I want to turn this concept on its ear for a minute (or thirty) because in all sincerity, from any particular point of view, almost anything can be viewed as a privilege, and since there is almost always someone one step (or more) up and one step (or more) down.
Note: If I was really cool, rather than lazy and pressed for time, I'd offer linky love to all those privilege thinkers such as Gwen, Mad Hatter and Her Bad Mother but first, I think anyone who reads me probably reads them first and second, they are all over there in my blogroll (pause, glance to right) and third, see first comma delineated phrase. Please, all of you who have written and/or commented on privilege, consider yourself loved.
I consider myself on the one hand privileged, and on the other hand not privileged. We live penny to penny, on a slight and tight budget. This is because we live on a single salary in a double-income world, and that single salary is Of The Arts God Help Us. We all know how desperately monetarily undervalued any artistic skill is.
Whenever we feel stressed or strained the first idea on the table is always send me back to a Real Job at an Office. At these times, I always make a loud sucking noise to indicate my soul once more being vacuumed from my body by The Man and The Machine. See, the idea isn't to send me back to the creative world.
No, the idea is for me to re-enter the tech world---pretty much my only option here. Hardware and software background with writing and communication skills. Whenever the job thing comes up (which it often does, and not of my volition) someone is always at the ready to remind me of How Much Money They Offer.
The price of a soul is not mean, it seems.
Setting aside how this is a problematic solution and merely indicative of a degree of desperation that tends to over-ride our lives due to the aforementioned slight tight budget, I'd like to re-visit the idea of the undervalued arts.
Long ago, the arts were for the masses. Theater, art, music...it was grass roots. And frequently, it came to you. During that dark yet intriguing time in humanity when people were regularly burned alive and all forms of anything pleasurable or fun was banned (must rid the world of the Roman/heathen/pagan/non-Catholic influence, after all), entertainment thrived anyway. The main entertainment---when the priest allowed it---were liturgical dramas and some morality plays (the only things considered "safe" for us poor, ignorant, easily-led-into-sin saps). Due to a lack of reading and writing skill, most stories were told through songs, rhymes, allegories, and so forth. Theater troupes of actors and performers, troubadors, jugglers, minstrels, musicians, mimes, and more traveled from town to town and put on shows in public, hoping for a donation of food, clothing or money. But there was no admittance fee, usually. Not at this level.
The performances took place in Inn yards, town squares, churches, open fields, anywhere people had free and easy access. Performers wanted, naturally, the maximum exposure.
Theater and performing arts were of the people, by the people and for the people.
Then...we hit the Renaissance. And suddenly the nobility took notice of the entertainment industry. With an influx of money (and attention) from the wealthy and privileged, performances moved off the streets and into pay-to-enter theaters.
They also changed from representing the cultural life and times of the everyman to the iconic and laconic lives of the privileged---after all, people want to see what interests them, and the aristocracy were not interested in the plight of the downtrodden. Further, the classical religious message transitioned to the classical Greek and Roman message due to the epic battle between Catholics and Protestants.
The structure of plays became more fixed and complex, and the staging became more ornate. To finance and support fixed troupes stationed in a stable theater, performances became worth a price.
And slowly but surely, theater became a symbol of wealth and privilege, not only through its patrons, but also through its writers, directors, and performers, who gave up the loose, personal, unique oral tradition. They had to have the ability to read (scripts), write (scripts), be educated enough to understand content (in order to appropriately perform it and understand the often real characters depicted), and be able to use appropriate accents for their audience.
The theater people were usually not of the privileged class nor were they---outside the theater---welcomed by it but they had to have enough privileged class skills to offer what their audience wanted.
And today, both the arts and performing arts---while nominally available to all through museums and discount performances---are still for the privileged, in general.
I can't afford to go to the big city theaters except maybe once a year, on special occasions. The local theater is fun about as often; despite its lower cost, it is still cost prohibitive for us. Apply the same to area museums ($25 per ticket for one popular one, plus $15 for parking), ballet companies, and symphonies.
Sometimes we are creative and do something such as volunteer as employees in exchange for tickets, however, that hasn't happened since we had children.
Even movies are too expensive these days.
And so, instead, we watch TV for entertainment. And wait until movies go on the $1.99 special on DirectTV.
At least we still have affordable access to words and concepts through the world of books (at the library), public radio, television, and...the Internet.
I used to be a regular Salon reader. When it became subscription based, I mourned, but moved on. I value the writing there, but not enough to pay for it. I can find similar levels of articles and free-thinking elsewhere that is still free. I might sometimes have to click past an ad here or there, or subscribe so my name and information act as my admittance fee (those being a commodity these days), but I'm generally willing to do that in exchange. I don't even keep stamps on hand much now since email is basically immediate and free.
I realize this is the very problematic mentality that leaves most writers such as me plying my craft for no financial compensation. However, if there is a penny to be pinched, I have to do it. Each time I opt for a purchase, I have to do so consciously. We have no frivolous money, not really.
Fortunately the Internet---and the wealth of infotainment, entertainment, and information it offers---is still basically affordable even for people like me. It's frequently considered necessary as an expense, so that even a few families I know on public assistance set aside the $12 a month for it. If that is still out of reach, although it is less than ideal, schools and libraries offer free access.
I don't really believe that access to the Internet is, today, the socioeconomic issue it once was. A NATION ONLINE: How Americans Are Expanding Their Use of the Internet, Washington, D.C. (February 2002) seems to indicate I'm not completely in error about this. In short, this report claims that computer ownership and Internet use are rapidly becoming more equally distributed across households in the United States.
Outside of some online publications and eZines, once you do have access to the Internet, almost everything you find there---much of which is, in my opinion, priceless---is free.
Such as blogs.
When Mad Hatter wrote:
I'll say it right out: I reject the career model of mommy blogging. It's not that I don't think our work is worth something. I do. It's just that the discourse of parenting, of the minutiae of day-to-day life is not valued by society as a whole. The only people who would want to pay for what we have to say are, well, us--the very people who deserve recompense for our work. It's a catch 22.
Think about the A-listers...I think of them in terms of reality TV. These lucky few are our Idols. They rose to the top of an extremely talented pool through charm, charisma, popularity and corporate mechinations. I have watched a lot of Idol shows in my day. I know how they work. As a model for ratings, advertising and popular entertainment, they are a phenomenon. As a model for the arts, they suck. As a model for innovation, they suck. As a model for building meaningful, long-term careers they really suck. Not only that but they promote a cult of celebrity that all of us in the West would be better off without.
I agreed. Lengthily. Completely. Especially about innovation.
Once you are writing commercially---especially for a topical publication---you are writing within a prefabricated structure designed to draw the most interest and largest number of people through a particular hook.
The wonderful thing about the Internet as it is now is that it is egalitarian. There is no screening process for who gets to start and write in a blog. In fact, you can start a blog at no cost. On the whole, the competition evolves naturally through reader interest rather than through a rigid, artificially constructed system of pitting writers against one another to win one top spot. Currently, if you have the dream and the desire, the reality of blogging is immediately accessible for you, and you are immediately accessible to any who are interested in what you have to say. Of course, because it's not a job (usually) there is no pay.
But don't we, as Mad allows, deserve compensation for this that we do? And isn't that expectation emboldened when we see bloggers such as Dooce allegedly live fatly off the bloggy land? Why shouldn't that be my largesse, too?
It depends upon how you define compensation. As Mad elaborated in her comments:
Are you willing to pay to read what I write? Am I willing to pay to read what you write? The answer is "no" but only if you look at this equation in terms of monetary funds. We "pay" each other by giving back to this affiliative, collective system: by writing, by reading, by commenting and by linking. The way that the parenting blogosphere currently works is sort of like a sophisticated system of barter and exchange.
Absolutely. By giving back to the affiliative, collective system what we've created and are maintaining through our unpaid blogging is a major source of innovative entertainment---and community---in the yard at the public inn.
You don't have to be any particular type of person, wearing any particular kind of outfit, driving any sort of car, or accessing any type of major socioeconomic privilege.
Although the majority of my blogroll links are middle-class level white people in North America who are mainly women, this is simply representative of my own self-obsession. Do not mistake this group simply as the privileged elite. The wealth in that list is in unquantfiable elements such as talent and experiential diversity. I typically have no idea as to the socioeconomic situation of any of the bloggers I like.
What I do know is that they are free.
Were we all to aim towards receiving monetary compensation at a professional or even minimum-wage level, were we to solidify into a quorum, creating minimum standards...building a theater (an online ezine available through subscription) and pandering for wealthy supportive patrons (marketing organizations and profit business) then eventually much of the innovation---the everyman experience---would melt away into the most marketable points of view about a single angle of a focused niche topic, as is already happening with so many of the targeted parenting blogger polished pulication sites. The motivation has altered from sharing to profiting. Those for profit sites tend to gather the like, the likeminded, and those most likely to generate traffic. The contributors are intended to keep representing that same voice, that same point of view. Eventually, it's like being hit with the same marketing message over and over, such as, "Have a coke and a smile."
It cements us into groups, divvies us up into categories, panders to a hierarchy and competition.
But more than that, it truly stifles innovation. Regardless of intention on the part of the contributors, it sets up an ideal, a model, that we ought to follow. After a time, it becomes the online equivalent of the rack magazine: full of canned points, attention-grabbing and promising headlines, loaded with how-tos for the way you ought to be. In short, it steers us into how we should think and be rather than stimulating unique discussion and reflecting evolving thought.
I don't deny that there are pros to counter my cons. There is benefit to communing with similarly-minded.
My concern emanates from my belief that similarly-minded communing so frequently evolves into Us. And Us is clearly not Them. (Consider the recent "hip" versus "unhip" parent battle.)
When formally collected, the free and innovative can quickly become exclusionary and elitist. Those within, have. Those without, have not. Have so easily morphs into Are. Are. Are not.
Right now, I don't consider that I blog for free. Not by a long-shot. I pay in time, thought, and lost sleep. I am paid in thought, mind-expansion, and entertainment. I appreciate the the lack of scripted lines recited over and over in the same way time and again. I like sitting on the edge of the trough, keeping out of the drizzle by a slight overhang of the roof of the public inn. I like never knowing exactly what today's minstrel, troubador, juggler, or actor will put before my mind.
copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
Tags: paid blogging, commercial blogging, open blogging for free