There’s only a thin, inky line between society and barbarism, and that line is held by writers. Perhaps in light of the strike and buoyed by the success of the Coen Bros adaptation of No Country for Old Men, John Freeman makes the claim that we are what keeps the lights running.
Sure, the old saw is writers don’t have the power in Hollywood – and they don’t – but where would the pictures be without them? Now we know. More than two dozen shows have had to stop production in the US, from 24 to The Office, since the strike began on November 5 over writers’ demands for a higher proportion of DVD revenue, among other things. All of our night-time talk shows have ceased. If it continues into next month the strike is going to cost the Los Angeles economy $21m a day. That’s a lot of lattes.
Some of this is down to contract dispute, and some has to do with new media, but a lot of it seems to be part of an increasing desire of our entertainment industry to deny its writerly roots. We listen to songs on the radio, but without songwriters they’d be pretty boring; we watch news on the television, but without writers it grinds to a standstill. No matter how many ways the world of the image tries to supersede the word, words and language continually reassert their primacy. One of the most obvious examples of this is in American print publications: as newspapers hollow out their coverage of just about everything, magazines like The New Yorker and The Nation have picked up more and more subscribers because they honour good writing.