Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Literary Awards and Lotteries

 I am getting very tired of this news story that keeps popping up around some important literary award. Someone, an author, is surprised by a major literary award or a surprise bestseller, and it turns out that they are a janitor, a waitress, a menial laborer, driving for Uber or Lyft or DoorDash, an adjunct contingent employee. And the award provides prestige, a cash prize, a boost in sales, and lifts the author out of poverty. Hooray for the artist.

But, the house always wins in games of chance.

The monopolists and pseudo-monopolists that sit at the heart of international media networks have created a system where the vast majority of creatives, more so than any time in the last fifty years, have no real path to financial security in the arts. Academia, perhaps, provides a cushion but that favors the academic authors who aren't really the same sort of author as the ones who write for money and all time instead of tenure. The rest are mostly working day jobs, for the benefits, for the stability, writing their lottery tickets, their hopes and dreams and all that. Winner takes all. They win the prizes, win the attention of the readers, the movies get made, and all good things come for winners who take the all. There are very few of them. The vast and overwhelming majority of writers read the news story about the prize that comes for the janitor, and wonder if someday that could be them. Then, they put on the rubber gloves and scrub the dang toilets, dreaming of a world that will never come in time to pay their rent, feed their kids, make good on their debts and obligations.

And the winners that take all make it all justifiable, the way we have built our whole economy around the dream of sudden, amazing transfers of wealth and prestige, that moment when the floodgates open in a burst after years of chipping away at the edges. This is the capitalist success story, the harbinger of generational wealth, and when it comes, when the work and the work and the work becomes the overnight success story, the work gets the credit, not the overnight luck.

Instead of working to build a sort of world where no one is ever truly left behind, we have built a world where the dream of winning the metaphorical lottery is the only thing that keeps us from screaming and marching in the streets.

So maybe we should be marching in the streets.

Metaphorically, of course. Who is there to even protest? The system has diffused the blame among so much noise and confusion, distributed networks, and pissing them off means losing access to the vanishing few channels that lead to meaningful success. 

March quietly. Shout quietly. Try not to make too much noise. Be noticed just enough, but not too much.

No comments: