The Creator Economy’s COVID Problem

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This weekend, I was scheduled to moderate an LGBTQ+ panel in Baltimore at the go-to convention for creators, VidCon. I was so excited. The panelists were some of my favorite creators — iconic video essayist ContraPoints, queer TikTok icon Cristian Dennis, our club-kid bimbo representative Griffin Maxwell Brooks, and the wonderfully talented musician MegaGoneFree. I picked out a cute outfit, came up with questions, booked my hotel, and was looking forward to a scenic Amtrak ride to the venue. 

And then on Monday… my partner tested positive for COVID. Two days later, I had a terrible fever, a cough, a blistered mouth, and a sore throat. I woke up in the middle of the night and it felt like my nose and mouth had been sprayed with mace — which apparently is a lesser-known symptom of the virus. Making matters worse, several people on our team also simultaneously happened to get COVID, which meant we were stretched thin.

I was very anxious last week. And if I — a person with the privilege of getting through COVID without hospitalization, while having PTO, health insurance, and a steady income — felt heat and anxiety to keep the content machine churning while sick, I can only imagine what independent creators feel when they face even more dire circumstances.

From the stories I’ve heard, many creators in the U.S. don’t have much of a safety net available to get them through tough times. Last month, YouTubers Robert Mantano and Vanessa Fitzsimmons of the Late to the Party reaction channel spoke on Passionfruit’s podcast about how challenging it’s been for them this year. After Robert suffered a hospitalization, they went through a month of not being able to make new videos and generate income from their YouTube channel.

Thankfully, the Reactors were able to rely on their community’s donations on GoFundMe to help pay for their medical bills and supplement their income. But still, the experience was shocking for them, and they said they’re walking away from the situation with a new dedication to take it easy, be mindful of their health, and prepare to take breaks for emergencies.


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It goes to show that even popular creators with large communities suffer from the difficulties of balancing work and life during hard times. Last week, the podcasters behind Chapo Trap House also announced that one of their members suffered a sudden and severe medical emergency and is currently hospitalized. It’s a devastating story to hear. 

It was inspiring, though, to watch how their community turned out to support them. The other members of the podcast are returning to the show today with hopeful spirits, noting that Matt would want the show to go on.

People love to create. We want to build communities, make fun things. And artists, even when they are suffering the most, want to use work to carve some kind of meaning out of their experiences.

Yet, for most of us, what we really need is rest. And our current economic system really doesn’t reward that. There’s a false sense of urgency that plagues the creator economy, and it’s one that infects every industry — CEOs, executives, and middle managers are expected to deal with every issue that pops up, no matter the time or circumstance they happen to personally be in. 

Will anybody die if we don’t respond to this email or join this meeting today? Will our entire business collapse? Usually, the answer is no. Yet our bodies trained to anticipate every tiny issue as a catastrophe. We’re constantly in a state of fight or flight, thinking every issue is urgent. 

Rest, which should be just something that comes naturally, becomes almost a political act of self-preservation and survival in this system. Rebellious trends of radical rest, quiet quitting, and “lazy girl jobs” are more prominent than ever before. And most importantly, each generation pushes the needle further and becomes more willing to advocate for taking sick days when you need it. 

For me, I’m really glad I was able to take last week off. Depression, anxiety, worry, perceived stress, and loneliness are associated with a higher risk of COVID hospitalization and long COVID. And despite having the privilege to take a break, under this creator economy work culture, I was still nervous. I’m sure that anxiety had somewhat of a physical toll on my recovery. 

Even now, despite writing this, I’m still recovering from COVID. But please… let’s all take a note from Robert of Late to the Party. Let’s help each other, and lean on each other for support. Work hard, play hard, rest hard. Never apologize for doing what we have to do to protect our bodies.


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