Before I go on summer hiatus, here’s a round-up of some advice I really wish I’d gotten for a career in the arts…
You probably think that employees should be allowed to criticize their boss’s decisions without fear of being fired, right? And I agree with you: that should be possible. But you can’t say, “Therefore I will criticize my boss’s decisions without fear of being fired.”
In college, we frequently advised each other to “be the change you want to see in the world,” and sometimes, if you’re really brave, you can pull that off and make the world a better place. But if you follow that advice at the wrong time, it can be a recipe for disaster. The more I live, the more I realize that the way to achieve a better world is not to pretend a better world already exists. Just because, for instance, you think we should get money out of politics, doesn’t mean that you should refuse to help the politicians you support raise any money.
Before I become a screenwriter, I was a union organizer and I still think that the best way, in the long term, for any employee to get ahead, is to form a bond of solidarity with his/her fellow workers and raise up everybody’s standards and working conditions at the same time. But in this series, unfortunately, I’m going to give a lot of advice that directly contradicts that.
For instance, I’m going to recommend that you do a lot of free work, despite the fact that I believe free work is basically a form of scabbing, and it devalues not only your own work but the work of all of your fellow writers. I wish I could tell you that now is the perfect time for the unemployed to stand together, refuse to be exploited, and demand a fair deal for all, but that only works when you’ve got some leverage.
The dream, of course, is that, once you do have some power, you’ll use it to make things less exploitative for the next generation, though it rarely works that way, since people usually delight in passing along the indignities that they had thrust upon themselves. But there’s reason to think that that chain of reprisals is finally about to break…
More and more, top screenwriters are being re-subjected to the same exploitation that they thought they had left behind years ago. Hopefully, they will soon be pushed to the place where they feel they have to use their leverage to rectify the situation for everybody. In the meantime…
The trick is to embrace humility without surrendering your dignity. In this series, we’ll look at ways to do that. We’ll start with asking the toughest, most humbling question of all: When are you ready to go for it?
“be the change” doesn’t have to mean “pretend the change happened already”. How about “change it yourself instead of whining (or donating)”?
Of course, that’s still not always possible.
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