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  • Writer's pictureThe Noteworthy Conversation

For exactly three months now, we've heard powerful stories from the picket lines on both coasts of a union strike that has been in effect since May 2, 2023. At first, the strikers consisted of about 20,000 screenwriters of the Writers Guild of America (WGA). They have since been joined by approximately 160,000 actors of the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). The pencils are down and the cameras have stopped rolling, but what is everyone striking for? Only the very future of the entertainment industry and intellectual property itself.


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The Strike is On


Visual artists were arguably the first to sound the alarm bells that artificial intelligence (AI) would be coming for all the creative mediums, someway, somehow. They saw how their artistic styles were being utilized through AI to manipulate imagery that could then be sold for a profit by someone who really had no hand in creating it. Now, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents some of the biggest and wealthiest entertainment corporations in the world, including Amazon, Apple, Disney, NBCUniversal, Netflix, Paramount, Sony and Warner Bros Discovery, are attempting to cut corners in the creative process in much the same way. A large portion of this strike revolves around the studios’ determination to use AI in place of real writers and actors. One could see why those real writers and actors, those whose writing styles and physical forms would need to be “borrowed,” would take issue with this course of action when they don't see the payout.


On the subject of payout, residual payments are another major sticking point with this strike. For decades, the cable model allowed writers and actors to make a living wage based on the popularity of their shows and films, depending largely on reruns. The streaming model, however, has interrupted earnings. No matter how many times something is viewed on a streaming platform, even if it's in the billions, the people who created it don't financially benefit. With most every other product on the market, money is earned based on consumers choosing that product, with popular products obviously earning top-dollar. Here, the creatives responsible for the product in the first place are cut out of the profits almost entirely after the initial sale, and that's usually after years of unpaid development work.


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The Future is Here


Churning out content that prioritizes quantity over quality may be in the nature of a billionaire studio executive, but it is not the nature of a creative. Art takes craft, especially when the expectation is that other people will give their time and money to experience it. To subject audiences to subpar material for the sake of saving a few bucks is insulting, especially when it's well known that these studios have the money to pay the real artists what they deserve, as evidenced by the salaries, bonuses, and stock options the higher ups are touting.


What industries are next? These strikers are leading the path forward that one day, in the not too distant future, many other professionals will have to walk themselves, fighting for the right to their own intellectual property and their livelihoods in an ever-changing output machine, industry by industry. Precedents must be set now, otherwise we can bid farewell to professional crafts of almost any kind.


Noteworthy Communications is firm in our stance on the importance of storytelling. It's right there in our mission statement. Original thought, and the means to communicate those thoughts effectively and meaningfully, is a skill that must be honed over time. Not everyone is a storyteller and not everyone needs to be. After all, that's why we offer our services. Even still, respect for the skill and the creativity is something we should all be able to offer graciously.


For those who scoff at the workers' strike, who wrongly assume that if someone works in the entertainment industry, they must automatically be among the wealthy elite, and as such, a strike is merely evidence of their petulance, we suggest they refrain from absorbing any of their favorite content moving forward. This would of course include films, television shows, music, podcasts, stand-up comedy, novels, plays, short stories, poems, or comic books. After all, someone had to create those stories. Someone had to feel those stories brewing inside of them and then, the really hard part, they had to sit down and bring those stories to life so we could experience them too. That is what is at stake. That is why so many people are standing up and shouting out, because quality storytelling is worth fighting, and paying, for.

  • Writer's pictureThe Noteworthy Conversation

There's been a lot of debate over the past few years about the right way to react when an artist or creator says or does something widely viewed to be problematic. Now, of course, when placed under a microscope, it's doubtful that any person on this earth could be deemed one hundred percent unproblematic, but human fallibility is not the question here. The question is, where does that leave the art that person has created?


Sometimes, the reaction to finding out certain things about an artist is visceral. It can't be helped. The art can no longer mean what it once did to the consumer. It's tainted. Other times, the reaction is more conflicted, more nuanced, less black and white. This is where there's room for creative solutions and, if we're open to it, perhaps even a deeper understanding of the art itself.


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Rewriting History


When it comes to tampering with existing material so as to gloss over its problematic aspects, most consumers won't have it. For instance, the Roald Dahl Story Company, and the publisher Puffin Books, enlisted sensitivity readers to evaluate Dahl's work. This is a common enough practice for new works in publishing today, but this team made the choice to rewrite entire sections of some of Dahl's classic works to remove potentially offensive language regarding weight, gender, and race. Given the many amendments and sizable portions not written by Dahl, there was a public outcry, especially considering the author is no longer alive to approve of such editorial liberties to his work.


On the other hand, Dr. Seuss Enterprises decided to no longer publish or license six of his works due to racist depictions. Rather than attempting to rewrite well-known books, the company decided to pull them entirely, and instead focus on the remaining, and still vast, catalog of work by the author. Largely, this move was applauded for its acknowledgment of both the issues with the original content, and the idea that standards can evolve, and it's reasonable to say something no longer aligns with those standards.


Another perfectly valid solution to address evolving standards is to include a preface note providing historical context. We saw this approach from The Walt Disney Company, when they included a message at the beginning of some of their older films as they made their way to streaming on Disney+. HBO Max also utilizes a disclaimer on the streaming site that appears prior to the start of Gone with the Wind. The fact of the matter is, there are blatant examples of racist stereotypes in some of these works of art that, although might have been widely accepted or flown under the radar at the time of their initial publication, are wildly offensive and damaging today. Historical context is key, and allows audiences to continue to experience the work while simultaneously acknowledging the potentially harmful impact of the content.


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When Fandom Isn't Enough


Our interests grow and change over time. A book series, television show, film franchise, or music catalog we were once deeply obsessed with might not hold our interest so much these days. We've outgrown it, thankful for the joy it once brought, and now ready for a different entertainment obsession to dive in to. Realizing you are no longer aligned with a once-favorite artist and the opinions they share can be as simple as acknowledging that you've outgrown them and you're choosing to move on.


With moving on comes the power of the pocketbook. When we stop spending our hard-earned money on products aligned with people and opinions we can't in good conscience support, we send a message about what we are and are not willing to tolerate. Maybe the artist will feel the impact, and maybe they won't, but we'll know, and we can take some kind of satisfaction in that.


At Noteworthy Communications, we know that broad generalizations make for poor communication. We're not claiming to hold the key to the correct, unimpeachable way to react when an artist or creator crosses a line that we cannot overlook, justify, or forgive. There is no right way. Every instance is unique and brings up different issues that deserve their own conversation. This chapter is merely offering a small fragment of a much larger conversation.


The entanglements between an artist and the work they produce are natural. We cannot have one without the other. However, context is everything and, as with many things in life, what we are willing to endure as a consumer falls on a spectrum. While there is no right response, we can at least take comfort in the fact that we can decide the right response for ourselves, and that there is always new art and entertainment to enjoy.

There are many ways to celebrate Women's History Month, but at Noteworthy Communications, it should be no shocker that our method of honoring this month is through the study of words and its impact on storytelling. Language does tell a story, after all, and when that language is feminized to the point of creating an entirely new lexicon, we have to wonder what story is being told and why.


What is feminized language? Well, for the purpose of this conversation, feminized language is any neologism that turns a previously gender-neutral term into a female-centered term. For example, maybe March isn't Women's History Month after all, but instead Women's Herstory Month. This is a prime example of the feminization of language we'll be conversing about here.


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The Language and the Linguistics of it All


Language and linguistics, although sometimes used interchangeably, are actually very different. Language is how we communicate information to each other, while linguistics is the study of language, including its evolution over time. Language does change over time, as we well know. We see this in generational slang and the creation of new words as new products, technology, experiences, and understanding demand.


We have proven that when the right word does not exist, we make them up. The feminization of language is what happens when the right word does already exist, but assumptions around the word default to the masculine. The conversation recently has mostly centered around finding gender-neutral terms for the sake of inclusion. What we are discussing is intentionally the opposite.


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Girl Power, or Something Like It


Girlboss. Boss Babe. Boss Lady. Lady Boss. She-E-O. Momtrepreneur. Fempire. EmpowHer. Herstory.


We don't want to take anything away from someone who feels confident and empowered by calling themselves a girlboss, boss babe, or a SHE-E-O, a woman who is building her fempire. If claiming these terms makes a person excited to jump out of bed and get to work, then we say, you go, girl! Even still, it's worth considering why these terms came to be when the gender-neutral terms of boss, chief, and empire were already in circulation. The default assumption for a person in power remains masculine, but creating a new lexicon that inserts the feminine in catchy ways won't do anything to change that.


What is it about these feminized terms that so many embrace, while others find degrading? Is it all just about branding? Men deal with these assumptions in language, too. At what point does a bag become a manbag, after all, and can every man pull off a manbun? Is it because accessories and long hair have traditionally feminine undertones that we have to qualify that no, no, no, this particular bag or head of hair actually belongs to a man? Whereas, the gender-neutral words of "bag" and "bun" are automatically understood to belong to women.


At the end of the day, and at the end of Women's History Month, we can remember that all language is just made up by people to serve whatever purpose we need it to. Sometimes, these new words are just trends, quick to leave our vocabulary as quickly as they arrived. Others are in it for the long haul, and very much worth our understanding.

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