Michael Cieply: Will A Long Writers Strike Sideline Hollywood In The Culture Wars?

One month into the writers strike, there’s little for a bystander to add about the issues, prospects or relative staying power of the opponents. Deadline’s reporters and contributors have done an admirable job on that score.

But having intensively covered two prior such strikes, in 1988 and in 2007, I’ll risk one modest observation about the current conflict: If it continues as at present for another few months, it will begin to shift the cultural balance of power.

In the past, at least in the modern era, Hollywood’s labor wars haven’t had much bearing on the socio-political life of the country as a whole. Whether guild writers plied their craft or sat out for five months, George Herbert Walker Bush was going to bury Michael Dukakis in the presidential election of 1988; that’s how the current was running. Back then, we didn’t give much thought to the Big Picture in covering the jousting between Brian Walton of the Writers Guild of America and J. Nicholas Counter III of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. All issues were local. Even in 2007, a three-month strike didn’t really change the national equation. At the time, Jon Stewart and his protégés were still perfecting a blend of guild-written comedy, commentary and political posturing that would soon color much of talk television.

Indeed, it was only post-Trump, with the election of 2016, that many movies, much series television and most late-night talk became noticeably aligned (with some exceptions, say, Gutfeld! or Real Time with Bill Maher) with a progressive point of view that is as proudly on display in this year’s pro-gun control season finale of Law & Order as in the films or Jay Roach and Adam McKay or the monologues of John Oliver and Jimmy Kimmel.

Contemporary Hollywood is a powerful, vocal, left-leaning cultural and political force. The Oscars and Emmys annually underscore its core beliefs. Jane Fonda, with her recently expressed notions about climate, patriarchy and racism, is more rule than exception.

But most of it requires writers, who, for the moment, aren’t writing.

In the near term, this may not make much difference. With or without writers, Saturday Night Live, at the center of Hollywood’s progressive consensus, would be headed into its seasonal break. Similarly, dramatic series that have sometimes leaned into progressive messaging on guns or race or climate or abortion would normally be on hiatus for a while.

But already the late-night crowd is poised to miss a round in the battles over just-arrived Pride Month, even as their cultural adversaries are mounting social media-driven boycotts against Target, Bud Light, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and other companies or brands they perceive to have gone overboard in supporting a gender agenda. A few more weeks of re-runs, and the writer-deprived talk hosts will have missed any number of Trump moments, much of the early presidential positioning and the next few rounds between DeSantis and Disney.

If the strike pushes into September — still within the 22-week precedent set in 1988 — the new TV series presumably would remain mute as current events pass them by. And some unlucky, unfinished, politically oriented feature films might conceivably miss the awards season, leaving movie warriors in the mold of Robert De Niro, who used the Cannes festival debut of Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon to unload on Trump supporters, without a platform.

Before all of that happens, some of the late-night shows may find a way to come creeping back, as they eventually did in early 2008, either by working without writers or reaching a separate agreement with the Writers Guild.

But absent that, or an overall settlement, Hollywood’s removal from the culture wars will soon begin to tell.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *