The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, August 10, 2023

It’s Thursday, August 10th, 2023.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Hollywood’s Big Pause: Strike Action by Writers and Actors Pulls Back the Curtain On Big Issues In the Entertainment Industry

Go back in American history several decades and work-related labor strikes and similar kinds of events took place, well, if not week by week, at least month by month and year by year in the United States. You had big business and you had big labor. You also had the phenomenon of an industrialized society. In terms of worldview, one of the things we need to recognize is that vast changes sometimes come together to shift the entire cultural landscape.

One of those came in the modern age with the development of modern industry–the modern corporation–and of course what is now basically a comprehensive modern economy. But the economy now bears very little resemblance to the economy 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago, and nothing exemplifies that better than what’s going on right now in Hollywood–or you might say the news is what’s not happening.

What’s not happening is the making and writing of streaming television and Hollywood movies. Even though of course the two genres have become quite mixed these days in the age of streaming. That’s part of the story. But what’s not going on, for example, is what’s not going on in Hollywood. Big pictures aren’t being made. Movies aren’t being made. Streaming series aren’t being made. Not only that, but given how these contracts work, the actors who have participated in products that are just released, they’re prohibited by their contract and by their labor union rules from even helping to promote the products they’ve already done, presumably already been paid for.

So you asked the question, how did this happen? Well, first of all, we just need to go back and say it really started in many ways with the writers. Behind Hollywood at every level is the necessity of writers. The writers write the scripts. The writers come up with so many of these ideas. The writers are those who are sometimes, well, just parabolically locked in a room where just with minimal furniture and just enough lighting, they get the job done and they get the scripts written just in time to be handed to the actors.

The writers contract came up. They’ve been complaining for a long time. They’re not paid enough. Now, what does that mean? They’re not paid enough when they write the script? No, basically they’re saying they’re not getting a fair share of the residuals–the income that comes from later streaming or showings of the programming. And they say they want a bigger piece of the pie. But there’s something else out there. It’s like a great white shark looming there in the water. Everybody knows it’s there, but it really hadn’t been discussed until lately.

And that is the fact that with the advent of artificial intelligence and a lot of the writing ability of that kind of computing power, the reality is that a lot of what these screenwriters do just might end up being done by a machine. Now, what we found out in the last few weeks is that that’s not just something that’s hypothetical. Actually, some form of artificial intelligence has already been widely deployed in some of these settings. It’s not to say that the computer just comes up with an idea and writes a script on its own; it is to say that there are a lot of time saving and cost saving measures that are already being experimented with in terms of artificial intelligence.

The strike, by the way, is not just the writers and AFTRA, it’s also SAG, the Screen Actors Guild. The actors are making some of the same complaints as the writers. They want a bigger piece of the pie in terms of the streaming action. Now, why is that such a big issue? Well, it’s because the economy has fundamentally changed. The technology has fundamentally changed. The way you and I consume media is now something that has been largely eclipsed in the age of the iPhone, the age of the personal computer, the age of streaming video. The digital age has transformed life in so many ways. It certainly transformed that industry.

The actors decided they would also go on strike in solidarity with the writers and with their own complaints. And so Hollywood is basically ground to a standstill.

Well, sound the alarm. It’s a cultural emergency. Actually, many of us think it might just give us a little bit of breathing space.

But nonetheless, the reality is the entertainment is huge business. We’re talking about eventually trillions upon trillions of dollars that are invested in so many of these cultural dimensions and are also bought by so many millions upon millions of people. Streaming has fundamentally changed the economy. It’s taken advantage of the technology. It’s changed the experience. The likelihood is that most of you listening to The Briefing today have watched whatever you saw last, not on any form of broadcast television, decreasingly even when it comes to cable, you’ve likely received it digitally and, well, you one way or another likely were streaming whatever content you were watching.

But here’s what we need to step back and say there are some massive issues here. There are a lot of facts on the ground that most Americans don’t know. How about this? The vast majority of those who call themselves actors don’t make enough money even to qualify for the SAG-AFTRA health insurance plan. And by the way, that’s less than $28,000. That means that the vast majority don’t even make $28,000 a year to qualify for the insurance. They’re on strike saying they want a bigger piece of the pie. Most of them, frankly, don’t have much of the pie to begin with.

You look at the writers, they’re making similar complaints. And as a matter of fact, the head of SAG-AFTRA actually acknowledged that a good deal of her membership makes less than $10,000 a year, which is to say this isn’t a profession in reality. It’s not even a job.

Fran Drescher is the actress. She was the star of the sitcom from the 1990s known as The Nanny. She’s also known for a rather abrasive style, but she’s likely to go down as the head of a union that miscalculated in this sense because the fundamentals of the economy indicate that there is no money that is available for those who are making these demands.

The technology has changed everything. So let’s just think about something that isn’t much discussed in this context. The reality is that there is no obvious solution to this strike. There’s no obvious negotiating place for both sides to land on. What we’re looking at here is that the producers and the vast media companies that are paying the money are also, in some cases losing a lot of money.

Fran Drescher is going out saying, “Look at how much these executives are paid.” Well, that’s one thing, and frankly, some of that is scandalous, but the fact is those corporations are themselves very fragile these days. Think about it in these terms: You look at the vast explosion of the amount of content that is available to anyone. Anyone with a smartphone, anyone with a personal computer, anyone with a digital television can basically consume content seven days a week, 24 hours a day, choosing from a cornucopia that quite frankly wouldn’t even have been imaginable just a matter of a few years ago.

You’re looking at these massive streaming services. You’re looking at the fact that all this content is being pressed upon us. Just about every platform offers some kind of streaming service or some kind of streaming product.

While we could conceivably stream media content 24/7, I don’t think you could do that for long. But in previous generations, television offered consumers only a few channels, and the networks weren’t producing content 24/7.

And the vast majority of Americans watched during a time that was described as prime time, which meant after dinner and before bed. That became expanded as television tastes and appetites grew. People began watching television earlier, and that’s why daytime TV took off. And then at night a profusion of different forms of television entertainment.

And of course, you also had the fact that big time sports, both professional sports and collegiate sports, understood there was a vast opportunity here. And again, we’re talking about millions and billions of dollars. You could hypothetically watch 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I repeat that because I’m making a point. With the proliferation of the amount of content, there’s been no explosion in our amount of time.

Adam and Eve had 24 hours a day, so do you and I, seven days a week. That’s where we are. No matter how much is produced, there’s only so much you can consume.

Now, the economy is also changing in terms of streaming media because those particular companies are consolidating. It is a race for the eyeballs. They spent incredible amounts of money, and that turned out to be untenable. They can’t spend that much money. They can’t produce that much new content, and so they’re going to have to find a way somehow to meet their bills.

But the fact is that there is only so much entertainment any of us can consume. And if the market just expands into millions and millions of choices, the reality is we still only have a very finite amount of time, and the producers are also coming to the conclusion, we have a finite amount of money we’re willing to spend.

Looking across The Atlantic from Great Britain, the Economist–one of the most influential financial papers in the world–reminds us that even though it looks like the writers and the actors are in a very strong position, the reality is they’re not.

The last time a strike like this happened was in 1960. But then, when the actors and the writers went on strike, they could frankly shut Hollywood down. But these days, everything is being streamed 24/7. You already have more choices. There’s already more content available to you than you could ever consume in many, many, many lifetimes. And so the leverage here really isn’t with the writers and the actors, it’s in one sense with the big corporations producing and selling and streaming the products. But on the other hand, the real boss here just might be you. Financial analysts are insisting that this is a good time for all sides economically here to review their situation and come to terms with reality.

That’s likely to take a considerable amount of time. I wouldn’t wait for this strike to be over anytime soon. The sides are very entrenched, and frankly, the way they’ve drawn the lines, neither side has much room for maneuvering. But I wanted us to think about this today on The Briefing in order to think even more fundamentally that all this comes with a moral and worldview dimension that really does require us to take a strike from entertainment every once in a while and just consider what we’re watching, why we’re watching it, how we’re consuming it, and what it’s doing to us.

Christians in particular understand that when it comes to cultural products and even especially that which is identified as entertainment, we are affected by that, which makes us laugh, makes us cry, gets our attention. Hollywood understands and the left especially understands that if they control the media, they can control the future morality of the country. And by that I don’t mean just by actors saying things. I don’t just mean by documentaries trying to make arguments. I mean that they drive the moral vector of the nation because what they produce is packaged as entertainment–a service that exists to make money.

But I want us to think about this. It’s also produced in order to make a point.

Part II

Disney’s Streaming Woes and Bleeding Pocketbooks — The Company’s Recent Data Tell a Big Story

But next, in a related sense, I want us to turn to one of the most famous names in the production of entertainment, and that is Disney. We talked about Disney for many reasons in recent years. But right now, the industry is talking about Disney a very great deal because it turns out that Disney isn’t doing spectacularly well in terms of its business model.

Now, as Christians, we understand that the moral decisions and the moral messaging coming from the company is certainly part of that. But if you just step back and look at the basics of the economic model, Disney made some bets that didn’t turn out to be so good. And it was one of those companies that invested way too much in a lot of the streaming enterprise trying to buy eyeballs and customers without recognizing that there’s not enough income to make the thing float. When it comes to Disney+, for example, Disney is losing a lot of money. Just think millions, hundreds of millions of dollars, and then add that plus sign.

Bob Iger is again, the CEO of Disney brought back after an interregnum in which it was understood by investors that things did not go well. But things aren’t going that spectacularly well with Bob Iger back in the seat. The Wall Street Journal, just in the last few hours, has run a report that speaks of Iger and then says he’s, “Under pressure to show Wall Street, the company’s on the right track despite persistent questions about losses in its streaming business and a legacy TV operation that continues to deteriorate.”

So Disney is looking at all kinds of options. It’s looking for perhaps even someone to buy into its business model as something of a capital partner. The company is looking at selling off some of its channels, even selling off some of its legacy television stations. But the latter gets complicated, The Journal tells us, because Disney would then owe a big tax bill if it sells those TV stations. Yet, the fact is that Disney is losing a lot of money on a lot of its product lines, and investors are getting antsy.

Later in the article, the journal tells us about the streaming model: “Another problem for Disney is streaming. Since launching flagship streaming service, Disney+ in late 2019, the company has lost more than $10 billion in this direct to consumer segment, which also includes Hulu and ESPN+.” Analyst surveyed by FactSet projected a streaming loss of $758,000,000 for the three months ended in June. “A bigger loss than it reported for the March quarter, but a smaller one than it posted a year earlier.”

Well, just remember the old adage, a million here, a million there, sooner or later, you’re talking about real money. This is real money. And at least for many of us, it’s sending a real message.

By the way, Disney just announced in the last couple of days that through ESPN in a partnership, they’re also getting big into sports betting. This had been anticipated for some time, but the media coverage on this just in the last day or so, recognizes that Disney is taking a big risk with its family brand.

Disney as a matter of fact–and even Bob Iger–had announced they did not want to get into gambling. That’s not the Disney brand until, well, the last few hours. Guess what? It’s becoming a big part of the Disney brand. That’s because the money matters more than anything, at least to a degree. As we have seen with Disney, the money doesn’t seem to matter more than the moral messaging of its products that are increasingly demanded by activists.

Part III

Disney is Vying For More Than Your Money: The Power of Storytelling to Reshape Hearts and Minds

Indeed, just a few weeks ago, the New York Times ran a major report on the updating of Disney products. The updating that is demanded by some consumers, particularly by those who are looking at the product saying, “This isn’t very acceptable. It’s not very politically correct.” The man in charge of this is named Sean Bailey. The headline in the article tells us that his job is “remaking films like The Little Mermaid,” but it has, “increasingly put him in the middle of a partisan divide.”

Well, that’s indeed where it has put him. We’re told that Disney likes the cash and these products. And by the way, Disney has done this over and over again. They find something, it works, and so they come out with the version number two, they remake it. They come out with a sequel. They come out with another form of derivative product. We’re told in this article by Brooks Barnes, “Disney likes the cash.” The company also views Mr. Bailey’s remake operation is crucial to remaining relevant, “Disney’s animated classics are treasured by fans, but most showcase ideas from another era, especially when it comes to gender roles.”

Well, we need to note that the article underplays the revolutionary character of what Disney is doing until you get later in the article where there’s the acknowledgement that when they slip in things like two men dancing in a romantic context in an animated movie offends many families, many parents and others who have been very keen consumers of Disney products. The article says this, “Disney has long regarded these kinds of social media storms as tempest in teapots trending today replaced by a new complaint tomorrow.” “In 2017, for instance, a theater in Alabama refused to play the live action Beauty and the Beast because it contained a three-second glimpse of two men dancing in each other’s arms.” “It became a global news story. “Ultimately, the fraca has seemed to have no impact on ticket sales.”

Well, that’s very interesting because the entire point of the article and the financial coverage is that Disney is not succeeding with so many of these products in a way that it dominated in the past. And by the way, if you think this is recent, just remember that it’s nearly 30 years ago that the Southern Baptist Convention and many other evangelical organizations called for a boycott of Disney because of offensive content back then. Most of that now looks pretty quaint and tame compared to where Disney is and is headed in the future.

But there’s something else that’s embedded in this New York Times article that I think turns out to be really, really important. For example, “Disney’s live action films did not often showcase women before Mr. Bailey arrived, and diversity was almost non-existent. Mr. Bailey is almost exclusively focused on female-led stories. He’s also championed young actresses of color.”

Well, it turns out that there’s something revealed here that should tell us a very great deal. You know what Disney is not making now? It’s not making many products in which you have boys or men as the leading characters. That’s just not what Disney is up to these days, and that tells you something about how society has changed. A lot of their products have been tilted, at least historically, towards young children and towards the more female side of the equation. A lot of romances and summer comedies and things like that, but a lot of their products were basically attractive to anyone who cared about family values.

But as you look at this, you also recognize a closer look is called for even going back in Disney’s history. We don’t have time for it today on The Briefing, but let’s just say that even going back to the age of Walt Disney himself, there were darker themes involved in many Disney products than were recognized at the time. Here’s something else that tells us about human nature. You turn it into an animated feature and people don’t see it the same way.

Gina Davis, a well-known actress, identified here also as a gender equity activist, said, “I think what [Sean Bailey] is doing is vastly important. It’s not just about inspiring little girls. It’s about normalizing for men and boys, making it perfectly normal to see a girl doing interesting and important things and taking up space.” A lot of postmodern jargon there, but you get the point, and yes, to an extent, men and boys need to understand that girls and women have interesting lives too.

The complaint here is not that Disney is featuring women and girls as characters. The complaint here is that evidently it is no longer a part of Disney’s plan to feature boys and men. But then there’s another issue that comes to the fore as this article comes to an end, and that is that Disney’s problem is not just an American problem, it’s a global problem. And the problem gets complex when you recognize that there are many cultures around the world where, frankly, what Disney is selling is not what they’re buying. The article concludes with this, “Mr. Bailey is in the business of making movies for everyone. That challenge is part of what keeps his job interesting.” He said, “How do you deal with audiences that are changing outside our country, inside our country? How do you tell stories, stories that matter to everyone in a world that is increasingly polarized?”

Well, Mr. Bailey, that’s a good question. But let’s not fool ourselves. Disney is taking sides. Let’s be honest about that.

But for Christians, the big bottom line in all of this is recognizing that the bottom line in Hollywood is not our biggest concern. Our biggest concern is understanding. There’s not just a battle for bucks and a battle for minutes, and seconds, and hours of streaming programming going on out there. It’s not just a battle between the producers and the actors and the writers, it’s a battle for our eyes. It’s a battle for our hearts. That’s what Christians need to understand.

There’s a lot more at stake here than money. Hollywood and the newspapers, the major media, they’re all concerned about the money, the stakeholders, the stockholders, the executives. The actors and the writers, they’re all concerned about the money. The money is not irrelevant because it’s a moral revelation in itself, but the fact is, we better be the ones who understand something bigger is at stake. Indeed, Christians of all people should graspt that this is a battle for the eyes and the heart. The Christian worldview reminds us that if it moves our hearts, it’s moving our minds as well. Hollywood is counting on that.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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