VDO Vault (vdovault) wrote in whywewatchljcom,
VDO Vault

Commentary: The Folly Of Online Petitions In Entertainment Union Disputes

I received an email today from a sender called 'Back To The Table' and I thought I might share some thoughts with you and them (and sorry they're long-winded)

From a quickie Dogpile search 'Back To The Table' doesn't seem to have a website and from an equally fast blog search via Technorati the only blogs called 'Back To The Table' are about food!

The brief email entitled "FYI: No SAG Strike Petition" has the briefest of messages:

Go to:

Said petition has thousands of signatures of people who don't want there to be a SAG strike. Some who are spreading the word about this petition are claiming that all the signatories are people who work in the entertainment industry.

Like the petition originators (whomever they might be) I too would rather not see SAG strike but having been so intimately involved with Fans For The WGA last year I must say that I won't be signing onto this online petition largely because I don't see it accomplishing much, i.e. the prevention of a strike

Consider this: Fans last year used the same site and other online petition sites to garner support for the WGA but in the end that kind of campaign I would not rate as an efffective one. Here are some reasons:

- A bunch of names on a list without their affiliations or some way to confirm their identities or back up their credentials online or in the real world doesn't mean much, especially online where I can adopt any identity I want. If I'd like to be a crew member or heck even Johnny Depp I can put that down in the blanks provided on the petition. Doesn't make it true or effective but I can do it.

- Once the list of names is sufficiently long to whom will the petition be delivered? To the leadership of SAG? To the AMPTP? To the executives running the companies themselves? Will anyone in the AMPTP and the companies let them on the premises to deliver it or will they have to print it out and mail it? And even if they do deliver it somehow to all the parties, what would motivate the recipients to do something to avert a possible strike and put a deal in place by December 31, 2008? What positive consequences are there for SAG and the AMPTP to make the agreement that the petition backers are seeking? Will the signatories work harder at their entertainment industry jobs or buy company stock or buy more company products and services? And if the deal doesn't happen what are the negative consequences for either SAG or the companies?

-Let me give the petition backers another hint: As much as the executives in the companies say they are all about new media and growing that part of the business, they don't participate in it day to day and because of that the executives are at a disadvantage in understanding the online market. At best they have 'people' who monitor what goes on online for them but in no way shape or form do they acknowledge that there are communities of people who are organized around the business much less do they participate in them. Whether we're talking about Joss Whedon or Nikki Finke or Wil Wheaton or a spontaneously generated fan group, those communities are real but unless the communities make the effort to reach the executives where they are (i.e. via older technologies like phone calls to their offices or letters sent to them or outreach to the other constituencies with which they do business), they simply do not know what is going on on the interwebz. You have to pity them for what they're missing out on, those poor execs because most of you who read this know something of how great the online world can be. The writers and increasingly the actors followed by the crews are getting involved with us here on the tubez but by no means is this a mature migration. If the execs keep ignoring this they and their businesses will be left behind...they have to choose to be a part of our world and so far I'm not encouraged that they want to be included.

-On a more personal note I simply don't agree with what the petition authors are asking for. 2 more weeks of talks doesn't strike me as a productive thing to do without SAG at least having the threating stick in hand of a strike authorization vote. SAG has offered all kinds of concessionary carrots to the AMPTP (as did the writers last year) but negotiations in order to be negotiations at their worst have to be a quid pro quo process or if you like an exchange of considerations...SAG gives the AMPTP companies something and the companies give something to SAG in return. The companies don't get 100% of the pie and the talent nada. That zero-sum-gain, all-or-nothing approach to me sounds like holding out for a ransom not deal making.

The petition authors have asked nothing new of the AMPTP...having read for myself the deal memos for the DGA WGA and AFTRA agreements the AMPTP is correct in asserting that the deals are similar. But just as I might take offense at being called a Law & Order fan (and there are 3 different L&O shows) when I'm predominantly a Law & Order: Criminal Intent fan (for the record I like some seasons of the mothership and am indifferent to others), I think an actor has the right to be offended by being offered a deal that does not suit the distinct realities of the acting profession. It's like going to a Toyota dealership to buy a fuel efficient Prius and having the salesperson do everything possible to get you to buy a Land Cruiser (a big pricey Toyota SUV).

As for there being economic pain out there in the entertainment business and in California in particular, you should realize that there is economic pain all over this country (and increasingly all over the world) in a variety of industries. But it is not the actors or the writers before them who caused the lion's share of that pain. It is those who made their money off the economy via extending excessive amounts of debt to tens of millions of people whose wages have been stagnant or declining since the early 1970s, outsourcing their jobs, and when they get financially squeezed grabbing as many punitive fees as they can from the debtors before they finally collapse and declare bankruptcy rather than those who tried to trade an honest day's labor for an honest day's pay whether it was in front of a camera or behind one or on a farm, in a factory, in a shop, or in a small and unassuming office.

This was not a sustainable business model and we are all left to pick up the mess that the parasitic rentier class has made, but you have to understand that appeasing the executives who have a far greater deal in common with investment bankers and gamblers than any of us is unlikely to help you keep body and soul together for the forseeable future. The writers are right now learning this with hard won experience, having to take the companies to arbitration over new media residuals that have accrued but not been paid under the supposed great deal that SAG should take. And even if SAG takes this deal and somehow they get paid something for new media, that deal will not fix the economic pain for so many outside the entertainment business as well as within it...that blame goes to bankers, large investors, hedge funds, credit card pushers, insurance companies, investment advisors, lawyers, lobbyists...in fact to each of us to the extent that we bought into the idea of easy money and getting something for nothing. The pain is going to continue until change has come to a whole lot of global businesses and because I see them as an agent of making meaningful change in the entertainment industry, I support SAG's leadership in their quest for a contract that works for them and for the long term future. There aren't going to be any quickie fixes and SAG acquiescing to a bad deal won't bailout the rest of the entertainment business...it would be like the taxpayer money given by TARP in that SAG would be using time energy and money to prop up conglomerates that may fail under the weight of their bad business decisions anyway...that would be an irretrievable loss to actors that they alone should not be shouldering.

So no I won't be signing the petition though I too would prefer SAG not have to strike. I will pledge myself to the extent I can to help out crews and others affected and I will use what I have learned from the hard won experiences of the WGA strike to help out SAG regardless if they have to strike (which they may yet not have to do after all if the executives can finally realize that their business model is permanently broken and none of us are coming to bail them out). I am prepared for either outcome.

And finally I will support other labor unions in their efforts to secure their due from the same companies when their turn at the bargaining table comes and urge other fans and viewers to do the same.
Tags: "news/media" "actors news" "crew news" "

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