Around seven or eight years ago, an online Buddhist magazine asked me to contribute articles. At first I was pleased. Then I heard the terms they were offering.
I would be paid according to the number of views and shares my articles got. If they got less than a certain number of views, I would not be paid at all. After the pay threshold was reached, I’d be paid in increments representing each thousand views above that amount. I’d get paid a bonus when the articles were shared a certain number of times.
This felt like an insult. When I wrote for Suicide Girls I was paid for every article I submitted. I didn’t have to gamble that I could spend days crafting a piece only to find that it didn’t get enough views for me to get paid for my work. Other magazines, both paper and electronic, also paid for my labor.
So I asked some people I knew who were more savvy about the current industry practices. They told me that what I was being offered — to be paid according to view-counts and shares — was becoming the norm. Many online magazines and websites were switching over from paying writers for their work to paying writers only if their articles were viewed and shared a certain number of times.
I never did write for that online Buddhist magazine.
In the years since then, this practice of paying writers only after they get a certain number of views and shares has increased. Even major mass media outlets are doing it now.
This is why, when I read yet another piece in which a writer expresses fire and fury over how our current president is exactly like Hitler, or weeps at how refugee children are being tossed into cages, or rails at the latest celebrity sexual transgression I am usually unmoved.
It’s not that I don’t care if Trump is acting like Hitler. I do! Very much! It’s not that I don’t care how immigrants are treated. I spent about a third of my life as an immigrant and my girlfriend is the daughter of Mexican immigrants. It’s not that I don’t believe sexual abuse happens in Hollywood. I live in Hollywood! I know people who’ve been abused here.
Yet I don’t look at those articles and think, “Now there is a passionate writer speaking truth to power!” Rather, I remember that offer I got seven or eight years ago and I assume I’m looking at the words of a writer a lot like me, struggling to pay the bills through the only kind of work they know how to do, trying desperately to get as many clicks and likes and shares as possible to make sure they get paid for this one.
This is why I can’t take most of what I read these days at face value. Because I know how the game of being a professional writer is played. I play it myself. I have to. I know that one of the most abused professions right now is that of being a writer. Few of us are in a position to speak out about it. We’re too busy just trying to stay afloat in the situation these new practices have placed us in.
Hitler sells. Horror sells. Sex sells. Put that together to create the image of real life as a horror movie starring a sex-crazed Adolf Hitler, and you’ve got an article that might to be shared enough times for you to afford to eat this month.
It’s not even that I don’t believe the stories. I’m sure a lot of them are true. I just can’t get worked up about words on screens or on paper, or even about photos since I know that game works exactly the same way. Maybe these writers really do believe in the causes they espouse. But even when they do, they’ve got to ramp up the hyperbole to hyperdrive in order to get noticed enough for it to even be worth their time at the laptop.
This is why every unfortunate event is described as a crisis, every sad story is a tragedy, and every bad leader is Adolf Hitler
And here’s another thing. All those likes and shares add up to advertising revenue for the social media platforms on which they’re liked and shared. Twitter and Facebook don’t give a shit whether we’re sharing articles about Trump being exactly like Hitler or if we’re sharing articles about immigrants being the cause of all crime. They get paid either way. And we help them get paid every time we click that “like” or “share” button.
When Donald Trump calls the media “fake news” he’s right. Only he’s also lying because his beloved Fox and Friends is just as fake as the rest of them. And Trump himself is the fakest news of all. Which is what I find so scary about him. I’m not worried that he’s following Hitler’s playbook straight out of Mein Kampf. The idea that Trump could even read a book like that is laughable. What worries me is that he is playing politics the way the contemporary mass media plays its game — exactly like his predecessors did.
So please forgive me if I’m not liking and sharing all the things you think I ought to be liking and sharing. I’ve grown too cynical about the media to do that.
I’m trying not to become similarly cynical about life itself. And the only way to do that, that I can come up with is to leave those problems the media wants me to freak out about aside and focus instead on what’s right in front of me. Being hyper-aware of problems I can do nothing to solve never brought me any joy, nor did it ever make the slightest difference in those problems.
Instead, I vote. I speak out, reasonably and with as little hype as possible. I make contributions. I even participate in marches sometimes. But once I’m done with that, I put it aside and I go outside. I talk to real people and look at real things.
Besides, there are enough hashtaggers and social media outrage likers and sharers without me.
July 6, 2018 ZERO DEFEX at Annabelle’s, Akron, Ohio with Hyper As Hell and Burning Lesbians
July 7, 2018 MANSFIELD, OHIO
October 26-28, 2018 3-DAY ZEN RETREAT AT MT. BALDY ZEN CENTER
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