It’s Thursday evening, and my timeline is full of rejoicing. Following September’s historic wins by the Writers Guild of America, the Screen Actors Guild has seemingly (conditional upon vote approval) followed suit, ending its strike against major studios to a series of cheers and applause from its members. We did it! And by “we,” of course, I’m not just talking about SAG, or those in other guilds and unions that picketed in solidarity.
I mean we, the content creators, can once again resume service of making non-studio-sponsored/endorsed/allowed content around films and TV shows without worry that it may hurt any future eligibility prospects or see them labeled as scabs by a few self-righteous social media Bev Keenes. (We’re good to start making those “Midnight Mass” references again, right Mike?)
Nevermind that these creators weren’t getting paid by studios for their content (and would often, in fact, wake up one morning to discover multiple DMCA copyright claims from the rights’ holders). That even when studios used their work in promotional material for upcoming releases, it was often without compensation, because hey…exposure, right?
“In the United States, the video giant YouTube estimated that roughly 390,000 full-time jobs last year were supported by its creators’ work — four times the number of people employed by General Motors, America’s biggest automaker.”—Drew Harwell and Taylor Lorenz on creators in the Washington Post
Nevermind that the money, when it comes to creators (IF it comes to creators) rarely does so in the form of W-2 from Warner Brothers or Netflix. (Think it through guys…if Zaslav wasn’t willing to pay for actual celebrities, you think he’s putting dollars down on the Red Letter Media guys?) Creators never had a reliable predictive model for monthly revenue, so reliant on some web sorcerer’s alchemy that combined the mercurial favoritism of platform algorithms with the somewhat more sturdy sociological phenomenon of Internet socialism, aka subscription crowdfunding aka Patreon.
Nevermind that, by using purposefully nebulous terms like “influencer” and “promotions,” SAG effectively and deliberately strong-armed the entire nascent industry of online creators into throwing away their hard-earned revenue streams in the name of solidarity. Which, as I mentioned before, doesn’t magically reappear (let alone under more fair conditions) now that actors go back to work.
Guys, it’s really time to wake up. It’s great to stand in solidarity and withhold your “Ahsoka” reviews until the contracts are signed, but in doing so you bought into the narrative that you could afford to do so because making stuff on the Internet isn’t real work. That it’s a means to an end, and that end is the status quo.
Like the titular puppet hero of not one but three very upsetting 2022 film adaptations — who (fun fact!) was himself a wooden allegory for Italy’s peasant workforce during the industrial revolution— creators this summer were told there was only one way to earn the right to “real” work. Legitimacy could be obtained only through the sacrifice of frivolous hobbies, perceived laziness and lack of moral fortitude that makes one crave the satisfaction of a hard day of manual labor. (I’m really not making this up; Carlo Collodi today would be making TikTok donkey filtered supercuts of kids talking about Barbenheimer set to the same epic “No Strings” they used for the “Age of Ultron” trailer.)
It’s the same old story, the cycle of abuse perpetrated when one class of workers only ever experiences life with a boot on their neck, and so cannot fathom that there’s another way to exist without some form of sweatshop soul-crushing to “give you character.” Any deviance from the traditional 9-5 job — no matter how rigorous and back-breaking the self-imposed creatorverse demands in order achieve anything remotely resembling a middle-class, sustainable lifestyle — is a moral failing.
But what the Jimminy Crickets of the world fail to see through their judgemental bug-eyed worldview is that you can’t have it both ways: there’s no “creator economy” that can exist without jobs; that even though this year an estimated $250 billion was generated on the output of a demographic that includes a upsetting number of underage children, about 43% will take home less than one grand.
But hey, when you wish upon a star…
This post originally appeared as part of the Passionfruit newsletter. Sign up here.