Workers vs. MTV
In the real world, there are unions
By Betsey Piette
MTV's "Real World" was dealt a reality check
when it tried to set up shop in Philadelphia using non-union
Union members from the city's construction trades picketed
for two weeks outside the Seaman's Church Institute in Old City
and prevented the production staff from entering a building
being renovated for the so-called reality show.
The message from Teamsters, painters, carpenters and
electricians to the show that claims to define "hip" was clear:
Union busting isn't cool!
Bunim/Murray Productions, producers of "Real World," had
sidestepped organized labor in 13 previous cities, including
New York, Chicago and Boston. In Philadelphia, they hired a
non-union suburban construction company that had been picketed
by the carpenters' union at other job sites. Although city
officials pressured the unions to compromise, Bunim/Murray
refused to set a precedent of using union labor, packed up and
In the aftermath of Bunim/Murray's departure, the
Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News--the
city's two daily newspapers, both owned by union-busting Knight
Ridder--led a barrage of attacks on the construction union
leaders, labeling them ," "oafs," "bullies" and "Neanderthals"
for standing in the way of letting "Real World" portray
Philadelphia as a "cool" place for young tech-savvy
professionals to spend their money.
But even Daily News staff writer Ellen Gray had to ask just
how "cool" is it that "Real World" producers Bunim/Murray and
MTV, a division of Viacom--the same media conglomerate that
owns CBS--"don't want to pay union wages to produce a show that
celebrates conspicuous consumption?" (Philadelphia Daily News,
March 18) Gray explained that she was attracted to Philadelphia
precisely because its newspapers were unionized, and paid
enough so she could afford life in the city.
The attack on the unions is an offense against all union
workers, whose off-camera labor built the cities showcased by
reality television. It's also an insult to "Real World"'s
target audience to imply they are only about being obnoxious to
each other, partying, hanging out at Star bucks, wearing Tommy
Hilfiger and sporting Nike sneakers.
The anti-globalization movement, which comes mainly from the
same age bracket as this show's target audience, is challenging
the same multinational corporations whose products are promoted
by MTV and shows like "Real World." Many youths are also
struggling to make ends meet on not just one non-union job, but
often two or three.
If MTV wanted to portray the real, real world, it could send
its production crews to Colombia to document the heroic
life-and-death struggles of members of the SINALTRAINAL union.
They have been victims of assassinations, attempted murder,
kidnappings, forced displacement and burning of their homes and
union offices by paramilitary forces acting as union busters on
behalf of Coca-Cola Corp.
Reality television could have looked at the lives of 70,000
members of the Food and Commercial Workers union in Cali
fornia, who fought to save their health-care benefits while
trying to survive a four-month lockout by the Greedy Three
supermarket chains--Vons/Safeway, Albert sons and Ralphs. "Real
World" cast members could have supported the boycotts against
Coke and the supermarket giants, but in the world of capitalist
entertainment, this would never fly.
Reprinted from the April 1, 2004, issue of
Workers World newspaper
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