Of Scabs and Cats: The WGA’s Internet Campaign

Curator's Note

Hollywood knows the importance of media attention better than almost any industry. With negotiations between the AMPTP and the WGA again called off, the two sides have been strategizing on how best to sway public opinion. While the AMPTP has been running full-page ads in national newspapers and has just signed with the formerly union-friendly P.R. firm Fabiani & Lehane, the WGA does not have such deep pockets. Rather writers have been using the Internet—the key site of debate that, in may ways, caused the strike—to speak directly to audiences and fans. On websites like UnitedHollywood and YouTube, striking writers have been creating funny, imaginative, and sometimes quite convincing videos that explain to viewers why they are striking. Without access to television screens, the writers have had to become smart—and wily. Granted, some writers were able to sneak commentary in just before filming shut down. In late November, an episode of 30 Rock featured a news crawl strike gag, when Democratic congresswoman C.C. (Edie Falco) appears on MSNBC, the text beneath her reads, “"NEWS CRAWL AFFECTED BY WRITERS STRIKE -- USING REPEAT TEXT FROM PREVIOUS SEASON.” But some writers were shut down without a chance to comment or critique on their place in the news—something which must be particularly painful for those comedy writers whose job it is to comment and critique on the news. In this video by Colbert Report writers Frank Lesser and Rob Dubbin, the adorable animals that dominate so many online video streams refuse to do their work—that is, to be adorable—in solidarity with striking writers who have walked out on their work—which is to write films and television series that entertain us. What I find so amusing about this video is how it brings to light many people’s central frustration with video content on Internet—it is still in its infancy, and so much of it is unpolished, user-generated schlock. Much of the streaming media we see online is a modern-day equivalent of Edison or Lumiere shorts—brief spectacles or mundane occurrences made thrilling by the act of them being captured and viewed, rather than being truly engaging, visually or narratively. This no-budget parody of the Internet’s stars (i.e. pets) calling for a sympathy strike pokes fun at the absurdity of this content while humorously arguing that David Cross’s scabby cat—or is it the desperate-to-act Tobias Fünke?—can’t do the same quality work as a professional: work is work, even if that work is being cute. With professional writers creating content for the Internet, the possibilities of the medium for entertainment—and for political action—become a little clearer to see. And that might just be worth paying for.


What's most interesting for me has been the sheer number and variety of these videos posted (as the clips this week indicate). The longer the strike goes on, the more we'll get reminded of not only the writers' (and sympathetic others') talents, but also the expanding use (I think it's gone beyond "potential") of the Internet as a mass medium. Indeed, given the increasing spread of these videos, it's hard to see how relationships (with people, institutions, and even media forms) could get back to a "pre-strike" mentality once this struggle is over.

and as the strike continues, and the writers find the Internet one of their best friends (vs. network TV) for helping them to get their viewpoint out, it's hard to see that their resolve not to let the Internet's revenue structure be handed over totally to the networks will in any way weaken. Quite the opposite, I'm sure

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