Songs for the Struggling Artist


Maybe It’s Something. Maybe It’s Nothing. Or, Much Ado About a Black Square

Last Saturday, women began to message one another about a social media blackout “tomorrow.” The message included a little black square to use as a profile picture. This was the message:

“Tomorrow, female blackout from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Its a movement to show what the world might be like without women. Your profile photo should just be a black square so that men wonder where the women are. Pass it only to women … It’s for a project against domestic abuse. It is no joke. Share it.”

 

I was instantly suspicious. First, because of the timing. In the middle of a profound protest movement developing among women, at the apex of women’s rage, suddenly we are being asked to go dark on social media all day? To disappear? Just stop the outpouring of rage and movement building so men will “wonder where the women are”?

 

Huh?

 

My first red flag was: No one EVER notices an absence on Facebook. How many times have you seen someone pop up with a status that says something like, “I’m back! It’s been a crazy year! What did I miss? Did you miss me?” Um…nope. Hadn’t noticed that you were gone, to be honest. Not because I don’t care about you, Mr. Example Person, but because the algorithms that Facebook uses mean that I don’t see all KINDS of people all the time, whether they are there or not. So – strategically, this plan seemed dumb and self defeating.

Next: It wasn’t connected to any particular idea – not A Day Without a Woman or A Day Without Immigrants. It was not connected to any organization nor to any movement.

And that’s not even getting into the problematic use of the word “female” here.

I began to investigate because something about it smelled super fishy. From the vague “project” to the phrasing of the message, to the fact that it was unsponsored, to the strange air of secrecy around it, something just didn’t seem right.

 

I copied the message and googled it. Turns out, this exact same wording has been used multiple times before in the last few years. I couldn’t find any debunking or source of it – but its strange repetition was enough to confirm for me that I would not be joining the black out, no matter who told me to.

 

I decided to post my decision and my research because someone had asked me what I thought about it and I figured others were also likely in a quandary. My quick post about this was shared about as widely as one of my most popular blogs. I was not expecting that. And having suddenly been put into a position of authority on this topic by virtue of a couple of google searches, I felt obliged to think about it even further. I saw a lot of comments about it on my post that others shared and those of others as well.

 

One thing that stuck out to me was the notion that the message was received from a trusted source. This meant, I came to realize, that they got it from a friend they trusted. And those friends got it from friends THEY trusted. It came in our messages, not on our walls. The messages are where the real friends are, where there are no advertisements, even. (Yet.)

 

It occurred to me that this notion of receiving something from a trusted source is something that someone who wanted to spread mis-information on social media might exploit. People spread that pizzagate nonsense because they got it from a trusted source. That is, their friend. Everyone assumes the person before them vetted the thing. I have been guilty of it as well. I don’t have time to be vetting everything I see on the internet! But I do TRY to vet everything I POST on the internet. That’s why, even though I received the invite from my most trusted source, I still investigated it. Have I done this every time? No, I haven’t. But this experience with the black square will make me a lot more vigilant.

 

But – if it’s something as easy as changing a profile photo and taking a little break from posting things, what’s the harm? We could all use a little social media fast, couldn’t we?

 

That’s the other comment I saw going through. Something along the lines of: “What the big deal? So what if it’s politically motivated? Or another Russian manipulation of Facebook? It’s just a profile pic. I won’t go silent, as suggested, now that I’ve seen people upset about that idea. But just posting a black square won’t do any harm!”

And maybe it was all totally harmless. Probably it’s just a harmless little meme in support of “domestic abuse.” Probably. Or it could just be some random meme that cycles through occasionally. Forbes says it was spam, basically. Big deal. What harm is done?

 

Now – I don’t know. I’m just a struggling artist. I’m not a cyber terrorism expert. But I do have an imagination and pay attention to just enough tech news to know that few of us are as savvy about the way we’re technologically vulnerable as we should be. I can imagine a scenario wherein bad actors* try out a “harmless” support meme that targets large groups of women at a time. Given that the Resistance is something like 85% female, someone figuring out how to throw women into silence or disarray could be an important goal.

 

I heard a lot of women say that their “trusted source” had been a prominent, active women’s advocate. That is, I suspect, the top line of the Resistance, the especially active, the organizers, the leaders. It is not a stretch to imagine that bad actors* from several angles would be interested in manipulating large groups of women on Facebook – the place where large groups of women center their social movements. It also makes sense to me that those same bad actors* would know who to target at the top of the pile to make the thing travel as quickly as it did. I mean, have you ever tried to get thousands of people to do something? Millions of people? Or even just, like, dozens? I am chilled by the fact that in the space of a day – someone could orchestrate an event for the NEXT DAY. That is extraordinary.

 

I don’t want to be an alarmist on this point, it probably is harmless. It’s probably just spam, as Forbes reported. But I do think we have to learn to be a little warier.

What’s amazing about the message is how it exploits two major triggers for women. It speaks to our desire to help other women and to be finally appreciated, or even just acknowledged, by men.

 

It reminds me of a workshop I took in self defense. We had to learn how to say “No” really loudly. We role-played so we could practice saying no in real life scenarios. The man in the role of the attacker was so skilled, though. He knew how to manipulate each person so well that even when we knew we were supposed to say “No” it was still incredibly challenging. With me, I remember he tried to get me to help with his kids who were in trouble outside. Oh, I wanted to help. But I eventually found the strength to say No and then later learned how to say No while kicking him in the balls and poking him in eyes. (He had a protective suit on, don’t worry.)

 

Anyway, I’m not writing this to shame anyone for posting a black square or going dark. Your intentions were sweet and good. You wanted to help. You were like me hearing that there were kids in trouble out in the car! And I’m not even saying you SHOULD have said “No!” to this and punched it in the balls or poked it in the eyes. I’m just suddenly keenly aware that to really look out for each other, sometimes we need to investigate for each other. We need to have each others backs by being willing to be skeptical sometimes, by being willing to change our minds. One of the things that I watched happen over the course of this black square day was a kind of digging in of heels. I saw women fiercely defend a thing they’d only heard of hours before. It was as if, in having made the choice, they took any skepticism about it as a personal affront. There were some serious rifts happening between women and communities over something as seemingly minor as a profile pic. (I mean, wouldn’t this be exactly what you wanted if you were trying to disrupt a democracy via Facebook?)

 

This particular post may not have been nefarious. Maybe it wasn’t an attempt to distract furious American women and cause dissension among them. Maybe that photo they sent to everyone wasn’t encoded with some sort of virus or malware. Maybe it wasn’t practice for future nefarious plans. Maybe it was just nothing. No big deal.

 

But. The thing is. If it WAS an attempt at cyber manipulation (and we know this is a real thing that happens on Facebook in particular,) it was targeting women specifically. And, I fear that by talking about this to you, by making you aware of this possibility, I may have made myself a future target. So I’m gonna need you all to watch my back and if you see me heading outside with some guy I’m supposed to say no to, I’m gonna need you to shout “No!” really loudly and kick him in the balls. You know, in a digital sense. Thanks in advance.

**

*Note: I’m using “bad actors” in the sense that the tech industry uses the term, that is, people with bad intentions. Of course, if you’re like me, you just picture bad actors, like, saying lines in a wooden fashion and being totally awkward in their bodies on stage – but in tech. That’s not what it is though. It’s bad guys. Evil doers. Tech villains.

This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

If you’d like to listen to me read the previous one on Anchor, click here.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs, an album of Gen X Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Like the blog? Want to help me keep doing it?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 

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Spotify for Good or Ill. For Good and Ill.

For a little while, I felt righteous and superior because I didn’t have or use Spotify. I knew their reputation for underpaying artists and felt I had the moral high ground by not participating in it. But then I saw it in action. I saw how it was an incredible library of music. I saw how it was more expansive than any music library I had ever spent time in (and I have spent time in a few.) It is an incredible resource. And while it fails to do it adequately, it does, unlike many other platforms, attempt to give back to the artists in its library.

I think Spotify is actually a useful example of an increasingly urgent crisis point developing in our new modern world. It has all the good and all the bad rolled up in one.

For the good: As a person who cares about music, Spotify offers a world I would never have access to without it. While researching material for my children’s book, I explored the music of Mesopotamia, Somalia, Lithuania, Sudan, Iran and more. All of which was available to me within seconds. That so much music of the world is at my fingertips is an absolute miracle of the modern age. My new favorite artist thanks to exploring on Spotify, is a Malian woman who lives in France.

Is it possible I could have stumbled upon her at a local record shop? Sure. That’s how I fell in love with Cuban hip-hop band, The Orishas and got into Afro-Peruvian music – by hearing them played at The Tower Records I was browsing in.

But. Tower Records is gone and my CD player isn’t even plugged in anymore. I don’t think we’re going back – even if there is a revitalization of vinyl and the kids listen to cassettes ironically or whatever – I don’t think Tower Records is coming back. I think we now have to reckon with a digital musical world. For good or ill. For good and ill.

The ill is how Spotify‘s dominance in music means the extreme diminishment of musicians. People don’t buy albums of music anymore because they don’t have to. Why pay for something when you can hear it on demand for free? It’s easier, it’s less fussy, you can just listen to everything you love in one place. Why would you pay when you don’t have to?

And many a listener comforts their feeling of guilt at listening via Spotify by thinking about Spotify’s pay per listen situation. They’re thinking – well, an artist is getting compensated every time I listen to a song. Having recently joined Spotify as an artist, I too, thought I’d be pulling in a little bit of something that way. But Spotify doesn’t tell you how much you’ll get. When they gave me my artist page, they said nothing about money. From my band’s previous digital distribution deal, I know we once made .01 per listen. It’s doubled now to .02.

I read about an artist who just retired from music. Her quarterly statement was for around 14,000 streams and she made around $15. My digital distributor just sent me my first earnings statement for my current music on multiple platforms. For 126 streams, I made 55 cents. It’s going to be a long long time until I pay off the $20 per album I spent to be on the digital platform. And to keep an album on Spotify next year, I’ll need to pay double what I paid this year. It is definitely a money losing proposition to be there.

As an artist on Spotify, I love that it tells me where people are listening. It delights me to know that, this month, people in Sweden, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, South Africa, Finland and more are listening to stuff I recorded in my living room. That is very cool. It makes me feel like a citizen of the larger world. Spotify has a way of making the world smaller.

That smallness of the world is one of the major changes the digital age has brought us. We can’t pretend that what we do in our small corner of the world doesn’t have an impact elsewhere. Donny Twimp is happening to everyone all over the world – not just us Americans. Those who voted for Brexit might be said to have voted for a return to their pre-digital village life. Perhaps they wanted to return to a world where they could pretend that only those within their immediate area mattered. But there is no putting this global genie back in the bottle, for good or ill, for good or ill, for good and ill.

That’s why the “America First” idea is so absurd (not to mention a slogan from the Nazis in America during actual Nazi time.) Anything that happens here, happens everywhere just the way a company like Spotify, started in Sweden, can change the entire landscape of music in the world. We have to figure out a way to embrace the wonders and the ease of this new emerging world and also support the unintended consequences. Spotify has played a giant role in the elimination of the musician middle class. The CEO of Spotify is now a billionaire. People who once could make a living from music have had to stop. This means that the bulk of money being made on music is coming from one of the three remaining record corporations – and most of the hit songs are written by the same handful of guys.

While music still means big money for those corporations, it is not good for music as a whole. And Spotify’s business model makes it worse. The music it pushes via its individualized playlists are the songs paid for by the corporations. Spotify suggests what the corporations pay it to suggest. Playlists are how Spotify makes the wheels turn. When someone puts you on a popular playlist – that’s when the wheels start turning. So what is the solution? Opt out of Spotify? You could. But at this point, it’s like opting out of an iPhone or social media. It’s not unheard of – but I’m not sure it makes much difference. In a way, the die has been cast. The musician middle class is already decimated.

Can we count on a corporation to do the right thing? I doubt it.

Should we shame people into buying music they don’t want to own? I see people trying that strategy and it doesn’t seem to work. I also feel like maybe the notion of owning music in the first place is kind of odd. We’re trying to downsize our things and our environmental footprint, right? Consume less. Make less plastic, etc. So. No. Shaming people into buying instead of streaming doesn’t seem like a great way to proceed.

It seems to me that aren’t a lot of good options here….and this problem isn’t just with music – this is for so many other things. But as Jaron Lanier pointed out – musicians (and journalists) are the canaries in the coal mine. In the last year or so, we’ve seen a revitalization of journalist outlets – but I don’t expect that that surge is a lasting change and I don’t know if such a thing is possible for music. I think this moment probably calls for a radical restructuring of how we do everything. Idea: a Universal Basic Income – everyone can have all the music they want for free if musicians could live and create without worrying about basic survival.

One of Jaron Lanier’s books offered a technological solution – and I’m not a technologist so I don’t have an idea of how this would actually work. But he proposed that digital code include a little tag back to the creator of that thing so that when that thing were shared or played or downloaded, its creators would see a bit of a return on that. There’s something about this idea that has really stuck with me, though I read the book years ago now. There is a sense of justice to it that we don’t have in the current model of things.

More and more things that we used to have to pay for are now free for us to use. We can listen to music for free on Spotify (and not just Spotify. Amazon, Google and Apple are now in the streaming game as well.) We can use a free robot lawyer via DoNotPay. We can access therapy via digital therapists. We are entertained for free via YouTube or our trial subscription movie/TV services. We read our news for free (as long as we clear our caches.)

And once people can get a thing for free, they are then unlikely to pay for it. I don’t think we can expect people to suddenly start donating to their newspaper of choice or paying for TV shows. We’ve tried to fund the arts through crowdfunding but it’s about as effective as trying to crowdfund an entire nation’s healthcare. Single companies have tremendous power to change the landscape of entire swaths of the world in record time. Spotify, a Swedish company, is making massive amounts of money while artist make massively less.

In my own artistic practice, I benefit greatly from a handful of extraordinary people who subsidize my work for the others who get it for free. It’s a bit like the Public Radio model – a handful of listeners donate so that the others can listen. My patrons keep me going so I can live to write another day. Which might sound a little melodramatic – but that’s essentially what’s at stake. If you like music and like to be able to hear more than the manufactured beats of a handful of Euro dudes – you have to help keep those musicians alive. Dead musicians don’t make music. And hungry ones don’t make the best music they can. If there’s no money to be made in music, then your musicians will be too busy trying to scrounge up a living to be able to give you the music you love.

But what are we supposed to do? Spotify is a great way to hear music but it’s destroying musical cultures around the world. Facebook is a great way to connect with the people we care about but it’s destroying our democracy. Amazon was once just a great way to get books your local bookseller couldn’t carry but now it’s destroying one brick and mortar business after another, gutting Main streets and shopping districts. It’s not as simple as deleting Facebook or not using Spotify because whatever digital behemoth we take down, another will rise in its place.

We are in a very sticky situation and have been for some time. Me? I look to the people who were part of creating the digital world  to help us out of it. They are at the forefront of both recognizing what trouble we’re in and offering ideas about how to fix it. For example, governmental regulation is very high on a lot of their lists.

New York magazine just published this extraordinary article about all this called The Internet Apologizes and it is bracing and important reading. We don’t have to delete Facebook or Spotify or Amazon or Twitter or whatever – at least not yet – but we do have to figure out how to hold them accountable for the changes they create in our greater world. And we need to stay awake and aware and get really creative about how to have things like the world’s greatest music library without destroying the lives of some of the world’s greatest musicians.

This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs and more. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

You can help keep me going

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



What People Click On

One of the side activities of having a blog is watching the stats roll in. My host, WordPress, keeps track of views and clicks on my blog and they share that info with me. This means I see when a post is traveling through the internet (usually Facebook) and when it does not.

The bulk of my views tend to come through Facebook (WordPress shares where the click originated.) And I can see what posts people read on Facebook, what caught people’s attention and what did not. Based on that (admittedly limited) data set, I might determine that people are the most interested in sexual harassment. My big viral hit a few years ago (four thousand views one day) was on this topic and the subsequent follow-ups were also in my top most views.

In the recent wave of discussion on this topic, triggered by Weinstein, I found my blog getting more views again. It makes me think about the following possibilities: people are very interested in sexual harassment or I just happen to be a better writer on this topic than I am on other ones. Another possibility is that Facebook likes to promote topics in this vein as it hits two of their algorithmic favorites: things that generate outrage and sex. (Not that sexual harassment really has anything to do with sex – but it does have the word in it!)

Based on the data, I might, if I were a person who was interested in following the market, be inclined to write more about sexual harassment and less about, say, arts education. But I don’t trust the data. I’m interested in it but I don’t trust it.

Social media companies make money on outrage. They promote posts that stir up controversy (controversy means more comments and more time on the platform) and are disinclined to promote posts that take people outside the network. I’d imagine they’re not so keen on posts that are critical of their platform either (unless, of course, they trigger a lot of comments.) I wrote a post a while back about how “discussion” on social media isn’t really discussion – about being reflective about what these platforms can actually do for us and it got, like, no views.

This could be because it wasn’t that interesting to people (fair point – very possible) but it could also be because Facebook isn’t that interested in being reflective about itself. Because it’s an open question, I really cannot and should not base what I write about on my stats – and I also need to be careful about making assumptions about people based on my stats. These sorts of data can make me feel like people are only interested in hearing from women when we’ve been the victim of something and I have to hope that that’s not true.

Want to keep up with me without the mediating force of Facebook?

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become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

kaGh5_patreon_name_and_message*

This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs and an album of More Songs. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



Is It More Than a Thousand?
January 30, 2018, 12:43 am
Filed under: Feldenkrais, music, podcasting, Social Media | Tags: , , , ,

A podcast I’m a fan of had a Facebook group and on the show they were often talking about what a lovely group it was and how the people on it were the best, so I joined it. It was a place where women asked each other questions, where they vented about sexism they ran into and shared stories. It was a feminist space where you could sensibly participate in a conversation about vibrators without batting an eye. It was pretty cool.

As the podcast became more popular, the group got bigger. And slowly but surely the group became more and more contentious until eventually they shut the whole thing down. A lot of people were shocked but I could see it coming from a mile away. While many mourned the dissolution of their “safe space,” I’d known from the beginning that no space is truly safe on social media. I know enough about the way these companies operate to know that anything I post could become public – that anything I post is really Facebook’s property, not mine. Sometimes these kinds of groups are fun but they’re never truly safe. (This skepticism may be a property of my Gen X identity.) And something I’ve noticed about on-line spaces is that the bigger the group, the less civil people become.

I don’t know what the civility threshold is on a Facebook group – but I suspect it’s somewhere around a thousand people. Once it gets bigger, somehow someone is always going to be offended and then pile-ons ensue. It doesn’t have to be ABOUT anything in particular – it could be something small – but after a thousand people are in the room, it’s bound to happen.

This happened recently on a professional group I’m a part of (2,735 members in the group.) Someone asked for tips about how to deal with a particular brand of troll and I offered a suggestion of a metaphor which featured classical music. And before I could blink, angry comments started to spew. There was a pile-on of angry classical musicians like you would not believe. The last I checked on this post, someone had said, “I find this metaphor offensive.” Which you know, I’d understand if I’d said classical music is dog poop and anyone who plays it is stupid. But I did not say that. Nor did I intend anything of the sort. (Some of my best friends are classical musicians!) All I said was that the Alexander Technique might be said to be more like classical music and the Feldenkrais Method might be said to be more like jazz. It’s not a particularly controversial thing to say. Unless you’re in a social media group of over a thousand when everything is potentially controversial and pile-ons seem to happen all the time.

In this case, too, I noticed on this thread that two comments down from me, a man had used this same analogy – but curiously, his post received no angry responses. So…I have to assume that this issue may be gendered. It did not escape my attention that every angry response was from a woman and that none of them challenged the man who had asserted the identical metaphor.

Now – here’s what I’m wondering. Is it possible for groups of over a thousand people to be productive and civil? And what happens to large groups of women in particular? Why is this devolution of civility so common?

A misogynist might say that women are petty or get upset about nothing. And my own inner misogynist thinks that very thing about all those women who were mean to me without even knowing me!

But. If I pull back my focus and look at the big picture…I think of this situation as a plugged up sprinkler. Like, the sprinkler is full of fury and if it’s thwarted, if all of its outlets are stopped, it’ll shoot that fury out of the side of the hose or wherever it can find a crack. When I’m feeling generous, I can see these dumb responses this way, as just misplaced fury – and women sometimes shoot their anger onto other women because they’re afraid to express it to men. They’re mad at me about my classical music metaphor because they can’t go yell at Harvey Weinstein or whomever the Weinstein figure of classical music is.

Or maybe it isn’t gendered – and any group of more than a thousand is just bound to devolve into constant spats. I don’t know. It’s a new world. These are not problems we had twenty years ago.

But I’d love to read any sociological studies about groups like this. There is probably a predictable formula for when people start to behave badly. I think it might help us all to know what that formula is. As for me, since I get knots in my stomach in response to conflict, I’ve just unfollowed pretty much every large group I’ve been a part of. And I breathe a LOT more easily now.

**

You can support the blog

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

kaGh5_patreon_name_and_message*

This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs. You can find it on Spotify, ReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes.

*

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



How I Learned to Be a Savvier Voter
December 3, 2017, 1:31 am
Filed under: resistance, Social Media | Tags: , , , , ,

The first thing I heard about the Constitutional Convention Proposal in New York State was this:

New York friends, please be aware that on Election Day(11/7), the back of the ballot will have a referendum to vote on a NY Constitutional Conference, or, “Con Con.” It’s a raw deal! It’s very expensive, your legislature and representatives would be paid double their current salary, and all public employees (teachers, police officers, firemen, librarians ,city and state, etc) stand to lose a great deal.
You have to turn the ballot OVER to vote. If you don’t vote, it won’t cancel the yes votes and would cost taxpayers a crapload of money$$$$$.
If you love public service employees, city and state, please vote NO!!!! And copy and paste to pass this on.
This vote is Cuomo’ s attempt to takeaway parts of your pension whether you are working or retired. He refused to put it on the front. So turn it over and vote no.

It sounded terrible. And it lined up exactly with my views – yes! Those corrupt guys in Albany WOULD do something sneaky and we could lose all our rights! It’s exactly what I feared would come next – like the precursor of the Gestapo’s boots. But I’ve heard about the fake news situation and I know Bad Actors are out there trying to spin things – so I did due diligence, folks. I clicked on the link and watched the video from the coalition for No and it featured a lot of groups I like – the New York Teachers Union, for example. So I thought, “Yeah, seems legit.” And then I shared the post on Facebook, pretty proud of myself for having clicked around a little bit before kneejerk sharing.

Then, the next day, my friend mentioned the segment he’d heard about this proposal on the Brian Lehrer show and it made him ask, “Who’s FOR it? If the unions are all against, who is advocating for it?” And the answer seemed to be no one, really. The argument seemed to be between progressives – and no one was paying to trigger a yes vote. This was a question I had not thought to ask. I just assumed what I’d read was true and the proposal was sponsored by the bad guys. But the further we dug, the more those kinds of answers were illusive.

Then I learned about the history of the New York constitutional convention and how it works. It’s built into the state’s system that every twenty years, New Yorkers can vote on whether or not to have a constitutional convention. The proposal on the ballot was happening because it had been twenty years since the last vote. No shady back door dealings. It wasn’t being hidden on the back of the ballot to trick us. It’s just a thing that happens every twenty years. Like – a china/platinum 20th anniversary party. There’s nothing particularly nefarious about it. It’s just a question, a way to take our legislative temperature that Thomas Jefferson suggested. That’s it. And I was mad that something so procedural had been sold to me as an attempt to trick me. I’d been tricked about being tricked. And I will tell you that I do not like to be tricked. That kind of thing makes me mad. And I realized that they’d gotten away with this trick by capitalizing on my (and many people’s) tendency to reduce things to the simplest answer.

This year I’ve had to pay attention to politics in a way that I never have before. I’d really rather not. I’d rather make my art and never read the news – but I don’t have that luxury anymore. I have to pay attention. And I HAVE been. But I realize now that I am still vulnerable to misinformation – so through this – I’ve learned some things to look for.

This isn’t really about the Constitutional Convention; I’m sure this same lesson might have been learned on another issue or candidate. But I want to take you through my experience so you can avoid the traps that I fell into.

FIRST QUESTION I have now about something like this proposal: Who is paying for the campaign?

In this case, unions paid millions of dollars to encourage people to vote no. No real bad guys here. But what about the Yes Campaign? Um. There wasn’t one, per se. There were a few progressive groups that got behind it as well as the New York State Bar Association. The League of Women Voters was in support. But no one was funding a campaign. I didn’t see a single Yes flyer in all of NYC in the weeks before the election. Not one. I saw some sweet homemade videos and some super geeky academic analysis but no one was funding a yes campaign. Meanwhile, there was a giant “No” magnet stuck on the mailboxes of our apartment building.

SECOND QUESTION to ask: Where did this proposal/bill/petition originate?
This one was an automatic ballot proposal triggered by time.
A separate proposal about the Adirondacks came from the small towns who were unable to repair their bridges without going ten feet into protected land. Every environmental group in the state supported it but it almost doesn’t pass just because no one was out there educating folks about it.

THIRD QUESTION: Who has the information?
You know who wasn’t explaining how the “Con-Con” would work? Everyone advocating “No.” I saw a lot of “protect our pensions” and “Don’t risk it!” but I didn’t see any – “It works like this – so vote no.”

The only people really explaining were journalists and every single “yes” advocate.

There was a huge imbalance of information.

FOURTH QUESTION: What is the campaign trying to make me feel?
The No campaign suggested I feel afraid – unwilling to risk our current system. The folks I watched and listened to on the “yes” side were aiming for a “yes we can.” One advocate was ebullient about the possibilities of addressing systemic racism. One article I read suggested deciding how to vote based on your personality. Willing to take risks? Yes. Needing security? No.

I learned from my experience with this ballot proposal that I need to be a savvier voter than I have been. I have become aware of my own desire for easy answers. (Oh, the Unions are for it? Then so am I!) I learned how few people really took the time to look at this question. And also how once people have taken a side they can kind of be jerks. The day after the election when the constitutional convention failed with more than 80% voting no – someone responded to my tweet from the previous day in support of the convention with a dismissive comment. The election was over. “Yes” had lost, soundly, and yet someone had taken the time to respond, like a jerk, to the losing opinion.

Now – I want to just pause here and say, I fully understand why a person would have wanted to vote no to this question. There is, built into the question, a level of re-examination of our democracy that not everyone is into. If you weren’t feeling it, I totally get it. It’s a hard time to have faith in voters. I get it 100%.

But I am disappointed in the knee jerk jerkiness that paints every yes voter as an agent of the corruption in Albany. That’s not the case. Everyone I know who voted “Yes” are advocates for democracy. They were incredibly well informed and they ranged from law experts to activists for women, people of color, LGBTQ folks, people with disabilities and economic justice. The video of these two women answering questions about the convention was the highlight of the election season for me.

But no one paid for a Yes campaign and so most New Yorkers voted No. Which would have been fine with me if it had been a fair fight. But since it wasn’t it made me a little sad. (Not nearly as sad as the situation in Washington right now, obviously, but still sad.)

I emerged from the experience, especially when the news was so good in so many places on the same election day, wiser and more vigilant with a set of questions to ask. And if I’m still here in twenty years when the convention question comes up again, I’ll be curious to see what happens, to see if we’ll have found more complex ways to look at complex questions. At the very least, I am more aware of my own impulse to go with the herd, to accept easy answers and not do my own investigating. I will be a better voter for having had this experience and so I am grateful for it.

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Apparently, Being a Sexist Jerk Pays Well

Perhaps this isn’t news to you. Probably especially not this year. Not in 2017 when we’ve seen one of the biggest sexist jerks around continue to profit on his sexist jerkholery. But… this isn’t about that. This is about a smaller corner of the sexist landscape.

One of my feminist heroes is Anita Sarkeesian who has been making videos at Feminist Frequency since 2009. My personal favorites were her looks at Legos and her explanation of the Bechdel test. (This was before the Bechdel test was common knowledge – an evolution that I suspect that Sarkessian had a hand in.) You may have started to hear about her after her Kickstarter campaign to make videos about women in videogames triggered a terrible hate campaign against her. Then the parade of horrors known as Gamergate began to target her as well.

I recently read an article about her experience of speaking on a panel at a video conference and being harassed in person. There’s a lot to take in in this article – but the thing that shook me rather badly was the fact that two of the leaders of Gamergate and Sarkeesian’s harassers-in-chief both make their living from making videos about their harassment and get their support through Patreon. The article reports that one makes $5000 a month from his videos and the other $3000 a month.

Why did this particular fact shake me? Because I use Patreon, too. I think of it as a noble enterprise providing funding for artists of all kinds, a new patronage. Knowing that the architects of one of the most infamous harassment campaigns in the last few years are receiving support on the same platform that I use makes me incredibly uncomfortable. And the fact that they make six times more than I do at it makes me feel even worse.

The disturbing truth would appear to be that being a sexist harasser is more profitable than being a feminist writer. And it has likely always been thus. Patreon is just highlighting a pattern that has been long established in the culture. It seems like capitalism works really well for sexists. That may be one reason the sexism sticks around.

Also, in the wake of recent events, it has come to light that a great many of the men in white supremacist movements got their start in MRA movements, that is – Gamergate was the gateway drug for joining the ranks of white supremacy. The one thing mass murderers and terrorists have in common is a tendency to be domestic abusers. It is the number one predictor of future violence.

I mean, it makes sense. If you begin by not seeing women as human beings, by being cruel and threatening to people you don’t see as people, by fantasizing about violence, why not expand into hating more people? You’ve already begun by hating half the population. You might as well, I guess. There is a major connection between these men’s inability to see women as people and leaning into white victimhood. As this article in The Cut says:

“If you can convince yourself that men are the primary victims of sexism, it’s not hard to convince yourself that whites are the primary victims of racism.”

I wrote the first draft of this earlier this summer, before the invasion of Charlottesville, before the lid was removed from the pot on the depth of depravity of the revitalized white supremacists and some things have changed and some have not. On the plus side, some tech companies stood up and denied service to hate groups they were previously hosting. Patreon sort of is and sort of isn’t standing up on this point. They removed right-wing activist, Lauren Southern, from their platform. This led her supporters to invent something called Hatreon. Where, I guess hate groups can crowdfund themselves in peace? Anyway – turns out this woman didn’t get cut from the platform because she’s spewing hate, she got cut for “risky behavior.” Meanwhile, Sarkeesian’s harasser-in-chief has increased his monthly take on Patreon from $5k to $8k in the last few months. It’s not getting better, folks, it’s getting worse.

When I read this story about Sarkeesian’s experience, I thought – “Should I leave Patreon? Is it right to be a part of a platform that enables sexist harassers?” and I think, if there were another platform like Patreon, I would switch to it immediately. (Like, “Actual Art-eon”? “No Nazis, just Art-treon?” I don’t  know.) I thought Patreon was a place for artists not harassment campaigns …but as no one has yet developed an artist funding platform for feminists, I think my best move is to stay where I am and somehow find a way to at least match the funding of the sexist jerk brigade. So if you want to help this feminist writer do at least as well as a sexist jerk, click here to find out about becoming a patron.

It’s possible right? For a feminist to do better than a sexist? Damn, I hope so.

And it doesn’t have to be me. I want to boost feminists and artists of color and people with disabilities and anyone else who is particularly vulnerable to the evils of hate. I did a search in Patreon and I gotta tell you, my extremely unscientific survey says, it pays a WHOLE LOT MORE to be a sexist jerk than to be a feminist. Or just to be a woman.

Here are some suggestions of some underfunded artists:

Jay Justice. Cosplayer, costumer, builder, gamer, writer, etc

Feministing for Change

Women in Comics Collective International

Disability Visibility Project

STEM and Disability Activism

Transgender Civil Rights Activist, Danielle Muscato

Marina Watanabe – Feminist Fridays

A Feminist Paradise

Feminist Killjoys, Phd

Monica Byrne – feminist sci fi writer

Faithless Feminist

Bree Mae – Disability, Queer, Mental Health advocate

I only knew a couple of these before I started searching, if you are a feminist or intersectional activist I can boost here, please let me know. I want us all to do better than the sexist jerks.

 

The 2016 Best of the Blog and Thank You notes for my patrons.

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Generation X Part 6 – Selling the Drama

We are the few, the proud, the brave members of Gen X who continue to make our way through the world while many of our peers have given up.

Do you remember, before we were Generation X, when we were the Pepsi Generation? Right about that time that Michael Jackson’s hair caught on fire? We were told that Pepsi was the choice of a new generation and there were videos and apparently our generation bought into it hardcore. We were also Peppers. Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too? But that Pepsi Generation technique was actually a marketing campaign for Baby Boomers first and it worked so well for Pepsi when Baby Boomers were kids that they thought they’d try it out on us, too. And all the generations after. How you like Pepsi, Generation Next? Feel like joining the conversation since you “are the movement, this generation“? A lot of the conversation about generations is actually driven by advertising.

I read an article about an ad campaign for Lululemon wherein they’re targeting “the Yoga generation.” And which generation is that? As far as I can tell, every generation is doing yoga. My grandmother was doing yoga in the 70s and she was the Silent Generation. So that’s dumb. But…that’s what I mean, they’re trying to put you in a generational category so they can sell you stuff. I say you, not me, because advertisers are apparently not targeting Gen X-ers, because there are so few of us.

And here I think we have the heart of why Gen X tends to resist being labeled. We somehow have always known that once a marketer could label us, they were getting ready to sell us shit. But what’s hilarious is that marketers worked this out about us anyway – so they got sneakier with us when they still cared about us. I once bought a record almost entirely because of it’s ironic cover.

What’s ironic is now that Gen X is older, some members of Gen X have more money to spend but advertising has (mostly) stopped trying to reach us. Which probably explains why there’s been a recent bubbling up of Gen X articles. Marketers are perhaps getting interested in us again. For good and ill, I imagine. Just google anything to do with advertising and Gen X and you will see such an extraordinary trove of weird articles about how to advertise to us. Actually, search how to market to any generation and you’ll see some eye opening stuff about what’s going on behind that advertising curtain and where you might be vulnerable.

So Millennials and Gen Z, just in case you’re still here…I think it might be useful to recognize that when you see articles and listicles and so on and so on that reference your generation, you are probably being marketed to. The condescending pieces about you that make you mad may be designed to encourage you to spend your money on something or just click on something to get an ad near your eyeballs. The imaginary rivalries between Gen X and Millennials, or between Millennials and Boomers, are essentially clickbait for the people trying to sell you stuff.

As we now carry devices that have the capacity to market to us everywhere we go, we all need to become savvier about our vulnerabilities to advertising. As marketing becomes more personal and more direct, it will become harder and harder to remember our humanity. It might be helpful for all generations to take on some of our good ole Gen X skepticism.

We seem to now live in a world of relentless marketing. And it’s not just businesses who are marketing at us. The new norm seems to be a kind of marketing of self. People have become brands instead of individuals.

Most of Gen X has a gut response to this trend and it is a strong-armed revulsion. To us, this branding of people carries all the horrors of the origin of the word – the branding of cattle with a hot iron. For most of Gen X, this branding of the soul is relentlessly uncool. We liked our icons reclusive, uninterested in self promotion, and intensely private. Prince once gave an interview to the BBC wherein he neither spoke nor showed his face. Both Kurt Cobain and David Foster Wallace were incredibly uncomfortable with their own popularity.Can you imagine a Cobain clothing line? A David Foster Wallace cologne? For us, as soon as a band became popular, it ceased to be cool.

But we live in a gig economy now and if we want to survive, we must do as the digital natives do and put out all of our goods for clicks and likes. We cannot be the reclusive geniuses we want to be because the world doesn’t work that way anymore – And maybe it never did.

Every Gen X-er I know is deeply uncomfortable with self promotion. We recognize that we need to sell our book or our record or our blog or our podcast or our show or our theatre company or our business or whatever it is but it is highly problematic for us.

If we do it, we tend to see it as a necessary evil. I’ve taken multiple marketing classes and despite having a lot of knowledge and skill at my disposal, I have generally yielded next to no results. While attempting to sell my show in the highly crowded market of the Edinburgh Fringe, I discovered that the only real marketing skill I had – that is, the only thing that would reliably bring people to the theatre – was making friends. Like, actual friends. This is the only successful marketing I have ever done. I made some friends who showed up for me because that’s what friends do for each other.

I have had a podcast for over a year and I am so bad at self promotion that most of my best friends don’t even know about it.

And maybe it is just me. Maybe I’m the only one (see part 4) that is unwilling to trade my authenticity for more likes or hits or shares. Maybe I’m the only one that closely guards my best work until I’m ready to share it. Maybe I’m the only one that would rather share my truth than a promotional photo. I don’t think I’m the only one though.

Gen X tends to see the world that has emerged behind us as a life-sized version of that SNL sketch “You Can Do Anything!” We see that kind of self-promotional vibe as not only terminally uncool but completely at odds with authenticity, which is one of our core values.

I really do admire the hutzpah of Lena Dunham in having her character announce at the beginning of her show that she is the voice of her generation (or “a voice of a generation.”) This is something that no Gen X-er would ever do, even if she wanted to. Even as a joke. And Dunham was definitely joking. I dig the gutsy self-aggrandizement of it and I dig that it made her extremely popular.

Most of Gen X would rather be authentic than popular. We would rather be true to ourselves than just about anything else. I wonder if, in addition to the small numbers of us, our general lack of interest in self-promotion is a factor in our invisibility. In a world where everyone seems to be shouting about how great they are, Gen X is sitting in the corner, making something totally cool that few people will ever see.

I wonder if this is part of why there have been so many think-pieces about how Gen X is going to save the world, how Gen X is our last hope, etc. I think this is how we like to be seen – as the quiet secret heroes – chronically underestimated but swooping in at the last minute to save (and astonish) a grateful world. This image appeals to us. But frankly, even after reading dozens of these articles, I have yet to be convinced that somehow Generation X has the secret world-saving serum. I’m pretty sure we’re going to all have to get together to get that done. Generation X would like to do it alone but this is a job that’s going to need all generations on deck.

This is Part 6 of a multi-part series. and

You can read Part 1 here Part 2 here  Part 3 here

Part 4 here

Part 5 here

Help a Gen X-er with this self-promotion thing

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