I experienced a 'first' last week: I was part of a media scandal!
The short and most accurate version is this: About four years ago I was hired by Target to co-host an 'anti-union' industrial video. Although I was then and am now a non-union actor, I am politically liberal – a gay-lovin', tree-huggin', Obama-Care-did-right-by-me-kinda' liberal. Although I was given the script and subject of the video only days before we shot it – I could have quit and I didn't. I shot the video, I made a couple thousand dollars, and I (almost) forgot it happened.
The longer and more complicated version is this: An internet left-leaning gossip website called Gawker was leaked a copy of the video and posted it to their website with the headline 'Behold, Target's Brand New Cheesy Anti-Union Video'.
My initial response was: “Well... it certainly isn't 'Brand New'...”
My heart sank progressively over the next several days. The sensation was like some gross combination of having your purse snatched; and being caught in a lie.
Nearly everyday from the day it was released, a friend or two would make me aware of the video – usually in the virtual equivalent of a hushed tone: a private facebook message or email. I'd make the virtual equivalent of an embarrassed shrug and offer up an incomplete justification. I hoped it would, and for a minute it appeared it had blown over, when I got an email from one of Gawker's senior writers, Hamilton Nolan.
He wanted to confirm that I was, in fact, the same Dawn that is featured in the video; and he was offering me a chance to answer a few questions before 'he published his follow-up story.' If I had a response to him by the following morning it would be 'just fine.'
I wrote my first draft that night clutching a bottle of Jameson. I dismissed the glass and positioned the bottle much like the throttle of a jet - between my knees – as I hammered out every thought as it emerged. The draft was about 5 pages long and it's content was unacceptable by any standards, in any company. I said things about myself, and Target and Hamilton and God and Unions that we'll leave for now. I sent a watered down draft to some friends who are writers, critics and knew me well enough not to call 911. Then I went to 'sleep.'
In the morning, I wrote a new draft. A few quick paragraphs that seemed to me to be honest, accurate, and forgiving of both him for asking; and me for answering. When I hit 'send' I didn't know how he'd parse my reply; what the response might be from both my friends and colleagues; and – of course - the vast face-less internet. People can hate, deeply, from the anonymousness of sites such as Gawker, and a part of me even wondered if I'd truly opened myself up too much. Or, of course, this whole thing could be literally nothing by any measure in both the long and short term for everyone involved.
Then I took a long walk with Dorothy and tried to think of anything else.
When I came home I saw that approximately 20,000 people had been to the site... Hardly a record-setter, however - for perspective, that is slightly higher than the population of my hometown. I don't know how many of them actually read the article, how many read all the way to my response, or how anyone felt about it. A few hundred people made comments, but I could only read a few before my skin ate my bones, I died, I rotted into a pile of shame, gurgled back to life, and chose not to look at them again.
Still, the criticism, my perspective, and the event itself were now out there in the consciousness of those who do and don't know me; and those who do and don't hire me. And this has, and will continue to have, consequences for me – both good and bad.
Go ahead and see it for yourself and I'll meet you at the end of the page:
See the complete post, including the video and all comments (Mom – DO NOT read the comments) http://gawker.com/the-actors-in-targets-anti-union-video-a-liberal-an-1556974505
'Dawn Brodey, whose character in the video warns that unions would destroy Target's fabled"fast, fun and friendly culture," sent us the following thoughts on her role in the video, in response to our questions:
This video was shot in 2011 and I saw it for the first time on Gawker last week. I did not receive a copy from Target when it was completed because - for reasons I suspect are fairly obvious at this point - they keep such materials fairly close to the chest.
- Are you a member of any union, acting or otherwise?
No - I wasn't when the video was shot and I'm not now. In fact, the production company hired me via a local talent agency that is called 'Non-Union Talent Service'- NUTS for short.
- Do you agree with the political positions espoused in the Target video?
Being a non-union actor doesn't mean I am an 'anti-union' actor. However, while I am big-picture pro-union and a political liberal, Target is within it's rights to produce a video which discourages their employees from joining one.
- Why did you decide to do the video, and how much were you paid?
In the small-market professional acting world, we are often hired to work on in-house videos and live events for all varieties of corporations and entities.
Vegetarian actors have to decide if they'll work for Butterball. A feminist has to decide if she'll work for Maxim...And being an actor in these situations isn't the same dilemma as it may be for other employees who object to the subject their employers espouse. It isn't just about giving your time to an organization or a issue you may personally disagree with - it is to give your face and your voice to it. For an actor it's more intimate, the stakes are higher... sometimes Gawker readers call you names, for example.
People hate, deeply, over this issue and I think it is historically justified outrage. I - a non-union actor in the mid-west, however, am not a great target (he-hem) of that outrage.
All that being said - I didn't know the subject of the video until after I was offered the role. I may or may not have auditioned if I had known what it was - but 'not going for a job' and 'refusing a job' are two different things. The video - although 'cheesy' as you call it - was not incendiary. As a non-union actor, on what ground did I have to throw down my script and storm off set? As it stood I just felt sorta' gross when I got home and hoped I'd never see it...
As for the pay - I'm not going to give you the specific amount. However to give some perspective that may translate both nationally and virtually - it was a little over a month's salary for a two-night shoot.
Thank you for giving me a chance to give my two-cents. May the vitriol be tempered...
So there ya' go... That could be the final punctuation on it, I guess.
Except, of course, it's been the constant and circulating mobile of my thoughts for days and I'm coming to some new and sometimes conflicting conclusions. Mostly, I felt bad – really bad – and I couldn't articulate – even to myself, why. Indeed, the only real reason anyone (including me) is suggesting I should feel bad is because I am 'liberal.' If I were a conservative actor (they do exist, by the way) I woulda' smirked, thumped my chest, and slept like a baby... The big question is really, does this make me a hypocrite? Do I have to come clean – to myself if not the accusing parties – as a hypocrite?
Friends and colleagues – and even some of the initial comments I read before I died – offered a convenient out by saying things akin to 'Don't they know you're just an actor?!? You're acting – these aren't your opinions!'
Which is right, of course. Except that saying 'you're just an actor' can't cure this. It gives me no comfort – even if it shirks some blame - to pretend that my place in the world is a useless, interchangeable piece of some puzzle. I'm not comfortable claiming equality with the furniture on set. How could I square such an out with the tremendous pride I feel when I work with Crisis Company; or when I'm telling the kids of South High School about the real transformative power of theater?
And yet – this video was not theater. It's not fiction or satire or parody – but it 's not documentary, or instructional, or even advertising. I don't want to use the word 'propaganda'... but look there. I just did.
The function of the video is intended to influence. It's purpose is to effect the real-life, decision-making process of another human being; and not in a meta way. In a political way. In an economic way. This isn't playing Lady M and then having a talk-back about women's place in society... This is asking a person, a human with a family and a life and dreams – a human who likely lives in my community – to make a big life choice in part, based on the 'information' that is coming out of my face. My voice. And those goddamn khakis.
That being said - myself, everyone on the production crew, and even Hamilton Nolan know all-too-well what it is to be sitting in the folding plastic chair on the other side of these videos. It is 15-30 minutes of your life that you never get back – and one's only hope is that it is brief and 'doesn't suck that bad.' Or if it is going to suck – that it suck so tremendously that it sneaks in some real entertainment value.
On the other hand... the video is, in fact, a part of a strategic machine created by a privileged class to prevent the historically under-represented masses from economic advancement. The video was made at about the same time Citizens United passed and along with a host of even more recent supreme court decisions regarding campaign finance - it helps, in some small part, to tip the balance to those who already hold the scales.
So... there it is again - am I a hypocrite for doing the video?
Individuals will come to their own conclusions, but here's mine: No. I am not a hypocrite for doing this video. I'm not nominating myself for any big idealist achievement awards, but no – I'm not a hypocrite.
I'm not in a union and the union has not tried to enroll me. I did not go from the shoot to a union rally, hide a SAG t-shirt under my red polo and - contrary to a claim made in the article – I did not 'earn my SAG card' by doing the job.
The video’s overall message is: ‘Join or don’t join the union - it’s your right to choose. We’d super-duper prefer if you don’t join the union. Thank you for your time. ‘
The language is gross (sorry, writers), arguably manipulative, and I – as said - ultimately kinda’ hate myself for doing it... But it is not wild intimidation. Me and my buddy Ricardo are not gonna take these walkie-talkies and bust up your skulls.
If you want to share a beer sometime and talk about the HISTORY of the union – origins, victories, significance – I'm in. If you want to have another beer over which we can collaborate on how to build a stronger better union for us and future generations – I'M IN!
As it stands, I am beginning to believe this all has blown over. The same nature of the internet that brought this up in a swell has also swept it away... I think. I suspect the good people of Target video production have cast me for the last time – if only because I've become recognizable internally. That may also be the case for this town's other heavy-hitters: Best Buy, General Mills, 3M.
Theater directors, casting agents – other actors – may have strong enough objection to impact a gig or two down the line.
Negative impacts – real or imagined – aside, I don't feel any real resentment or anger. Not for me, or Target or even Hamilton, bless his heart (and I mean that in a condescending Southern way).
The silver lining is that I thought my bangs looked weird in the video and no one mentioned it... So there's that.
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