Monday, November 26, 2007

Wait, Shouldn't I Be On Strike?

I wonder if businessmen ever notice that the more they talk, the more desperate they sound? It's like the pleading wails of the dinosaurs in their death throes. Just as capitalism best serves the driven, democracy gives power to the people who demand it. Thus being greedy in a capitalistic society can elevate one to an unprecedented level of success, but being too greedy can backfire in horribly unexpected ways. Eventually the people will demand the power be disseminated, especially if they feel it is being wielded unfairly. It is then, at this point, that the whole system begins to break down and the rich corporate executives start desperately clutching whatever straws they can to take in the tiniest bit more money before the inevitable collapse of their significance, even if it costs them their very dignity in the process.

I think the Napster debate was one of the first high-profile instances of this phenomenon. Technology finally caught up with and eventually overlapped the current business model, and instead of adapting to the new technological frontier, the industry railed against it with all the power of a man holding out his open hand to stop an oncoming locomotive. Desperate, they relied on the one thing they know is always in their favor, the law that was not written with future technological developments in mind, and furthermore, was written by politicians who'd sprung out of the same generation as the businessmen and whose best financial interests it is in to prioritize big business over the common man. The people contended that the music industry had for a long time been unjustly inflating prices while passing off mediocre efforts specifically designed to pander to the lowest common denominator. The industry officials denied both these accusations and still do after it has actually been
proven accurate on both counts.

Another prime example of this is the oil industry whose leaders are panicking at the threshold of peak oil and the oblivion of their usefulness that comes after. They spent years convincing us that somewhere between oil becoming scarce, terror networks controlling most of the reserves, and natural disasters, oil was becoming more expensive for them to buy and thus they had to raise the price of gas from just over a dollar per gallon in 1998 to over three dollars a gallon by 2005, but then they reported combined profits of $90 billion in fiscal year 2005 and 2006, each. This may be very good, but it's too much too soon. Remember, any business that does not continue to exceed previous earnings is considered a failure, so I wouldn't expect gas prices to go down anytime soon. Meanwhile, even in the face of peak oil, companies are refusing to explore technology that would eliminate our dependence on oil unless the technology can be worked into the existing business model. Dinosaurs grasping at straw.

So now the MPAA is showing just how greedy they can be by refusing to pay writers for the copyrighted material they produce that is sold in new mediums such as DVD and the Internet. I think that, much like with the RIAA and peer-to-peer file sharing, the MPAA can sense its inevitable expendability with bittorrent sharing. Whenever the power to create and share output is put to the people, it tends to make the former delegates of that output fairly obsolete. Not only is the MPAA suing both individual users and websites like YouTube, the latter for over one hundred billion dollars, but they're also trying to maintain profits by not adequately compensating the very people who produce the output for which they're suing.

The MPAA has backed themselves into an awkward corner by telling writers that the profit they make from DVD and Internet sales is negligible at best, but then suing hosting sites like YouTube for lost profits of over a billion dollars. It's like watching a pathologically lying sociopath who can't keep their lies straight anymore. Probably the most absurd thing is that television producers believe that they can still save their profit margin by doing the same thing that the recording industry has been doing, namely providing mediocre content to what they perceive as simpletons. The television producers actually thought that they could just compensate for the lack of scripted shows by offering reality programming, despite the fact that scripted shows are still proven to bring in the highest revenue with the longest sustainability, and reality shows are best left for mid-season time slot replacements. Using reality programming as the staple of your network is irresponsible at best.

I think the writers should have gone on strike much sooner than they did, in time for there not to be any new programming during the November Sweeps, the most important Sweeps of the year. Then the industry could really see how important both writers and the shows they script actually are to programming. As it stands, enough episodes of most scripted shows were filmed and completed in time to be delivered to the networks for the November Sweeps, but there isn't much hope for after. The industry actually had the audacity to think they could hold out longer than the writers, and now they're paying for it when, in less than a month, they're already seeing profits slump and a bleak outlook for the next year. The outlook is even more bleak for movie producers who are already running out of shooting drafts of scripts. What are they left to offer to pacify the public? I don't think Survivor: The Movie will go over very well.

The writers aren't asking for much either. Mere pennies for DVD sales and Internet downloads of the material they scripted. The only thing holding the executives back is their desperation to make as much money as they can before the whole business model implodes on them. The easiest way to achieve this goal is to not share with anyone, no matter how deserving they may be. What they have to remember is that they may be very talented in running a successful business, but without the writers to put words in the mouths of the actors, that successful business won't exist. In the entertainment industry, writers are some of the hardest working individuals for the meager compensation they're given, and they're some of the most important for the amount of respect they get. The current strike is showing us this with even more startling clarity than ever before, and I think it should have come much sooner.

I feel like I, personally, am not doing enough to support my fellow writers, though. I could take a break from writing during the strike, but I don't actually get paid for any of this anyway, so the gesture wouldn't be as grand as it would be otherwise. Instead, I am going to vow not to accept payment for my writing until the strike is over. I don't think that should be anywhere near a problem.


np: Genesis - "Living Forever"

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