Friday, September 19, 2008

That Ain't Workin'! Money For Nothin'!

Political blogger Steve Benen writes, "I've never fully understood the right's penchant for Hollywood bashing. Americans seem to like the entertainment industry quite a bit, and voters who might be swayed by cheap shots at movie stars are probably already inclined to back Republicans anyway."

He then quotes Senator McCain as saying this at a campaign stop: "Just a little while ago, he flew off to Hollywood with a fundraiser for Barbra Streisand and his celebrity friends," Mr. McCain said of his opponent, Senator Barack Obama, his voice sounding strained at the end of the day but still dripping with scorn. "Let me tell you, my friends: There's no place I would rather be than here with the working men and women of Ohio."

Oh, I know something about this. People have very conflicted feelings about actors and everyone else in "the entertainment industry." There is a persistent notion among those who do not understand the demands that performers aren't really working. Remember this song by Dire Straits? "That ain't workin'...that's the way you do it...get your money for nothin' and your chicks for free...WE got to move these refrigerators..."

If a politician finds it useful to drive a wedge between artists and working-class voters, of course they are going to do it. It is made easier, however, by the old prejudice against actors and entertainers, the old idea that a career in the arts isn't real work.

It is, in fact, a demanding job that requires ongoing training, with few job opportunities compared to the number of competitors, jobs are not always awarded on the basis of merit (*ahem* Paris Hilton *ahem*), there is no job security, work is on a contractual basis, and "the show goes on" even if you are coughing up radioactive glue. As an actor, you are hoofing around on elevated platforms (sometimes raked) passing the flu to each other and speaking so as to be heard by 700 people, and if you're lucky enough to have a full-time contract, you are doing that six days a week, 9 to 13 shows. If you're in the union, you get a decent salary for this, but actors are facing rollbacks in their health coverage and pay just like everyone else.

Indeed, actors in Los Angeles - the majority of them not working, or scraping along with an appearance on House here and an ad for car insurance there, temping or waitering between gigs, maybe landing a play down at South Coast Rep or in another state - have most of the same concerns as those who labor in Ohio.

If they are well-known and live in Malibu, however, they are clearly effete and out of touch with the real world. They are privileged dilettantes unless, of course, they are endorsing a Republican.

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