USA Today, August 23, 2000
Timeout, young lady! (And don't cross the picket line)
By Bruce Kluger
My five-year-old is on strike. What’s a father to do?
When my wife and I decided to let our daughter, Bridgette, appear in television
commercials, we did so with a few hard-and-fast stipulations:
This would not be a career choice—rather, we’d treat it as a hobby; any money she
made would go toward her college education; and the moment this diversion
became in any way a burden for her—in other words, when it ceased being fun—we
would stop taking her to auditions.
But one year (and one national commercial) later, we find ourselves in a quandary,
suddenly having to explain to Bridgey why she must join her fellow commercial
artists—135,000 SAG and AFTRA members across the country—as they strike for
fairer wages. Guess what just stopped being fun.
As every parent knows, explaining grown-up matters to children is an exercise in
reductive thinking. War, for example, is like schoolyard fighting, only much bigger;
charity is a way of “sharing”; prison is the big time-out, etc.
But how does one explain a strike to a child, when so much of what goes into—and
results from—a work-stoppage cuts against the grain of what we try to teach our
children about fairness and appropriate behavior?
In the case of the SAG/AFTRA strike, I instinctively side with the performers, having
once been a commercial actor myself. Moreover, I find it difficult to listen to the
advertisers poor-mouth themselves, complaining about overpaying talent even as
they shell out $600,000 for every 30-second spot that will air during the final
episode of Survivor.
But more to the point, it is only when I look the strike through Bridgette’s eyes that I
see a bunch of adults, however noble and well-intentioned, ultimately acting like
Why, for example, does the advertising industry continue to trot out propaganda,
insisting that it’s offering the unions a better deal (namely, paying actors a lump
sum rather than the traditional residuals) when simple number-crunching proves
otherwise? In kindergarten circles, we call this fibbing.
And how do I rationalize to Bridgette the behavior of some of her more zealous
fellow union members, who have been using the down time in their strike to crash
the sets of non-union shoots, employing threats and intimidation in an attempt to
stop cameras from rolling? This is not an easy matter to translate. After all, how
many millions of times have I told Bridgey that bullies never win?
But, by far, the most frustrating incident so far—both to read about and to interpret
for a kindergartener—was the stalemate at the negotiating table on July 21, as the
unions offered up an olive branch, the advertisers dug in their heels, then both
sides stormed off in a huff. Would I let Bridgette and her buddy Jake get into a
scrape, then stomp off in opposite directions without so much as a hug or a
handshake? I don’t think so.
I usually enjoy the challenge of explaining the abstract or intangible to Bridgette,
believing such a practice will make her a smarter kid and me a better parent. But
when it comes to the strike, I’ve chosen to punt, simply telling Bridgey that she can’t
be on TV anymore, at least until the grownups stopped fighting about it.
In the meantime, I can’t help but think my friends were right when I first told them I
was considering sending Bridgette on commercial auditions: Maybe we should’ve
gone for the swimming lessons instead.