In Robert Stone's majestic, Conradian novel about Americans screwing around with Central America in 1980, A Flag for Sunrise, there is an hallucinatory riff about dread. It popped into my head this morning, after a bad night's sleep. In the passage, the protagonist, an American anthropologist finds himself over his head, way south of the border. He goes diving some 120 feet off a coral reef, and down there, in the dark, he becomes preternaturally frightened, struck by an unnamed dread, and feels himself to be close to an abyss, and closer still to something terrible. A "Shadow within a shadow, a silence within a silence." In Stone's utterly black inoculation, the solitary diver ponders what it was; shark, bottomless bottom, the end of all light, desolation.
Today, I feel that we writers are on the edge of just such an abyss; a sudden drop-off that can not be seen but can sure be felt. I have only my gut and my instincts to guide me, and I pray I am wrong. However, if indeed, 'character is fate', then the actions of the studios' negotiators are very telling. They want more than just this strike. They want to break the guild. To entirely dictate the terms of remuneration to artists in all the emerging electronic and new media markets.
If that is the case, the fight and the strike is going to be long and bloody, and at the end, the CEOs of the big media companies will be left with no way to justify their hallucinatory pay-packages. Or will they? Yes. Because the write-offs in deals they can trash, in a lackluster TV season will probably more than make up for the losses from the strike. The lawyers will pick up the pieces, and maybe the collateral damage for them will be some jobless creative executives, sacrificed by over-paid bosses, whose hubris has gored an entire industry.
The studios want the strike. They are clear-eyed and mercenary about it. The hard-core realpolitik equation in the boardrooms has got to be that the numbers will work out. So what if the industry is shut down for four or six or nine weeks. Or more.
And the guild members who are striking -- we have got to insist and pray that our leaders negotiate responsibly, wisely, and bravely. And insist that they do so without blinking, now that the trigger has been pulled. And insist on cunning and resourcefulness and stamina. (Not having been in the room, I cannot account for the DVD fracas of this weekend, which seems, on the face of it, to have possibly left the writers slightly less well armed for the siege I am worried we're headed into).
The studios probably have already noted the less than sympathetic reactions from the viewers. In fact, you would not be wrong to guess that the studio folk are enjoying the spectacle of watching the writers dance around to sell the idea of unfair wages to an unimpressed populace. An unimpressed populace who are only too happy, at this point, to say "who cares" to the writers responsible for the nightly, woozy miasma of lame jokes and mewling, sentimental crap that makes up a percentage of prime-time. (By this logic, the studios are simply blameless lending libraries that innocently stock porn on the shelves of the kiddie section.)
This fight with giant corporatism is the canary-in-the-coal mine of how labor deal with big business in this country. And with each day that passes, the actors and the directors and all other interested parties are getting closer to their own show-down over the same issues with the same negotiators for the same studios and networks. Careers are about to suffer. For those of us who are not rich -- the majority of guild members, that is -- the strains will be cruel and maybe even tragic, if the thing goes on and on and on. The ripples will get bigger, and other boats will get swamped. Crews and their families. The economy that depends on the industry. And frankly, it in this hubris-laden equation that the cold-eyed calculations of the studio heads begins to corrode.
And it begins to backfire. A smart strategy can turn into a bitter mistake very quickly. As the generals will remind you, once a war starts, the only thing you can count on is being surprised by what happens next. Wars get expensive and when people lose their livelihoods, you lose their hearts and minds. An industry is shut down not by the writers (the workers), but by the men who own it and run it. Why? Because it is in their interest to clear the slate of bad and costly bets.
That decision results in people who have nothing to do with the movies and TV, other than the fact that they live in LA, to lose what they have worked a lifetime for. People who are already trying to keep ahead of a faltering economy and sub-prime lenders (more corporate greed and hubris at work). Because the studios' negotiator would not discuss a deal over paying for downloads and on-line viewings with the people who created their product.
As the days pass, the indifference on the part of the public starts to shift. The attitudes about the fat-cat rich writers starts to shift. Because the message gets through. No matter how much the Reagan revolution transformed Americans into accepting the notion that "greed is good", and that unions can be broken without consequences, there will come a point at which the worm will turn. This thing will end. The writers will be weakened, but standing. They will be more unified than ever. They will get a piece of the pie they are asking for. Some piece. Something.
And somewhere, some CEO of one of these huge companies will start to wonder if it was all worth it. All the destruction. The rancor. The mistrust. The ill-will that will develop. The lost viewers, the lost audience. All of it. The ruined relationships with the people who create the product they need. Is it worth it? Was it worth it? Did we put our best man, and our best strategy in play?
May that epiphany happen sooner rather than later. It is my sense that in this stand-off the writers are not going to budge. Too much is at stake. The writers will not budge. How can you when you are being offered nothing, not even words? Even as we head towards a shadow within a shadow and silence within a silence, circled by sharks. The writers will prevail.
Read more thoughts about the strike on the Huffington Post's writers' strike page.