Because this issue has been prevalent in the headlines and it affects all of us, I thought I’d take a moment and discuss the Writers Guild of America strike.
Since other bards have discussed this in depth, I feel that it’s my turn to put my two cents into the matter. While most of you are aware of the strike, many of you may not understand the specifics which led to the walkout and protest.
Every three years, the WGA negotiates their contract with the Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers (AMPTP). Reaching an impasse this year, on Nov. 5, the WGA went on strike. Why?
As entertainment moves towards the internet and other new media, the writers risk getting shut out. What they’re asking for is 2.5 percent residuals of revenue. This means that for every dollar that’s made, the writers would receive 2.5 cents. So if a single cent isn’t made, then they don’t get paid. Sounds reasonable right? Well apparently the AMPTP doesn’t think so.
The next thing the WGA is asking for is coverage and protection for original content; specifically anything created for the internet. This includes health and pension, minimum amounts, credits and separated rights. It should be noted that the WGA already has this protection in television and film. They’re simply asking for the same thing for the internet.
What else are the writers asking for?
Currently they receive 3 percent per DVD, they’re now asking for 6. What this means is that they receive 4 cents per DVD which isn’t much considering most DVDs cost at least $10. So instead of 4 cents per DVD, the the wordsmiths are requesting 8 cents.
Then there’s the issue of expansion and coverage. There are a number of productions such as game shows, documentaries and talk shows where the writers’ rights to pension and benefits are flat out ignored by companies despite their contractual obligations. And in the areas of reality shows and animation, writers receive no benefits at all.
It should also be noted that the average WGA member’s salary doesn’t exceed five figures. Some members make as little as $5,000 a year, according to some reports. You can understand why they’re pissed.
Because the AMPTP refuse to address these issues and are threatening to remove some of the current benefits, the WGA is protesting.
With no writers, your favorite television shows and films are going to have to close up shop indefinitely.
The last WGA strike took place back in 1988 and lasted for 22 weeks, costing the entertainment industry $500 million.
Many authors, bloggers and other professional writers have discussed the strike and have made some of the same points that I’m going to discuss.
Any scribe will tell you that writing is hands down the most disrespected and taken for granted art form there is.
As both an accomplished writer and artist, I for one can tell you that you get a modicum of respect in one medium and absolutely none in the other.
The reason for this is that the average semi-literate believes that because they know how to place a noun, a verb and a period in order, they are therefore on par with Dickens, Shakespeare or Doyle. Never mind the intricate nuances of storytelling, pacing or plot structure, because semi-literates can write simple sentences and/or regurgitate timeless plots/clichés, they themselves are therefore writers.
Because art is a visual medium it’s more apparent that is much more difficult to imitate and that’s why it maintains its respective status. I can’t tell you how many times someone has observed my sketches and replied, “I never could do that drawing stuff. I can’t draw a straight line or stick figures to save my life.”
A prime example of what I’m talking about is comic books. A few years back I read an interview about an accomplished comic book artist who launched his own company. When asked about who would be writing the issues, he informed the reporter he would do it. He then stated that writing isn’t exactly rocket science. It should be noted that his most popular franchise is notorious for ripping off G.I. Joe, James Bond and Charlie’s Angels.
I once worked with a group of artists in the hopes of producing a comic book. Two of the artists, while skilled, had the same mentality that because they could read words and scribbled simple sentences, they were bards. Despite the fact that they possessed writing skills of fourth graders and despite the fact that I hold an English B.A. (with a concentration in writing) and repeatedly tried to explain to them that storytelling is far more sophisticated than one may surmise, they believed that they were experts in my very field.
So again, writers getting no respect? So not surprised.
But the astute observer will notice that this issue is far bigger than the WGA strike and is in fact a reflection of the epidemic that is plaguing society. The Haves vs. the Have-Nots or as Bill Maher so accurately put it, the Haves vs. the Been-Hads. The rich continue to get richer while the poor continue to suffer.
Don’t believe me. Follow the money. If the writers aren’t receiving the money, who does it goes to? The companies and more importantly the CEOs who sit on top of the proverbial food chain.
The WGA strike and the issues surrounding it is only a microcosm of what’s been happening in this country for many years. Huge corporations continue to rake in ridiculously large amounts of profits by cutting salaries and benefits for the worker bee who drives the company. Don’t believe me? Ask a Walmart employee what their occupational situation is. NBC recently ceased distributing their shows through Itunes because they wanted Itunes to charge $4.99 per episode as opposed to $1.99. The reason? Greed, pure and simple.
But it doesn’t stop there.
The rich receives tax breaks and multinational conglomerates receive corporate welfare. Congressmen vote for salary increases for themselves and yet the working class is still making a little over $5, thus making it impossible not to live from paycheck to paycheck.
And what are we told? Don’t like your status in life? Go back to school, get a college degree. Sure that helps and if you’re lucky you might land a decent job but in this day and age, a masters degree is the equivalent of what a bachelor’s degree used to be and a bachelor’s degree is the equivalent of what a high school diploma used to be. And if a person doesn’t have a high school diploma or a G.E.D…..may God help them because this society surely won’t. And let’s not even the discuss what you’ll have to pay back in loans.
No trillions of dollars are spent on a farce of a war and we’re brainwashed into believing that universal healthcare is the equivalent of communism. Or to spend the funds from the war to forgive college debts is ludicrous but to invade another country and drive up oil prices makes perfect sense.
In this country, the rich and the powerful can commit multiple DUI offenses and then decide how many days they want to stay in jail and yet we as a people aren’t outraged by the travesty of justice.
The American Dream is a thing of the past and that’s if it ever existed in the first place.
As a student of history, I know that if we don’t learn from the past, we’re doomed to repeat the same mistakes.
You see during the 18th century, France was in a similar state. The aristocracy continued to grow in wealth and power while the poor and the downtrodden endured harsher taxes, poverty and hunger. Eventually the downtrodden got sick and tired of being sick and tired and decided to have a little thing called the French Revolution. After all, a person with nothing to lose has nothing to fear and a person who has nothing to fear is the most dangerous type of person. The peasants overthrew the establishment and this led to much blood shed and change.
I must caution that if something isn’t done and conditions don’t change we could have a revolt on our hands. Maybe not tomorrow but possibly in the not too distant future.
The WGA epitomizes what the downtrodden should do. Take a stand. Demand change. It seems only appropriate that they would show us the way.
After all, writers do more than simply write pretty words. It's not rocket science. It's much more.