Apparently The Creative Class Is Dead Because No One Works At Tower Records Any More
from the can-someone-please-explain dept
I honestly had to read Scott Timberg’s column at Salon, called “The creative class is a lie,” a few times before I was sure that it wasn’t satire, and he actually believes the ridiculous things he wrote up. The article mainly tries to pick up on the ideas of Richard Florida, who has been arguing about the importance of “the creative class” in driving the US economy. According to Timberg, the creative class is disappearing. Now, we can debate whether or not that’s actually true (and the evidence we’ve seen suggests the opposite), but the evidence presented by Timberg isn’t evidence at all. It’s arguing something completely different:
It?s happening at all levels, small and large. Record shops and independent bookstores close at a steady clip; newspapers and magazines announce new waves of layoffs. Tower Records crashed in 2006, costing 3,000 jobs. This summer?s bankruptcy of Borders Books ? almost 700 stores closed, putting roughly 11,000 people out of work ? is the most tangible and recent example. One of the last video rental shops in Los Angeles ? Rocket Video ? just announced that it will close at the end of the month.
I keep reading this paragraph over and over again, and it gets no less insane each time. Since when were the folks who work behind the counter at Tower Records and Borders “the creative class?” As far as I can tell, Timberg appears to be arguing that when the people who made buggy whips were put out of work, it demonstrated the death of the transportation industry. He’s honestly arguing that the end of incidental jobs, related to an obsolete technology or system, represents the end of an entire industry — while completely ignoring the (large and growing) entirely new system that has taken the place of the obsolete one. That’s ridiculous.
Does he mention that for actual musicians and actual writers there are now many more ways to create, distribute, promote and make money? No. That would involve actually knowing what’s going on. He complains about young authors and musicians “struggling through the dreary combination of economic slump and Internet reset.” But, was there ever a time that the vast majority of young authors and musicians were not “struggling”? The adjective “starving” typically comes before “artist” for a reason. And the reality is that in the past it was much more difficult to make a living as an author or a musician, because the only way to succeed was to get chosen by one of a very small number of gatekeepers — the record labels or the big publishers — and then even after that you’d have to be one of the approximately 10% of creators they sign who they actually decide are worth making successful. Most musicians and most authors — even those who sign to major labels and publishing houses — still end up struggling economically. That’s always been the case. Pretending that it’s something new is a lie.
If Timberg were paying attention, he’d realize that the opportunities for musicians and authors today are much greater, because they don’t have to be chosen by the big gatekeepers. They can put out music themselves and monetize it via any number of new and useful DIY platforms, from Bandcamp to Tunecore to Topspin and onwards. And authors have the same opportunity. They can put up their own websites and do self-publishing via Amazon or Lulu. And there are a growing number of success stories of such “direct-to-fan” campaigns in both industries — people who would have been completely trampled and never accepted by the old industry.
And because of this, we’re seeing a massive revival of cultural creativity. And that’s because it’s not limited to just a few gatekeepers and tastemakers, but everyone can contribute to “the creative class,” and people can find their niche and find their audience. It’s an amazing era of cultural output… and yet Timberg is missing it all because he’s expecting to find it in the counter jockey at Tower Records?
Apparently this is a start of a new “series” from Timberg on Salon to investigate “the hollowing out of the creative class — its origins, its erosion, the price of ‘free,’ and offer possible solutions and reasons for hope.” But there’s a problem there. The very assumption that underpins the entire series is false. If anything, the evidence suggests we’re seeing more creativity than ever before. More output. And it’s not just amateur content. The size of the creative industries continues to grow, and the opportunities for struggling artists to make a living have never been greater — in large part because the internet that Timberg doesn’t seem to know about has provided the tools to break down the gates and enable large segments of these folks, who never could have made any money at all, to now make significantly more.