The Creative Class is a Lie
October 7, 2011 2:27 AM   Subscribe

The dream of a laptop-powered "knowledge class" is dead. The media is melting. Blame the economy -- and the Web This is something I've been thinking about for some time, and voila!, here's a really good piece to back up my assumption that the expansiveness and multiple profusions of creative freedoms made possible by the Internet has helped bring down a large swath of "creative types", just as it has enabled others. This is a worthy and provocative read, and will be part of a Salon series that looks into the "hollowing out" of the creative class.

I recommend a further read of the forum comments, following the Salon essay. What do you think?
posted by Vibrissae (154 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have no idea what I just read. Is this article really just whining about how sitting around in coffee shops and doing art history degrees isn't an economical career choice?
posted by public at 2:37 AM on October 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


I have no idea what I just read. Is this article really just whining about how sitting around in coffee shops and doing art history degrees isn't an economical career choice?
If you couldn't understand it, why comment?
posted by delmoi at 2:44 AM on October 7, 2011 [14 favorites]


I used an iPad - a really cool new product, I think - to read this article about the death of the "creative class". I'm sorry people lost their jobs when record stores, book stores, and video rental shops closed down, but you can keep your laptop... I'm too excited by the applications and creative possibilities I'm experiencing with my iPad.

Whatever idiot ever thought everyone would made a living writing the next Great Novel or recording the next Top 40 Hit didn't understand that you can't survive by aiming your product at dying technologies. I'm sorry that nobody makes a living doing vaudeville anymore, but streaming video is where it's at.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:46 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


delmoi I believe Vibrissae was saying that writing an entire article on something as obvious as, " a mass of people calling themselves 'creative types' and going to writer's workshops does not a viable economy make" is like taking a pages to explain that yes indeed, the sky is blue and the grass is green.
posted by karmiolz at 2:48 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Excuse my extra "s" which pluralizes; if only there were a place to teach me how to better proof...ah damnit!
posted by karmiolz at 2:50 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


delmoi: Presumably someone on MetaFilter must be smarter than me. Perhaps even kind enough to educate me.
posted by public at 2:51 AM on October 7, 2011 [17 favorites]


In other countries in the world art is subsidized by the government and it is genuinely sad that artists in America have to drag themselves to marketing departments in big corporations just to eat. That's why you don't really see any big new artists coming out of the US now - at least not as much as Japan or Northern Europe.

Meanwhile, I'm just going to grab my degree in French Studies and Studio Art and take them into this corner over here and -- HARA KIRIIII
posted by Mooseli at 2:51 AM on October 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


I think that this author has really misunderstood Richard Florida. Florida wasn't arguing that in the future, we would all be artists and film-makers. He was, in fact, saying that the economy was going to be driven by exactly the people this article goes after for having "given up": people with arts degrees working interesting jobs in marketing, design, or technology that they got because of those art degrees.

This article seems to take the position that certain people "deserve" to be full-time creative artists, unfettered by other employment of any kind. Even a lousy day job at a Kinkos or a video store is (from this perspective) an 'apprenticeship' for such people before they become Michael Stipe. Apparently, this writer is totally blind to the fact that the majority of people who do art or music support themselves with some other job for their entire lives. It's always only been a tiny group of winners who see day jobs as an apprenticeship, and art or music as a full-time career.

The tragedy he's discussing here is the tragedy of thousands of regular working-class people getting laid off of menial jobs in obsolete types shops when little other employment is available. It has not really a tragedy for the tiny minority of those victims who a) are artists and musicians and b) see the job as an 'extra' on top of a real calling that ca actually support them. The tragedy is the majority who just saw Borders as a job, and now have nowhere else to go.
posted by Wylla at 2:52 AM on October 7, 2011 [35 favorites]


If it's just the idea that some people should be able to make a living being "creative", in the sense of producing art or music or writing or film or whatever, then I'm quite happy to see that replaced by the possibility that everyone can be creative, even if that isn't a full time job. What's disappearing now is the high barrier to entry and distribution associated with those kinds of creativity, and that disappearance is a Good Thing.

I did not weep for the scribes who lost their jobs when everybody learned how to write.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:01 AM on October 7, 2011 [25 favorites]


On a grand scale, some 260,000 jobs have been lost in traditional publishing since 2007, according to U.S. News and World Report. In newspapers alone, the website Newspaperlayoffs.com has tracked some 40,000 job cuts since 2008.

These jobs haven't been lost, per se, they've just gone somewhere else. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics some 250k people in the United States are employed in "Data Processing, Hosting, and Related Services" - to say nothing of the millions of people employed in related fields.

There is still a thriving, laptop-powered creative class, just a different sort of creative class.
posted by three blind mice at 3:04 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Your revolution is over, Mr. Lebowski. Condolences. The bums lost. My advice is to do what your parents did: get a job, sir. The bums will always lose. Do you hear me, Lebowski? The bums will always lose!"
posted by Kinbote at 3:08 AM on October 7, 2011 [12 favorites]


I'm think we're all bobos on this bus.
posted by crunchland at 3:10 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


These jobs haven't been lost, per se, they've just gone somewhere else.

Yes and no. We seem to be going from a journalist being a salaried position and career to a paid-per-piece temp job cranking out "10 Reasons Scar Jo Left Ryan Reynolds" type articles.
posted by PenDevil at 3:11 AM on October 7, 2011 [30 favorites]


I think the basic premise of the article is that jobs for 'creative types' are going away, due in large part by the ease of centralization and 'market efficiency' for creative work. There are a few paragraphs about people working in marketing but that doesn't seem to be the main thrust.

A good example is would be graphics designers, who used to be able to make a lot of money doing basic work for doing something like a logo. But today you can get a logo really cheaply over the internet, possibly from someone in India or some other country. For basic design you can find templates and just fill in the blanks and come up with something nice. However it's an economic problem, for sure.
These jobs haven't been lost, per se, they've just gone somewhere else. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics some 250k people in the United States are employed in "Data Processing, Hosting, and Related Services" - to say nothing of the millions of people employed in related fields.
Wow, this is a mindblowingly ridiculous use of statistics. 260k jobs have been lost in publishing in the past three years and the fact that there are 250k (actually 239k) jobs in data processing in total somehow makes up for that? That would only make sense if there were 0 jobs in that field (actually -11,000) in 2007, which was not the case.

In fact, there were 279 thousand. So far from making up for the lost jobs in publishing, the number of people employed in that field dropped by forty thousand in that time.

In fact, overall since 2001 the number of people employed in that category dropped from 320k to just 240k

So really it's a dumb point in two ways: Not only are jobs in data processing not making up for lost jobs in publishing, jobs in data processing are actually being lost as well.

And here's the thing, I'm not really sure why so many people think computer programmer jobs are somehow safe. Look at IT for example. A couple of years ago a major company would need a lot of staff to manage servers and whatnot. These days they can put everything on EC2, and the number of personnel they need would drop.

In fact if you go even more into the 'cloud' companies can get rid of sysadmins by doping their email servers and using Google docs/gmail for business for a pretty low cost.

Corporations do need to write their own custom software for various tasks, but a lot of it has always been crap. I don't really know if that's really all that sustainable. These companies could, in theory, outsource their internal programming to companies that can re-use code across all their clients, thus vastly reducing the amount of duplicate work being done.

What you're seeing is the result of automation through software of jobs that used to require a lot of mental work. It's going to make some centralizers rich, but it's not going to provide a ton of jobs in IT.

Now, I don't know if I really have that big of a problem with that because there are a lot of people in IT who were never that good.

But as a society, we have to figure out what exactly people are going to do when most of the work that had been done by people is automated away.
posted by delmoi at 3:22 AM on October 7, 2011 [39 favorites]


But as a society, we have to figure out what exactly people are going to do when most of the work that had been done by people is automated away.
Classify them as 'increased-leisure citizens and send them to The Hoop.
posted by SyntacticSugar at 3:26 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I feel like I just read a newspaper article from Paris in 1920 opining that the dream of a coffee and alcohol fueled class of cafe dwelling writers is dead.

Please.
posted by ethansr at 3:26 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


There's always high-speed pizza delivery.
posted by pompomtom at 3:28 AM on October 7, 2011 [19 favorites]


Or microcode.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:37 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


So really it's a dumb point in two ways: Not only are jobs in data processing not making up for lost jobs in publishing, jobs in data processing are actually being lost as well.

The point is that the internet has probably created as much new opportunity for laptop-powered knowledge class as it has killed for others. Almost as many jobs have been lost in newspapers are made up for by hosting alone.

Contrary to the lamenting the loss of buggy-whips mentality of the article, the dream of a laptop-powered knowledge class is not dead - far from it - but it looks maybe different than some people wish it did.
posted by three blind mice at 3:39 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know enough to comment intelligently about the loss of a creative class overall, but I just finished putting together, with 3 other people, the third issue of The Trumpet, a "thrice-annual periodical for singers and writers of dispersed harmony & fasola music." The composers are amateurs, the typesetter is an amateur, we editors are, too.

When singers get together, we don't perform for others (for money); we just sing. The only people who made any money off this are Fedex Office (it costs about $2.50 per issue to print), printer and ink manufacturers (many people just print this off at home), and the software houses who made the software we use (we use Finale for musical typesetting and inDesign for the overall issue; we could, with a little more effort, have used Lilypond and LaTex—both free—to do the same).

Our model is BF White's BF White's The Organ, a weekly publication from the 1850s. I assume White did it for profit as well as love, but's it's not the sort of thing that would go today. White's publication lasted about 10 years; I'd consider it a triumph if we last that long.

So, none of us makes a living at this, or even an economic profit at it--but printing, typesetting, and communication technologies have allowed us to put together an edited periodical and distribute it world-wide (this issue has the first tunes with Polish words ever) at essentially no cost. Am I sorry that journalists have lost their jobs—yes. Am I glad that we can publish a journal like this—also, yes.
posted by willF at 3:44 AM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


A couple decades ago when Manufacturing Jobs were being lost due to Technology (Automation), most in the Media declared that the displaced workers would find new opportunities in the booming economy. Which was only part true, since most of the replacement jobs were not as good as those lost. Now, with Media Jobs lost due to Technology (the Internet), they notice there's a problem. And with jobs being lost in ALL parts of the economy (another issue altogether), it's an even worse time to be obsoleted.

On preview, three blind mice's contention that "Almost as many jobs have been lost in newspapers are made up for by hosting alone" has been pre-debunked by delmoi with his link SHOWING that the number of people employed in that category INCLUDING "HOSTING" dropped from 320k to just 240k.

And as willF demonstrates, the Creative Class is not going away. Just the temporary economic and social conditions that made it possible to be Middle Class AND Creative Class.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:48 AM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


There is something valid about worrying that "information economy" jobs (art, data processing, etc.) aren't showing up fast enough to feed everyone who needs to eat. The idea is that growth in manufacturing jobs, where you make physical objects, can't possibly keep pace with projected population growth because there are finite resource limitations. In other words, there's not enough stuff around to keep everybody busy making other stuff out of that stuff. But information is essentially infinite; the impact on the obviously finite material resource base required by another information product is essentially negligible, so in the long run (fifty years or so) the pattern of consumption should shift away from everyone trying to accrue more possessions and more land to a pattern of consuming more information products. There should be more jobs appearing in information and service sectors to allow increasing populations to distribute material products in exchange for information products. This is the way it has to go, no matter what. There's no known way to create more physical stuff, so we have to maker better use of the stuff we have and we have to be willing to trade stuff for art. Even though this social/cultural/economic evolution is unavoidable, the transition may not be happening fast enough to avoid a present of painful disruption.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:51 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's always been hard to 'break in' to full-time jobs in the arts without connections, anyway, and most people with arts degrees don't go into full-time art production. They never have - it's always been only a tiny minority.

My reference point for this sort of thing is admittedly anecdotal: high school. Our school had very pre-professional-focused arts programs. Lots of people went to art school or theater/ film majors from there, many with impressive portfolios and scholarships. Several are professional artists or theater types now...and every single one of them comes from a family where the previous generation were also full-time creatives. No exceptions, no matter how good a school the person went to, no matter how good their work was. Even the professional writer/editor with the acclaimed published work is a newspaper journalist's son. (I can think of one journalist who has succeeded without family connections --> she used her language skills to get early work in a global hotspot where native-speaker reporters are rare and went on to do amazing work).

The others are all doing interesting stuff, though - off the top of my head, there's an education-policy analyst, a psychology researcher, several tech people of various types, a designer, a market-researcher, and a person who runs art workshops and parties for kids.

A few years ago, I was helping a friend give advice about college to a family member, and researched several BFA and MFA programs, and at the (pre-recession) time, it seemed like between 5-20% of grads of the best programs are full-time artists, of any kind, 5 years later. So this is in no way new, or a crisis, as far as I can tell.
posted by Wylla at 3:58 AM on October 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Optimists like Florida are undoubtedly right about something: This country doesn’t make things anymore and never will.
uhh
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 4:01 AM on October 7, 2011


But if "information is essentially infinite", then its value can never match that of limited physical resources. The price we are paying for information/art/data is dropping and will continue to do so, as much as ISPs want to charge more per byte. And a change to an "information-based" economy will mean much less in the way of physical goods. Stuff. We'll own less stuff, which is many people's definition of being Poorer. The social/cultural/economic evolution itself will be more painful (to some, maybe most) than the disruption.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:01 AM on October 7, 2011


Count me in with the "that's not what creative class meant" camp, too. Part of what critics of R. Florida found so objectionable in his rather celebratory writings about the creative class is that this is primarily the story of people with "creative" abilities being harnessed by capital markets to create value under highly flexible labor conditions (i.e., free-lance, casual labor) while also providing the landscape for urban gentrification (see Richard Lloyd's stuff on neo-bohemianism in Wicker Park, Chicago, for example).

The "creative class" types only win to the extent that they can sell their artistic abilities to particular sectors such as marketing, design, social media, etc, as well as accept working conditions that are in some ways more precarious than the "day job" in the coffee shop / bookstore / restaurant. The author of this article seems to be expressing a disappointment that the rise of the "creative class" didn't bring along with it a renaissance of the patronage system. Florida's neo-liberal dreaming might've imagined that the growth of marketing/design firms was a new kind of patronage-through-industry, but that's clearly not what's happening.

I'm living in Berlin right now, which is ground zero for debates about what the "creative industry" is worth, how it treats the people involved, and how it treats the cities it inhabits. See the Mediaspree project for an idea of what counts as "creative" development.
posted by LMGM at 4:02 AM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


The point is that the internet has probably created as much new opportunity for laptop-powered knowledge class as it has killed for others.

Dude, that lie died with the dot-com boom.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:08 AM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


also citing that 'cult of the amateur' guy? ughhh

i want to lock 'cult of the amateur' guy and pj o'rourke and andy rooney in a small room and let them talk at each other until the heat death of the universe. let them 'curate' each other until the end of fucking time.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 4:09 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry that nobody makes a living doing vaudeville anymore, but streaming video is where it's at.

Streaming vaudeville video. I'm telling you. That's the future. You heard it here first. Fucking vaudeville streaming video, dude. Shit's gonna be big.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:29 AM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Successful companies in the tech industry aren't hiring failed freelance authors, people. Do you realize how specialized tech jobs are? The "data processing, hosting, and related services" guys are not just entry-level office drones. You can't take a 35 year old guy who went all-in on a creative career that never happened and put him in a server farm.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:34 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah no tech company has a marketing team. Neckbeards only!
posted by humanfont at 5:36 AM on October 7, 2011


Anyone who thinks vaudeville is dead hasn't watched "America's Got Talent" (or any of it's brethren in other countries),
posted by crunchland at 5:38 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


You can't take a 35 year old guy who went all-in on a creative career that never happened and put him in a server farm.

You kind of can, if you're intelligent and know how to solve problems and are at least mildly comfortable with computers. Network and computer stuff moves so fast that having an 'education' in whatever technology isn't that important. I got a job at an ISP at the age of 34 and I basically had to start all over learning a bunch of new technology that I only had the vaguest understanding of from doing stuff like windows desktop support and being on the help desk for a voip company.
posted by empath at 5:40 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


It seems less like "blame the economy" than "blame economics". Technology facilitated the selling of creative services. Great. Only... increased supply does what to prices, again?

Okay, the economy also hurt, because we also lost a lot of demand for non-essential products, but it would have gone the same way either way. When you have a million people all writing novels--or available to design your business logo!--even before you get to the idea of outsourcing, the market is not going to provide a living for all of those people. There's still a market for these things, clearly. There may be more of a market than there used to be, in aggregate, but does that actually help an individual with a mortgage to pay? (Reality TV is a great example: Now, we've got people laboring to entertain us, for just the *chance* of making money.)

Meanwhile, we took all the things for which demand is relatively inelastic, and we called those things unimportant, and shipped them elsewhere, which basically makes our system much more vulnerable to those ups and downs.

I hope my kids decide to be electricians.
posted by gracedissolved at 5:42 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Am I the only one here who finds it ironic that Salon is site for this? I still do not understand how they ever made any money. I presume they pay their writers a little more than Huffington Post does.
posted by bukvich at 5:44 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think something's getting lost in the "crazy artists should get real jobs" talk:

In other countries in the world art is subsidized by the government and it is genuinely sad that artists in America have to drag themselves to marketing departments in big corporations just to eat. That's why you don't really see any big new artists coming out of the US now - at least not as much as Japan or Northern Europe.

This. Yeah, there's the NEA, but that is usually the first casualty when budgets need to be cut; and the NEA is spread so thin amongst all the state arts departments, and so many groups compete for that, that...

Well. I'm in an arts organization, and the biggest grant we've ever gotten from a government arts fund is about a grand. That went to pay for renting the lights for ONE show we did that year. Then the economy started faltering, that arts fund cut back, and...we are now a theater company that doesn't produce theater because we can't afford to, because we suck at fundraising. (We were hired for this role because of our expertise in THEATRE, not MARKETING.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:45 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is the way it has to go, no matter what. There's no known way to create more physical stuff, so we have to maker better use of the stuff we have and we have to be willing to trade stuff for art.

Why? The implication of your argument seems to be "because otherwise people will starve." But people have starved plenty, in the long course of human history. It's more the norm than not.

Your seem to imply that people will realise this and start paying for shit they can get for free in order to prevent it. I don't see any particular reason why it has to go that way. Value is scarcity. Economics is the study of the distribution of scarce resources. A world in which information is infinite and physical resources ever more scarce is a world in which physical resources are ever more valuable and information ever less valuable. That's what we're seeing --- not the rise of a creative class but the decimation of any profession whose value lies in the information it produces. The arts were merely the first --- we see it now in law and IT as well. Personally I think it will be acedemia next.
posted by Diablevert at 5:51 AM on October 7, 2011 [12 favorites]


That's why you don't really see any big new artists coming out of the US now - at least not as much as Japan or Northern Europe.

You must be using a very narrow definition of 'artist' here.
posted by empath at 5:51 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's what we're seeing --- not the rise of a creative class but the decimation of any profession whose value lies in the information it produces.

I don't think the end of art as a 'profession' is necessarily a bad thing, if its the result of the tools for being an artist being more widely distribute. If people are willing to create art for free, that's beautiful. It's not as if there is any evidence of less art being created. There are more songs, more movies, more novels, etc, being created every day now by more people than there have ever been in the past.
posted by empath at 5:53 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Supporting the arts is really important to a country's well-being, not just some whining of the privledged. It's more elitist I think to say only the wealthy can care about the arts. The article, I thought, was rightly bemoaning that the conditions for passing on living culture no longer exist. Journalism once was a gateway to all sorts of writing (Hemmingway). To have a thriving creative culture you need not just the few geniuses, the Beethovens and Picassos, but you need many also-rans to spread ideas and experiment.

I like me some new technology fine, but I don't think it's a worthy trade if it shucks artistry to the curb. As much as I admire the late Steve Jobs for his stubborn vision and rise from humble roots, I realized after I was mugged and my iPhone was stolen just how little was taken from me. In fact, my muggers in a way did me a service in that I realized how expendable a part of my life it was. A Beethoven symphony was a greater contribution to humanity than an iPhone.
posted by Schmucko at 5:58 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


A Beethoven symphony was a greater contribution to humanity than an iPhone.

And the thousands independent programmers, game designers, writers and musicians making money from selling apps, books and songs via iTunes to iPhone and iPad users?
posted by empath at 6:01 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I remember reading a book about poetry --the author's name escapes me because poetry is not really my thing -- but what she had to say about poets who are actually working and getting published was quite depressing. A very large percentage of those poets are physically disabled, hence they can collect SSD, hence they have a margin of independence.

Oh, I believe the poet was Adrienne Rich. Could be wrong.
posted by angrycat at 6:19 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


The internet has provided me with opportunities over the past decade I would never have dreamed of as a new university grad in the 1990s. I've been able to work in real time with teams located in different parts of the world; I've been able to work closely with (and get paid by) clients living in different parts of the world. These days, I don't need to go to an office. I work from home instead, and use what used to be my commute time to ride bikes with my sons to school. I have been known, from time to time, to work from a coffee shop.

That said, for artists and others, commoditizing content is the only way to survive.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:36 AM on October 7, 2011


A Beethoven symphony was a greater contribution to humanity than an iPhone.

Yeah, because you can't use an iPhone as a movie preview commercial's score.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 6:39 AM on October 7, 2011


Everything's gone to hell since Steve Jobs died.
posted by papercake at 6:44 AM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


what we're seeing --- not the rise of a creative class but the decimation of any profession whose value lies in the information it produces. The arts were merely the first --- we see it now in law and IT as well. Personally I think it will be acedemia next.

It already happened a decade ago. But really you can blame the decline of jobs in academia on a combination of massively reduced government support for research and education - and on a entrenched academic elite who (even at cash-strapped state institutions) have no problem paying themselves 90th percentile wages even as they leave half (or more) of the teaching to people on poverty wages.
posted by jb at 6:48 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


But as a society, we have to figure out what exactly people are going to do when most of the work that had been done by people is automated away.
posted by delmoi at 6:22 AM on October 7


This is the problem facing the entire world, in a nutshell. Jobs don't shift, or get shipped overseas. They disappear.

Let me give you a ridiculous example. At some point someone is going to invent a robotic lawn mower-i.e. a machine that you start, and then will autonomously cut your grass, but not your flower beds, not your children, etc. This is something that is eventually going to happen. (There's a long standing competition sponsored by John Deere to push the technology forward.)

Now think about all the people who make some money from mowing lawns. Teenagers, immigrants legal and illegal, gardeners, groundskeepers, etc. That money is going to disappear from their hands entirely. Some of the money will go to the robot mower manufacturers, and some will be retained by the lawn owner. But the people who had the job get nothing.

What do they do? Become landscapers? Okay, so now the supply of landscapers jumps, there's way more competition, and now landscapers get paid less because they have to compete more aggressively on price.

Technology is disruptive to society. That's the point of it. We generally accept this because at any given point in human history, we are convinced that society would be better if only ____.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:06 AM on October 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


I don't believe in nothing anymore! I'm going to law school.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 7:12 AM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yes and no. We seem to be going from a journalist being a salaried position and career cranking out "10 Reasons Scar Jo Left Ryan Reynolds" type articles to a paid-per-piece temp job cranking out "10 Reasons Scar Jo Left Ryan Reynolds" type articles.

FTFY, PenDevil.

A casual perusal of historical news media, from early broadsheets to WWII-era movie "shorts", makes it pretty clear that the public has always demanded, and gotten, loads of meaningless salacious celebrity gossip from them.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:13 AM on October 7, 2011


A lot of lefties are really missing the boat, I think, on what's actually happening.

The liberalization/decommodification whatever the hell you want to call it of creativity, whatever its other benefits might be, basically just eliminates one of the only paths once available to people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds to progress up the social ladder in America and achieve financial autonomy.

For generations, the creative arts--painting, music, writing--were one of the greatest economic refuges of the socioeconomically disadvantaged.

Early blues men pursued music as much for economic gain as for some mythical ideal of aesthetic purity and authenticity. Hell, Woody Guthrie famously wrote "This Machine Kills Fascists" on his guitar, but if you've ever read his autobiography, you know he also called his guitar his "meal ticket."

I personally think this whole push toward democratization of creative products is not really all that good for the poor, as it makes the creative arts a much less viable path for economic empowerment, and in many cases, acts as a kind of placebo for real social justice.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:21 AM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't believe in nothing anymore! I'm going to law school.

Law school will make you believe again. Unfortunately, it will make you believe in the quasi-supernatural power of "non-dischargeable in bankruptcy."
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:21 AM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


For generations, the creative arts--painting, music, writing--were one of the greatest economic refuges of the socioeconomically disadvantaged.

Do you have any numbers to back this up?
posted by empath at 7:22 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


"You know what the problem is?

We used to make shit in this country. Build shit."
posted by ocschwar at 7:24 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm so sick of this we don't make shit anymore meme. I don't give a shit about all the shit we aren't making anymore. We didn't need that shit, or that shit was too fucking expensive. If you want to be part of the creative class make something cool, something useful and durable. Something that connects the maker to the consumer in an emotional way.
posted by humanfont at 7:39 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


It really is brilliant the way corporations have us aiming all that contempt at artists under the false premise that we're rebelling against said corporations.
posted by mobunited at 7:41 AM on October 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


" I don't give a shit about all the shit we aren't making anymore. We didn't need that shit, or that shit was too fucking expensive."

And you type those words on your China-made computer.
posted by ocschwar at 7:46 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


There are two dirty little secrets worth mentioning here :

First, America is full of idiots who won't pay for anything unless it's conceptualized as warfare. You know, the NEA was a cold war cultural program meant to prevent cultural elites from embracing communism. I'm hoping for a financial & cultural global war to reinvigorate science funding, i.e. the war gets fought by high frequency trading algorithms. An ideological war sounds way more dangerous, but that's what arts funding usually requires.

Second, any really clever artistic type should seriously consider a STEM degree with a minor in some arts subject, but select only the hardest classes for said minor, or maybe dual major. If you cannot manage the STEM degree, then learn any technological tools of the trade well. There is an awful lot of need for technological or scientific people in the arts. Science and technology are radically altering every field.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:46 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Personally I think it will be acedemia next."

It already happened a decade ago.


Oh, I dunno, I think they could go a lot farther. Consider the recent experiment at Stanford with offering a course in artificial intelligence free online. They achieved a 24,000 to 1 student to professor ratio. If you could come up with better test enforcement and screening --- and there are already technologies in place that could be used for this, and for profit businesses that do nothing but serve as test centers --- what's to prevent every course from being taught like that? I mean, as a student, wouldn't you want to be taught by the best of the best?

I mean, I acknowledge that in the real world their are definitely subjects that require more hands on instruction. (Surgery come vividly to mind.) And i'm sure that there'd be a place for tutors and TAs in such a world. Perhaps more importantly, there are very strong entrenched interests in maintaing physical campuses.

But hey, the newspaper printers and distributors unions used to be pretty fearsome too.
posted by Diablevert at 7:47 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


For generations, the creative arts--painting, music, writing--were one of the greatest economic refuges of the socioeconomically disadvantaged.

What? That's like saying pro basketball is a way out for the urban poor. How many people actually made money off of their music, back in the glory days of The Creative Class?
posted by Threeway Handshake at 7:50 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


It really is brilliant the way corporations have us aiming all that contempt at artists under the false premise that we're rebelling against said corporations.

This! Ding-ding!

What? That's like saying pro basketball is a way out for the urban poor. How many people actually made money off of their music, back in the glory days of The Creative Class?

Are you kidding me? Elvis? Michael Jackson? All the early blues men who made it onto the national stage? The entire early country music scene, including Lorreta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, Sr., etc.? For many, many years, the most prominent musicians in our culture were poor people who made good through music.

Even the lyrics to Chuck Berry's Johnny-be Good, which some consider the first Rock and Roll song, reflect that fact:
Deep down Louisiana close to New Orleans
Way back up in the woods among the evergreens
There stood a log cabin made of earth and wood
Where lived a country boy named Johnny B. Goode
Who never ever learned to read or write so well
But he could play the guitar just like a ringing a bell
....
His mother told him "Someday you will be a man,
And you will be the leader of a big old band.
Many people coming from miles around
To hear you play your music when the sun go down
Maybe someday your name will be in lights
Saying Johnny B. Goode tonight."
posted by saulgoodman at 7:58 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


What bugs me is... this is where the new jobs were supposed to come from. That's what they told us when whole categories of jobs started disappearing, eaten up by computer applications. We were told we were moving from a manufacturing economy to an information economy, and now we find out that jobs in the information economy don't pay anything.

Whole classes of jobs died out while we were being told that the new jobs will come, if only we re-train ourselves as information workers, if we were ready to supply the content that the new information economy would burn as fuel.

So, now that we know that only a very few people will actually make a living in creative pursuits, and that only a very few people will make a living running the infrastructure of the information economy... now what?

posted by MrVisible at 7:58 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, there are lots of people who worked really hard to achieve something in a technical field who absolutely cannot stand the idea that their old layabout (liberal) art student roommates may know something they don't about something important.
posted by mobunited at 7:59 AM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm sure it's wonderful to dream that everyone can be an artist, but the reality is that if you have to give your art away for free, you'll need another job to support you. The likelihood of you finishing that novel or painting after putting in 8 hours at Walmart for minimum wage is slim. The notion that everyone can be an artist now really means that only the independently wealthy will be able to afford an art career. Talent will have no place in this equation.

Sure, art has never been a big moneymaker, but it was once valued rather than seen as a self-indulgent luxury.

Also I hate this idea of a "creative class", even though I'm ostensibly one of them, because it seems so congratulatory, as though creativity can only ever be justified by commercialism. "We've decided we need you to make our ads and logos, aren't you happy to chew that bone?" Hooray, I'm useful for something, even if only for a moment.

I'm reminded of that n+1 essay about the Hipster:

"One could say, exaggerating only slightly, that the hipster moment did not produce artists, but tattoo artists, who gained an entire generation’s arms, sternums, napes, ankles, and lower backs as their canvas. It did not produce photographers, but snapshot and party photographers: Last Night’s Party, Terry Richardson, the Cobra Snake. It did not produce painters, but graphic designers. It did not yield a great literature, but it made good use of fonts."

This is where I see the everyone's-an-artist-now mindset leading, not to novels, but neat fonts.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 8:02 AM on October 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Elvis? Michael Jackson

Okay, that's two. You've got several million more poor people to account for.
posted by empath at 8:03 AM on October 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


"One could say, exaggerating only slightly, that the hipster moment did not produce artists, but tattoo artists, who gained an entire generation’s arms, sternums, napes, ankles, and lower backs as their canvas. It did not produce photographers, but snapshot and party photographers: Last Night’s Party, Terry Richardson, the Cobra Snake. It did not produce painters, but graphic designers. It did not yield a great literature, but it made good use of fonts."

One could say that the hipster moment did produce artists, but also tattoo artists, who gained an entire generation’s arms, sternums, napes, ankles, and lower backs as their canvas. It did produce photographers, but also snapshot and party photographers: Last Night’s Party, Terry Richardson, the Cobra Snake. It did produce painters, but also graphic designers. It did yield great literature, but it also made good use of fonts."

It sounds much better if you put it that way. The vast majority of people aren't cut out to be great artists. But a lot of people, given the tools of artistry, can produce better creative work in whatever field they are in.
posted by empath at 8:06 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I disagree saulgoodman. Yes, music gave the early blues men an income, but our music industry killed that career path before the mp3 was even invented. You could have maybe recreated that career path by creating an mp3 container format that made the player show advertising, but nobody bothered, so Apple monopolized that distribution chain instead. You could still try, I suppose.

I agree diablevert. Academia has much further to fall. Yet, imho the Stanford A.I. and M.L. courses are trying to save it. We must industrialize education correctly by using artificial intelligence instead of poorly paid adjuncts. I'm content with the world losing half it's professor positions if it dumps all the adjust positions too, and obliterates all the for-profit bullshit diploma mills.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:07 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, I dunno, I think they could go a lot farther. Consider the recent experiment at Stanford with offering a course in artificial intelligence free online. They achieved a 24,000 to 1 student to professor ratio. If you could come up with better test enforcement and screening --- and there are already technologies in place that could be used for this, and for profit businesses that do nothing but serve as test centers --- what's to prevent every course from being taught like that? I mean, as a student, wouldn't you want to be taught by the best of the best?

no, I wouldn't. because a) I know that for the vast majority, distance learning is not as educational as face-to-face teaching, and b) I've met and TA'd for some of the best of the best, and the chances of their being the best teacher/lecturer is about 50-50.

Most undergrads are better off at a middle-tier university that puts a strong emphasis on teaching and provides good one-on-one support.
posted by jb at 8:09 AM on October 7, 2011


Elvis? Michael Jackson? All the early blues men who made it onto the national stage? The entire early country music scene, including Lorreta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, Sr., etc.?

So, by your count, like 6 people. And add another maybe dozen or so for the "early blues men." Yeah, I can see how that totally worked out for those 18 people.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 8:09 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pops explained this all very well in The Treasure of Sierra Madre
posted by warbaby at 8:12 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think that this author has really misunderstood Richard Florida. Florida wasn't arguing that in the future, we would all be artists and film-makers. He was, in fact, saying that the economy was going to be driven by exactly the people this article goes after for having "given up": people with arts degrees working interesting jobs in marketing, design, or technology that they got because of those art degrees.

Large numbers of people getting art degrees and ending up with jobs in marketing or non-engineering design is not the basis of a healthy economy. Encouraging this will cause supply to outstrip demand to the point where people in these fields get paid next to nothing (aren't we already there?).

Florida's take on the creative class is nice to think about, but it's not really applicable to the economy at large.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:15 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Keep your day job 'til your night job pays!
posted by bukvich at 8:15 AM on October 7, 2011


For many computer programmers, corporate executives who oversee social media, and some others who fit the definition of the “creative class” — a term that dates back to the mid-’90s but was given currency early last decade by urbanist/historian Richard Florida — things are good. The creativity of video games is subsidized by government research grants; high tech is booming. This creative class was supposed to be the new engine of the United States economy, post-industrial age, and as the educated, laptop-wielding cohort grew, the U.S. was going to grow with it.

But for those who deal with ideas, culture and creativity at street level — the working- or middle-classes within the creative class — things are less cheery. Book editors, journalists, video store clerks, musicians, novelists without tenure — they’re among the many groups struggling through the dreary combination of economic slump and Internet reset. The creative class is melting, and the story is largely untold.


Well, I'm in Group 1, so I guess I'm The Man and should feel shame for selling out and learning to code rather than working at Blockbusters.
posted by Artw at 8:17 AM on October 7, 2011


Though if any goverment wants to give me money to write videogames instead of websites I am good with that also.
posted by Artw at 8:19 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


no, I wouldn't. because a) I know that for the vast majority, distance learning is not as educational as face-to-face teaching

Well, a substitute good doesn't have to surpass a competitor in quality in order to eclipse it --- if it's cheap enough. I mean, heck, a pb&j isn't as delicious and satisfying a lunch as filet mingnon at Daniel, but both are food if and I only have $20 in my pocket I know what I'm going for.

The higher Ed market in this country is distorted by the easy to get, impossible to get rid of nature of student debt. But in my personal opinion, there are a lot of signs that people are beginning to question the price. People may accept and understand that you get a better education one on one, in a classroom, in person --- and still choose online in droves if it costs $2,000 vs $20,000. Right now, I think the quality's too low and the sketchiness levels too high for most at Phoenix and its ilk --- but hell, I'd have signed up for that Stanford course. If a quality institution were to go into that seriously, it'd be a hole in the dyke that could bring the flood. Might never happen but if it doesn't it won't be because the tech wasn't there.
posted by Diablevert at 8:29 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Even for those who are "lucky enough" to make a living as an artist of some description, there is always a tension between doing what you want and what will make you money. The truth is that the line is fuzzy; Dickens was paid by the word, Shakespeare had to please his patrons, Kafka had a day job. Complete artistic freedom only happens, if it happens, as a result of a very successful commercial endeavor early on (ala the Beatles) or via family support.

Blaming the Web and the rise of new media is the least useful thing we can do, and ignores that we never really had it that good to start with. My former field of book editing was never well-paid, partly because it was overrrun with the children of wealthy people who didn't need a living wage but wanted to do something literary. The contracts which musicians signed with record labels were monstrously exploitative to the point that even successful artists often never realized a profit. I miss the work I did, but I do not miss the frustration at being consistently underpaid and undervalued. If my husband had ever gotten that music contract he dreamed of as a teenager, he would be on the road constantly but we'd still be broke. Or he'd just have gotten dumped by the label like several of his marginally-more-successful musician friends. Almost all of whom have day jobs now. But thanks to all those new tools that helped crater music as an industry, he can still record and release his music.

If economic survival is what we're all concerned about, then we should be over in the threads on Occupy Wall Street, because that's much more relevant then wringing our hands about the internet.
posted by emjaybee at 8:32 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


What is the subsidization of video games that Florida talks about? AFAIK very early video games (e.g. Computer Space, Zork) were subsidized in the sense that they were developed on university equipment after-hours, but I know of no specific government program. America's Army is the only one that comes to mind. Battlezone, maybe. But these are outliers.

In fact the NEA recently added a "Arts in Media" category which includes video games.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:33 AM on October 7, 2011


I guess creatives are the poor people Metafilter's blaming today for their own economic precariousness; how irresponsible of them to become so knowledgeable in skills that were useful when they were acquiring that knowledge 10, 15, 20, and 30 years ago and those skills were valued in the marketplace.

There is no way these people could have known that e-publishing would slowly kill publishing houses, or that the internet would kill newspapers and traditional journalism, or that the collapse of the Cold War would decimate arts funding in this country. On a Main Street level, there is no way that the hourly guy at the local movie store or record store who had a steady paycheck and way to pay his rent while he wrote his scripts or songs or whatever would lose that job because stores themselves were becoming obsolete and/or unprofitable because of Big Box Retailers, Amazon, and government laws that help monopolies thrive and small retail businesses die.

It is funny that we are blaming these creatives for what is essentially a very fundamental problem with our current societal move away from scarcity --> Value has traditionally been tied to scarcity. Scarcity is increasingly rare in the things we used to pay well for -- in creative endeavors, in labor, in goods. (I would argue, frighteningly, that scarcity is actually cropping up in resources--like potable water--that we traditionally took for granted as well.) So, delmoi is onto something, and it is something that this article only hints at--How do we pay for ourselves when ourselves are increasingly obsolete?

This is not just creatives who are suffering. Every time I see an automated toll booth, I tick off another job lost that used to be for a person. Banks usually only have 2 tellers behind the glass these days, not 5 to 8. Everyone uses an ATM. Grocery stores have self-checkouts. In creative land, technology increasingly diminishes the number of people needed to complete a movie, an album, publish a book, and bring those things to market. The death of manufacturing has been lamented here many times.

We're obviously not going to get rid of our new technology. But that still leaves us with a lot people with a lot of skills who need shelter, who need to eat, who are barely getting by.

I read an article a while ago that the Depression this time around wouldn't look like the Depression of the 1930s, not because people were not as poor, but because the signifiers of their poverty would be different. In the 1930s, people who were poor LOOKED poor, because clothes were expensive. You can buy a new outfit in the U.S. for the price of one meal. Not only that, food (a certain kind of food) is less expensive. Fast food has made that possible. Government subsidies have made that possible. Just because poor people are not rail thin and wearing rags does not mean they are not poor. Just because someone has a higher degree does not mean they are not poor. Many people's net worth is in the negative, by tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars.

We are in a transition time, and hating on the people who have been affected by it isn't going to bring us any closer to solving our larger problem of a growing world population with less and less to do.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 8:40 AM on October 7, 2011 [18 favorites]


I'm not really sure what "the creative class" is supposed to be. Creativity is available to everyone, regardless of station or access to technology, but throwing the word "class" in there seems to be an attempt ot tie it to economics.

Is what we're really saying, "the leisure class is in crisis?" Because that's a well documented decline, unless you're party of the ultra rich apparently.

So, economic collapse makes it harder for middle class kids to sit around in coffee shops and do whatever it is they do there. But does it also make it harder to earn a living in the arts? Well we've certainly slashed funding to the arts, to universities, heritage, periodicals, and all of the other publicly supported platforms. As for the free market, if everybody is working 70 hours a week to make ends meet, or not working at all, they won't be able to afford much art.

There's a lot of pontificating about culture, democratic media, silence, and voice here. A lot of mumbling about main stream versus indie. But economics actually offers an explanation. The crux of the article seems to be that jobs in America keep getting shittier, not better, and that the public sector has been slaughtered. I guess that's pretty obvious though.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:45 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


> We are in a transition time, and hating on the people who have been affected by it isn't going to bring us any closer to solving our larger problem of a growing world population with less and less to do.

I would never argue that people shouldn't have kids for moral/environmental reasons, but in practical terms...I can't help but wonder what the hell everyone is going to do for a living in the future (the near future). My career advice to young people would be to identify something that can't be done by a robot or over the internet and grab it with both hands.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:58 AM on October 7, 2011


As a rule, the for-profit diploma mills offer extremely crappy courses, but charge almost Ivy league prices, Diablevert. Such schools exist only because (a) advertising succors people in and (b) federal financial aid hides the scam.

At present, for-profit degree mills consume 80% of our federal student loans. And their repayment rates are abysmal, making them by far the largest recipients of federal education funding. All these scams would fold overnight if you pass a law that schools lose federally backed financial aid if more than 30% of their student default on their loans.

There are afaik no 'good' online degree programs yet, although hopefully the Stanford project will change that. There are however comparatively inexpensive universities in Europe that offer a better education than most U.S. state schools with equal student-teacher face time. You might need to learn French or German however.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:09 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I teach computer skills for a living and I write for a living. Of the writing, I've done fiction, exposition, technical writing, scripts for videos, press releases and market pieces. In fact, I spent a couple of years in the marketing field. I guess I'm a creative guy, but I'm not too proud to do other stuff. I've got kids, after all.

My experiences have been instructive -- especially the marketing. Marketing is essentially a technical field, and has been for decades, but creative people have not only provided the seeds, but stuck around in the dark places that existed because diagnostic tools were poor. This is no longer true. Internet data provides a degree of detail that has never existed before, and it's easy to perform experiments very cheaply, comparing elements that are easily swapped and remixed. If you have a Google account and some time, you could harvest more market intelligence than a dozen Don Drapers, or whatever. A lot.

But this didn't give birth to superior marketing. It's made it easier to do large scale mediocre marketing. It's more cost-effective to do a half-assed job.

This reality exists outside of marketing, but "cost-effectiveness" is less explicit. I think many people -- especially people who've never pursued an artistic discipline seriously -- believe the main barrier to everyone expressing themselves was a technical one, and as technologies augmented knowledge as well as practice, that even knowing how to do something would be unnecessary. But again, we haven't experiences an explosion of great novels and songs. In these pursuits, cost-effectiveness equates to generating personal satisfaction for the effort invested. It now requires very little effort to earn the personal satisfaction that comes from sharing art and video, or being published and distributed -- even of earning a couple of bucks. But it was a mistake to assume that people with creative interests would devote more energy to the intangible qualities that make art memorable just because the scut work got easier. Instead, it's just allows people to produce personally fulfilling bad art faster. When you have the option of producing 5 items that generate 1 chunk of utility, or 1 item that produces 3 chunks of utility in a given period, very few people produce 1x3. Yeah, there are folks who win a lottery that converts n=3 items into extreme wealth and/or happiness, but it *is* a lottery, once craft and exposure meet a minimum standard.

In the past, mediocrity and badness was less cost-effective. This doesn't mean there wasn't a ton of crap out there (Sturgeon's Law!) but that content companies were a little more eager to find quality. This is not the "gatekeeper" role that so many have properly derided. It's the fact that you make more money from things people like more.

This is no longer a problem.

The gatekeeper metaphor makes it appear that Big Content was the only thing holding back legions of creative people. This is a convenient position for new content companies to take. They've made themselves look like they're fighting for you, because Big Content obviously kept you from writing your book, or releasing your music, and it makes you pay for things technology allows you to take anyway. And it is true that the old model was never very good at homing in on greatness -- but it had an *interest* in greatness for selfish reasons. New content companies talk about prioritizing, categorizing and curating content instead. Some things are tagged, some things move to the front of the queue, but nothing is ever excluded. Exclusion is Big Content gatekeeping, but burial on page 47 of a Google SERP? No problem! In fact, Google wouldn't like you to think of them as a content company at all, but a technical service that happens to sell ads.

But Google doesn't give a shit about quality. Neither does Apple, outside of avoiding threats to their corporate identity like porn, or winning something from the elite of old content, like Beatles songs. They have no economic motive to care, and content producers have no economic motive to produce quality stuff when mediocre stuff is more efficient to produce, thanks to contemporary technologies. This means fewer channels to reward good work, because good work doesn't matter. You might believe that you vote with your clicks, but outside of ephemera, you pretty much don't. Google's algorithm no longer works that way. But it's possible for new content to take refuge in the idea that they aren't really managing things, but finding a rational algorithm -- one which always fits their business goals, funnily enough. That's how these new content companies can position themselves as neutral agents. As I've said before, I find that many people, MeFites included, treat Google as a charity. A while back, some of them jeered Ursula LeGuin for asserting her rights as an artist against this enormous marketing company. It was obscene.

Bad and mediocre content is cost-effective for . . . let's call 'em New Content. It's cost-effective for the vast majority of self-styled creative types. Beyond this, there's a strong pressure to produce efficiencies by getting creative action out of the picture altogether. If works can be remixed, recycled, or retired and revived, New Content (including Old Big Content that survives this era) harvests the power of good stuff, without having to waste energy on supporting the production of new stuff, either through traditional corporate patronage, or by making content creation tools and content indexing available.

So while some of you may be having a fine old time talking shit about how artists never deserved to have it so good because of rational economics, you may want to consider that as long as we're all being rational, you can expect art to become maximally rational when people stop making it completely. Or you can actually get off your asses, advocate, and create cultural institutions that aren't beholden to the forces affecting Old or New Content.
posted by mobunited at 9:10 AM on October 7, 2011 [18 favorites]


I wonder if there is any basis behind his assertion that low-end jobs vaguely related to the arts, his book/record/video store clerk, act as incubators for artists. There is something compelling about the idea that a video store clerk is more likely to become an director than is a burger flipper, but its hard to tell if its anything more than just a compelling idea.
posted by rtimmel at 9:10 AM on October 7, 2011


So that reminds me about my idea for a new university. At this university, majors would be grouped into two categories. The first category would include all the things that people study purely for their intellectual/artistic merits: arts, humanities, social science, physics, math. The second category would include all the things you could easily get a job in: engineering, computer science, vocational trades, chemistry, biology, finance. Every student would be required to be a double major, with one subject from each category. The categories would be regularly updated based on the state of the economy.

So you'd have an entire school full of ballet/chemistry majors, film/biology majors, creative writing/law enforcement majors. The philosophical fields would stay alive and thriving with a steady stream of new minds, with little risk that the students would end up destitute upon graduation.
posted by miyabo at 9:11 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]



posted by mobunited at 9:10 AM on October 7

I hear that there are still places in the world that actually respect writers and artists, but North America doesn't seem to be it.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:15 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


so Apple monopolized that distribution chain instead. You could still try, I suppose.

In my ideal world, artists would monopolize distribution and audiences wouldn't be hopelessly dependent on the big media to determine their musical tastes, but audiences apparently need big money PR to find the artists they're willing to support, because those heavily-hyped, corporate media products are still overwhelmingly what we consume the most greedily--and even most of the big breakthrough indie artists we've seen on the national stage in recent years didn't get that way without a lot of money being spent on their behalf to get them there.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:20 AM on October 7, 2011


It is funny that we are blaming these creatives

I don't blame them. Shit happens. Sometimes people are unlucky. I support things like universal health care, unemployment insurance, free education, welfare, and so on, not just for creatives, but for everybody who has gotten shit on by the economy.

But I don't think that subsidizing creative work for which there is no market and encouraging more people to learn skills for which they will not be paid is the correct answer. And I _really_ don't think that throttling the free exchange of ideas by forcing people to pay extortionate prices for stuff which by all rights should be in the public domain after a decade is the correct answer.
posted by empath at 9:29 AM on October 7, 2011


Umm, math and physics majors do alright, miyabo, assuming they don't stay in academia.

I consider double majors kinda wasteful, most non-engeneering degree programs aren't so focussed anyways, just use your electives for interesting courses.

I got a minor in social psychology in undergrad. I actually took more hours in physics and computer science, and squeezed in a year of graduate math courses. I cared more about taking interesting courses in those subjects though, meaning I never took the stupid ones necessary for a minor. And obviously they weren't about to give me a masters sans any hours beyond the undergrad. I would've been extremely bored by the extra year of stupidity necessary for any double major.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:34 AM on October 7, 2011


> even most of the big breakthrough indie artists we've seen on the national stage in recent years didn't get that way without a lot of money being spent on their behalf to get them there.

I forget the exact number, but as I recall Rebecca Black's parents bought her "It's Friday" for her birthday for about three thousand dollars.
posted by bukvich at 9:34 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


In my ideal world, artists would monopolize distribution and audiences wouldn't be hopelessly dependent on the big media to determine their musical tastes, but audiences apparently need big money PR to find the artists they're willing to support, because those heavily-hyped, corporate media products are still overwhelmingly what we consume the most greedily--and even most of the big breakthrough indie artists we've seen on the national stage in recent years didn't get that way without a lot of money being spent on their behalf to get them there.

I feel like you aren't living in the same world that I am. I don't think I've bought a major label record in years. I don't even listen to the radio. 90% of the music I listen to is indie stuff that I find out about from blogs or from mix tapes, or pandora or just browsing indie record stores like beatport.

If you don't want to listen to major label corporate bullshit, don't listen to it. It's kind of easy.

And why is it important that there are 'breakout' indie successes? Why can't we have a lot of indie artists with a moderately successful middle class life style touring small venues and selling a few thousand mp3s to a medium sized audience? Isn't that good enough? I don't think we should judge the music industry based on how many millionaires it produces, but by how much good music gets into the hands of how many people that enjoy it.
posted by empath at 9:34 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you don't want to listen to major label corporate bullshit, don't listen to it. It's kind of easy.

If you used the internet to find any of this music you probably helped out corporations just as shitty as major music labels. And yes, there's an excellent chance these corporations influenced your decision for their own profit. Also, you helped them out just as much as somebody looking for Girlicious.

Want to be pure? Line up at the back of a tour van (after a concert you discovered by poster, and paid for face to face) because that's the only way you're not helping somebody shitty get paid.
posted by mobunited at 9:43 AM on October 7, 2011


I find it interesting that some folks assume we are in a transitional phase, with the implication that new careers will emerge to replace the jobs currently being lost. Perhaps this will happen, but to me it seems like anything but a forgone conclusion. I think there may be a tendency to believe that, sure, manufacturing and toll booth jobs may be gone forever, but journalists will be okay as long as they can stick it out until the unknown new paradigm starts making money and creating jobs.

In the case of many creative careers, the old system basically bundled moneymaking with cultural or intellectual pursuits. Classified advertising supported investigative journalism, Dan Brown novels, summer blockbusters and boy bands paid for critically-acclaimed but commercially underperforming books, movies and music. As the old paradigms fall apart (and good riddance to some of it, like sleazy record company execs), there really isn't any evidence that something is going to replace it, at least not on the scale of what is being lost.

Also, while some may say that bands should make music for the sake of making music or whatever, there are lots of trades that are impacted beyond artists making their art (which I also think is good and not just self-indulgence). The money is disappearing that paid for reporters to go to war zones and for editors to help turn good books into great ones.

To me, there's a lot more going on than just old fogies being worried about the future because they're scared of change. I think there a lot of great things on the chopping block right now, and no reason at all to think there are equal or better replacements on the horizon.
posted by snofoam at 9:44 AM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


If you used the internet to find any of this music you probably helped out corporations just as shitty as major music labels.

I could care less about where I get the music from, really. I just happen to like stuff that the major labels don't really care about very much.
posted by empath at 9:46 AM on October 7, 2011


Why can't we have a lot of indie artists with a moderately successful middle class life style touring small venues and selling a few thousand mp3s to a medium sized audience?

We can have a lot of indie artists touring small venues and selling a few thousand mp3s to a medium sized audience. We just can't have the "middle class" part, it seems.
posted by Iridic at 9:48 AM on October 7, 2011


Also, while some may say that bands should make music for the sake of making music or whatever, there are lots of trades that are impacted beyond artists making their art (which I also think is good and not just self-indulgence). The money is disappearing that paid for reporters to go to war zones and for editors to help turn good books into great ones.

If people want carefully edited books and reports from war zones (and I think they do), then they will pay for it. Having quasi-independent news reporting subsidized by corporate advertising was never in the best interests of the public.
posted by empath at 9:49 AM on October 7, 2011


Why can't we have a lot of indie artists with a moderately successful middle class life style touring small venues and selling a few thousand mp3s to a medium sized audience? Isn't that good enough?

Depends on whether power laws apply. I dunno if anyone's studied it for music, but I know some interesting studies have been done on blogs. It wouldn't surprise me if it applies to any phenomenon where success depends on noteriety. Basically, the problem is that the vast majority of people aren't like you, empath. Which is not to say that they hate music --- they probably like it quite a bit. But they don't have the drive to go out and continually discover new shit. They have a small core of favorite bands, and every one in a while they stumble on new music when they encounter it in the world --- on tv, on the radio, in a movie, through a friend's recommendation. (Back when there were CDs they had a 200 disk folder and they were pretty happy with that.) being that that's the way most people discover new music, you naturally end up with the pattern that a certain lucky few bands get huge and most stay tiny, because it's a case of notoriety building on itself.
posted by Diablevert at 9:49 AM on October 7, 2011


humanfont: "Yeah no tech company has a marketing team. Neckbeards only!"

'Cause there has to be someone to do pointless revs of the company logo, send out breathless emails about "elevating the brand" and get mad at engineers for not having the right company slogan in their default email signature.
posted by octothorpe at 9:51 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I could care less about where I get the music from, really. I just happen to like stuff that the major labels don't really care about very much.

If your tastes are amoral, why should you prescribe them?

This is the crux. People either believe that there are some cultural achievements that are good things, and require us to band together to support them even if we don't find them directly gratifying, or they . . . let's just say I'm trying to find a polite variant of "part of the problem" and failing.
posted by mobunited at 9:54 AM on October 7, 2011


If people want carefully edited books and reports from war zones (and I think they do), then they will pay for it. Having quasi-independent news reporting subsidized by corporate advertising was never in the best interests of the public.

I see what you're saying, and sure, the old system wasn't ideal. On the other hand, I don't share the assumption that these things will be subsidized by people paying for them, especially if they have to pay the true cost now that they are no longer subsidized by the bundling going on in the old system. Perhaps I am just a pessimist in this regard, but I just don't see how it will happen. Also, with regard to your newspaper example, I'm not sure what model you are predicting, but if it means only those who can afford news have access to it, then I don't know that it's an improvement.
posted by snofoam at 9:58 AM on October 7, 2011


Isn't supporting a major label immoral?

I might support some meritocratic welfare state approach, meaning anyone doing useful stuff gets some government money. You're studying surgery? Great, here's $20k per year plus your tuition. You're doing standup comedy? Cool, here's $20k per year. You've a solid proposal for a tech startup that's pre-venture capital? Sweet, here's $20k per year for all three of your technical employees. You spend your time taking care of old people? Sure, here's $20k per year. etc.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:04 AM on October 7, 2011


Also, with regard to your newspaper example, I'm not sure what model you are predicting, but if it means only those who can afford news have access to it, then I don't know that it's an improvement.

I think the days of money issues stopping people from getting any media they want are pretty much over, as long as you've got a computer and an internet connection.

The model I'm imagining would be something like kick starter on a larger scale. People banding together to pay in advance for a reporter (or artists) work, with the results being freely available to anyone.
posted by empath at 10:07 AM on October 7, 2011


You're doing standup comedy? Cool, here's $20k per year.

But what if they really suck at it.
posted by empath at 10:08 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've no specific proposal here, but presumably that's covered by the word 'meritocratic', empath. A more effective criticism might simply be : Does Carrot Top merit this? ;)
posted by jeffburdges at 10:11 AM on October 7, 2011



You're doing standup comedy? Cool, here's $20k per year.

But what if they really suck at it.


Yeah what if they go into stand up comedy for the money?

Cheque please!
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:12 AM on October 7, 2011


The model I'm imagining would be something like kick starter on a larger scale.

I was actually going to mention kickstarter in my first comment. Perhaps this could be awesome, but it goes back to my original point that some folks seem certain that something like this will happen and will be effective. I personally think it is a possibility, but more of a long shot. I would be much less concerned about what's going on now if I had the same kind of faith that something new will definitely work in the future.
posted by snofoam at 10:16 AM on October 7, 2011


Instead of obsessing about the free rider problem, you can always provide a basic income.
posted by mobunited at 10:17 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


The money is disappearing that paid for reporters to go to war zones and for editors to help turn good books into great ones.

But where has it gone, this disappeared money? It has been pulled out of the economy by the wealthy seeking shelter from taxation. Perhaps if more of it were flowing again, then more artists could make a living. At least part of the problem is not just the collapse of old institution but the stagnation of wages and of course unemployment. You can't separate the issue of how art is produced from the issue of why no one has the scratch to buy any of it these days.
posted by emjaybee at 10:18 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


But where has it gone, this disappeared money?

For newspapers, the money mostly came from classified advertising, which became free on Craigslist. To a lesser extent, corporations have been squeezing profits out of papers while they can, and other revenues like display advertising and subscription revenues have also declined.
posted by snofoam at 10:23 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


>>You're doing standup comedy? Cool, here's $20k per year.
>But what if they really suck at it?


They will suffer and quit. That's the beauty of standup comedy -- the immediate involuntary reaction of the crowd. It's right in front of you, literally staring you in the face. Doesn't matter if your dad owns the local improv and puts you on stage as the headliner every night. The crowd is unforgiving.
posted by msalt at 10:28 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Blaming the Web and the rise of new media is the least useful thing we can do

For my part, I'm not blaming new media, per se.

But I'm concerned about certain increasingly common attitudes I find among my more committed free-culture-loving friends and acquaintances--and the direct and indirect consequences of those attitudes. It's an attitude I guess I'd describe as actively and uncritically hostile to the very idea that creative producers should ever expect to reap economic benefits or financial compensation for their work, regardless of merit, personal expense, or labor.

And for that, I think the IT industry is at least partly to blame. It's been credibly suggested that computer hardware manufacturers, for instance, have quietly encouraged piracy over the years as a way to ensure future growth--the more content people can download freely today, the bigger hard drives and more powerful machines they'll need tomorrow. And the less economic value art has on the market generally, the easier to negotiate favorable terms with artists. There are actually lots of ways the economic devaluing of our creative output benefits large business interests at the expense of individual artists and their audiences. But that's not a narrative new media boosters are particularly eager to entertain.)
posted by saulgoodman at 10:47 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


creative writing/law enforcement majors

One of the students in my MFA program was a police officer. Wore his gun to class, too. Made the professor pretty nervous to know that one of her students was armed.

I am seriously considering training for a second career path. I can't get a job with my MFA outside academia, and that was really a losing game economically. I'm thinking about beautician training or (seriously) law school.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 10:51 AM on October 7, 2011


It's an attitude I guess I'd describe as actively and uncritically hostile to the very idea that creative producers should ever expect to reap economic benefits or financial compensation for their work, regardless of merit, personal expense, or labor.

The problem is that the economic model is based around them getting paid after the fact, and it's no longer a workable model without a draconian and punitive enforcement scheme that does far more harm than good.

If they sincerely want to get paid, insist on getting paid up front. Then celebrate the miracle that billions of people will have access to their work without costing anyone anything instead of bemoaning it. I mean seriously, the fact that a DJ in China can download a footwork track produced by a kid in a Chicago ghetto he made with software he probably pirated from bittorrent for fractions of a penny is a technological miracle that should be encouraged in every way possible.

The problem, as I see it, isn't that artists aren't getting paid. The problem is that they are producing with the unrealistic expectation that they will be paid afterwards. We need to disabuse them of that notion, and more artists will either find ways to get paid in advance or they will simply only produce work they want to make for the love of it or for whatever their own reasons, in their spare time.
posted by empath at 10:58 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


empath: without independent financial resources, and in the absence of significant trade unions and legal creator rights protections of some kind, unestablished artists have zero negotiating power in most cases. zero.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:06 AM on October 7, 2011


Negotiating power with who? The labels are fucking useless in a world where you can't control distribution. Just get money from your fans. And if you don't have any fans, then I don't know what to tell you.
posted by empath at 11:08 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


emapth: To be honest, it seems like you are fine with artists/journalists/etc. being paid, as long as it is from some hypothetical wellspring of generosity and doesn't require anything from the consumers of said art/journalism/etc. Luckily, you are also okay with them not getting paid, which is probably more likely.
posted by snofoam at 11:12 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I mean look at the breakdown of costs on a Rihanna album.

If you take out the marketing costs, it cost $78,000. She has more than enough fans to finance albums for the rest of her life. And it doesn't even cost $78,000 these days to record an album. You can easily knock something really professional sounding together in a home studio for less than $10,000.

It's the same deal for novelists and everyone else. If you're not trying to be a millionaire, you don't NEED a marketing budget. You just need talent and a facebook page.

I mean, there are guys making 6 figures putting up youtube videos of themselves playing video games.

A starcraft player named Destiny raised $30,000 dollars in one day for charity, and easily makes $60,000 a year just streaming himself playing games.

You're telling me that a band with a reasonable following couldn't find a way to make a living without a record deal?

The only thing stopping creatives from making a living is lack of a business plan. It will get sorted out eventually. There's 0 chance people are going to stop making music or writing books. It simply will not happen. It's in our DNA and people have done it for thousands of years, well before copyright and internet existed, and they will do it for thousands more.
posted by empath at 11:14 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


as long as it is from some hypothetical wellspring of generosity and doesn't require anything from the consumers of said art/journalism/etc.

Depending on people to pay for media after the fact IS depending on generosity. Or laziness.

Demanding money before you produce isn't. If you're an artist that produces work that people want, and you refuse to make it unless they pay for it, they will pay for it. And if you aren't producing work that people want, then you should probably keep working at it for free until you are.
posted by empath at 11:17 AM on October 7, 2011


You're very committed to your ideas, that's plain enough.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:31 AM on October 7, 2011


Okay, I'm going to stop posting about them unless someone sends me $50.

Or I will stop posting about them if someone sends me $50.

Which ever comes first.
posted by empath at 11:33 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Depending on people to pay for media after the fact IS depending on generosity. Or laziness.

Maybe now, but back when I was a kid, the most effective way of getting a book or record was often to buy it.

Anyhow, what I have been trying to say is that there are institutions and business models that, while flawed, used to provide careers for people doing things that I personally found interesting and valuable, like producing music, art, journalism, etc. Their collapse worries me, not because of my love of the old institutions themselves, but because they provided careers for people who had things of value to offer me and humanity.

Often the factors contributing to the collapse, such as free online classified advertising, or digital media that are infinitely reproducible, are structural changes that will not be reversed. There's a plus side to these developments, but to me there are also negatives, mainly the loss of careers in many creative and intellectual areas. In many cases, I think this will decrease the quality of the intellectual product that was formerly produced.

There is a pretty wide spectrum of impacts. Popular music is an area that will probably do relatively well for a variety of reasons: the cost of producing has become minimal, playing live is a viable revenue stream (and as an experience cannot yet be digitally reproduced), and the old institution in this case was perhaps the most corrupt and parasitic. Something like journalism is more difficult, as it is much more expensive to be able to do reporting worldwide, and it is almost impossible to charge for.

I fully in support of awesome new paradigm that solves the flaws of the old institutions, while supporting creative/intellectual careers and producing great things, but I don't know what it will be and I am rather concerned by the likelihood that it won't actually come to pass.
posted by snofoam at 11:38 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


The point is that the internet has probably created as much new opportunity for laptop-powered knowledge class as it has killed for others. Almost as many jobs have been lost in newspapers are made up for by hosting alone.
Jesus Christ. How absurd it is to be lectured about all the jobs will go to programmers from a guy who brags about making no money as a web designer and mooching off the sweedish tax payer while working for free to 'build his bussiness' (i.e. he's such a crappy web designer he has to give it away)
I'm so sick of this we don't make shit anymore meme. I don't give a shit about all the shit we aren't making anymore. We didn't need that shit, or that shit was too fucking expensive.
What bothers me about it is that it's totally false. Americans don't manufacture as much consumer products So you don't see "made in America" on a lot of the stuff you buy. But in terms of the dollar value of objects manufactured in America it's actually higher then ever (not counting a dip since 2008 caused by the recession). Basically in 2008 we made more stuff then any other year in history.

What's actually happened is that most of the jobs have been automated away. But the total amount of manufacturing has gone up. But politically "We don't make stuff anymore" is a more politically easy slogan, because you can then say "we can make stuff again!" But if you say "Manufacturing has gone up but it's much more automated now" it doesn't present a panacea for how to 'fix things', as anyone could see that simply getting rid of industrial robots would not be all that helpful for the economy.
no, I wouldn't. because a) I know that for the vast majority, distance learning is not as educational as face-to-face teaching, and b) I've met and TA'd for some of the best of the best, and the chances of their being the best teacher/lecturer is about 50-50.
Well sure, but look at the cost difference. $0 v.s how ever many thousands of dollars each year. Education has become something of a credit bubble like the housing market. House prices went up because people could afford more and more on their house, not because they had more money but because they had more access to credit. Tuition rates are going the same way. And you're not paying for an education, you're really just paying for a certificate. But someday a certificate from Khan Acadamy might be just as much evidence of your skills as one from a State School, in which case tuition prices are going to have to come way down and they'll actually have to compete.
A starcraft player named Destiny raised $30,000 dollars in one day for charity, and easily makes $60,000 a year just streaming himself playing games.
Yeah... there are a lot of people watching e-sports these days but like anything else it's going there might be a few 'celebrities' who make a lot of money (like HuskyStarcraft) due to network effects.

The other thing is that The players who make a lot of money at SC2 are people who have been playing starcraft/warcraft obsessively for years and years, long before the latest release. It's definitely something that you have to be wealthy enough to have a lot of leisure time to become good enough at to make money.
posted by delmoi at 11:41 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Huh, I have no idea how that got posted twice.
posted by delmoi at 11:44 AM on October 7, 2011


Okay, I guess creative folks will just have to transition from things like journalism and novel-writing to moneymakers like celebrity gossip and videos of people playing video games. Not such a big deal after all.
posted by snofoam at 11:50 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Okay, I guess creative folks will just have to transition from things like journalism and novel-writing to moneymakers like celebrity gossip and videos of people playing video games.

You missed the point. If a guy can make $60,000 sitting in front of his computer in sweatpants talking on a headset mic while playing video games and showing commercials every once in a while, anybody who has any artistic talent at all should be able to make a living. They just have to find new ways of doing it.

And those ways of doing it are either going to be contracted work for hire for corporations (ie advertising and marketing work), subscriptions, live performances (either online or in person), or something like kickstarter where you get paid up front for producing a new piece (crowdsourced patronage). Or probably something new that I haven't heard of yet.

Regardless, there will always be money available for artists and artists getting paid. They just won't do it the old way. It's just about connecting with your audience. And again, if you don't have an audience to connect with, that's nobody's fault but your own. Produce work that people want, and the money will come.
posted by empath at 11:57 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the future all artists are Cory Doctorow. Yay.
/waves tiniest flag possible. Offers to sell you a T-shirt.
posted by Artw at 11:59 AM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I was starting to skim the first couple of paragraphs when suddenly this big black bar fades over the screen. I'd already started to scroll down (I was skimming hard as I decided if I wanted to actually read the article or not) so I had to scroll back up to find the big "Subscribe!" banner.

And then the X to close it was not clickable. The extra nugget of thought I had to spend on going "wtf, maybe if I click on the 'click to close this' text?" drained all the attention my low-energy brain felt like giving it; I tried starting again but it was like a brick wall. So I closed the window.

Somehow I feel like this probably makes the article's point for it; the whole challenge in being part of the "creative class" is figuring out ways for people to pay you to keep being creative.
posted by egypturnash at 12:07 PM on October 7, 2011


You missed the point.

I'm not sure I did miss the point. A big part of my point is that there are a variety of things that I find very valuable that are not necessarily profitable. Old institutions were able to produce them by bundling them with things that were profitable (i.e., classified advertising supporting serious journalism). The solutions presented so far seem to be either unsatisfying (creating something marketable (videos of video games) instead of something valuable but not marketable (inscrutable but terrific novel), or hypothetical, like a giant kickstarter that finances all creative endeavors.
posted by snofoam at 12:09 PM on October 7, 2011


instead of something valuable but not marketable (inscrutable but terrific novel), or hypothetical

If it's valuable, someone will pay for it.
posted by empath at 12:11 PM on October 7, 2011


If it's valuable, someone will pay for it.

Not necessarily, and not necessarily enough people to support the author, or the infrastructure to create it, in the case of journalism. What you are saying is simply your belief about the way things should be. It's more of an axiom than an argument about the way things actually are in the world.
posted by snofoam at 12:16 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


You missed the point. If a guy can make $60,000 sitting in front of his computer in sweatpants talking on a headset mic while playing video games and showing commercials every once in a while, anybody who has any artistic talent at all should be able to make a living. They just have to find new ways of doing it.

I think that that's completely and untterly wrong. As in factually incorrect. You a proposing that the entire economy follow the model of professional baseball or movie stardom. Those are Power Law industries where the power law rules with an iron fist. There's enough room in the world for the hundreds of thousands of people mildly interested in Starcraft to support one guy who plays it for a job, and probably a couple rings below him who play various levels of semi-pro. To say that one guy figured out a way to do that for a living is to say that because Alex Rodriguez exists anyone ought to be able figure out a way to hit balls for a living when in fact 99.9% of people who are really, really fucking good at baseball never make any money at it. There are going to be a few Jesse Thorns everytime a new medium is discovered. But any industry ruled on the Star System is never going to provide a support to more than a few lucky folks.
posted by Diablevert at 12:25 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


The creative class is melting

No, the commercial creative class is melting.

“Wasn’t the Internet supposed to bring this class into being?”

(If it was "supposed" to do anything) I'd say it was supposed to bring everyone into the creative class. Which it has sort of done. To the dismay of MFAs everywhere, apparently.

“We live in an age where more and more people think they have a book in them,” he says.

Yeah, exactly. But an optimist would say "“We live in an age where more and more people are able to write books and have others read them.:

Relatedly, consider the iTunes Store developer. She must certainly belong to the creative class. She's doing "OK."

The problem, as it see it, is that once everyone becomes actively creative, the products of creativity approach a value of $0. Good for me, bad for commercial artists.

If it's valuable, someone will pay for it.

Not necessarily


?!?! - Yes, by definition pretty much.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:39 PM on October 7, 2011


If it's valuable, someone will pay for it.

Not necessarily

?!?! - Yes, by definition pretty much.


If you want to be pedantic about it, then no. Valuable also means "having qualities worthy of respect, admiration or esteem" and "of considerable use, service or importance." I don't know what empath meant, but this is what I meant.

In the context of our discussion, I'm pretty sure empath is using this as shorthand to say that if you create something worthwhile, then you will be able to make a living from it. My point is that there are many things that are valuable (in the larger sense) that are not economically profitable in and of themselves.
posted by snofoam at 12:54 PM on October 7, 2011


You missed the point. If a guy can make $60,000 sitting in front of his computer in sweatpants talking on a headset mic while playing video games and showing commercials every once in a while, anybody who has any artistic talent at all should be able to make a living. They just have to find new ways of doing it.
WHAT!? The reason people watch top starcraft players is because they are the best in the world. Saying that because people like Destiny, Psy, TLO and guys like that can make money "in his sweatpants playing video games" and therefore anyone can is like saying that Micheal Jordan and LeBron James prove that "anyone can make money throwing a ball around"
posted by delmoi at 12:57 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


If it's valuable, someone will pay for it.

People paid cash money for fake talking fish, Dan Brown books, and rocks in a cardboard box. Would you therefore thus consider those things "valuable"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:58 PM on October 7, 2011


dont you just hate all the bad art on the internet
i hate things that are bad too, let's go be superior together in this abandoned mineshaft
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:18 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


People paid cash money for fake talking fish, Dan Brown books, and rocks in a cardboard box. Would you therefore thus consider those things "valuable"?

They were to somebody. I imagine the people that bought those books turn their noses up at the art that you happen to enjoy.
posted by empath at 1:29 PM on October 7, 2011


I mean seriously, the fact that a DJ in China can download a footwork track produced by a kid in a Chicago ghetto he made with software he probably pirated from bittorrent for fractions of a penny is a technological miracle that should be encouraged in every way possible.

This example? Generally doesn't happen. There is not a flattened working class gatekeeper-bypassing creative groundswell going on. You may shit on how Rihanna makes money, but she is an actual person making money, and not a fantasy hypothetical.

It doesn't happen because your use of the Internet is structured by corporate interests to make anything like the above theoretically possible, but functionally impossible. That kid's chance of being noticed in a Google, let alone a Baidu search is next to nil. Even a specialized torrent community may fail, if not from low search rank, then latency so high that given a chance, the Chinese DJ will grab more popular music which he can reliably, rapidly download.

This keeps coming up because many, many of you need to understand that you are not getting your content brokered and mediated by a series of value neutral charities, but by corporations who do it to maximize ad revenue. There's been a decade to prove that self-starters will topple the system. Rihanna is still there. She has not only not been toppled by an indie darling, but has not even been toppled by dozens of them, combined. Stop making proposals based on shit that almost never happens. They read like defenses of Creationism.
posted by mobunited at 1:31 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


They were to somebody. I imagine the people that bought those books turn their noses up at the art that you happen to enjoy.

So by that logic....just about everything is valuable. So whose art "wins"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:32 PM on October 7, 2011


WHAT!? The reason people watch top starcraft players is because they are the best in the world.

In a tiny niche market. And Destiny probably isn't even in the top 1000 players in the world. He's just funny and nurtures his audience. And there are plenty of people on youtube like Yogscast and other people making money that have nothing to do with competition or video games. I was just using an example of a niche market where people are making money.

Not everybody deserves a living for doing whatever it is that they want to do. You have to do something that somebody wants. I don't think that's ever going to change. You guys are all acting like nobody will ever be a journalist if places like the New York Times go under. It's bullshit. There will always be plenty of people who are the best of the world at something for someone and who will get paid to do it.

You think I want to manage routers? I don't. I'd much rather be making music, but, and this is important, nobody is willing to pay me for that yet. So I'm doing it in my spare time, and I plan on giving it away for free unless I get to the point where people are willing to pay me to make more. Perhaps I'm I'm part of the problem.

If you want to make a living being creative, make stuff people want to pay for, it's that simple. Nobody is owed a living doing what they want to do. You have to do something people want to pay you for.

(That said, I do support social programs that guarantee health care, welfare, unemployment insurance and so on so people have more ability to take risks doing creative work (or anything they're passionate about) without starving to death...)
posted by empath at 1:38 PM on October 7, 2011


That said, I do support social programs that guarantee health care, welfare, unemployment insurance and so on so people have more ability to take risks doing creative work (or anything they're passionate about) without starving to death...

Ahhhhhh, okay. This was not apparent from your prior comments. I agree here.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:41 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


> This is where I see the everyone's-an-artist-now mindset leading, not to novels, but neat fonts.
> posted by Kitty Stardust at 11:02 AM on October 7 [+] [!]

To my mind "creative" implies no more than that an individual feels the old itch to make stuff. Whether what they make is any good or not is a further and entirely separate question. My neighbors down the street who have a houseful of painted plaster objects (puppies, kitties, baby angels) that they made themselves certainly have the urge to create. The notion that a whole new creative class would pop up when everybody got wired and online is, in a sense, absolutely true. It did! That's who gave us geocities. And MySpace. Look on our works, ye mighty....

The unaddressed piece of the puzzle is that people who are both legitimately gifted and possess the burning monomania it takes to push their gifts to the limit are no more common now then they ever were. A very few per generation no matter how many many macbooks you hand out.
posted by jfuller at 1:44 PM on October 7, 2011


That kid's chance of being noticed in a Google, let alone a Baidu search is next to nil. Even a specialized torrent community may fail, if not from low search rank, then latency so high that given a chance, the Chinese DJ will grab more popular music which he can reliably, rapidly download.

You would only say this if you've never met a dj. It really does. A friend of mine spent two years teaching English in a relatively small city in mainland China and was DJing hip-hop, Booty House and Baltimore club on the side. And I was playing ghetto music from places like Angola and Brazil that wasn't even on labels, when I was DJing at a suburban bar in Virginia. DJs scour far and wide for new music and it only takes 10 minutes of looking at any random selection of music blogs to find from all over the world. I was downloading music from French, Spanish and German blogs and half the time, they were pushing music that was being made in my own city that I had never even heard of. A guy who I regularly played gigs with in DC got famous in the UK well before he was even well known in our home town. Another guy I know suddenly found out he had a huge following in South America from his productions that hadn't been popular at all in the US and ended up moving down there -- not speaking a word of Spanish. A friend of mine booked a pair of bloggers to DJ at his party who basically got a free vacation around the world just by making a post on their blog with the cities they wanted to go to. My friend and I both read their blogs every day for the mp3s the posted, but didn't understand a word of what they were posting.

That kind of thing happens all the time in music, and it could only happen because of rampant piracy and new media. These people are making music, connecting with fans, around the world -- they aren't whining about how you can't make a living making music. They just fucking do it, because it's what they do.
posted by empath at 1:49 PM on October 7, 2011


Not everybody deserves a living for doing whatever it is that they want to do.

I agree with this, but I predict that I will also really miss the days when some people were able to devote their lives to very worthwhile things that were not financially viable because the institution that funded that type of activity has collapsed.

One time I was talking with Emory Kristof, who has been a National Geographic photographer for decades, primarily doing deep sea stuff with submersibles and ROVs. Back in their heyday, he was able to get them to shell out a half-million or a million dollars a year to build crazy equipment to do deep sea photography that had never been done before. Could they do that kind of thing today or tomorrow and make back the money? Probably not. It could be cheaper to do deep sea photography now, but they probably will never be able to make comparable investments in new technology like that.

You have to do something that somebody wants.

This is becoming increasingly true, but it hasn't always been the case. Plenty of people were given the opportunity to create things of great value that were not commercially viable, or were given the opportunity to develop their skills for long enough to eventually create something commercially viable.

To me, a world where the creative and intellectual output of mankind is limited to that which is commercially successful or what can be squeezed in around the day job seems like it will be a very sad place indeed.
posted by snofoam at 2:10 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


To me, a world where the creative and intellectual output of mankind is limited to that which is commercially successful or what can be squeezed in around the day job seems like it will be a very sad place indeed.

Lots of people make great stuff while squeezing it around a day job, and a great thing about the new technology is that it makes it a hell of a lot easier to do than it ever was before. 10 million people being creative on the side might be better than 100,000 people being creative full time.

There's a guy I know in DC named Dave Nada (it might be a stretch to say I know him, but I've talked to him at house parties).

He was playing at a free high school skip party for his younger brother in DC, and most of the records he had were house records, and high school kids don't generally like house music in DC, so he started playing a bunch of Dutch house records at half speed and mixing them with raggaeton records.

It went over so big with those kids that he started mixing that style in his regular DJ sets, and put out a mix CD with it, and then eventually started a weekly party. Because he was well connected via music blogs and from playing gigs all over DC, Philly, Baltimore and New York, the sound instantly exploded -- keep in mind that he's really just basically a local DJ that had put out a few remixes on indie labels at that point.

Now he's touring the world, there's a wikipedia page about the genre, he's been featured on NPR, the BBC, and there are literally thousands of songs and remixes posted to Soundcloud from around the world in the genre he created at a whim at his brother's house party, basically by playing some other guy's record at half speed.

He wasn't signed to a major label, he gives away his songs and remixes regularly, and played a bunch of DJ gigs for free when he was getting started, just like all of us were. He's just someone who worked hard at doing something he loved, basically just because he loved doing it. He got lucky and it paid off for him, but for every guy like him there are a hundred guys who work just as hard and do just as much good stuff and never get paid much for it, and never dreamed of getting paid much for it. I don't think I ever met a DJ or producer who was worth a damn who ever thought about money before they did anything. Money really only starts entering the picture when they have so many gig offers that they have to decide between them somehow, or when they are taking gigs so regularly that it starts to interfere with their day jobs.

Lots of people being creative in their spare time and enjoying the work of others being creative in their spare time, might be a lot better for humanity than a tiny elite with a monopoly on distribution making a tiny minority of artists extremely wealthy while exploiting the vast majority of them.
posted by empath at 2:17 PM on October 7, 2011


Lots of people make great stuff while squeezing it around a day job

Sure, and I even know a guy who built his own submarine. But honestly, if you view a wider world than your own music hobby, I think you might see how there are some areas of creative and intellectual pursuit that are very much facilitated by being able to pursue a craft full-time, or require resources that are more involved than a condenser mic, A/D converter and laptop.

Technology and change have made my life richer in many ways, as they have for so many people. On the other hand, I think that some of the opportunities to do beautiful or valuable things that won't turn a profit are disappearing and I feel that this will make my life less rich in some ways. I don't want to turn back the clock, but I do hope that we do come up with new ways to facilitate the impractical, uncommercial endeavors that sometimes end up being among the most wonderful products of humanity.
posted by snofoam at 2:43 PM on October 7, 2011


Well I agree. I just happen to think we are currently in a golden age of creativity right now and the only people who are complaining about the changes are people who insist on following a dying business model which has only really existed for a fraction of human history.
posted by empath at 2:50 PM on October 7, 2011


I just happen to think we are currently in a golden age of creativity right now and the only people who are complaining about the changes are people who insist on following a dying business model which has only really existed for a fraction of human history.

I'm not complaining, I'm just lamenting a little. I have also recorded my own albums and published my own print on demand book. For the most part, I would agree that we are in a golden age of creativity, at least in terms of democratizing the means of production and distribution. I think in many cases, the empowered masses will make up for the loss of the subsidized few, although in some cases, like journalism, I very much hope that we find a way to subsidize the things that require time and resources.
posted by snofoam at 3:03 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've no specific proposal here, but presumably that's covered by the word 'meritocratic', empath. A more effective criticism might simply be : Does Carrot Top merit this? ;)

As bad as he is I'm positive he earns more than $20K a year. As far as I can tell he doesn't turn down a paying gig.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:29 PM on October 7, 2011


This example? Generally doesn't happen. There is not a flattened working class gatekeeper-bypassing creative groundswell going on. You may shit on how Rihanna makes money, but she is an actual person making money, and not a fantasy hypothetical.

It doesn't happen because your use of the Internet is structured by corporate interests to make anything like the above theoretically possible, but functionally impossible. That kid's chance of being noticed in a Google, let alone a Baidu search is next to nil. Even a specialized torrent community may fail, if not from low search rank, then latency so high that given a chance, the Chinese DJ will grab more popular music which he can reliably, rapidly download.
No the problem here is that nobody makes any money. Maybe the DJ gets paid for the gig. But there is a lot of culture that gets transmitted person to person on message boards, social networks, and the like.
In a tiny niche market. And Destiny probably isn't even in the top 1000 players in the world. He's just funny and nurtures his audience. And there are plenty of people on youtube like Yogscast and other people making money that have nothing to do with competition or video games. I was just using an example of a niche market where people are making money.
Well, what's the point, exactly? It's the pigeon hole principle at play. It can't be that everyone gets to be a nice celebrity because there are only so many fans to go around. If you need 10,000 fans to make a living doing something and a person can only be a passionate fan of 20 people at most, then, mathematically only 1/500 can be a nice microcelebrity. But the math is actually much worse then that. Because 1) a large part of the celebrity 'slots' are going to be taken up by major celebrities and 2) the average number of people will not be huge fans of 20 different things, certainly not 20 niche items.

Part of the problem here is that people are looking at what someone as an individual can do to make money in the morass of suffering, but that advice to individuals cannot, by definition, work for everyone.
posted by delmoi at 4:47 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


You're telling me that a band with a reasonable following couldn't find a way to make a living without a record deal? The only thing stopping creatives from making a living is lack of a business plan.

Do you know any working musicians? I worked with a touring band for years as well as doing sound and promo for a number of bands/musicians on the low end of the ladder. Most of them aren't so great at the business side and many have day jobs to boot, which is why they hire managers and promo, or have people volunteer for them. Even with good promo and business sense there is no guarantee of success (most traditional non-creative small businesses fail). It helps if you don't mind playing weddings and with house bands, e.g., other people's music.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:51 PM on October 7, 2011


And that's always been the case. That's nothing new.
posted by empath at 6:57 PM on October 7, 2011


The arts always always ALWAYS decline during a recession. Always. I don't have a PhD in Economics (there is a God!) so I'm forced to take a wild and crazy guess that it's the result of ...

Maslow's heirarchy of needs pyramid, where you'll find "creativity", "lack of prejudice", "acceptance of facts" 3 levels above "security of body, employment, resources..." and five levels above "food water sex excretion" ... for all of which supply exceeds demand during recessions.

So c'mon down to the pyramid, and be sure to get there early for the best shopping! Just tell 'em necessity sentcha.
posted by Twang at 8:58 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oops I meant demand exceeds supply. Stupid no-edit-for-five-minutes-after MeFi.
posted by Twang at 9:04 PM on October 7, 2011


god the article is depressing. and depressingly true.

I started uni - in a Bachelor of Creative Industries no less - just as Florida's thing had its boom. Now I still can't get a regular day job, let alone sustain myself in my "Creative" job, even if ironically the latter actually pays more just because it pays something when it does (incidentally, burlesque and much of vaudeville is coming back in style). But there's only so much I can deal with short bursts of projects when the rest of the year is so unpredictable money-wise.

The degree is part of it: people don't quite know what to do with a Bachelor of Creative Industries. I have enough experience, internships, projects, recognition, etc to choke a horse yet because it doesn't fit neatly into labels like "Social Work" or "Human Services" people don't think it counts. I get a lot of questions about "so what the hell is it that you do exactly?".

But it's not the biggest problem. Some people upthread mentioned grants. I'm not even a permanent resident yet where I live (Australia). There's tons of Government money...if you have at least permanent residency. My PR is at the whims and fancies of DIAC and right now they don't seem to give a shit. I asked Australia Council (main grant givers) if there's any chance they'll expand their grants to bridging visa holders. Not likely, they said.

Many other artists I know who are similar in age, background, etc survive on Government benefits (Centrelink) and government grants & programs - two HUGE chunks of income that are already unavailable for me. Then the bridging visa makes it hard for me to get a regular day job, even after years of searching and resume variations from the traditional to the innovative and networking with everyone to the point that they will remember me for free stuff, stuf, "wow she's good for XYZ"...but not a job.
No one in the arts that really wants me can pay me, they can barely pay themselves.

All this stuff about "well artists should be grateful to work for free, you can share your culture!!"- yes well a burlesque video isn't going to pay my rent. Or feed me. It gets even worse when you're in a minority because you have to fight to be recognised as being more than good enough, when you don't always have the same cultural capital or privilege. It's already a disadvantage when jobhunting the conventional way. All the "lifestyle designer" people annoy me so much because they're so often privileged white people who don't get how their nationality, race, class status makes it more than possible for them to go on adventures willy nilly - and yet berate people for "not being enlightened enough".

And yet.
And yet ironically I find myself living closer to a lifestyle designer, creative class life than a regular one.
When regular day jobs elude you, and all you can get are irregular projects once in a while - stage managing here, TV hosting there, a gig here, a project there...may as well. Especially if you enjoy it.
It's not very sustainable and I don't often have a lot to show for it - and even the jobs that paid pretty well for fun work, like TV hosting, don't have a lot of work to give you. Which is the main rub. I'd happily live my life like this all the time...if it was filled with these projects, not just dotted in once in a while.

I don't know, I'm rambling. I just wish that creative expression, especially of perspectives and views that don't get a lot of attention or notice because they don't come from Privileged White People, didn't end up only being accessible to Privileged White People simply because they have more money and time to spare. And hell, even if we ended up having all this time to spare because nobody would hire us - spreading the word and getting noticed is an expensive venture.
posted by divabat at 2:34 AM on October 9, 2011


Australia hasn't really been hit by the recession to the same extent that euorpe/the US has. The unemployment rate is 5.something, almost half as much as the U.S since 2008.
posted by delmoi at 9:50 PM on October 11, 2011


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