October 27, 2013
Go, Read: Essayist/Cartoonist Tim Kreider On "Free"
Tim Kreider's New York Times essay on the idea of doing work for free
will have likely been passed around a lot between the time I'm writing this -- Sunday at 6 AM -- and noonish that same day when the post rolls out on CR
. I would also imagine there's been the start of a significant backlash, some of which I'll have tracked on twitter without being able to get on here and comment. I suspect a lot of that backlash will come from people that have been lucky enough to benefit from that specific model in some way, or that are in a position of privilege where they have never felt its effects.
Kreider's is a very good piece, one of those that can serve as a summary of a viewpoint on an issue but also adds flourishes of its own (his description of a secondary economy of value for artistic expression is deft). I suspect Tim and I would agree that it's not that every single project and every single circumstance where people want to offer something other than money in the place where money goes is wrong. Thus merely pointing out an example, or perhaps just the potential existence, of a time this model works, or might even be virtuous, severely misses the point. It's the wider-than-deserved acceptance of free as a potential dominant model that sticks in the craw a bit. It's a model untethered from being judged by anything other than its best-case virtues and the abuses of the thing to which it stands in counter-point: it's hard to make anything look less than awesome when that's how it's processed. We're further along than sermons. We know enough now to have a different conversation than the one we've been having. If it's a good model, it can stand to be questioned and examined and held to its existing record. I'm not sure we do that.
I welcome Kreider's essay not as 100 percent proof that the strongest version of Kreider's position we can state is the only position worth taking and, hey, try to find exceptions or reverse-extreme arguments because if you do it all comes crashing down, but rather as a call to apply a more exacting measure against a series of unearned assumptions that we can now see -- if only that we have lived with them for a while -- also have a massive downside. Issues discussion is rarely a fight from Pacific Rim
, although it sometimes helps to get our attention when someone as smart and articulate as Kreider decides to suit up. Everything is complicated.
The irony of a bunch of folks accessing this essay without paying for it is probably worth noting, too, although the important thing here is that Kreider
was paid, as part of a model designed to drive subscriptions to the publication that paid him. If you would like to pay him further -- something that can be conceived of as a nice thing to do from a position that agrees with Kreider and
a position which disagrees with him -- I can recommend both his last book of essays
and his last book combining his cartoons with his essays
. They are very much worth having for the price asked. You can probably also find free downloads.
posted 11:00 am PST
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