Is the creative industry exploiting young people with the premise of imminent success?

This week we had to prepare a presentation about this wild and mysterious creature called a “Yuccie” and I was instantly intrigued in finding out what it is. Brad Tuttle explains that the term “Yuccie” stands for “young, urban creatives”, an excerpt of Generation Y “borne of suburban comfort, indoctrinated with the transcendent power of education, and infected by the conviction that not only do they deserve to pursue their dreams; they should profit from them” (Tuttle, 2015). Simply put yuccies are the natural evolutional mix between 1980s Yuppies and 2000s Hipsters. The name itself sounds quite off-putting, but I, as a creative person, do relate with the idea behind this culture. I just hope “Yuccie” doesn’t get stapled in modern slang like “hipster” did. Because majority of these young, creative people have the luxury to be financially supported by their families in the “period of exploration” or self-discovery, they can afford to take unpaid internships or underpaid jobs, which will not provide economic stability on their own, but will be beneficial for their future. From my personal experience, I partially agree with this structure, but it raises a serious question: Is the creative industry exploiting young people with the premise of imminent success?

dwyl

Today young and creative people are eager to join the industry, improve & gain skills and prove their value. We want to be the best and we want it now! This itself, clashes with the established career pathway, as it gives the perception that yuccies want to skip steps in it and reach the top faster. David Infante, a self- proclaimed yuccie, with pride states that he turned down a salaried job in pharmaceutical marketing in favour of unpaid editing internship. This choice (choosing passion over money) undoubtedly seams illogical to the older generation, but to young creatives it transmits as brave, appealing and sparks admiration and determination. “Do what you love” or DWYL has become a mantra to young inspired individuals and the satisfaction of it compensates for the lack of financial benefits. For example, the fields of fashion and media are flush with mostly female employees ‘willing to work for social currency instead of actual wages, all in the name of love (Tokumitsu, 2014). These believes are advanced by influential creative figures, which promote “free or underpaid labour” as essential to getting your dream job. For example Dick Powell (turns out his name is a proper representation of his personality), the chairman of design charity D&AD, openly stated that young people wanting to start a career in design should offer to work for free. This would be an understandable “sacrifice” if a job was ensured by the end of these free placements and internships, yet it’s rarely the case. A study made by the Atlantic Magazine in 2013 shows that only 37,0% of college students who did an unpaid internship managed to get a job after that. However the worse news is that 35,2% of college graduates managed to get a job without any internship experience and were actually offered higher salaries than the unpaid internship group. Mr. Powell’s words “‘Work for nothing, make tea, carry bags’ stand for the outcome of majority of free internships – nothing. Nonetheless in this competitive industry even to be considered for a job, requires some experience.

I understood the importance of experience early enough and decided to do a free internship in 2013 with the idea of getting a recommendation from the company I worked for. From the beginning of July to the end of August, I was tasked with designing catalogs for an advertising firm in Palma de Mallorca. The task was tedious and very uninspiring, but I anticipated it would benefit my future. When I finally got a serious designer job, my employer didn’t even look at my previous “experience”, as she was far more interested in my portfolio, design test and the potential I displayed as a candidate. I can’t even say that any of the work I did at my placement went in the portfolio, which got me the Brand Designer work position. To add to the negatives, my internship employer was so disinterested, that I had to write my own endorsement letter and present it to him for a signature. By no means, I’m saying all placements are like the one I had in Spain, in great agencies people can learn a lot, yet the financial problem always seems to be present.

The major issue with free labour is based around the perception that creative work is often seen as a hobby/side thing or an “interesting skill” without social contribution, worthy of compensation. When asking if artists deserve to get paid, David Newhoff got this answer: “Why should pro sports stars get paid millions to play a game, when people like nurses struggle to pay their bills?”  This rhetorical question used as a response, diminishes the value of any profession that “doesn’t contribute to the community”, which can be upseting and motivational at the same time, because as I mentioned before – creatives are not afraid to prove themselves.

 

But even successful bloggers, YouTubers, musicians, artists, etc. are put under discussion if they are worthy of their profit. Lilly Singh aka iiSuperwomanii  is a famous YouTuber, with millions of subscribers, yet people still ask if she gets paid for what she does every week. In this video she answers questions about her job and even though Lilly’s tone is comedic, her point is valid – “just because our job is different from your job, it doesn’t mean YouTubers don’t deserve to eat”. Until the general mass grasps the concept that creative and innovative labour is equally worth of compensation, the industry can easily continue the exploitation of young talent, without opposition.

In today’s day of age, it seems very hard for young people to pursue their artistic passion and be financially stable at the same time. Creative industry internships can be seen as a coin with two sides, heads – opportunity to feel the environment of your dream job, tails – no financial reward and unguaranteed future job. This itself presents Generation Y with an uneven starting point – financially supported individuals will have more possibilities to explore the field, as they don’t rely on the salary they are missing, but the supposed skills they are gaining. Exploitation of young people, not only in the art medium, doesn’t seem to be going away, but if nothing else, the creative industry has romanticized work in a moment when its conditions and affordances are ever more precarious, unstable, flexible – and unromantic. (Duffy, 2015)

Readings:

• Duffy, Brooke Erin. 2015. “Yuccies,” “Slashies”, and the Digital Economy’s Valorization of the Multi-Skilled, Always-on Creative Work”. In Culture Digitally.

• Duffy, Brooke Erin. 2015. “The romance of work: Gender and aspirational labour in the digital culture industries” In International Journal of Cultural Studies

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