The GOP is always ranting about “Hollywood elites”. Texas Senator Ted Cruz loves to attack celebrities like Jim Carrey and Mr T. Florida Governor and GOP presidential candidate Ron DeSantis is in an all-out war with Disney. Proponents of QAnon, the far right conspiracy theory cult, even promulgate baseless conspiracy theories about Democrats and Hollywood engaging in Satanic child abuse rituals.
Given their tendency to label Hollywood actors and studios as wealthy and out-of-touch, you might think that the GOP would be eager to single out and shame high-profile celebrities like Drew Barrymore and Bill Maher who have chosen to break the ongoing labor actions against Hollywood studios.
But of course the GOP has not come after Barrymore or Maher. That’s because the GOP is not opposed to elites at all. It is in fact the party of wealthy oligarchs and elites who hate unions. It attacks “Hollywood elites” in large part because actors, even well-off actors, are workers – and the GOP hates workers, unless those workers are scabs.
Hollywood writers, the Writers Guild of America (WGA), has been on strike since April. The central issue is residuals, or royalties, from streamers. In the past, writers could receive thousands in compensation when hit shows were rebroadcast or released on DVD. Streaming residuals are typically only pennies though, effectively wiping out an important source of income for writers. Actors face similar problems; their union, SAG-AFTRA, joined WGA on strike in July.
Despite the labor actions, Maher and Barrymore both announced this week that they plan to start taping new episodes of their respective talk shows. To tape talk shows, they will need to write questions and opening monologues themselves, meaning they will be strike-breaking. The WGA has said it will be picketing both shows.
Maher is a Democrat who conservatives have generally seen as an enemy. Drew Barrymore is known for her support for LGBT rights, which the GOP have been trying to roll back over the last 18 months especially. They seem like perfect targets. Ron DeSantis, or some other right wing culture warrior could pillory them for their lack of solidarity, and their betrayal of workers. All Ted Cruz has to do is to call Bill Maher a scab and he’ll get a nice big media news cycle portraying him as a working-class hero championing the little guy.
But Cruz, DeSantis and their peers have been quiet. Maher and Barrymore might norally be tempting targets, but in this case, they are aligning themselves with corporate power and against unions.
The GOP for decades has fought unrelentingly to lower corporate taxes and transfer wealth to billionaires. They’ve also worked to kneecap unions with “right to work” laws which prevent unions from collecting dues. One such law in Wisconsin, passed in 2011 by Republican governor Scott Walker along with other anti-union measures, caused union rolls to fall by 44 percent between 2008 and 2020.
What this means in practice is that Republicans only attack “Hollywood elites” when the “elites” in question dare to be workers, or to stand with workers. DeSantis went after Disney when the company spoke against his anti-LGBT “Don’t Say Gay” legislation which bans discussion of sexual orientation in schools. Disney had initially hesitated to challenge DeSantis, but it took a stand after its own workers walked out in protest.
DeSantis’ fight isn’t really with the giant corporation. It’s with Disney’s workers, who managed to get the giant corporation to fight for LGBT rights despite its initial reluctance.
Similarly, Cruz has weighed in on the Hollywood strikes to mock high profile actors – but only when those actors are supporting labor. In July, Cruz tweeted out a picture of actor Marc Ruffalo on the picket line, accusing him of being “whiny.” Bill Maher this week echoed Cruz when he sneered that WGA members “kind of believe that you’re owed a living as a writer, and you’re not.”
But of course, working writers, who are generating millions in revenue for corporations, do deserve to make a living, and to be compensated for the work they’ve done. Workers are the ones who do the actual work; they’re the ones who make the fortunes on which the oligarchs squat. Workers deserve and are entitled to the fruits of their labor; when they say so, they are asserting their rights, not “whining.”
Republicans though, and scabs like Bill Maher, don’t agree. In their topsy turvy world, the billionaires who do nothing but collect profits deserve all the money, and the workers should crawl on their bellies in gratitude for scraps.
Maher, who is supposedly a liberal, perfectly encapsulates the Republican position. That position is that workers are essentially serfs who owe their betters deference. If they dare to protest, they are “entitled elites”, who have gotten above their station. For the GOP, only corporate overlords and their loyal scabs like Barrymore and Maher count as the real working class.