David F. Prindle's The Politics of Glamour

In the opening line of his book, David F. Prindle slightly undersells The Politics of Glamour as a “case study of ideology and democracy within a labor union called the Screen Actors Guild (SAG)” (3). Although certainly an accurate description, Prindle’s book also provides a gripping history of a guild caught up in permanent internal strife. He casts conservative and progressive factions at the center of a narrative about the contentious political forces that have defined the guild’s relationship to management, members, and other unions since its formation in 1933. Drawing from extensive archival work and interviews with guild leaders, The Politics of Glamour is a necessary read for anyone interested in the relatively untold history of the labor movement in Hollywood and the peculiar difficulties the screen acting profession presents to the politics of unionism.

Published more than twenty years ago, The Politics of Glamour ultimately offers a prescient account of the historical forces and personal squabbling that, when its narrative ends in the late 1980s, were “threatening to rip the organization apart” (211). Of course, that didn’t happen, but the book nevertheless chronicles a series of pressures that sound eerily familiar to contemporary readers, including the divisive debates about merging with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which was finally approved in March 2012.

In the following passage, Prindle returns us to a moment in the 1980s when the guild was anxious to secure residual income for work in made-for-cable movies. At the time, the medium was new with no clear indication of its revenue potential, and thus created confusion (and friction) over what constituted fair demands. The dispute resulted in a three-month strike.  Against these details, the passage provides a much broader picture of the negotiation process: how producers are adept at playing one guild against another to undercut demands; how bitter memories of past concessions often resurge and over-determine proceedings; and how celebrities must necessarily become the public face of strikes to rally support for causes that mainly benefit rank-and-file members. Most fascinatingly, the passage illustrates the physical, emotional, and mental tolls labor talks take on the individuals who find themselves at the negotiation table. 

As working conditions in Hollywood continue to deteriorate, The Politics of Glamour offers an historical account of some of the forces still at play today.

Prindle, David. F. The Politics of Glamour: Ideology and Democracy in the Screen Actors Guild. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988.  

 

 

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