Politics & Media
May 11, 2023, 06:29AM

Hocus Pocus: May 2023 Edition

What if there’s a Hollywood strike and it’s ignored?

Michael tabb picket.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

If you happen to read what masquerades for “news” this month, it’s possible, but not likely, you’ve come across stories about the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) picketing in temperate Los Angeles, waging a words-battle against the Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers, a strike that both parties claim—as always in union/management standoffs—might be a lengthy one. Perhaps it’s flippant, perhaps not, but I’m not sure if the strike is real or a hoax, an AI simulation designed to elicit sympathy for the aggrieved parties, on both sides of the line. Is such an event real if there aren’t protesters gathering in groups of four or five and singing—off-key, but that’s allowed—a wobbly rendition of “Joe Hill”?

On MLB broadcasts this season (more than 22 episodes), the oft-quoted one-liner from Humphrey Bogart—“A hot dog at the ballpark is better than a steak at the Ritz” (sometimes the quote refers to “roast beef”)—promotes the sport in some commercials, and much as I endorse the notion, it’s also a hoax, for the franks I’ve had at over 20 stadiums over the years, boiled and soggy, are barely fit for the pooch at home. On Tuesday morning I saw that Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (union, union, union!) is vacationing in Ukraine currently—some on Twitter, who didn’t recognize this as a hoax, got me to chuckle by saying that Ukraine is the “new Aspen/Hamptons/Epstein Island” for the elite—and doesn’t that just make you want to pick up the trombone and march in a parade?

Not a hoax: Bobby Kennedy Jr.—who says, in his disease-ridden voice, his uncle was assassinated by the CIA in 1963—is giving Joe Biden’s team (if not the President himself, who’s in permanent brain freeze from all those ice cream cones; although maybe they’re photo-shopped, maybe like the Hunter dick pix, though who knows) psychosomatic shingles since the broken-down-Camelot scion is blasting the Boss—not the “Glory Days” boss for crying out loud—for all those billions the administration is sending to Ukraine, maybe via Randi Weingarten in brown paper bags, and repeating and repeating and repeating the two words, “Big Pharma” that resonate with voters. I’m not foolish enough to count RFK Jr. out, if only because him squaring off against Trump in 2024 is just too wacky and wonderful to contemplate in America’s post-2015 political sphere. That might be validated—“might” the key word—by a new Washington Post/ABC poll that shows Biden’s approval rating at 36 percent and trailing Trump and Ron DeSantis in very early match-ups.

Forced to guess, I’d imagine Biden’s re-charged war against immigrants, aping I-Never-Built-the-Wall Trump, is a sop to the saps who hate anyone who doesn’t speak English coming to America, but how the “progressive” wing of the Democratic Party glosses over that heinous policy is beyond my imagination. Not my pay grade, mind you, but an imagination runnin’ away from me, like so many others.

Anyway, as I recall, a similar strike (a real one) occurred in 2007-8, lasting around 100 days, and at that time—it’s-always-darkest-before-the-dawn-yes-we-can-election-of-Barack-Obama—the newspapers, far more plentiful than today, covered the event with gusto, like it was a hurricane, March Madness madness, a Republican House member playing footsie in an anonymous mall john or the one-off $40,000 dresses actresses wore to the Academy Awards. Instant nostalgia for some—not me, thank your preferred deity—that went down like a Jell-O parfait topped with pineapple, marshmallows and maraschino cherries.

Today, the reaction to the Hollywood strike (if it’s real), in fading slang, is “not so much.” The first casualties, I read in The Wall Street Journal, were the late-night shows, programming I haven’t followed since the days of Dick Cavett. Made-in-America TV comedies and dramas might be compromised down the picket line, although I’m not certain that’ll cause much consternation. I don’t take a “Which Side Are You On” view—and not just because Pete Seeger’s playing chess with Mao in the underground, both fugitives from the Saints—believing at some point the warring opponents will smoke the peace pipe, simply because I don’t care that much, especially during the baseball season that stretches until late-October and dominates my allotted TV time at night.

I do follow, via Amazon Prime, some of the Dick Wolf Empire procedurals—Chicago P.D. and Chicago Med—and still enjoy James Spader’s monologues on the increasingly preposterous Blacklist, but my world wouldn’t be empty without them. Netflix is a dud, and the only shows I’ve watched to completion in the past several years were the excellent Ozark (Laura Linney and Jason Bateman) and Peaky Blinders (Cillian Murphy and the late Helen McCrory, among others); the latest heavily-promoted series is The Diplomat, a very silly “thriller” starring the lost-without-Matthew Rhys Keri Russell and a tossed-off performance from Rufus Sewell. I lasted just one episode, and was pissed I didn’t fire it earlier. And HBO’s Succession is ending for good after two final episodes. I don’t think about it much, but hope Roman, in the finale, is elevated to Top Gun and Tom and Cousin Greg are indicted. But maybe Logan’s death was a hoax; viewers will find out soon enough.

From The Journal: “The latest labor dispute was caused, in part, by entertainment companies’ continued shift toward streaming, which writers say has left them shortchanged. The most divisive issue on the table include a WGA demand for a minimum number of writers per television show and guaranteed employment for those writers from conception to postproduction.” As a rule, like most reasonable people, I don’t like to see men and women out of work, but think there would be more sympathy for the writers if their work was consistently… good.

If the Hollywood strike is real, my only concern is that it doesn’t stow away on a dinghy across the Atlantic and fuck with the U.K. and Irish writers/directors who, year after year, produce television series that, with a few exceptions, are worth paying close attention to, no snoozing or texting allowed. John Simm currently stars in the third season Grace, a riveting detective show—Simm, like Ben Whishaw, Maxine Peake, Nicola Walker and Roger Allam, is an immense talent, on the order of the late John Thaw—that makes The Diplomat look like a Zoom production put on by not-so-precocious high school students.

—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023

  • As someone who's been driving around Los Angeles and seeing picketers outside multiple studios, this strike is very real. As to the idea that "there would be more sympathy for the writers if their work was consistently… good" this is a large part of the writers' demands. Streaming companies like Netflix and Hulu rely on small groups of writers to develop and conceive 8-episode seasons before any production commences. If the show is greenlit, these writers are often fired and less-expensive writers are brought in to write the actual show. This means those responsible for the creative germ inspiring the show are not involved in the writing. Show runners get credit and reward, but the original writers who put their blood, sweat and tears into the show are not around to reap the benefits. This is the essence of hackdom and creative exploitation and also helps explain why so many streaming shows are simply awful.

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