Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bad Penny for Your Thoughts

The former writer's strike is threatening to become the proverbial bad penny. I alluded to this possibility in my last post (It's Over—Kind of—Maybe—Fingers Crossed!, February 2008), when I mentioned the divisions within the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists (AFTRA). Well, there are now rumblings moving across the land suggesting the bad penny is slouching towards Hollywood.

I’ve been listening closely to the “noise” on the various entertainment blogs and reading much of the member commentary on the WGA’s website, which continues to offer a bully pulpit to supporters and naysayers alike, and based on what I’m “hearing,” one might say the pimple on the backside of the WGA strike may finally be coming to a head.

Witness the most recent salvo by WGA member Harlan Ellison. For anyone who loves words and the music of language, Harlan Ellison is a God (he is to me, anyway). Ellison’s work in TV, film, and literature is hailed far and wide and his genius and talent are legendary. As is the “verbal flamethrower” that is his mouth.

Love him or hate him, and both camps are filled with devotes, Ellison left a colorful and pithy post on the WGA site as to his views of the current deal and his accompanying disappointment thereof:

“THEY BEAT US LIKE A YELLOW DOG. IT IS A SHIT DEAL. We finally got a timorous generation that has never had to strike, to get their asses out there, and we had to put up with the usual cowardly spineless babbling horse's asses who kept mumbling "lessgo bac'ta work" over and over, as if it would make them one iota a better writer. But after months on the line, and them finally bouncing that pus-sucking dipthong Nick Counter, we rushed headlong into a shabby, scabrous, underfed shovelfulla shit clutched to the affections of toss-in-the-towel summer soldiers trembling before the Awe of the Alliance.”

Followed by:

“You [WGA leadership] are their bitches. They outslugged you, outthought you, outmaneuvered you; and in the end you ripped off your pants, painted yer asses blue, and said yes sir, may I have another. Please excuse my temerity. I'm just a sad old man who has fallen among Quislings, Turncoats, Hacks and Cowards. I must go now to whoops. My gorge has become buoyant. Respectfully, Yr. Pal, Harlan Ellison”

(FYI: "My gorge has become buoyant" means he's about to throw up.)

There was more, but these two snippets capture the essence of his ire, point, rant, and talent. What struck me about this post was not the unvarnished, in-your-faceness of it, but rather the numbers of reply posts supporting the sentiment that “it is a shit deal.” There were several Harlan bashers and angry replies supporting the deal, but for the most part members who replied agreed with Ellison.

And this is my point! WGA members full-throatily voted to stop the strike. They may not be so full-throated when it comes to ratifying the deal. As I said in my earlier post, there are lots of sticking points in the current deal that writers are not happy about (promo windows in new media, reality TV and animation writers representation, etc.), and SAG/AFTRA’s negotiations in June with the AMPTP will be dealing with the same issues. So, the question is begged: What happens if the WGA members don’t ratify the deal?

I hear the chorus already, “You’re nuts—not in a million years.” I’m not as crazy as the idea I’m suggesting, trust me. I realize if the WGA starts pushing back on the AMPTP deal the producer’s guild could just say “f*&k you—we will bury you.” And things get very ugly very fast. Not ratifying the deal would be a clear statement that the WGA was adopting a strategy of wait-for-SAG, meaning let SAG negotiate a better deal for its members and then let the favored nations clauses kick in and the WGA wins by proxy. Or, SAG goes on strike and then the WGA joins them and the united front of writers and actors dismantle Hollywood completely. This is a strike, by the way, that would last about one week!

Some argue this is what the WGA should have done from the get-go. Rather than go on strike last November, the guild should have just waited until June of this year and then engaged in a joint strike with SAG/AFTRA. Some say not doing this was a severe strategic error on the part of the WGA leadership. Could the WGA have held out eight months in dead-end negotiations, stalling with the AMPTP? Who knows, hindsight is usually bullshit, but it’s an interesting concept.

I do not make these musings to upset or freakout people. I just think that Ellison’s clarion call (as nails-on-a-black-boardish as it might sound) is a barometer worth heeding. After all, he has a mouth, and he must scream!

We all might want to listen.

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