“I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside….Of all the passions the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.” – C.S. Lewis, “The Inner Ring”(1944)
This piece is written in response to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ ‘Lucrative Work-for-Free Opportunity’ article for The Atlantic (which is owned by Atlantic Media owner David G. Bradley based in the Watergate in Washington, DC), the company that a few months ago asked sports journalist Nate Thayer to republish an article, and when Thayer asked about compensation, he was denied. Well, all this is very well documented here, do not be a lazy surfer, check it out. Ta-Nehisi Coates stands at the bat as, possibly cleanup, definitely yet another swinger for The Atlantic to defend the magazine against the brouhaha of writers that felt The Atlantic’s business model is diminishing their evaluation, and thusly the evaluation of the very craft that brought you the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. If those people that hold so much to the history of human development cannot presume to make a living, then how easy will it be for the fattest pockets to put pressure on their staff to provide only content that suits the purposes of the fat pockets? Or governments? Or any other power that First Amendment rights were initially created to protect writers against?
Now, while I do not personally regard my Self as a ‘journalist’, I do hold a Bachelor’s degree in media communications and I have written several “journalistic” type pieces over the years. Without me rewriting my resume here for you, I do regard the craft of writing in high esteem and I have sat in the training facilities of these “professionals”. I do consider my Self a Black media analyst and I do analyze Black media, and I’ve even written a few self-published works as well as having a contract with a major publishing house for a book of media analysis due out…any…damn…day…now(excuse me for that). All that is to say, although I don’t work for any popular brands that sell written works, I have met the standard squarely and I’ve told it, “we can fight if you don’t respect my penmanship.” Moving on.
As a writer, and more importantly, as a writer that doesn’t use their words to defend or dick ride those that purchase my works, I cannot promote a business model that asks writers to provide work for free. And to be honest, neither should those that write the checks and command the major brands. The content saturation model of big brands such as Huffington Post and The Atlantic creates a market where it wants content to be more valuable than the content creators, which is ass backwards. Let alone being defined as slavery. Even if the model is refined and defenders give the nomenclature of “intern”(*cough*indentured servants*cough*) to those poor hacks forced to choose between making a living and gambling on a dream, the results are surely the same. The value of the writer is siphoned, the content is pimped, and the only partner being valued and esteemed is the brand. But without those humans poring over brightly lit laptops, sipping day old coffee trying to remember what in the hell it was they scribbled here on this napkin(what in the phukkk is THIS?! Oh, sorry…) then you do not have a business or a brand. And as a writer, employment or not, I cannot advise anyone to take the responsibility of keeping brands alive if the brand has not taken even the slightest consideration that eating Ramen noodles as a daily dietary staple(as much as I love the Ramen) is not the lifestyle most of us seek to create.
Ultimately, the argument boils down to how do you esteem your Self in the face of corporations, or bigger brands? Is the big business more important than the worker? Than the consumer? Than you? And that is a discussion that is on-going in this capitalist estate we call the United States of America. Since the inception of the federation, humans have been reduced to 3/5ths of a human to justify why businesses should treat them like they are beasts of burden. If your name is on the Fortune 500 list as an owner, getting money from the US Government is at best a subsidy, at worst a “bailout”. If your name is on the open mic list as a starving artist or writer, and you are getting a crumb of the money from the US Government that those on the Forbes listing might get, you are at best a “welfare case”, at worst a “lazy bum”. We have grown to place a stature on big business brands as divine Providences that deserve our esteem more than our own Selves. And the peer pressure to belong to one of these organizations reminds me of the pressure children face to fit in, or the pressure poor children face when hiding the fact that their family receives a Government dole out.
I think that metaphor is a substantial parallel, let’s explore it further, shall we? The insecurity of the child or teenager created by their fears of alienation is often reflected in their behavior. As esteemed professor emeritus of Stanford University, Philip Zimbardo writes, “Peer pressure has been identified as one social force that makes people, especially adolescents, do strange things–anything–to be accepted.” Since this is very important to our discussion here, I would like to quote Mr. Zimbardo further:
“There is no peer-pressure power without that push from self-pressure for them to want you. It makes people willing to suffer through painful, humiliating initiation rites in fraternities, cults, social clubs, or the military. It justifies for many suffering a lifelong existence climbing the corporate ladder.” Philip Zimbardo, “Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil” (pg. 259)
Profound, yes? Before I move on, I would like to one more authority on human behavior, and that is Cialdini. Cialdini writes in his book on persuasion, “Opportunities seem more valuable to us when they are less available. Interestingly, this is often true even when the opportunity holds little attraction for us its own merits. Take as evidence the experience of Florida State University students who, like most undergraduates, rated themselves as dissatisfied with the quality of their campus cafeteria food. Nine days later, they had changed their minds, rating that food significantly better than they had before. It is instructive that no actual improvement in food service had occurred between the two ratings. Instead, on the day of the second rating, the students had learned that, because of a fire, they could not eat the cafeteria for two weeks.”
Cialdini speaks more directly to us with regard to the pains humans will suffer in order to become part and parcel of organized humans:
“During the traditional ‘Hell Week’ held yearly on college campuses, fraternity pledges must persevere through a variety of activities designed by the older members to test the limits of physical exertion, psychological strain, and social embarrassment. At week’s end, the boys who have persisted through the ordeal are accepted for full group membership…What is interesting is how closely the particular features of Hell Week tasks match those of tribal initiation rites…Beatings…Exposure to cold…Thirst…Eating of unsavory foods…Punishment…Threats of death…What is it about hazing practices that make them so precious to these societies?…My own view is that the answer appeared in 1959 in the results of a study little known outside of social psychology. A pair of young researchers, Elliot Aronson and Judson Mills, decided to test their observations that ‘persons who go through a great deal of trouble or pain to attain something tend to value it more highly than persons who attain the same thing with a minimum of effort.’ The real stroke of inspiration came in their choice of the initiation ceremony as the best place to examine this possibility. They found that college women who had to endure a severely embarrassing initiation ceremony in order to gain access to a sex discussion group convinced themselves that their new group and its discussions were extremely valuable, even though Aronson and Mills had rehearsed the other group members to be as ‘worthless and uninteresting’ as possible. Different coeds who went through a much milder initiation ceremony or went through no initiation at all, were decidedly less positive about the ‘worthless’ new group they had joined. Additional research showed the same results when coeds were required to endure pain rather than embarrassment to get into a group. The more electric shock a woman received as part of the initiation ceremony, the more she later persuaded herself that her new group and its activities were interesting, intelligent, and desirable.” – Cialdini, “Influence: Science and Practice” (pages 75-79)
In the same way that I feel a person allowing someone to degrade them to join their fraternal order or sorority is not wise, I feel as though any demeaning of my craft, asking me to do something for free for some future bit of compensation, is also not wise. I might be able to understand this notion if The Atlantic was a not-for-profit, or a charity. It is not. According to Paul Carr the magazine has a “circulation of 482,267, and hosts a sold-out $2,800-a-ticket conference in Aspen”.
Free is not a livelihood. Free is not compensation. Free is not a ticket to more a lucrative position. Free does not get you into more doors because no one respects free.
Asking me to write for free is asking me to starve, to take a beating, to gamble with the possibility of enduring the cold all for the possibility of a job. This is hazing. Hazing might be a sexy proposition for some socially awkward or social mobility desperate soul, but my Self esteem is not that low, nor or my prices. And how long will It be before enough of us have submitted to the pressures of social acceptance and big business brands start hazing us in a more directly humiliating fashion?
“For one thing: Let’s lay to rest the notion that payment equals pro. A professional writer is a professional writer, no matter whether he’s being paid or not. Likewise, you can throw money at an amateur, and he’ll always be an amateur. The reason professional journalists need to be paid is not because money somehow magically makes them better at their job, but because real journalism is their job. The fact that some pros maintain their own blogs, or occasionally write stuff for free is utterly irrelevant to the argument.” – Paul Carr