Houston, we have a problem. The Private Sector’s karma may be headed for the toilet.
I’m often up at odd hours, and sometimes to attempt to get to sleep, I peruse Craigslist. For fun, I always check out the casting and talent sections as there are always really interesting listings there. My current favorite is a listing that casts people as a “Zombie” in a “popular” Zombie Apocalypse TV show ($10.00 says it’s “walking Dead” – I love that show!) A person can make anywhere from $180.00 – $380.00 a day, as a Zombie. Of course, you’re under tons of make-up for 16 hours at a stretch, but it’s a hoot, so who cares?
Anyone who knows anything about entertainment will realize that many talent opportunities are unpaid. Actors will work for “copy (of the DVD once it’s finished), credit (in the film at the end), and meals” because they love to act, and they wish to get their art out to the masses. Yet I’ve found an alarming trend throughout the entertainment sector that goes well beyond “copy, credit, and meals”. It was so disturbing that I decided to look on Craigslist at regular “jobs”, in an attempt to see if this trend had spread outside of the “copy, credit, and meals” mentality, and indeed, it had.
I call it the TSWW Phenomenon, or the Tom Sawyer White Wash.
For example, as I scanned “jobs” in entertainment, I came across listing after listing asking for “experienced” screenwriters. Okay. According to these ads, Producers (who are the “employers” in this instance) are wanting people to send in an introductory letter, resume, references, and writing samples. Also, they want all applicants to have experience as a ghostwriter for scripts, reviews, books, proposals, promo ads – basically, they want to make sure that a screenwriter can also be a copywriter – which are not always one in the same. Heck, this is America, right? Employers want to hire one employee who can function as 16 employees. One talented screenwriter could take the place of your whole marketing department, and that’s a REAL bottom-line-saver. Naturally, all employers want the biggest bang for their buck, so they need to make sure that before applying for a job, these screenwriters provide them with a laundry list of above-and-beyond qualifications.
Oh. Except none of these jobs are paid.
You heard that right.
Yep, in America today, you can get hired to do anything you want – as long as you have all the skills of ten people, a sparkling resume head and shoulders above all the rest, and are willing to do it – for free. Just because it’s cool.
You bet, Tom Sawyer — I’ll white wash your fence.
Sound ridiculous? It’s not. I found listing after listing in the entertainment job section alone that pitched for “Producers” who were “making movies”. What did these “film producers” seek? Again, insert the “send me only your best” solicit, and then add on the fact that they needed a camera crew, a script, a make-up person, a lighting department, a marketing department, a casting agent, food services – lol – well, basically, they needed someone to build an entire movie around them (which is their job), instead of having a concept, and seeking out the people they need to build the film. Producers put together movies themselves, not beg people to put it together for them. I know – I’ve produced a movie or two. But someone begging an entire FILM CREW to come work for them, on Craigslist, for free, with promises of working with the “hottest up and coming so and so” — is not a “Producer”. That’s someone who wishes they were, has no idea what they’re doing, and are dangling the carrot of “I’m so wonderful, you should work with me” in front of folks as if there is actually value there.
Now, it’s important to note that a lot of people work on films for free. I’ve done it, and would do it again if I was in love with the project; I’ve had glorious people donate their time to my own documentary film, just as did I. But to have the audacity to list oneself as a “Producer”, and then have NOTHING in line for the film, yet wanting an entire busload of people to arrive and miraculously “build” a job, career, and title around another person – is beyond bizarre. That would be like someone advertising a job for an “Executive Sales Manager”, but in the ad, the “Employer” asks for an office, a phone line, a list of leads, a lunch budget, a car, a wardrobe, a tax accountant, an HR person, a company logo, a sales staff, and would also like to be listed as “Boss”.
Welcome to what I like to call the “App Mentality” — the action of one person wanting everyone else to come in and build something around them so that the person doesn’t have to lift a finger to earn the position.
The App Mentality is the propensity to live life as if it were a cell phone – as if one could download an app that can solve the world’s problems with the touch of a button – no waiting, trying, or thinking. Instant gratification. The problem with “playing App” in real life is that real people, not an electronic function dumped to your phone, is what completes the job at hand. Yet we’ve become so out of touch with cause and effect in our insty-app world that we forget the reality of putting real jobs together — things like payroll, and people management. And worse, we’ve forgotten the reality of having to be accountable, and take responsibility for putting these jobs together ourselves.
Just because we ask our iPhone to calls us “Your Highness” – doesn’t mean that we are royalty.
Yet I see reality slipping through society’s fingers with greater speed each year. People are leveraging either this virtual thingy or that in order to crown themselves king or queen of this social network, or that virtual scene. But really – it’s all facades, like the front of an Old West town. There’s just nothing behind it except a lot of hits and someone claiming to be a fabulous genius. With the exception of the guy who put together Facebook, one could snatch the iPhone out of any Internet Emperor Du Jour’s hand, and all you’d have left is a dude without an iPhone with his mom’s Starbuck’s card in his back pocket.
This TSWW phenomenon is in part due to our depressed socio-economic climate. When we can’t get the jobs to make the money to buy the houses and the new cars that make us feel like a great big success, we must seek the feeling of success in other ways. One of those placebos is fame. And let me tell you – one can be very famous, and not have two nickels to rub together. Fame and money do not go hand in hand. Yet the validation of the fame can substitute the validation given to us by “stuff”. Mind you, I’m not endorsing the pursuit of “stuff” as a healthy emotional or spiritual validation. I’m simply pointing out that in our obsessing on all the wrong things, we have transferred the impetus for Tom Sawyer. Just look at our cultural addiction to the allure of soft-scripted Reality TV.
For those who don’t work in TV, “soft scripted” means that the producers who are on location with the folks in the TV program give them direction by feeding them what to say to start out a scene, or to “keep the drama going.” Often, your TV favorites aren’t coming up with all that juicy stuff on their own. They have a producer feeding them witty, weird, and downright dysfunctional stuff to do and say, from the wings. With the exception of a very few good Reality shows on TV, like Deadliest Catch — “Reality” isn’t real. (Here’s a hint: If it has “Real” in the title, like Real Housewives of Anything, Real L Word, Real World – it’s not real. It’s soft-scripted.) The point of soft-scripting is to get out of paying a union writer, or union actors. Snookie just needs to have an orange tan and she’s golden – literally.
In fact, we now have so many American Idol contestants that people can’t keep them straight from season to season. We have flooded the market with disposable insty-talent, just like the sea of Apps that are at our fingertips at any given moment. We download them, use them once or twice, and uninstall them.
Yet unlike an App, the human spirit suffers through this process.
We have lost touch with the actual pace of life, and the pace of success. We have lost touch with the pace of building, the pace of learning, and the pace of growing.
We have lost touch.
For those who don’t work in entertainment, I also looked in the “regular” job section, and saw the same Tom Sawyer White Wash phenomenon: People wanting receptionists, salespeople, marketing folks, etc and so on, and wanting the best of the best with the whole “resume , references, and cover letter” thing – only to find out at the end of the solicit that the jobs were “unpaid” with the possibility of a permanent hire once something “opens up”, or of course, the ever-fascinating “intern” solicit. And no, these weren’t “spam” posts on Craigslist. They’re real companies, asking for real help. It’s UN-real.
Sure, interning is terrific for someone who has never worked in a new field. I interned when I was in my early 20’s for an entertainment company and I learned an invaluable amount of information that helped launch my career. But when established businesses are working the “intern” angle and asking that someone has at least 5 years experience and the resume of a Boeing Engineer – that’s a case of wanting “something for nothing”.
I even have a good pal who, in order to get a new job, had to put at least a week’s worth of work into a half-hour presentation for the prospective employer. That could have been 45+ hours of unpaid time for this individual, just trying to prove above and beyond the resume, cover letter, and references, that they were competent enough. Luckily for my friend, they got the job. But since when do prospective brick-layers have to build the wall for the construction company first, and then, once the wall is built and the work has been done, wait around to see whether they will be hired or not? That sounds a little “ancient Egypt” to me.
And we wonder why the karma has gone south in our Private Sector.
The bottom line is that people in our nation are so tired of being out of work, and are so desperate to feel as though their skills are still needed, and so desperate to feel part of something and someone that believes in them, that there are talented, lovely, trusting, and well-meaning people who are taking these jobs – for free. I’d be very interested to see, once a company knows these folks will work for free – if they are ever offered a paycheck down the road.
My guess is not. After all, they’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.
Of course, yes – there is always the argument that one gets paid in any job, even if the “pay” is experience. And there are of course amazing volunteer positions all over this nation that are enormously emotionally, socially, and spiritually edifying. Again, I myself have done a lot of jobs for free, and I volunteer my time on many endeavors. That’s called being a productive member of society.
But that’s not what I’m talking about.
I’m referring to the fact that SO many of our perceptions in this nation have been manipulated by the illusions of grandeur, the illusion of “celebrity association”, the illusion of “being on TV” even through a soft-scripted series, that the VALUE we once placed in the gifts and talents of others has been devalued. The problem is, the more socially acceptable it becomes not to honor people with either personal respect or pay, or not to commit to people in a work environment, or to only use the best of what people have to offer and then throw the person away – the more often all of the above will occur. I suppose the best we can do is educate each other on the fact that it’s happening, and encourage people to raise their bar.
If you’re an individual who is talented enough to do the job of 16 people, is internet savvy enough to build a virtual empire, and has enough trust in someone else to eventually “pay you” – then I would highly recommend starting your own business, and simply building it yourself. The energies are ripe at this time in spiritual history for entrepreneurs to shine. The key here is ACTUALLY doing the work. There is no “app” for success.
I’ve been stunned over the last year and a half at the disproportionately startling number of people who have approached not only my friends, but me, to work on this project or that, only to find out that they don’t have a plan at all. Their plan was to get some schmoe like me — who specializes in not only having a plan, but the professional network to implement the plan – to make everything happen. Everything, of course, except collect a paycheck, or receive any credit. That’s saved for the Tom Sawyer who is putting together the white wash crew.
It’s gotten so bad that many businesses are having to go back and eat where they’ve defecated. I had a magazine want to “honor” me by “inviting” me to be a writer for them (unpaid), even though a year prior, they had “revoked” (actual word) their offer of an approved cover story on me — after telling me that I didn’t fit the “standards” of their demographic due to some unrelated six-year-old music promo photos I had online that they stumbled upon the month the cover was to come out. (I kid you not. This is a real story.) Instead, they offered the consolation of re-assigning the article on the edgy Spiritual Embarrassment known as “me” into the middle of the magazine, where it would be “more appropriate”. (Seriously.) Why bother featuring me at all, if I’m not up to their “standards”? Well, the answer to that media math problem is simple — they could still save a little face and reap the benefits of my promotion of their periodical to my fan base, yet not have to publicly claim outward endorsement of me on the cover. I declined the “middle of the mag” part, as being told I didn’t “fit their standards” was enough for me. It’s no shocker that they were down staff. So here they were, a year later, “extending an invitation” through an unsuspecting third party, for me do free “work” for them as a writer – because it would be “good exposure” and “good promotion” for me. Hmmm… but … I thought they didn’t want my brand directly associated with their magazine, because I wasn’t up to their “standards”? (Where’s that can of white wash?) I mean, those deal-breaking music promo photos were still online — wouldn’t it be worse for the magazine if someone who did not fit their “standards”, like me, appeared as staff? Isn’t that a greater professional endorsement, having my voice and my opinion shape their magazine? Of course it is. But now that they had viewed my writing style, liked it, and moreover, needed writers for free, they claimed their actions the prior year were nothing more than a “miscommunication”. There was no miscommunication. I still have the emails directly from the magazine’s editor. She was very clear in why they “revoked” the cover (love it!). And honestly, whatever — that’s their right, so rock on freedom of the press. But let’s not change history just because we now need free stuff. That’s just trashy.
I suspect that many others had become high as a kite from huffing the magazine’s white wash fumes, so perhaps they felt my short-term memory would be wiped from the chemical peel as well. Yet the problem with the Tom Sawyer White Wash way of doing business is that it doesn’t work with those of us who have already painted our share of fences. Yet it seems this disingenuous modality is incredibly common these days.
P.T. Barnum would say that there’s a sucker born every minute. I’d augment that saying for 2012: There’s someone hopeful born every minute. And to those who wish to take advantage of them – I wouldn’t recommend it. Karma really is a bitch. (Trust me. I’ve met her and she’s awful.)
I seem to be doing just fine without having appeared in that magazine, with a spiritual book now off to my editor that will be coming out in the next six weeks, and two TV pilots in the hopper. And the magazine is none the worse for wear without my participation. Yet the story goes to illustrate that we are the ones who are in control of our associations and our lessons. We are the energetic company we keep. We choose the chaos with which we capitulate and which track we are to travel depending on which challenge we require in our life at that time. If we believe we are not of value, then when someone devalues us, we jump on the chance to participate. Though we should always be the first to help those in need, we should remain mindful of the application of our gifts and talents. Our abilities are our wealth, given to us freely by Spirit, to be given freely. Yet just as we would not squander our hard-earned savings, we should not squander our dearest gifts, talents, and affections on those who would not be able to comprehend them.
We cannot gain acceptance from anyone without accepting within ourselves that we are worthy to receive, be it financial, emotional, social, or spiritual. As my grandpa Charlie used to say, “There’s nothing in this life that’s free.” Well, except one thing: Our choice to raise our personal bar in our business and personal dealings. That doesn’t cost a dime. It does, however, take emotional elbow grease. So perhaps all those muscles developed over the years while wielding white wash for Tom Sawyer can be put to good use.
This time – just make sure to bring your own brushes. Every artist finds their own style, after time.