Strike You!

Curator's Note

YouTube has been an amazing resource for me—as a teacher of television. I especially like the way that it enables me to show historic television clips and TV from other countries. I also get as much fun as anybody out of watching amateur videos: the favorite in our house is watching the vast repertoire of amateur musical theatre classics either performed in school auditoriums or teen bedrooms. (Go ahead, I dare you, search under a favorite show tune and see what comes up.) Yet nothing on the Internet has in any way lessened my liking for watching dramatic television series. I agree with the commentators on YouTube who posted that Strike You! was so well done that it makes you want the strike to continue just to see what WGA writers can do when released from the shackles of TV formats. The WGA strike videos already have raised the bar for entertainment value on YouTube. Strike You! because it was so much more clever, better acted, satisfyingly paced, and laugh-out-loud funny than most of the stuff that is seen on the Internet. The WGA strike is also raising the bar for white collar labor organizing in important ways. As the video brilliantly satirizes, Hollywood is the last place on earth you would expect white collar professionals to take a stand against exploitation through the power of collective bargaining. The last place because – well, yes people in LA are self-absorbed and materialistic and generally more interested in their careers than in social struggle (unless the two can be made to dovetail). But the writers-- however much caricatured in the press--are taking real risks in this strike. By voting to strike in a business where thousands of aspirants are dying for a chance to take their place, by infuriating some segments of the Hollywood labor market who have less choice and power than the writers, and by exposing the economics of media conglomerate profiteering—all of which Strike You! brilliantly satirizes.


What's so interesting to me about this video -- aside from the narrative ambiguity over whether or not the writers are justified in their strike efforts -- is the end credit declaration that the filmmakers support the WGA strike because no script pages were written in producing the short. In some ways this points to the troubles white collar professionals like television writers have in foregrounding their labor as worthy of public support. In an audio-visual medium, does "writing" only involve producing pages? When we say that reality TV is scripted, do we literally (and only) mean that there was a typed script that actor's read lines of dialogue from? If writing for TV was solely about churning out words on paper then partly improvised shows like The Office might still be on the air. Yet, for the average citizen, the actual labor of being a Hollywood writer needs to be made tangible and utilitarian in ways that downplay their creative and managerial work. I wonder about the long term consequences of representing creative labor as either a functional set of tasks or as a privileged leisure-filled lifestyle (I don't get the impression from watching this video that Matt's day would have been all that different had the writers not been on strike other than his getting less flack for it)?

The satire in this video is just wonderful. But, I also think this discussion brings up a class and gender contrast, somewhat unique to this strike. Who do we think of as union workers? How much money do you have to have saved for a strike that could go on for weeks, maybe months? An interesting and timely contrast might be the airline industry, many of whose flight attendants and pilots are unionized. With the enormous financial losses following September 11th, companies such as American Airlines used the very real threat of bankruptcy to convince their employees to gut their contracts, taking serious pay and benefit cuts. The company claimed they were all sacrificing to save the company. What the corporate officials didn’t say was that this was the perfect excuse to set back union gains by decades. Well, probably not surprisingly, American is making profits (pretty good ones) and giving those profits to its top executives in the form of pay increases and massive bonuses. Flight attendants and pilots haven’t seen any of this money. Many of the unionized workers are ready to strike. But, even if they could, when the company has already taken away a full 1/3 of what they used to make, going on strike is nearly impossible. This is especially true for flight attendants, a field that is predominantly female. Don't get me wrong, I'm behind the writers 100%. Thinking about unions however makes me wonder what we might ask about the face of this strike and about the class, gender, and economics of unions in this country today.

Excellent video and comments. Like the best of the online media (i.e., not only video) that's come out since the start of the strike, it's as provocative as it is entertaining. Both Avi and Julia raise really important points about both labor representation (who gets to function as a legitimate worker) and the representation of labor (what are the dominant sounds and images of what they do). Obviously, both sides have and will make as much hay from this as possible (e.g., the huge difference between the terms "median" and "average" in the WGA and AMPTP's description of writers' current incomes). Moreover, as laborers ourselves, writing for a living (publish or perish), at what many of us consider an inadequate income, and in an "industry" itself in transition, there's more than a little similarity between academics and the WGA. The ramifications of media representations and the actual labor/compensation itself are a complex tangle, but a very important one to continue to observe and critique.

Barbara Ehrenreich posted a blog at the onset of the strike that usefully explores the low word-count pay scale for journalists The hazing rituals of academic socialization leave us with a feeling that demanding remuneration for writing might be gauche, or indicative of a lack of real affinity for the intellectual life. And of course new media forums like these push the sense of obligation to write for free even further.

Excellent point about vocational rituals, and about new media. I've often wondered when (and probably not if) blogging will be an expected pre-tenure task (a la article publishing). Apparently, it already is in a few fields and departments in the sciences. Just another thing that keeps the tenure wall that much higher (and that those already on the other side don't much have to worry about).

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