• Hollywood Writers Hate Democracy

    by  • August 7, 2013 • Broadcast Decency, Sex, Violence • 10 Comments

    Recently, the Writers Guild of America (West) filed their “reply comments” on the Federal Communications Commission’s proposed change in enforcement of laws against broadcast decency. In their comments, the Guild launched a vitriolic attack on broadcast decency, the PTC – and the American people.

    In a move that would be hilarious if it weren’t pathetic, the Writer’s Guild spent almost the entirely of their comment not on the issue of decency enforcement, but on attacking the Parents Television Council by name. In their comments, the Guild unwittingly revealed a deep-seated hatred and contempt for the beliefs of American people, and for the democratic process.

    In its comments, the Writer’s Guild claims that “community standards are inherently unreliable in an age of coordinated e-activism, where organizations with an agenda, such as Parents Television Council, can send out an e-blast resulting in several thousand of its base submitting an electronic complaint…[These actions are] professional mobilizations of a membership already sympathetic to the issue; they are not an authentic measure of audience reaction or an accurate expression of community standards.”

    So: when the Sierra Club, the National Association of Teachers, the NAACP, or GLAAD  – which most people would agree are “organizations with an agenda” – urge their members to file electronic complaints with the government about the actions of private industry (“professional mobilizations of a membership already sympathetic to the issue”), are those actions also “inherently unreliable” and “not an accurate expression of community standards?” We suspect the Writers Guild of America (a labor union for writers) would say not. But when its average Americans criticizing the vastly powerful, billion-dollar entertainment conglomerates of Hollywood — well, somehow that’s different.

    The Guild complains that “community standards” are “vague” and “ripe for abuse” by a “vocal minority,” and that American citizens who exercise their First Amendment right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances” by filing indecency complaints with the FCC are exercising a “heckler’s veto” over the entertainment industry’s freedom of speech.

    This is hogwash. Community standards are not “vague.” To anyone other than a jaded, sex-obsessed Hollywood writer, they are clear as a bell: don’t use the f- or s-word, or other profanity. Don’t show nudity. Don’t show graphic, gory violence. And, in a universe filled with potential sources for humor, try telling a joke about something other than sex once in a while…at least when millions of children are watching.

    And as far as the “vocal minority” with the “heckler’s veto,” Hollywood writers (along with network executives and other entertainment industry employees) need to remember: Hollywood does not own the broadcast airwaves. The airwaves are a public utility, owned by the American people. Apparently, Hollywood’s writers hate the thought that average American citizens actually have a say in how the airwaves they themselves own are used.

    The Guild then goes on to claim that the FCC enforcing the law against indecency violates “constitutional equal protection norms,” as quoted in United States v. Windsor (“The Constitution’s guarantee of equality must at the very least mean that a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot justify disparate treatment of that group”).

    By some insane contortion of intellect, the rich, pampered, Beverly Hills-dwelling writers of Hollywood believe themselves to be a “politically unpopular group,” being subject to “disparate treatment” – when all they’re being asked to do is obey rules that have been settled law since 1927.

    Rather than simply avoiding nudity, the f-bomb, and non-stop graphic sexual references, the Guild’s preferred solution is “phasing out indecency regulations during primetime.” Translation: “We in Hollywood don’t care how many children we corrupt, how many teenage girls our shows exploit, or how many Americans think we should obey the law. We should be able to do anything we please, any time we please, break any law we please, completely unaccountable to anyone; and you peons at home should have to swallow whatever garbage we pump into your living room, and like it. Because we’re entitled. We’re the Hollywood elite.”

    It’s worth noting that the number of Americans who wrote to the FCC demanding indecency enforcement is far greater than the number of members of the Writer’s Guild West. At the beginning of their reply comments, the Guild claims to represent “more than 8,000 professional writers.” But over 102,000 Americans filed comments demanding decency on their airwaves. In other words, the overwhelming majority of people who have expressed an opinion on the issue favor decency by a margin of almost 13 to 1. When a majority expresses its opinion in this fashion, the majority rules. In America, we call that “democracy.” But obviously, Hollywood’s writers hate it.

    Indeed, in its comments the Guild openly condemns the fact that “the Commission relies on community input in the indecency complaint process,”  whining that the democratic process “can give a vocal minority disproportionate power to target content that they disapprove of.” But who is truly the “vocal minority” here? Isn’t it the tiny number of self-proclaimed “creative artists” and arrogant Hollywood elitists who impose their ultra-violent, sexually exploitative, and profanity-laden “entertainment” on the rest of the country?

    The Guild also trots out its favorite saw about indecency enforcement having a “chilling effect.” Once again, we respond: look at the content currently on the broadcast airwaves – ADHD, American Dad, The Following — and ask: by what bizarre definition is such speech being “chilled”? The prospect of a “creative artist” whimpering that his “creativity” is being “chilled” because the FCC won’t let his characters say “mother***er” in front of four-year-olds is more than a little ridiculous – not to say disgusting. The fact that they can claim that their speech is “chilled” while they are simultaneously flooding the airwaves with filth shows that this group should rename itself the Comedian’s Guild.

    And if these writers really do feel their creativity is stifled and their speech is “chilled,” the question must be asked: why do they choose to write for broadcast TV, which falls under indecency enforcement, when they could be writing for cable, which does not? Why not write original programs on cable? Oh, that’s right: because writing for broadcast TV pays more. A LOT more.

    So the Guild’s argument isn’t really, “you’re chilling our speech.” It’s, “We can’t get as much money for writing filth if it’s shown on cable. We want to be able to write garbage, force it into your home on your airwaves, AND get paid a fortune for it.”

    The Guild also attempts to blame the PTC for the “lack of diversity” currently found on TV: “[With] white characters representing the majority of all broadcast characters, many would argue that broadcast television still has a long way to go in reflecting the diversity of its audience,” says the Guild.

    The claim that the PTC has anything whatsoever to do with this issue is totally disconnected from reality, as well as being the ultimate in hypocrisy. Neither the PTC nor the FCC’s indecency enforcement has any control, influence, or effect over how many people of color appear on TV shows. You know who does? TV WRITERS! If the Writer’s Guild truly believes that TV “has a long way to go in reflecting the diversity of its audience,” maybe its members should write more shows about people of color.

    In its conclusion, the Guild claims that there is “undeniable social value in content some might consider indecent.” Anyone who can tell us what “undeniable social value” Family Guy has (other than as an emetic) deserves some sort of prize in chutzpah. The Guild claims that “using technology and information available today, parents and viewers can make informed decisions about what content they and their families watch”…even though such technology depends on the ratings the networks themselves assign to their own shows. Finally, the Guild makes the outrageous claim that “phasing out indecency regulations in primetime hours on the broadcast networks strikes an appropriate balance between concerns about children’s access to content and free expression.” Obliterating all standards and allowing the networks to show anything they please in front of children is Hollywood’s idea of “striking a balance.”

    We’d hate to see what their idea of being favorable to Hollywood is.

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    About

    Christopher Gildemeister is the PTC’s Head of Research Operations. He began as an Entertainment Analyst at the PTC in 2005. From 2007-2016, he was Senior Writer/Editor, responsible for communicating the PTC’s message to the public through newsletters, columns, and the PTC Watchdog blog. Dr. Gildemeister holds a Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America.

    10 Responses to Hollywood Writers Hate Democracy

    1. William P. Cheshire
      August 9, 2013 at 5:05 am

      Right on! I couldn’t agree more.

      • nina
        March 20, 2014 at 12:52 pm

        Interesting article and feedback. Are there any writers who know what kind of powers-that-be that require conditioning the public? My brother-in-law who has worked in the industry says “there is no drama in abstinence”, but that sounds like the kind of answer that is spoon-fed. It’s pretty obvious there is an agenda when the first 5 minutes of every production parades one-sided politics, every character drives a Prius, and every relationship officially begins with them jumping into bed.

    2. August 9, 2013 at 6:52 am

      REPEATING THIS FOR THE FCC:

      EMPHASIS
      Community standards are not “vague.” To anyone other than a jaded, sex-obsessed Hollywood writer, they are clear as a bell: don’t use the f- or s-word, or other profanity. Don’t show nudity. Don’t show graphic, gory violence. And, in a universe filled with potential sources for humor, try telling a joke about something other than sex
      END OF EMPHASIS

    3. Marc Uhrey
      August 9, 2013 at 8:17 am

      A very thought provoking and eloquent description of Hollywood’s bizarre sense of what is good and what is bad. See Isaiah 5:20.

      • Regulus
        August 12, 2013 at 9:23 pm

        Amen! Hollywood (and this country) are going to hell in a handbasket.

    4. The7Sticks
      August 10, 2013 at 3:06 pm

      I think you are exaggerating how many writers live in the lap of luxury in Beverly Hills. Perhaps the ones who run the top shows like “Mad Men” or “Breaking Bad” or “Modern Family”, but I believe, for the most part, many writers live in modest apartments or homes in less luxurious parts of Los Angeles.
      I would like to recommend that you listen to the “Nerdist Writers Panel” podcast on Nerdist.com so that you can get a better understanding of what it means to be a writer and what kind of hassles we have to take from all quarters of the industry and society. It truly is a thankless job and it seems you need to take a walk in our shoes before you can judge us. Thank you for your time.

      • Christopher Gildemeister
        August 19, 2013 at 12:58 pm

        Your reply reveals nothing so much as the self-centered narcissism condemned in the original article. “Oh, pity me! I’m a sensitive artist, and I’m so put-upon! Look how they criticize me!” Well, if you don’t want to be criticized, try writing something better.

        You’ll pardon me if I can’t muster any tears for the “kind of hassles [writers] have to take from all quarters of the industry and society,” and for whining about writing being “truly a thankless job.” Maybe it is, but writers choose to do it. If they don’t like it, they can choose to do something else. And I honestly doubt that the “thankless” “hassles” undergone by TV show writers are any worse than those encountered by members of the military, or nurses, or teachers, or construction workers, or anyone else. If writers don’t like receiving “hassles” from “all quarters of society,” maybe they should try writing something that society can watch without cringing – something optimistic, intelligent, uplifting, and maybe even family-friendly, instead of a non-stop parade of smutty sex comedies and shows about serial killers.

        And it is the depth of hypocrisy for someone who says that parents who “allow their kids to stay up past 9:00 at night… are either lazy or incompetent at their job, and should really have no business raising kids” to sob that “you need to take a walk in our shoes before you can judge [writers].” Maybe you should try taking a walk in the shoes of a single mother working three jobs to support a family, while the entertainment industry spends millions of dollars bombarding her kids with messages that portray using drugs and having promiscuous sex as careless, consequence-free fun.

        If writers don’t want to be judged, maybe they shouldn’t devote an entire FCC comment to a diatribe judging the Parents Television Council. And maybe they shouldn’t judge every parent in America who just wants a safe media environment for their children.

      • nina
        March 20, 2014 at 12:57 pm

        Actually, my brother-in-law worked with all the studios in Hollywood and several films and has told us stories about how some big-wig writers required flying all over the world, to write a script, all on their dime.

    5. Allyson Montour
      August 19, 2013 at 1:29 am

      This assumes the WGA to be the only opposing voice, here. I’d say the millions of regular viewers of those shows are the majority, not the 102,000 or so PTC sympathizers. In that sense, the latter group are hardly “average Americans”.

      I also fail to see how the quote you cited blames the PTC for whitewashing. Is there more to it you left out? Also, that’s *not* something writers decide. Producers do. Don’t kid yourself, in film and television, writers generally have very little power or creative control; it’s mostly “here, write about this”, then “now rewrite it until the focus group likes it”.

      “Undeniable social value” is easy to laugh at when your cherry-pick examples in which there is none. You tend to cite Fox animation a lot, rather than anything of substance (which is admittedly rare among the networks, most of the socially valuable content is on cable: oddly enough the place with the more relaxed content rules). But allowing the content that substantive shows need to tell their stories well also lifts those restrictions for the mindless drivel. It has to be that way, lest we start legislating “social value”.

      If you want serious consideration of your viewpoint, maybe try dropping the sensationalism and demonization of the WGA and its members. Or do you really believe that all Hollywood writers are rich, live in Beverly Hills, can get whatever work they like, hate democracy, and are determined to corrupt America’s youth because they’re elitists?

      P.S. Why is your four year old awake and watching television at 10pm?

      • Christopher Gildemeister
        August 19, 2013 at 12:44 pm

        Allyson,

        Below, please find my response to your second comment.

        This assumes the WGA to be the only opposing voice, here.

        Since the WGA is the organization which filed the public comment in question, and since this blog post is responding specifically to WGA’s public comment, your sentence is disingenuous.

        But you are correct. The WGA is not the only organization which makes the arguments documented here. Fox, ABC/Disney, Comcast-NBCUniversal, CBS, and Time Warner (half-owner of the CW), also filed public comments demanding the FCC abandon all indecency enforcement. However, in their comments, the corporations at least addressed the issues; the WGA essentially just ranted about the PTC.

        Funny how the union representing all those oh-so-proudly “creative” and “independent” writers lined up with the huge corporations who sign their paychecks, isn’t it?

        I’d say the millions of regular viewers of those shows are the majority, not the 102,000 or so PTC sympathizers. In that sense, the latter group are hardly “average Americans”.

        During presidential elections, voter turnout has consistently hovered at around 50% for the last 40 years. During off-year national elections, barely more than a third of voters turn out. Yet the fact that the winner in an off-year election represents only one-sixth of the electorate, and that there are millions of people who didn’t bother to make their opinions known, does not stop the election’s winner from assuming office. That’s how democracy works.

        And again, there’s the same argument made in the original blog post: are the members of the Sierra Club, the NAACP, or GLAAD “more representative” of the American people as a whole? Maybe not; but if one cares enough to become engaged in the political process, one has a greater chance of affecting the outcome. That’s also how democracy works.

        Furthermore, the fact that millions of people didn’t file a public comment hardly proves they are in favor of more indecency. And given the fact that 102,000 Americans did take the time to navigate an arcane online filing system to file comments; the fact that the number doing so in favor of decency vastly outweighed the number opposing it; and the fact that the overwhelming percentage of those filing comments in favor of decency have no personal stake in the system other than that as members of the viewing public, while all those opposing decency stand to make money from abolishing broadcast standards, clearly demonstrates which voices should be given more credence.

        Like other government bodies, Federal Communications Commission exists to regulate private industry for the public good. Broadcast decency has been considered a cornerstone of “the public interest” since the early days of radio. The government exists to serve the people. And when private citizens asking for decency outweigh corporations and their flunkies by a margin of 13 to 1, it is clear where the government’s duty ought to lie.

        I also fail to see how the quote you cited blames the PTC for whitewashing. Is there more to it you left out? Also, that’s *not* something writers decide. Producers do. Don’t kid yourself, in film and television, writers generally have very little power or creative control; it’s mostly “here, write about this”, then “now rewrite it until the focus group likes it.”

        One would never know from the number of awards writers give each other, and the way the Hollywood trade press rhapsodizes about them, that writers have “very little power or creative control.” It would be difficult to imagine who has more “creative control” than the people who are, y’know, actually writing the dialogue the actors speak. But even if that’s true, the point is that it’s hardly the PTC’s fault that there aren’t enough shows giving a positive view of minorities. If the WGA is unhappy about minority representation in television, why don’t they talk to their producers, instead of blaming an outside group which has nothing to do with the issue?

        “Undeniable social value” is easy to laugh at when your cherry-pick examples in which there is none. You tend to cite Fox animation a lot, rather than anything of substance (which is admittedly rare among the networks, most of the socially valuable content is on cable: oddly enough the place with the more relaxed content rules). But allowing the content that substantive shows need to tell their stories well also lifts those restrictions for the mindless drivel. It has to be that way, lest we start legislating “social value”.

        Yes, when discussing the issue of broadcast decency regulation – which applies to broadcast networks – we do pick examples from broadcast network programs.

        What cable series have “undeniable social value”? American Horror Story? Dexter? Here Comes Honey Boo Boo? Even Breaking Bad, which writers and Hollywood insiders adore, is a program about an average man who deliberately chooses to become a ruthless killer, meth manufacturer, and drug kingpin. Apparently, Hollywood’s writers believe a program only has “social value” if it wallows in darkness and depravity, and makes heroes out of lawbreakers, murderers, and psychotics.

        If you want serious consideration of your viewpoint, maybe try dropping the sensationalism and demonization of the WGA and its members. Or do you really believe that all Hollywood writers are rich, live in Beverly Hills, can get whatever work they like, hate democracy, and are determined to corrupt America’s youth because they’re elitists?

        I will admit to indulging in a degree of hyperbole in the original post – but it’s still less than what the WGA’s public comment contained. No, I don’t imagine that all Hollywood writers are rich. But they all aspire to be; and while you blame producers for actual program content, in order to achieve their dreams of wealth and fame, writers choose to collude in creating products which have negative effects. With the education and talent television’s writers have, presumably they could find other jobs, if what they are doing troubled their consciences. Clearly, it doesn’t.

        As for “hating democracy” and being “elitist”…reread the WGA’s statement. Look at the utter contempt it displays for anyone who doesn’t share the WGA’s narrow, Hollywood-centric attitude, the way they want to impose that worldview on every television viewer, and they way they feel their industry should be above the law — and tell me again that I’m wholly wrong.

        Finally: Allyson, I sincerely thank you for taking the time to comment with such passion, intelligence, and care. While we certainly disagree, it is a genuine pleasure to find someone who makes a thoughtful and principled argument, instead of just spewing profanities as most who disagree with us do.

        Best regards,

        Christopher Gildemeister

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