Like a Sturgeon

The Hollywood writers have been on strike for nearly a week now. It has been a subject of much discussion on this here internet, unsurprisingly. There have been many displays of support, an awful lot of questions, and no shortage of pure stupidity.

This stupidity has run the gamut, from what you normally see during just about any kind of strike (i.e., pure, unadulterated anti-union stupidity (because, you see, unions are useless in this day and age, not to mention being for-all-intents-and-purposes Communism, and apparently the Powers that Be are pretty likely to give their employees a fair shake out of the goodness of their shriveled, blackened hearts, and, "Why, I work in [x modern white-collar industry] and we don't have a union and we don't need one, so obviously no one needs a union!")) to the kind of stupidity that's really more ignorance of the real issues involved in this particular strike than stupidity per se (i.e., "Does a [insert completely unrelated and dissimilar job or profession] get paid extra every time someone buys [product or service produced by completely unrelated and dissimilar industry]?").

The kind of stupidity that really blows my mind, though, is the kind where someone makes jokes like "Hollywood writers are on can anyone tell?" or just purely idiotic comments like, "How can they claim they deserve more money when they produce dreck like [insert name of phenomenally uncreative movie or television show]?"

Here's why that argument bugs me so much: Yeah, there's a lot of crap coming out of Hollywood right now, from terrible TV shows like "Two and a Half Men" and all forty of CBS's iterations of "Science Cops" to wretched movies like Shrek 3 and Transformers. The thing about that, though, is that there has always been a lot of crap coming out of Hollywood, and there always will be a lot of crap coming out of Hollywood. Movies have been shining gems surrounded by manure for as long as there have been movies. Television has been a few bright oases in the midst of Newton Minnow's "vast wasteland" for as long as there has been television. That's just the way it works.

We think of the 1930s and '40s as the Golden Age for American Cinema, and I'm not going to say it wasn't. But when we think of movies from that era, we think of The Bride of Frankenstein, The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Citizen Kane, you know...the stuff that has (so far) stood the test of time, the stuff that people still watch sixty or seventy years later. It's not that Hollywood wasn't producing crap at the time - it's that nobody remembers the crap because nobody's watching it anymore.

There's a similar perception about television. People still fondly remember and still watch "M*A*S*H" all the time. As long as there's television, you'll probably be able to find an episode of "M*A*S*H" airing on some channel somewhere 24/7. Same with "Cheers." But "M*A*S*H" and "Cheers" were surrounded by truly horrendous shows that are remembered now only as, "Wow, that show sucked," and in another twenty years won't be remembered at all. Case in point - as Boomer/Gen-X nostalgia fades over the years, do you really think anyone is going to remember "The Brady Bunch"?

It's called Sturgeon's Law, coined by science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon. He was defending his genre from its reputation as "that 'Buck Rogers' stuff." His defense? "It's true that 90% of science fiction is crap. But then, 90% of everything is crap." To make an analogy, for every one Mozart composing beautiful and timeless music at any given time, there's at least nine Salieris out there composing utter crap.*

90% of everything is crap. Words to live by. Television and movies weren't better in eras gone by. You've got the same 9:1 ratio of crap to non-crap today as you had in the Good Old Days. Always has been, always will be. And it's certainly no reason to deny the people who work hard on churning it out a fair share of the profits that crap earns.

*It is my understanding that, in using Antonio Salieri as his figure of envy and inadequacy in Amadeus, Peter Schaffer created an unfair impression of Salieri and his work for modern audiences. Be that as it may, I think you get my point.