World … Entertainment?By Drowgoddess · · Leave a Comment
“World … Entertainment?”
I know a thing or two about entertainment. My degree is in theatre. I have spent the last decade teaching theatre arts and speech in public schools. I have directed numerous stage productions, some involving over fifty people, armed with little more than a script and a deadline. I have been paid to act, and even did so in a manner that involved keeping my clothes on. I have trained in and performed Irish step dance. In short, I have a vague idea of what entertainment is, how it works, and what being an entertainer means.
Vince McMahon’s recent edict that all those who work for him be referred to as “entertainers” got me thinking. Not “wrestlers,” not “superstars,” the business is not even “sports entertainment” any longer. WWE is now in the “entertainment” business. I can’t wait to hear how Triple H intends to blame the fans and internet use for ruining the business this time. I don’t personally know if Vince came to this decision out of the desire to avoid government regulation as a sport, the unwillingness to lose so much as a cent of his revenue to lawsuits or taxes, or the deep-seated insecurity that he seems to have had ever since the Connecticut bluebloods rejected him. I don’t claim to know, and I’m not so sure that I really care. It’s a ridiculous, asinine decision that spits in the face of every wrestler who has ever laced up a pair of boots. However, that’s not the point. My opinion makes no difference. No one’s opinion makes any difference. Vince will continue waltzing through life believing that every idea he has is the greatest one ever, and that everyone will pay to see what he tells them that they want to see. Since he is now in the “entertainment” business, there is one major point that he should keep in mind.
Entertainers have unions. Very large, very powerful, and very active unions. Here are a few:
The Screen Actors Guild (SAG, representing over 139,200 film and television principal performers and background performers worldwide)
The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA, represents over 80,000 performers in a wide variety of talent, including actors in radio and television, as well as radio and television announcers and newspersons, singers and recording artists [both royalty artists and background singers], promo and voice-over announcers and other performers in commercials, stunt persons and specialty acts)
The Actors’ Equity Association (AEA, which covers the the world of live theatrical performance, as opposed to film and television performance, roughly 45,000 members)
American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA, which covers performers in variety entertainment, including circuses, Las Vegas showrooms and cabarets, comedy showcases, dance revues, magic shows, theme park shows, arena and auditorium extravaganzas)
Associated Actors and Artistes of America (AAAA, the parent organization of all the other unions listed here)
All of these unions are affiliated with AFL-CIO. Here’s a quote from the SAG website on why the organization was founded:
“Imagine working on a film with unrestricted hours, no enforced turn-around, and no required meal breaks. Imagine working under a seven-year contract that you cannot break and more than likely will be forced to renew, for a producer who can tell you who you can marry, what your morals must be, even what political opinions to hold. This was Hollywood for actors in 1933 under the studio system. Rebel against the studio and you were in for a hard time, better to quit while you’re ahead.”
Wikipedia describes the reasons for SAG’s creation in terms that don’t sound very different from the conditions laid out in WWE contracts.
“According to SAG’s Mission Statement, the Guild seeks to: negotiate and enforce collective bargaining agreements that establish equitable levels of compensation, benefits, and working conditions for its performers; collect compensation for exploitation of recorded performances by its members, and provide protection against unauthorized use of those performances; and preserve and expand work opportunities for its members.
The Guild was founded in 1933 in an effort to eliminate exploitation of actors in Hollywood who were being forced into oppressive multi-year contracts with the major movie studios that did not include restrictions on work hours or minimum rest periods, and often had clauses that automatically renewed at the studios’ discretion. These contracts were notorious for allowing the studios to dictate the public and private lives of the performers who signed them, and most did not have provisions to allow the performer to end the deal.”
The benefits of these unions are many. Listed below are the specifics of SAG’s provisions to its members, but other unions offer similar services:
Member benefits and privileges
SAG contracts with producers contain a variety of protections for Guild performers. Among these provisions are: minimum rates of pay, first class airfare and travel insurance, adequate working conditions, strict safety requirements, special protection and education requirements for minors, arbitration of disputes and grievances, and affirmative action in auditions and hiring.
Standardized pay and work conditions
All members of the Guild agree to work only for producers who have signed contracts with SAG. These contracts spell out in detail the responsibilities that producers must assume when hiring SAG performers. Specifically, the SAG basic contract specifies: the number of hours performers may work, the frequency of meal breaks required, the minimum wages or “scale” at which performers must be compensated for their work, overtime pay, travel accommodations, wardrobe allowances, stunt pay, private dressing rooms, and adequate rest periods between performances.
The Producers Pension and Health Plans
Performers who meet the eligibility criteria of working a certain number of days or attaining a certain threshold in income derived from SAG productions can join the Producers Pension and Health Plans offered by the Guild. The eligibility requirements vary by age of the performer and the desired plan chosen (there are two health plans). There is also Dental, Vision, and Life & Disability coverage included as part of the two plans.
The Guild secures residuals payments in perpetuity to its members for broadcast and re-broadcast of films, TV shows, and TV commercials through clauses in the basic SAG agreements with producers.
Looking back over all this, I’m not so sure that Vince has thought this “entertainment” thing through. If the WWE is officially an “entertainment”company, the repercussions could be infinitely worse than any lawsuit filed against it thus far. Perhaps he should have stuck with the wrestling business.
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