failed to produce progress on the writers' key demands for a bigger slice of DVD profits and revenue from the distribution of films and TV shows over the Internet.
Producers said writers were not willing to compromise on their major demands.
Writers said they withdrew a proposal to increase their share of revenue from the sale of DVDs that had been a stumbling block for producers. They also said the proposals by producers in the area of Internet reuse of TV episodes and films were unacceptable.
"The AMPTP made no response to any of the other proposals that the WGA has made since July," writers said in a statement.
Imminently we will be seeing the pathetic consequences of the strike: heartbreaking images of Jay Leno telling lame jokes (well, not all things will change), Jon Stewart silently making mere faces at the camera (his clever lines having been unwritten because of the strike), Stephen Colbert (denied the words written for him to mock O'Reilly) forced to pointlessly overgesticulate pointlessly. Critics will start comparing the Comedy Central stars unfavorably to the great silent screen comedians who actually could make millions laugh without a word being spoken. On the plus side (I suppose), hundreds of mimes across the country will have a sudden revival.
Actually the most striking aspect of this strike is that the striking writers have not come up with as catchy a rallying phrase as the British coal miners did last century. Recall the aforementioned "not a penny off the pay, not a second on the day."
Perhaps this can be can be explained by the fact that the writers judged that it might not be in their interest to defend themselves to the public with filthy words, sexually explicit references, adolescent rudeness and jokes that only draw laughs from previously recorded laugh tracks. Sadly, the writers seem to be out of practice writing uplifting, motivating phrases for actors -- or themselves -- to recite.
Unlike my English relatives who picked sides in their great strike, it is hard to make a case for picking either side in this strike. The best we can hope for is that the strike goes on forever, Hollywood goes out of business, the writers get honest jobs and Americans start entertaining ourselves.
Did you hear the one about the starving Hollywood mogul?