Coming Soon To A TV Near You, by Mike Gold
The television and movie writers strike is entering its second week. The picket lines are being staffed by more stars than there are in the heavens. The writers are looking for their fare share of DVD revenue – currently, approximately three to four cents per sale – and of commercial Internet action – currently, zilch.
Ironically, as teevee shows are starting to go on early hiatus, us folks back home are beginning to turn to DVD purchase and rentals to fill the downtime, lest our sets stare blankly back at us.
This one seems simple. If somebody is making money off of your work, you deserve a fair share of the action. Or even a taste. Anyway, something more than an insult. Collective bargaining is genuinely American; it mirrors the very values of fair play that we were all taught in school. Just like “socialized medicine,” there is nothing left wing or communistic about it – despite what some of our right wing politicians, corporate magnates and the liars at Fox News babble incessantly babble.
We need to look no further than the deposed leader of Disney, Michael Eisner. “It’s a waste of their time. “(The studios) have nothing to give. They don’t know what to give.” Oh, really? These clueless number crunchers who “earn” eight digit compensation packages strictly solely off of the sweat of the artistic community (writers, directors, musicians, performers – 90% of whom are largely or completely unemployed at any moment in time, et al) have nothing to give? How about starting with me, and give me a break.
Eisner has the perfect résumé to back up his comments. Disney is one of the cheapest, most malevolent media houses in the world – and that’s really saying something. Case in point: under Eisner’s regime, Disney’s ABC Network aired a teevee show called Soul Man, starring Dan Aykroyd and produced by their then mega-star Tim Allen. Dan wanted the classic Sam and Dave Song “Soul Man” to serve as its theme. After all, it’s the name of the show, and it was the signature tune of his band, The Blues Brothers.
No way, said Disney. They didn’t own the song, and they didn’t want to pay anybody any royalties. They would produce an entirely new song that Disney would own outright. Dan stood his ground and said he’d walk if they didn’t break their rule and use the original song (not necessarily the original version, mind you, but at the very least the song itself). After some noisy fighting, Disney didn’t want to piss off Tim Allen so they acquiesced. It was a rare defeat for the House of Mouse.
Disney was just operating off of its own legacy. Walt Disney was so far to the right on the political spectrum he’d make Bill O’Reilly sound like Ugo Chavez. On May 29, 1941, 293 Disney animators who were members of the Screen Cartoonists Guild struck the studio after Disney fired animator Art Babbitt, who was exercising his legal right to organize.
Several weeks later, President Franklin Roosevelt actually had to send a federal labor conciliator to Hollywood to work out a settlement. He found in the Guild’s favor on each and every single issue. The Printing Council forced the withdrawal of Floyd Gottfriedson’s Mickey Mouse comic strip (signed by Disney, of course) from its newspapers. Technicolor refused to process Disney film until the studio recognized the Cartoonists Guild.
This was hardly a popular strike.
Among the strikers – Ub Iwerks, the revolutionary cartoonist who reworked Oswald The Rabbit into something Walt Disney could own outright, a lucky little rodent with a hot, topless girl friend. “Don’t forget,” Disney said, “this all started with a mouse.” Well, sure, Walt. Also on strike: Walt Kelly (Pogo) and Virgil Partch (Big George and magazine panels) and other superstars of animation; Disney’s loss was comics gain. Many ex-Disney employees set up their own studio, UPA.
The strike at the Disney studio ended on September 14, 1941, but only after Nelson Rockefeller convinced Walt he should join the American pre-war propaganda effort in South America.
Walt’s house went into a commercial decline that lasted until the Disneyland amusement park opened and Walt became a television star. The Disney strike lasted about three and one-half months.
The last writer’s strike lasted about five months. So as we settle onto our couches and watch some DVDs, we should appreciate the history of these actions, the reasons why they are necessary… and the irony of it all.
A one-time honest-to-goodness member of the Industrial Workers of the World and, later, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Mike Gold is editor-in-chief of ComicMix.