‘Patreon doesn’t solve every problem. But it’s well positioned to help boost better content online because it rewards creators’ ability to stir passion and interest among their audiences.’ (from Want a Better Web? Here’s an Idea: Pay for It)
Yeah, yeah, yeah, another brilliant paradigm that is going to save us from ourselves.
Once again, I am tempted to mix dry analysis with existential feeling because it is the easiest way to understand how we ended up in this mess.
Beauty of begging, sold to us as something romantic and newly brilliant: We are back to the Middle Ages where creative professionals–um, troubadours–were whores and marginalized individuals. Except now, between the troubadour and the generous peasants, there is a clever middleman who makes money on bulk.
And of course, said middleman says that it’s an actual business model. And fine. If the service were sold to us a financial tool getting a cut, and a financial tool only, it would be fair enough. But all the fuzzy language, all the treacherous branding, my God, I am going to come!
You know what it is? Let’s dive straight into the cultural mess, and translate from the diplomatic language of a proverbial Ted talk to the uncomfortable language of reality. When I set up a crowdfunding campaign, I say the following:
“I have the silly desire to do what I love while living in the real world that is specifically designed to suppress people’s real desires as much as they allow it, and to convert the unused freedom of spirit into money (a lot of money for the designer of this horror, and just enough to keep eating for the rest of us). But I don’t wanna be like that. I don’t wanna! Yes, I am a special child, and I ask all of you less fortunate ones to spare a buck to support my passion. Please.”
I also say, “Begging is cool as long as we dress it up and appoint a tech-minded dude as a spokesperson, and everybody does it. Artists, they beg, you know…”
Is your brain exploding yet? Do you see how every aspect of you mental health is being raped, on every level, by everybody? By every-every-everybody?
The entire thing is mental (and some people are making money on it).
How about, fuck that shit, not good enough, I am not a fucking beggar? How about, a mental thing on top of another mental thing is still a mental thing? How about, uhm, people should be compensated for their work of value and demand, and if Silicon Valley paradigms prescribe that artists gotta resort to begging, the paradigms are shite and it’s just that? And fine, we all do what we have to do. No high horse here. Hey, if you wanna spare a buck, I will send you my PayPal pronto. But romanticizing an environment in which artists are reduced to seeking patronage is batshit crazy, dishonest, and not cool.
Here is a painting of the tech industry party and a begging artist (just kidding).
I am very fond of the honest and sobering analysis by Marc Ribot that he offered at The Dignity Thing last year (part 2 coming soon), and I highly recommend that you watch this.
A realistic depiction from somebody who has been living it for a long time and who has the courage and the integrity to say it like it is, is priceless. ‘Beggary and prostitution.’ Sounds about right, if you just look in the mirror and don’t listen to the industry infomercials, often paid for by the Silicon Valley ‘evangelists’ who want you to feel good and special as you are getting on your knees ready to give somebody metaphorical head. Empowering, they say…
And speaking of Amanda Palmer, I like her art. But I am not buying into her ‘new business model’ at all because she wouldn’t be where she is without a prior major label career, and without being married to a lovely man who is rather popular. Individual luck, yes. Persisting, yes. Talent, yes. And yes, she should be proud of her individual hustling skills – by all means! – but selling perpetual beggary as a ‘model’ is disingenuous.
It’s like going to a self-help seminar where they bullshit to you, and you feel good, and inspired, and then come home, and there is a memo: “Don’t forget to get on your knees and give head. Bills are due.” Anyway… here’s Marc on how artists are reduced to ‘beggary and prostitution’ by massive copyright infringement, and how it creates a situation in which only financially privileged individuals can dream of playing the game.
Problem number one: Culture at large.
This is not something we can change right away but I think it unwise to ignore it. It’s there, and it’s only there because of our collective choices over a long time. The urban economy of today is fundamentally designed to suppress the true calling of many so that their hearts can be eaten for money by headless soul eaters at top. In the middle ages, it was more obvious. Serfdom and other kinds of economic servitude were straight in your face. Today, the digital serfdom is giggly and glorious. If you are um, a special child, you go in business for yourself, and then, if you want to get with the times and ride the wave of startups and IPO money, awesome. You are the shit. If you are an artist because that’s what you were born to do, well, beg.
The foundation on which we are building our business models is an abomination and an anomaly. It is an abomination that is not intrinsic to human nature. It is a recent invention, and a tiny dot on the storyline of human history. It is a disease, and should be viewed as such. Even if it takes a thousand years for us to collectively and individually fix it, so be it – I am not saying it is easy or pleasant – but if we just ignore it because it’s too big, it will just sit there until we feel like we can’t live without breathing like free people. Our choices matter. It’s legacy. It’s real.
Speaking of free people, if somebody wants to beg, they are totally free to beg. They are free to go crazy begging, and I hope their hat is full every day of their life. But it is not even a half-decent solution to the wreckage caused by the new overlords of the digital kingdom. I wish everybody just fucked off about the beauty of it.
Now, to the overlords of the digital kingdom. Problem number two: Culture of digital robbery.
Music became “free” or “almost free” for reasons that are far more cynical than the story of the free-spirited internet Robin Hood stealing from the major labels and giving it all to the people. That is a happy lie. In real life though, making people believe in “free art” in a world where everything else has a price was an evil genius way to create a cultural environment in which a specific type of businesses (Silicon Valley tech giants) could run loose and use ‘digital content’ like a fishing hook to make an obscene amount of money from ads and data mining, on the backs of the new digital peasants. And consistently with the fishing hook analogy, the worms are being treated like, well, worms.
Quoting myself (read the article, A Pathetic Case of Rebranding: Fight for the Future Is Lying to Us, Again!, for more): When YouTube came into existence, its success depended on the ability to attract massive amounts of viewers. Providing access to infringing materials helped their cause greatly, and YouTube gladly took advantage of the DMCA’s Safe Harbor provisions. As Sam Gustin writes, ‘YouTube founders knew illegal content was driving explosive growth.’ (See also, Viacom vs. YouTube/Google: A Piracy Case in Their Own Words.) Legal or moral aspects of copyright seemed to matter very little to the excited businessmen who were in it for the big prize. Google (um, Alphabet) who owns YouTube today is no stranger to profiting from copyright infringement, either.
In other words… it’s a dog eat dog world, fine, we are grown-ups. But would you please take it easy on the fuzzy language and stop making desperate beggary sound like entrepreneurship?
There is a broken culture. But also, there is a loophole in the law that makes the playing field far from even.
It can be easily closed, and it should be closed, and then we’ll see where the culture takes us. Enough bullshit. We don’t have a fair market. We don’t. Tech industry publicists and lobbyists managed to brainwash everybody into thinking that they are saving the world (their house of cards will crash, just wait), but all they are doing is stealing the art from the creatives to then steal the data from everybody, and make themselves kings and queens of the world that is as real and sustainable as the new clothing of the naked king.