Editor’s Note: The co-creator & showrunner of Mrs. Davis, Tara Hernandez has put artificial intelligence at the core of her creativity in the just completed Peacock limited series. Today, in a guest column on the Writers Guild of American strike, the Young Sheldon writers’ room alumna takes a different POV on AI and the notion of the individual in a greater collective
Until three weeks ago, when WGA leadership called this strike and asked membership to sever all ties with the studios, effectively putting a stop to any promotional activities — I had spent the past several months on a press tour for a series I co-created in which an all-powerful artificial intelligence is the title character. So, I opted to open this piece the way many journalists began our interviews – by allowing ChatGPT to do my job for me.
When fed the prompt: Hey ChatGPT, how should I, Tara Hernandez, open this Deadline piece about my feelings on the strike? — the chatbot spat out of the following response: Beep-boop. Beep-boop. Backspace. Backspace. Backspace. Fart.
Okay, fine — you caught me. It’s not true.
I made it up.
I did not consult ChatGPT before writing this.
In fact, I have never even used ChatGPT – which one might argue is insane, and ignorant given the nature of aforementioned series and they’d get no pushback from me. However, I did want to open this piece with a joke. One in which I could sneak the word ‘fart’ into the first one-hundred characters in a juvenile attempt to properly calibrate reader expectations for what kind of piece this is going to be.
Because, it turns out, despite the current work stoppage – I am a writer through and through. So, when given carte blanche to discuss anything I wanted, my first instinct was to complain. And my current beef is the popular rally cry, and email signature du jour – in solidarity. Yes, I understand this is a labor movement. One which requires a collective action. But solidarity gives me the ick, because it fails to recognize the individual. And there is no group more diverse, more individual than creatives.
Take this column for example. Last week, writer, producer, musician, and activist Boots Riley delivered a beautiful meditation on the struggle to navigate ego during action. And I chose to open my piece with flatulence. Because diffusion through humor is kind of my modus operandi.
If Groucho glasses were prescription, I would own multiple pairs.
See, I came up writing comedy. And not just any comedy – multi-camera comedy.
What some might call the hard jokes. And others, many of whom are lurking in this very outlet’s comments section, would say are nothing more than cringe-inducing mockeries of the English language, so why don’t you just find the nearest bridge and jump off of it, you no good sack of horse dookie.
I wish I were kidding…
But you learn very quickly that within the comedy cafeteria there are many tables to park your trays. The half-hour writing, squint-and-it’s-a-comedy cool kids and then there is… CBS.
However, I fully embraced my position amongst the laugh-track nerds and performed my job with pride. Those dick jokes bought me a house, yo! And while I refuse to acknowledge labels on a possibly expired Chobani when it’s the only thing in my fridge and a run to Ralph’s seems just soooo exhausting – I recognize that writers cannot deny our own inherent snobbery, or basic need to organize each other, and ourselves, into this high-brow, low-brow creative class system.
Which is why you’ll have to forgive my squeamishness around “in solidarity.”
Solidarity suggests unity in action and feeling. And while 97.9% of us acknowledged the necessity of this strike – I can bet all of us are feeling 4,527 different ways about it.
Which is why being a writer and proud member of a Union can at times be challenging.
Now, don’t get me wrong, pencils down, picket signs up is the only (repeat: only!) path by which a fair contract will be achieved. But sometimes, just sometimes, I find our kumbaya, we’re all in this together rhetoric to be an erasure of the things that makes this the preferred profession of outcasts, weirdos, and squint-and-it’s-a-comedy cool kids.
Having been a proud member of this Guild for more than a decade, I find that this Union is far from a solid, uniform mass – but more like those rubber-band balls you lazily tinker into existence when the room is stuck on Act Two because Network suddenly “got nervous” about the chain-smoking chimpanzee, it’s four o’clock, and where is Todd with the coffee?!
A rubber band ball bounces higher the tighter it is held together, agreed — but it is still comprised of individual bands, each with their own identities, lived experiences and reasons for wanting to become a rubber band in the first place.
Now, I do need to applaud our strike captains and member leaders for organizing the special pickets.
Not only are they energizing in nature, but the schedule itself is a great reminder of our Guild’s growing, and diverse membership. Black? Middle Eastern? Asian? Are you a Canadian Trekkie who has a one-legged dog, and loves to karaoke to Taylor Swift? Then we’ve got a picket for you. And if you haven’t attended one of these themed days already, I highly recommend. I only spent a few hours on the line at last week’s NBCU picket hosted by La Lista, and my ears are still ringing. Y’all brought it loud, you brought it proud, and my heart is bursting with joy.
But even while walking elbow-to-elbow with mi familia, I was still forced to confront my individual identity within this larger community.
As the chants rang out en español, I was quickly reminded that I am a Mexican-American pancha – which means I do not speak Spanish. I do not mention this to garner sympathy or scorn, but as an illustration that my path is not her path, is not his path or their path. We walk these lines together, but our stories are our own.
And if this is all sounding a little frou-frou, a little too emotional or heartfelt – well, that is kind of the point. Because aren’t we fighting for our humanity? For the multitudes inside us that separate us from the A.I.? Because if we fail to acknowledge our individuality, we really are no better than the robots.
Remember the series I mentioned above? The one about the artificial intelligence? Well, I am not going to tell you to watch it – because I’m not allowed to — but l will acknowledge that the creation of Mrs. Unnamed Series has uniquely positioned me meet this moment. Having spent the last several years immersed in the issues we face today. And I can promise you there is no artistry in artificial intelligence. And without this fight, our industry will be nothing more than regurgitated word chunks The Suits wrap in a cape and call a summer blockbuster.
So, I say: in solitary we walk. In solidarity we rise.
Whatever your picket personality is I salute you.
Whether you’re a headphones in solo strutter, or a five-lots-a-day, megaphone enthusiast. There has to be space and compassion for us all. As for me — I’ll be the pregnant lady downing Dasani and panic-waddling to the nearest restroom. You can join me if you want, as long as you don’t see any headphones.
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. In English, of course.