Have You Met the Enemy?

Are you worried about the Writer’s strike? Not me, buddy… I’ve got my mailbox.

You know, that dumpy 40 year-old black metal box at the end of the driveway? Mailbox? The thing into which my Federally-sanctioned mail carrier typically inserts the mail I love (paychecks, magazines and the occasionally mis-delivered Frederick’s of Hollywood catalog) and mail I do not love (bills, bills and bills). But lately, our mail carrier (let’s use a little creative license here and call her “Betsy”)…. Betsy has started bringing me the most unusual mail for the past week or so and I must confess that I’ve become quite hooked.

Of course, for you folks who don’t enjoy episodic serials like “LOST“, and may think that J.J. Abrams is a local DDS, this may be a concept that’s lost upon you… but here’s the premise:

As best I can tell, it’s a soap-opera told in installments, one letter at a time… and by letter, I mean a paper thingy in an envelope.

Confused? Don’t worry, I was too, though I have to say that the first few letters I got made sense. They were simple, straightforward solicitations for my support in helping their writers in winning various offices in a local film union to which I belong.

This was keen, this was novel… it was very Seventh Grade Civics Class.. very Dobie Gillis… very “square”… very ME.

I felt like putting on my good suit, my good hat and driving ’round to the local polling station to pull a lever and cast my vote for all of these erstwhile guardians of the democratic ideal. I knew at that moment that we were all good American citizens, and pride was erupting all over me, like boils of freedom on Uncle Sam’s pimply buttocks.

And then I received the next installment in the series…. dum, dum, DUMMMM (insert scary music here)

Oh, but this letter was different… it held a TWIST!!
This letter was the unexpected character in the soap opera…. it was: the “Mysterious Letter Which Casts Suspicion”!!!1 (even more dramatic music here)

And the best part?? The sender was ANONYMOUS!!
I knew it would be asking a lot but I secretly hoped that they were also someone’s twin brother, suffering from amnesia.

Like Hercule Poirot, this letter gathered us all into its dusty Drawing Room so that it could regale us with “secret”, intimate information about one of the incumbents who was running to keep their elected position. This “Mysterious Letter Which Casts Suspicion” impishly impugned that incumbent’s lifestyle, it implied misdeeds and skeleton-filled, cowboy-hatted closets and sly business dealings (which were admittedly short-putts). This letter was wickedly funny, brattily brash and oozed with so much 7th Grade Dramaâ„¢ I felt sure that it might explode like one big zit right in front of my face, which is why I held it at arm’s length, howling with laughter and glee at its impropriety, while simultaneously beginning to wonder at its mean-spirited wit…. I mean, if your opponent has this many flaws why wouldn’t you just run a straight by-the-facts campaign instead of running a guerilla-action, junior high school newsletter expose?

I mean, you guys had me at “I’m running for office” and “I’m an agent of change”…. why all the extra effort? And by “extra” I mean “batshit crazy”. Do you realize that you had my vote simply by running? I was all Zellweger for you, but now…

Now I was in serious drama overload by the time I got to the end of the “Mysterious Letter Which Casts Suspicion”…. I mean, by the time this Postal Poirot got around to telling us that the incumbent had singlehandedly wrecked the North American film industry (with a lead pipe, in the library, along with that bastard Colonel Mustard) I fully expected the author to jump out from behind a bush and yell “Ta Da!!!”

Come on people, buy a stinking Clue!
“Gotcha!” politics is the realm of the 11 year old girl who didn’t get picked for the lead in the school play. It’s offputting and tells me that you’re more obsessed with bringing down someone than taking care of me.

But still, Politics is Politics, right?
It ain’t fun until the mud starts flying and by now I was addicted to the game.

Then there were a few days of respite.

The letters had stopped. I was back to leering at New-Age-For-Slutty-Girls catalogs for “The Pyramid Collection” and quite happy with my lot in life. Minxy girls with golden ringlets wearing great cloaks, thigh-highs and faery bikinis suits me just fine. I figured that the Producers of this letter series had finally wrung out the last of their Melvillian, Ahabian angst… you know, “from Hell’s heart” and all that “stabbing at thee” business? I guessed that they’d shown the Mobyness of their dicks and had gone away to leave me alone.

But of course that wasn’t the case at all.
Oh nooo… I had mistaken their quiet industry for clearer-thinking minds…. and soon enough I felt a right fool. As it turns out, these campaigners had been spending a few days learning to skip the snail mail route and go straight for my email inbox… straight for my digital juggler vein.

KHAAAAAAAAAANNN!!!!!!!!!

Yeah, so now the emails are flying…

But they’re not just emails from union members seeking office… these unsolicited emails I’m getting now are from outside forces who apparently believe that they have a vested interest in the outcome of our tiny little union’s impact on our state’s film industry.

For instance, just a few hours ago I received an email from a legislator who (I was informed by a local producer) was legislatively blocked from trying to engineer a sweetheart deal with a “studio” built way out in the piney woods (think: butler buildings in the middle of nowhere). I personally have great affection for this particularly remote shooting location but was incensed (as only soap operas stories can make you) to learn that this same legislator was they guy who was foiled from creating some sort of boondogglish plan to swindle the state out of several million dollars in exchange for re-badging that failed studio as some sort of film school thingy. Wasn’t this the same guy who tried to engineer this deal in the midst of our industry’s desperate struggle to enact serious tax incentives at the statewide level?

Why was someone with such lofty political aspirations and sneaky political machinations so interested in replacing our dirty little incumbent? What was the angle this time around? Oh my wonderful little soap opera was a writhing nest of vipers by now… each of them dirty, secret-laden and seething with passion… this was better than anything on HBO!!

A serious aside: why do all of these outside forces have such a keen interest in the staffing of our tiny little union at this point in time? Did our union chase away all the work? Did this one incumbent make an industry leave all by himself?? Oh I know all too well that he has personal agendas and can may not pursue the more subtle paths in his business dealings and that he’s not always looking out for my interests… but at least we’ve got a handle on him. The unspoken (and spoken) accusation from these outside forces is what captures my attention. They say: “This guy is killing our business. Your union is the reason that there’s no work here now. We demand change. We’ll engineer change for you if you can’t do it for yourselves.”

I mean, when people approach you in that manner it gets your attention.

And you know what?

Maybe this guy is bad for our image.
Maybe the union is killing the business.

Look at what’s happened in the airline industry, the auto manufacturing industry… even the local electrical union is running radio ads to make the union less oppresive and more business-friendly. Unions are losing their power all over the place and are increasingly seen as obstacles by people within and without. There are certainly enough of us who belong to this film union who only joined in order to play in the big league and to ensure fair work conditions. It wasn’t because of any misplaced Marxist solidarity issues… I mean, do you remember being “right there” behind the steel workers when they were shuttering the plants in the northeast? What? You weren’t there for them? Yeah, me neither I was pretty young.

How about IT outsourcing movement then? That’s pretty recent. Surely you stood up when it counted, to help IT professionals keep their jobs here in the States? Wha??… you didn’t help those guys? Me either. We’re so bad.

Hey… are you just in this for yourself or what??

Truth be told, like you, I didn’t lift a finger to protest the movement of customer service centers to strange nations halfway around the globe where they speak in hoots, clicks and whistles and as a result I constantly find myself in two hour telephone conversations, struggling to understand lyrically-accented people, like “Janet” who seems suspiciously unable to pronounce my last name without turning it into a large jungle bird primarily associated with the sale of a popular, sugar-packed North American breakfast cereal, when all I’m trying to do is order a part for my damned dishwasher.

When Megacorp can hire skilled computer systems engineers in Bangalore for five dollars an hour why do you continue to believe that Hollywood producers won’t be able to find skilled dolly grips in Sri Lanka? Are you stupid?? Heck, do the producers even care if they’re even skilled? Not really, they’ll learn… after all, you did.

So you see, this whole “runaway production” issue is a sign of systemic change… it’s happening everywhere. Any other conversation is smoke and mirrors and wasted time. If you want to change the union from the inside out… if you want to engineer a takeover that brings real, measurable change to the lives of the people in that union you cannot do it from a position of “Gotcha!” and then open up the union’s dirty laundry to everyone on the outside.

Now we see our tiny local, part of an international film union, embroiled in a contentious race for elected positions while accusations darken our skies in Thermopylaen fashion and outside players and powers insert themselves into the drama unbidden. The outcome of this election is yet to be determined, but there’s certain to be one lasting artifact from this race: rancor and distrust.

I now distrust the people who are running for office as much as I’ve distrusted the people who already occupy it.

Congratulations guys. You have met the enemy, and it was you.

.

4 thoughts on “Have You Met the Enemy?”

  1. Thanks Drew,
    Funny thing about the truth, It is always a good read.
    I am always amazed at how people who do not deal with producers everyday are convinced that our labor leaders are any more important to them the guy who changes their oil. As long as you got a good price on the car and the warranty is in place it really does not matter how skilled the oil change is.
    Dan C.

  2. I don’t believe I am the enemy, Drew. I was asked to run, thought seriously about it and wrote a campaign letter, mirroring many concerns that members seem to have. I did not solicit anyone to write a “cartoonish” letter. I did not solicit Wilbur Fitzgerald’s email to the members. Friday, I was having a yard sale in my front lawn, (minding my own business)when I got a call from Senator Seabaugh. He had heard I was running for the BA office and wanted to know more about me. By Monday he asked for a members email lists to endorse me. I let the members know that I supplied the list to him. I cannot change all the history that has happened between our office and other org/committees and Legislators. So if I win the office, I have inherited a fine mess. I just want to take care of the members, get a functioning office and mend any misunderstanding that have developed with our union and others.
    After Katrina, I called the E Board members and implored them to do “something” for our fellow brothers and sister in New Orleans. Booby V. was the only one that got as passionate as me about doing something for these fellow union members. I suggested that we get in touch with the Int’l and make any transistions easier, if N.O. members needed to temporarily relocate if they lost their home. Or offer our homes if anyone had extra space or run a truck down there with supplies to just people who need it. Mike didn’t care and I finally got Lance to get the ball rolling. Thank you, Lance. Unfortunatley, they took the credit for it in their newsletter to the members.
    Running for Trustte is one thing but sticking my neck out and running as the next business agent is another and of course, a thankless one. Alba

  3. It is indeed a thankless task (and thanks for posting Alba). As I mention above, I admire all of you brave souls daring enough to reach for the reins. And to be clear, the “enemy” referred to in the title of this post is the quote made famous by cartoonist Walt Kelley’s character “Pogo” as a sly attack on McCarthyism… the quote is damnably descriptive of all things human: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

    I’m disappointed and (more to the point) annoyed by this entire business and feel it’s probably best to retire the names and personalities from the public face of this website.

    You guys have an opportunity to talk about it at Trader Vic’s on Thursday night. One of my standard rum-tinged political do’s.

  4. I also was taken aback at the recent emails I was recieving. Many of them went from listing missteps by an elected official to coming very close to impugning the character of a man I have known for almost 20 years. I was not amused. Although Mike has not always done exactly the right thing and has made mistakes, I have been close enough to him to know that he has always acted with the Locals’ best interests in mind, many times under the criticism of its own members (“organize commercials? Why that will drive the work away! Mike is a loose cannon!”)Seabaugh getting involved in an internal election is both innapropriate and (at least to me) unwelcome. Like it or not, Mike has done some good things for this local in the past. Apparantly that’s a thankless task.

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