In Depth

Guest Commentary: There Are No Winners in Writers Strike PR War

So the Hollywood writers are winning the public relations war against the major media companies. As an actual Hollywood writer, upon hearing this vital and timely news of our psy-ops victory, I could not help but ask the question—so what? I mean, how hard is it to win a PR war against giant, soulless corporations? I think even Michael Vick could do that.

And honestly, in this tug-of-war over hearts and minds, what difference does it make how the public views the writers or even the studios? Is the general public really going to consume more or less entertainment based on which side they favor? Not according to that Pepperdine survey that declared the writers media darlings.

The survey also found that 75% of the public isn’t particularly concerned about the strike reducing their entertainment choices. And a Rasmussen poll found that nearly 60% of the population felt the writers strike had no impact whatsoever on their lives.

So while the populace might favor one side over the other, basically they don’t really care. And why should they? What’s happening in Hollywood isn’t a labor action by coal miners fighting for safer working conditions or migrant farm workers trying to earn a living wage.

The writers strike basically shapes up as a couple of third cousins at Thanksgiving dinner arguing over who gets a slightly larger slice of the billion-dollar pumpkin pie: the writers who create the movies and shows, or the corporations who actually take all the financial risk that allows us Hollywood writers to write in Hollywood in the first place.

And are we really winning the PR war? The writers I’ve talked to are concerned about the way the picket lines and those videos have been portrayed in the wider media—with a snarky undertone that has cast the writers as elitists in "arty glasses and fancy scarves," engaged in "the funnest strike ever." And that’s a quote, too, because I ain’t having any fun.

The feedback I’m starting to get is that high-spirited picketing isn’t for the public, but for the writers ourselves. It’s writer crunch time, baby. Now may be make-it-or-break-it time for union solidarity.

On Nov. 26, Hollywood was flying high after toking on an Internet rumor that a deal to end the strike was imminent. But the rumor turned out to be just that. And should no deal be reached in the next week, the writers are facing a long, cold winter of inactivity. There’s already some fracturing among the once-solid mass.

Some of the Hollywood showrunners are back to work on their shows from Dick Cheney-like stealth locations. Carson Daly is the first late-night host to go back on the air—oh joy. And reportedly at least one high-profile writer has crossed the picket line to do rewrites on films and scripts. And no, it’s not me.

With no end in sight and personal debt mounting by the day, those funny YouTube videos might be the only thing the writers have to show for all their high-minded collectivism.

John Ridley is a screenwriter, author and NPR "Morning Edition" commentator and blogger (npr.org/ blogs/visibleman/) whose latest book is "The American Way." This commentary was originally broadcast Nov. 29 on NPR’s "Morning Edition."

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