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On The Looming Hollywood Writers' Strike

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“I’m really scared,” the NY Times reports Oren Ashkenazi of TVC Television and Cinema Wardrobe Cleaners saying about the imminent Hollywood writers’ strike. TVC “processes” up to 2000 “garments” each night for television programs such as “24” and is not “set up for retail customers.” Ditto for Green Set, a 13 acre nursery which rents plants to set decorators, for Hollywood tour guides, for Letterman, Leno, Daly and Colbert whose unscripted tongues will flop in their mouths like those of parched dogs, for restaurant cashiers and waiters, hotel managers and laundresses, script buyers, grips, electricians, actors, wardrobe mistresses, even for animators whose work along with that of “reality” programs advanced what drove the embattled writers of television drama to this first strike in 19 years. Patric M. Verrone, the leader of the Writers Guild of America (West), was himself an animator. He cleaned the Guild of those in management’s pocket and rejected the producers’ offer of a contract which did not adequately boost the writers’ share of DVD sales and that of any other technology which draws its original powers from the minds of writers. With this “Give me residuals or give me death,” our new Patric[k] is ready to plunge Southern California further down the abyss torn out of its sun-drenched hide by the collapse of the housing market and the incineration of thousands of its expensive acres, some of this begun with almost equal innocence by ten year old boys “playing with matches.”

To us writers unbound by fellowship in guilds, perhaps exulting a bit snootily in our independence (especially if, like Wagner’s Walther von Stolzing--a name as suggestive as Oren Ashkenazi’s--we’ve won a prize), it might be in order to remember the words the greatest of the master-singers, Hans Sachs addressed to the exulting Walther:

Don’t scorn the Masters. Honor their art. Not to your ancestors, your coat-of-arms, your spear or sword but to the fact that you’re a poet acknowledged by these Masters is the source of your happiness. Our Masters cared for the art in their own way, cherished it as they thought best and kept it genuine. If it didn’t stay as aristocratic as of old, when courts and princes blessed it, in the stress of evil years, it remained German [cinematic] and true, and if it flourished nowhere but where all is stress and strain, you see how honorable it stayed. What more do you want from the Masters? Watch out! Evil tricks threaten us. If the German people [American film comedy and drama] should one day decay under false, foreign rule, soon no prince will understand his people and foreign mist with foreign vanity will take root in German land and none will know what German is and was.

Of course, even this laborious version of Hans Sachs’ warning sounds marvelous within Wagner’s gorgeous music. May some equivalent of that float over the Hollywood negotiating tables so that a few hundred million Americans can continue to make a stab at understanding at least melodramatic and farcical versions of ourselves and so that Oren Ashkenazi can continue to process his 2000 garments every night.  

--Richard Stern

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