On catching fire in the upper atmosphere


I marched with the Writers Guild in 2007.

The WGA, as you might remember, was striking over unfair credit and compensation practices in the television industry, in particular with respect to web media, which at the time was only just getting going in earnest. There was a huge furor about it. Rallies in downtown Los Angeles. Charity benefits. Thinkpiece after thinkpiece.

I wasn’t a member of the WGA and at that point in my education at UCLA’s film school, I didn’t have any plans to join it. I was already writing a thesis on game audiences by then (“oh Kris,” my professors said at the time, “who would ever watch someone else play a game?”), but even among the more screenwriting-inclined of my class, there wasn’t much interest in attending the marches. I only found like-minded classmates among the graduate division, who thought of me as a child, rather understandably.

Still, I went. I marched, I chanted. I took a friend to one of the charity benefits. I have a button.

The marches did next to nothing for the WGA’s membership. When the strike ended, the terms were barely different than they were before. But it drove two things home for me:

1. There is a tremendous cultural inertia that denigrates the work of writers, in any media, such that writers themselves will joke about being worthless and accepting terrible terms (which they ended up doing).

2. The old media dinosaurs may be on their way out, but that doesn’t benefit our current stock of creatives — we’re the generation caught in the middle, and even if a few get lucky, most won’t.

Samantha Allen — whom I admire greatly — wrote a post tonight calling writers like us “comets.” We burn brightly, but quickly; our light is the result of brutal conditions which may create our best work, but will ultimately destroy us.

I can say only that I don’t feel very destroyed. Not even, dare I say, curtailed. What has happened in the last 48 hours or so has come at the end of a long internal debate and discussion with a therapist, and in the end, if this is destruction, I chose it.

I could have retracted the statements I tweeted in anger, but I didn’t and I won’t. I might believe some of it was poorly worded, and I can agree it no doubt hurt individuals who might otherwise have ranked among my peers. It’s even possible that in the midst of my anger I’ve cast all this in a far more dire light than was needed, and by doing so some of my former colleagues may feel betrayed or alienated. I can acknowledge all of this, mourn the fallout for it and still hold fast to the truth at the crux of what I said: that this industry favors the old guard even as it lays dying, and I won’t feel sorry for myself for not managing to cling to its side any longer.

I am going to stop using my main Twitter account as an all-purpose feed and focus it toward game-related things only. It has a decent following and I’d like to use that to continue to reach people. My personal thoughts and stuff related to my creative writing projects I’ll take to a different account.

(I’ve gone ahead and followed most of the individuals with whom I had a friendly rapport on @KrisLigman, so I’d be honored if you followed the new account if you happen to notice it. But it’s not obligatory.)

This will also not affect Critical Distance, for which I will remain senior curator until I feel like I’m not doing an adequate job anymore. When that happens, barring some unforeseen catastrophe I’ll commit myself to properly finding and training a replacement. We’ll also work out what to do with the Patreon, if it’s still going by then.

I am proud of the outpouring of support for struggling writers that has happened in the last two days and as much as I can I will keep signal-boosting it. However, it’s like I said on Twitter, and as many others have said before or since: the bottom of Patreon is going to fall out eventually, and what will be there to catch our fall, who knows.

I think, if we want to be smart about our situation, we need to think of ourselves less like comets and more like meteorites: we have survived entering a hostile atmosphere — not unscathed, but intact enough to reach the earth — and now we have landed. Perhaps not gently, but we’re here and the gravity is probably enough to keep us grounded. What now? How do we survive this world that just tore most of who we are into dust and a brief spot of light?

What I am saying is that it might be prudent to think of contingencies for that post-industry, post-Patreon world. Not because we’re somehow morally required to (how that would work I don’t know, but more than one conservative politician seems to believe it), but because if history is any indicator, no one else will. We’re already “moochers” and “unnecessary people” just by dint of being broke and writers, so what is next for us, besides coming up with our own solution? By that I mean, something more fulfilling than diving headlong into some minimum wage job and leaving our urge to write and discuss behind us forever.

I suck at utopianism so I don’t know what that better world would look like. What I do know is that I’ve fallen, burned up and crashed, but I’m still here. Which is more than I might’ve expected, after all that bother. And it’s a good place to start.

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