May Day: Rebirth Not Distress

by | May 12, 2024 | Newsletter

I find it interesting that May Day which is often known as International Worker’s Day (conservatives in the US created “Labor Day” as a counter protest against May Day’s communist heritage) is linguistically connected (at least in the English language) with the international rescue call.  Workers in our industry are certainly in distress these days. This week multiple people sent me the somewhat new Harper’s magazine article The Life and Death of Hollywood by Daniel Bessner. While focused mainly on scripted studio content, (May Day is the anniversary of the start of the WGA strike last year), Bessner gives a good history of how our industry got to where we are.  He lays out an analysis that it is not just the tech giants causing the crush of economic forces in our industry – but it is actually private equity companies. Private equity companies that are notorious for slashing and burning companies and industries through the global economy.  

“The film and TV industry is now controlled by only four major companies, and it is shot through with incentives to devalue the actual production of film and television. What is to be done? The most direct solution would be government intervention. If it wanted to, a presidential administration could enforce existing antitrust law, break up the conglomerates, and begin to pull entertainment companies loose from asset-management firms. It could regulate the use of financial tools, as deWaard has suggested; it could rein in private equity. The government could also increase competition directly by funding more public film and television. It could establish a universal basic income for artists and writers. None of this is likely to happen. The entertainment and finance industries spend enormous sums lobbying both parties to maintain deregulation and prioritize the private sector.”

My exception to the above quote is this line:  “This is not likely to happen”.   This is not a doom and gloom newsletter – I am super excited with all the initiatives sprouting up to help our industry and creatives.  What else is May Day but also the birth of spring and new beginnings (I’m a big fan of Breugal above).  But we need to be operating on multiple levels simultaneously.   We need to assemble a coalition of shared interest groups/unions/associations to strategize and create regulatory and funding plans to have at the ready when the time is right – even when Ted Cruz is trying to tear down PBS/ITVS/NPR.  I have written before, inspired by Chokepoint Capitalism, that everyone thought Milton Friedman and Robert Bork were crazy nuts for thinking that their plans for a neo-liberal takeover of the world’s economy and governments were feasible.  Yet here we are, living in their hellscape.  As Doctorow and Giblin argue we need to have “plans lying around” to put into effect when opportunity strikes – and to continue a long haul campaign for those policies.  This is similarly argued by Ted Hope in an excellent piece recently:  Build the Road to Our Utopian Culture

Special shout out to Abby Sun who was the first one to awaken my understanding of what might be possible through government action.  Speaking of Abby – she spearheaded an excellent Getting Real this year – the videos of the event are available till May 15th.  Some of my personal highlights were Keri Putnam and Barbara Twist on audience and Kirsten Johnson’s keynote – but I have a lot of catching up to do.