At the moment, I’m reimagining what I can do with this newsletter. I started it to carve space away from the frustrating parts of the rest of the internet. It is sent from me and delivered to you. Seemed easy enough. But now just hearing the very word Substack makes me feel exhausted.
The tradeoffs that come with corporate platforms are many. Anyone who has logged on to Jack Dorsey’s goat rodeo to post something about Substack must understand, on some level, that users are not the company; that you can hate what a platform stands for and find it hard to leave.
Much of the media commentary on Substack is standing in the way of the broader conversations we should be having: conversations on money and access and prestige and opportunities to publish in all non-Substack places. (I keep recommending this book, Steal As Much As You Can, by Nathalie Olah, because it might be the only book published recently that addresses these issues openly).
And in the commentary, I often see people rewriting what blogs were about and the potential they offered writers including myself. Some blogs were beautiful. Look, Lebbeus Woods blogged! M. John Harrison still does! Some of the blogs I loved the most were blogs that probably only five other people knew about. It wasn’t just gossip and noise. (Not unrelated, when people talk about “blogs” they often conflate people who were on Gawker’s payroll with those who self-published on Blogspot for five readers. I’ve done this too, and I’m trying to work out a better language for it).
At the end of last year, I shared my thoughts on at least one thing that needs to be done. It will happen, inevitably, but perhaps not as soon as I guessed. I was thinking about culture writing and a few leftist publications when I wrote that, although the piece is focused specifically on labor reporting. Make of that what you will.
Recently I came across these lines in an old David Graeber essay:
That sounds insightful, right? I thought so when I first read it. Then I thought, but wait, hold on—he’s talking about someone like me. I’m not a drama critic at the Times but I’ve crashed the prestige party without prestige credentials. Pretending I don’t exist doesn’t exactly….help me continue to exist.
Just over a decade ago, about the time Graeber wrote that essay, I was working in a call center. I was on the phone all day, when I wasn’t driving over an hour to work and then another hour to get back home. I had a scrap of time to use to write and I did—on my blog. That’s how I eventually crashed the prestige party. What would I do, if I were starting out now? I’d probably set up a Substack. The discovery and social features, which I do not need as an established writer, might have been helpful to me back then. Or maybe not. I would have been open to any alternatives except those predicated on myself not existing.
I like writing on the internet. I prefer writing for money, in print, and with an editor. I don’t like that the opportunities to write for money, in print, and with an editor are rigged for and squandered by a certain class of people. This is a rambling post, it is on the internet after all, but if there’s a takeaway it’s this: we need to dismantle the very notion of “prestige.”
As ever, thanks for reading.
And for a more polished work by me, please check out my latest in Filmmaker magazine on Amazon’s propaganda videos and the films that depict the reality of gig and warehouse work.