Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Detour - The Writers' Strike

Those of you who have been following the various diaries that have cluttered this page for the last couple of months will have noticed that I've been AWOL for the last few days. The reasons for this are many and varied.

One, I have been manfully struggling against a bout of oncoming flu, which held off just long enough to get in our hometown warm-up gig and a very productive session on the new album - which, against all evidence to the contrary, is actually nearing completion.

Two, I have mixed feelings about writing at all at the moment, what with the current writer's strike in America having just begun.

This is not, I must stress, because I am a member of the Writer's Guild, nor because the issues under discussion immediately affect me. In fact, if the strike carries on for any length, there's less chance of my placing songs on shows, and getting paid myself. God knows, "She Clears Her Throat" ought to be soundtracking every melancholy scene on television, if only to give us a break from that bloody Evanescence song they still seem intent on flogging to death. Besides, as no one is paying me for these blogs, in fact, even if I were a member of the Guild, I'd be perfectly within my rights to carry on scribbling.

I am, however, fully behind the strike. I may be at the bottom of the writing totem pole, but that does not preclude me from giving a damn about those within a profession, at the coat-tails of which I scrabble, being handed a raw deal. I'm a little biased, having worked as an actor, writer and musician in my own scattershot and even more underpaid way since I was 16, (£5 to the person who can spot me in "Little Women", alongside Trini Alvarado and Christian Bale. Seriously, blink and you'll miss me), but as I am the very epitome of struggling "artist" I hope it will ram home that this strike isn't about money, per se, but about fair pay for work done. Something of which I am most definitely in favour.

Until today, it has been something I've simply been following with interest in the press, feeling as though, overseas and without any manner of industry clout, there was little of concrete value I could do other than wish my fellow scribes well.

However, having being exposed to the media coverage of the strike for several days now, I'm both moved, on one hand, and sickened to the heart on the other. Most of my regular readers will be aware of my geek credentials, and I am a regular reader, and irregular poster over at Whedonesque, the fine home of Joss Whedon fans the world over. For all hardcore fans of anything are used to getting a kicking from the supposedly superior press, as a creator of things artistic - and as a fanboy of many things myself - I'd kill for those type of fans. People who appreciate work enough to put their mouths, hearts, money and time on the line for something that has meant something to them. Members of the aforementioned group have, as an example, having been sending pizzas to the picket lines in LA, as a show of support, and that makes me glad to be a fan.

Because the vast majority of fans are just that - ordinary people who have the humanity to care deeply about things. I won't claim for a moment that are not those amongst us who bring the crazy - and even in my limited sphere of influence I have been at the end of a very odd, and occasionally explicit email or two - but they are few and far between, and more than worth it for the support of those who just care.

The mainstream press, on the other hand, have repeatedly - in the weeks leading up to the strike and since its official beginnings - made me want to poke them in the eyes with sharp, rusty objects. Joss Whedon himself pointed out a New York Times article which took great pleasure in describing the "arty glasses and fancy scarves" of the protestors, as if it was rather ridiculous and a bit pathetic for those who made their living "making stuff up" to want to get paid properly for the privilege. Surely, dear God, they should be paying the studios! For LETTING them do their job.

Frankly, it's the same damn things over and over again - and the music business is no different. The seemingly endless fascination with celebrity in the press has led to the denigration of the crafts necessary in order to bring such things to life. Yes, there are terrible writers out there who are paid FAR too much for their talentless vomitings into the entertainment abyss. Likewise "actors" and "musicians" who only belong to those groups by dint of inverted commas.

That doesn't mean that everyone should be tarred with that brush, and fair has to be fair for everyone, or it isn't, you know, fair.

Not one of us who works in or near entertainment, from the ultra-famous down to, say, me, are doctors, nurses, firemen, teachers or police officers. We're not necessary to sustaining life, in its barest sense. But, when one of us does the job properly - and before those who like to think me pretentious starts putting in the boot, I'm talking about someone else, anyone else - it makes life worth living. It certainly does for me, at any rate. Again, to borrow from Mr. Whedon, storytelling may not be an "animal need" but it is certainly the oldest "human need."

A strike is not a pretty thing, it has a knock-on effect to all who work within an industry - not all of whom are comfortably off to begin with. But unfair business practices, and corporate greediness, have knock-on effects as well, and, even in purely business terms, short-term profits rarely trump long-term profitability, or quality. In fact, never.

If you want to learn more about the strike, I direct you here, as a good starting off point for one side of the argument:

United Hollywood

And, of course, read up on both sides as much as you can, to make up your own mind.

If there were any real appreciation of the art of writing within the industry at large - rather than just fear for one's own jobs and a desire to grub as much filthy lucre as possible - newspaper writers, blog writers, cartoon writers - authors of every shape and stripe would all down pencils, pens and keyboards simultaneously, causing a complete non-essential information blackout. The strike would be resolved in a week, because we'd all learn that we need more than just the essentials.

Yes, I know it's not as simple as that. These things rarely are, and there may be many of you reading this who feel that there are worthier causes to support with your very little and undoubtedly precious time, and perhaps rightly so. But it takes a lot of different threads to make a sweater worth wearing, as no one has ever said before.

So, while it's not as though it'll have a huge impact on anyone, I'm subscribing from a distance to "pencils down" and I hope that there are people out there reading this whose lack of words will cause more uproar than mine and who will follow suit.

See you all on the other side of this. My best wishes go out to all on the picket lines.

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