The decision by the Writers Guild of America to go on strike this week, bringing production of scripted media content in the U.S. to a halt, triggered a couple of different reactions in me.
1. Thank god for the strike. I say this not because I believe in the essential rightness of unionized labor (though I do), or because I believe writers deserve far more monetary benefits from their work than they are currently getting (though I also do). No, I’m grateful for the strike because there is just too much new content out there, and with the scribes picketing, we now have a chance to recover — to catch up. The launch of the fall TV season has been stressful for me because I’m sharply aware of how many shows are vying for my attention; the good ones (Heroes, House, 30 Rock) demand a weekly commitment, but even the bad or unproven ones (Journeyman, Bionic Woman, Pushing Daisies) deserve at least a glance. And while being a media scholar has its benefits, the downside is that it casts a “work aura” over every leisure activity; it’s nearly impossible to just watch anything anymore, without some portion of my brain working busily away on ideas for essays, blog entries, or material to use in the classroom. Hooray for the stoppage, then: it means more time to catch up on the “old” content spooled up and patiently waiting on DVD, hard drive, and videotape, and more mental energy to spare on each. To live in a time of media plenitude and infinite access is great in its way. But having so much, all the time, also risks reducing the act of engaging with it to dreary automaticity — a forced march.
2. It’s fascinating to watch the differential impact of the script drought diffusing through the media ecosystem. First to go dead are the daily installments of comedy predicated on quick response to current events: nightly talk shows, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Next to fold will be the half-hour sitcoms and hourly dramas currently in production. Some series, like 24, may not get their seasons off the ground at all. And somewhere far down the line, if the strike continues long enough, even the mighty buffers of Hollywood will go dry. Seeing the various media zones blink out one at a time is like watching the spread of a radioactive trace throughout the body’s organs, reminding us not only of the organic, massively systematic and interconnectedly flowing nature of the mediascape, but of the way in which our media renew themselves at different rates, deriving their particular relevance and role in our lives by degree of “greenness” on the one hand, polish on the other.