Kirsten Andersen
kirsten@politicalusa.com

 

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WHINING IN AMERICA, PART II

Solidarity and Hypocrisy -- Extortion, Hollywood Style

             The red carpet at the nighttime Emmy Awards has always been a tried and true testing ground of what is fashionable for the fall season.  This year was no exception, with beautiful starlets showing off pregnant bellies (very in), shiny gold everything, and huge hoop earrings.  However, the hottest accessory of the night was not by Prada or Gucci--it was a simple yellow ribbon pinned to the lapels and spaghetti straps of almost every actor and actress in the Shrine Auditorium.

            Yes, folks, the ubiquitous red ribbon of AIDS has finally been replaced by a ribbon for a cause much nearer and dearer to the hearts of television celebrities: Money.  It seems the stars’ less fortunate brothers and sisters in the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Association of Film, Television, and Radio Actors (AFTRA) are not making the big bucks they had hoped for when they left their dusty hometowns to chase fame in the City of Angels.  In a collective tizzy, commercial actors (the bottom of the Hollywood food chain) have gone on strike, demanding more money for their services.

            SAG and AFTRA are demanding a ‘pay for play’ system wherein actors will be paid residuals each time their commercial is aired on any television channel, network or cable.  They also want residuals for ads that are featured on the internet.  Currently, commercial actors receive residuals only for ads that appear on network television.  For cable ads, they are paid a flat rate.  The flat rate of pay for cable spots is actually higher than the minimum required amount for network residuals.

            Considering the higher guaranteed pay with the flat rate, one would think that the actors’ unions would be fighting for a flat rate all around.  Instead, it is the advertising companies who are on that side of the battle.  Advertising companies have argued that because of the huge increase in the number of cable and network television channels, the current pay system is obsolete.  Advertisers must run ads on more channels to reach the same number of viewers as they used to be able to reach with only two or three networks.  They have proposed going to a flat rate for every type of commercial. They have also agreed to raise rates 7% over three years, which means that many actors could make $5000 for a day’s work.

            The only problem with the advertisers’ offer is that the actors’ unions know they can do better.  In case no one has noticed, unions stopped caring long ago whether they should demand the things they do.  They simply figure out what they think they can get, and whine and sing protest songs and refuse to work until they get it.  They wear colored ribbons and scream about human rights and starve themselves for causes that are nothing like what the union creators of the 40s and 50s ever would have supported.

            Why should actors accept a pretty good offer from advertising firms when they have all of Hollywood (and therefore America) as their captive audience?  Why accept a generous flat rate for their work when they can skip work altogether (with government protection), and end up with an even better contract that gives them residuals for every type of media?  Never mind that the ads aired on myriad types of media are reaching the same number of people--and therefore making no more money--as when there was only one kind of advertising medium.

            Today’s unions are shortsighted and selfish.  They do not seem to realize that biting the hands that feed them can only be to their own eventual detriment.  In industries across the board, unions have proven that ‘solidarity’ is synonymous with ‘greed’.  From auto workers in Detroit making $40 an hour to baby sit machines, to spoiled cast members of popular sitcoms making $1,000,000—one million dollars--per half hour episode to read lines and look pretty for the cameras, solidarity has become a mockery.

            Hypocrisy also reigns in Hollywood.  The same actors who wore their yellow ribbons and whined about the poor commercial actors are making huge money not only in television, but also in movies.  Movie budgets are set before casting is even begun, and if a top star demands $20 million, then everyone else from the set guys to the supporting stars have to split what’s left over.  How is that for solidarity?

Next Week:  Part three of ‘Whining in America’—On Color and Quotas

© Kirsten Andersen, 2000

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