Monday, May 17, 2010

The Pros And Cons Of Hitchhiking

File Under: Risk
It's Not Just For Banksters Any More!

Subheading: Welcome to the Jungle.

Blogger “The Beautiful Kind” learned the hard lesson about freedom of expression in this here Land o' Liberty (From the "Riverfront Times")

St. Louis Blogger "The Beautiful Kind" Fired for Writing About Sex

By Tom Finkel, Monday, May. 3 2010

Two months ago Riverfront Times featured local pseudonymous sex blogger The Beautiful Kind as part of our "Bloggers Bakers Dozen."

"The Beautiful Kind might make you blush," RFT's Kristen Hinman wrote of the blog. "Or it might make you barf. All depends on what the polyamorous, BDSM, swinging, all-around-sex-lovin' 'TBK' has been up to within the last week. A single mother who does more than kiss and tell, TBK thinks of her blog as 'a safe haven for perverts.' Everyone's welcome. Nothing's off-limits. As she puts it, 'I'll try everything, except for children. Pedophilia -- no way.'"

Live by social media, die by social media. Last week her blog cost TBK her job.

Where once The Beautiful Kind reposed, resplendent in lacy lingerie, chronicling the ins and outs of her polyamorous escapades, her blog now consists of a note from her "web guru" stating that "the site will remain closed until further notice" and implying that the virtual drapes have been drawn because the author's virtual fig leaf of anonymity had been stripped away.

As it turned out, said outing had gotten her fired. When she arrived at work last Tuesday, April 27, TBK tells RFT, she was terminated on the spot.

The cause: "a Twitter glitch" that came to light when her boss, at the suggestion of top management, performed Google searches seeking information about employees.

"My boss said that they couldn't be associated with anyone who was posting graphic images and erotica, and they wanted me to pretend that I never even was there; they want nothing to do with me, they want to act like it never happened," recounts TBK, who had been in the position about a month.

Following her termination, her former boss sent her a letter that stated:

"We simply cannot risk any possible link between our mission and the sort of photos and material that you openly share with the online public. While I know you are a good worker and an intelligent person, I hope you try to understand that our employees are held to a different standard. When it comes to private matters, such as one's sexual explorations and preferences, our employees must keep their affairs private."

"I was really Clark Kent about it," the 37-year-old single mother says of her effort to separate her work from her extracurricular activities. "I dressed like a freaking Mormon when I went in. I was really overcautious and did an extra-good job. Because I always thought that if they ever did find out about it, I would have proved myself so much that they would weigh the pros and cons and decide to proceed a certain way that, you know, wouldn't fire me. But I wasn't there long enough to do that, and I don't think it would have made a difference anyway, with the way they reacted. It's like -- I went from good employee to monster."

(Note: As of today, the "TBK" site is back up an running.)

Why should you care?

Because undergirding all of the recent and laudable literary, economic, artist, technological chin-music about zee vanguard of a New, Savvy, little-"d"-democratic Media that is coming to save us all from the crappy Old Slovenly, Money-drunk, Droolbucket Media is this, blunt reality: in the worst economy in 70 years, as a blogger you are free -- absolutely free -- to risk your fate and your fortune every day of your online life expressing your opinions about politics, religion, sex or soda bread.

Stomp the terra all you like, but do it knowing that at any every moment you are one phone call or one "Twitter glitch" away from unemployment, because in our brave, new world of Soft Feudalism and employment At-will, your work day never ends.

Either one of these broad trends -- universal At-will employment and an ever widening (and technologically supercharged) sense of employer entitlement to scrutinize every aspect of your life -- would be enough to give a freeholder the crapping willies, but together it means that, unless you have carved it out in writing, the idea that you still have something called "personal time" is as dead as Dillinger...the barrier between workspace and lifespace has ceased to exist...the codes of conduct that used to hang yellowing in the hall outside of HR now, for all intents and purposes, hang in your kitchen, at the dining room table and above your bed...and that shiny, blinky iLeash in your pocket now stretches all the way around the Earth and into your dreams.

Don't like it? Well then, move to Cuba, ya feckin' Commie; there are 19,000 people lined up to take your job and do it for half the price. And always will be,

And this is where the notion that some kind of New, citizen-driven Media will emerge to take the place of the failed Old Media falls apart (Not that I wouldn't want to live in that Better Universe, or that some new model of advocacy journalism/pamphleteer in the age of the modern surveillance state isn't necessary. It is.)

It is simply that, if your name is, say, Huffington or Friedman or Douthat, your engagement with the sharper, career-shredding edges of Voltaire's adage that "To hold a Pen is to be at War" is radically different than those of lesser mortals. Members of this club do their respective things behind powerful, protective shields: and whatever the relative merits of their work-product may be, it is incredibly important for the average reader and blogger-aspirant to understand that relatively broad range of motion that writers like these enjoy exists ONLY because of the privileges -- access to deep pockets, powerful friends and institutional protections -- that a safety-net of class and status affords them. (from me here)
Those at the top of that New World Order see the conventions and rituals of our world and its cultures as their personal Etch-A-Sketch, to be shaken up as many times as suits them. Under the banners of "Risk" and "Creative Destruction", they disorder the world so that they might better rule it, and use their superior social and fiscal positions to insure that the dice are always shaved in their favor. And because they and theirs are safe behind cofferdams of wealth and power and a dense social network of likewise insulated elites, those at the top need never worry too much about the downsides of living in a world that runs on risk, chaos and winner-take-all Davos capitalism (h/t Richard Sennett.)

This is not a moral judgment, just a statement of fact to be factored in alongside other survival-imperative pieces of information, such as the realization that if you happen to operate outside of a cheery circle of deep pockets, powerful friends and institutional protections -- in the at-will wilderness where you live paycheck-to-paycheck, where your workday never ends and where you can be canned for parting your hair on the wrong side -- then "risk and boldness" -- the battle hymn of those at the top of the social and economic pyramid with the least to lose and the most to gain -- are not your friends.

In fact, just the opposite is the case: in American popular culture, the idea of an existence predicated on taking one huge risk after another has traditionally been one from which average citizens and their iconic heroes -- the ones who have learned how the world really works -- have fled in horror.

Rick Blaine's slogan was not "Creative destruction, dahling!"; it was "I stick my neck out for nobody."

Rance Stoddard didn't jump at the chance to face off against Liberty Valance:

he wanted to be left alone and to use the rules of law and civilization.

Sheriff John T. Chance was paid to take risks,

and still never took one without a damn good reason.

And Marshal Will Kane was a professional

who felt the obligations of honor to stick to his job as everyone was telling him to run like Hell.

For damned good historical and cultural reasons, our American Everyman heroes have almost always been reluctant ones: either hard-bitten pros who make a living

doing other people's laundry or ordinary men and women who are pushed into taking risks once every other alternative has failed and every other avenue has been closed off.

Because ordinary people know that risk -- real risk -- is something from which you may never recover.

At the other end of the spectrum, for all of her talk of “citizen journalism” and bold risk-taking (translation: “Free content around which I can wrap my ads”), Arianna Huffington takes no real risks at all (from AdvertisingAge):

The Real Nature of Arianna's 'Risk Taking'? Let Others Risk, Then Reap the Rewards -- and Awards

What it comes down to is this: What is the Huffington Post, really? It likes to pretend that it's a respectable voice in the mediasphere, but it shamelessly pumps up its traffic by being just as trashy as, say, Maxim. It also likes to masquerade as a forward-thinking, paradigm-shifting journalistic institution, but it pays only a handful of actual journalists, and its idea of "journalism" is often downright parasitic of the work of real journalistic institutions.

And it gets worse: On the day, last week, that a Norwegian journalist interviewed me about why Arianna Huffington is so controversial, the most popular story on HuffPo was "Heather Graham: Tantric Sex 'Works For Me.'" I decided to do some math so I could explain to this journalist why HuffPo's brand of blogging and "aggregating" is so often problematic. By HuffPo's own tally, more than a quarter million readers viewed the Heather Graham post, which quoted 13 sentences, totaling 142 words, from Britain's Daily Mail -- a paper that (stupidly, naively, I suppose) pays its entertainment reporters. HuffPo's contribution to the, uh, discourse? Just 58 words of its own -- which simply set up the Daily Mail's interview with Graham and further summarized the article.
No one is going to drop a dime on Arianna and cost her her job. And if for some reason her media empire went tits up tomorrow, within days she'd be making the rounds of her friend's talk shows, within weeks she'd have a media gig hosting something somewhere if she wanted one, within months her contacts would have booked on a lucrative global lecturing tour to tell her , and within a half a year she'd be on "Oprah" touting her new book "How I Survived: One Woman's Story of Sacrifice, Struggle and Re-Birth in the New Media Age."

Let me repeat, this is not a moral judgment; this is simply Life as it is in the world of Universal At-will employment and ubiquitous connectivity. Two trends which, if left unchecked, will ultimately doom the idea of a free and uncoerced citizenry openly participating via our BraveNew Media in the vibrant give-and-take of democracy.

Also, too, watch those "Twitter errors", citizens: Gaze too long into Teh Internets, and Teh Internets will gaze also into you.


MikeEss said...

"Gaze too long into Teh Internets, and Teh Internets will gaze also into you."

That's awesome! Nietzsche should be honored...

Anonymous said...

"... ordinary men and women who are pushed into taking risks once every other alternative has failed and every other avenue has been closed off.

Because ordinary people know that risk -- real risk -- is something from which you may never recover."

This is critical. The risk-takers that the Masters of the Universe idolize and think themselves the heirs of didn't have a choice.

Sitting behind your desk and saying "Fuck it; I'm bored. I'll spend the company's $42 million on this dubious invention, and if it crashes and burns I'll fire a bunch of people and maybe I'll have to hold off another year on the second summer house" is NOT taking risks.

darkblack said...

Indeed, D. - Letting one's freak flag fly proudly or engaging in full contact gadflying via blogs and other social media is not a process that one undertakes lightly in the New Now...Not with the allies of institutionalized mendacity and power for power's sake yearning to show others less bold (who might otherwise dare toward imprudent impertinence) how easily their small dreams can be crushed to dust and a prideful livelihood reduced to desperate subsistence.


D. said...

The "secret identity" thing is predicated on rather rigid compartmentalization of one's life, and most people who are not born spies can't maintain that sort of identity fragmentation; most spies have a problem with it.

If that's what it takes to maintain airtight anonymity on the Net, we're all in trouble. (I fortunately have thousands of doctors with more Googlejuice ahead of me, search engine wise, but anyone persistent enough to go through 100 pages of result might stumble across me.)

(Once it was permitted to test for drugs consumed on one's own time, the slippery slope commenced. Just saying.)

Monster from the Id said...

This reinforces my determination never to Tweet, and to stay the hell off Facebook, MySpace, and other such sites--even though I don't keep a blog and don't post about the sorts of things that TBK discussed on other folks' blogs.

I fear for today's young people for many reasons, one of which is:

They are so accustomed to living a goldfish bowl, having been videotaped or digitally recorded from birth, that they often don't recognize the potential negative consequences of no privacy until it's too late.

Monster from the Id said...

I begin to think Orwell erred only in imagining that government would be the tyranny, rather than merely the chief enforcer for the tyranny of Big Money.

Of course, Communism was still going strong when Orwell was writing. The Communists succeeded in setting themselves up in the minds of many as the chief alternative, or even the only alternative, to the rule of Big Money--and as we know, compared to the Commies, even Big Money looks like the lesser evil, although Big Money is doing its best--or rather, worst--to close that gap in infamy.

Kathy said...

"Attorney General Tom Corbett Subpoenaes Twitter To Identify Anonymous Critics..."

He wants the names & addresses of 2 people who have tweeted critical statements about him.

How the hell did he get a judge to issue such a subpoena?

My "I Promise Not To Give Your Money To Rupert Murdoch" Fundraiser.

I am given to understand that the Lincoln Lads are trying to raise one million dollars to create content that would "mess wit...