A Writer’s Right

Writers might not be workers, but their strike demands are reasonable.

Stephen Colbert is dead. Not the man, the legend. Suddenly, our favorite right-wing nutjob is just an expensive suit and a raised eyebrow. He perished Nov. 5, along with Jon Stewart, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Craig Ferguson, and the entire cast of Saturday Night Live.

We lost them all on that second day that will live in infamy, when their armies of anonymous writers went on strike. Writers Guild of America (WGA), what have you done?

On the streets of Los Angeles, the picket lines trail into coffee shops. In the high-rises of Manhattan, the lawyers file into boardrooms. And this is no minor squabble: The strike affects over half a million entertainment jobs in Southern California alone. If the writers last as long as they did in 1988—the full 22 weeks of a TV drama season—it could cost the U.S. economy $1 billion.

But the real damage cannot be measured in dollars alone. What could promote interracial understanding better than the diverse casting of Lost? How can we debate healthcare reform without the riveting emergency-room drama of Grey’s Anatomy and Scrubs? Who symbolizes our commitment to national security better than 24’s Jack Bauer? America’s writers are singlehandedly undermining the pop culture of their entire nation.

But their demands are not without reason, even if they lack proletarian appeal. Of course writers deserve a cut of whatever profits are made in streaming video. Of course it’s outrageous that they receive only one third of a cent per dollar of royalties—they’re certainly justified in asking for two thirds of a cent. And I do understand that this is a “matter of survival” for the WGA’s less famous members, whose condition is so similar to my own: untalented, unemployed, and unpaid.

But far more important than the buying power of that 0.667 percent stake is what it represents. Every form of mass media is built upon the written word. Yet that work goes largely unnoticed: Who outside of the business can name ten screenwriters? Who can name five?

So, from one underappreciated writer to another: Shout it loud and clear. Don’t ever let Big Media rob you of those hard-earned DVD royalties. Stand up for the inalienable right to “higher minimums for the Internet and other nontraditional media, including Article 14 hyphenates.” Keep clutching those picket signs in your well-manicured hands, and never lose faith in the TV addiction of your fellow countrymen.

At the end of the day, we writers must stand together no matter how different we are, because this is a war between labor and management, between teleprompter and teleprompted. So let’s be grateful that our chosen representatives are, unlike most writers, far too rich and stubborn to give up their strike out of poverty or despair. They have gagged America’s voice—and they have found their own.

Elise Liu ’11, a Crimson editorial comper, lives in Canaday Hall.