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The Supercreator’s 2020 Year in Review
From the pandemic to America’s latest racial reckoning to big tech’s dominance, I published a body of work to help you make sense of the forces shaping how we work and live in the new economy.
Journalists are in the business of making editorial decisions that empower you to show up as the best version of yourself. But most of these choices are made in the service of business professionals or consumers even though it’s the contributions of the creative class that move the world forward.
The Supercreator launched in late 2019 with a commitment to center the socioeconomic well-being of workers who are often overlooked and underserved by the status quo. And in the past year, I’ve blended original reporting, cultural criticism and rich storytelling to deliver a body of work that has hopefully helped you make sense of the people, companies, products and trends shaping how we work and live in the new economy.
Of the hundreds of posts I wrote, several stood out among them. Below, I’ve collected 20 of them for your reading pleasure. You’ll notice a few emerging themes got heavy mileage: The pandemic’s impact on essential workers (and the private and public sectors unwillingness to meaningfully support them), race in America (and how our systems and institutions delegitimize Blackness), big tech (and the business models that enable a handful of companies to claim almost all of the internet’s economic value). None of it would be possible without the vibrant community of readers who value this work enough to pay for it. I invite you to join them. I look forward to serving you as a subscriber.
A final programming note: This recap also represents the last post of the year. (If you’re a new subscriber, I’ll extend your expiration date to ensure you get a full month of posts.) The Supercreator will return on Monday, January 4. Until then, celebrate the fact that we’re still standing!
Big Tech had its chance (publication date: 1/6/20)
When given the chance, tech executives will always default to their capitalist instincts to create as much shareholder value as possible — even when they clash with the well-being of the content creators and consumers they rely on to fill, browse and moderate their platforms’ newsfeeds. For proof, look no further than their business models, where they spend their money and treat their frontline employees.
Convenience as a luxury (publication date: 1/21/20)
I’m all for indulging in the luxuries of cruising in a spacious car instead of standing on a crowded train or getting takeout dropped off at the doorstep instead of battling the elements after a long day. What’s got lost in translation is that these are in fact luxuries. And as long as we continue to conflate the comforts of convenience and connectivity as necessities in the new economy, it serves as a license to these companies to burn through piles of cash that most women, people of color and LGBTQ+ creators probably will never have access to — while exploiting our friends and loved ones in the process.
COVID-19 and the gig economy (publication date: 3/9/20):
People argue that these workers aren’t required to drive ride-shares or deliver packages if doing so is such a lousy gig. Shaming the companies, instead of the workers, makes sense for most people because it would force them to reconcile with their obsession with convenience — even if it meant leaving earlier to take crowded public transportation, picking up takeout instead of having it dropped off, paying for content instead of relying on advertisers to subsidize your media diet or bypassing the instant gratification of one-day shipping just because it’s available to you.
The privilege to fail (publication date: 3/12/20)
To be clear, gender is a persistent barrier to entry for women who want to earn a living and move the world forward with their creativity. But America in general — and startup culture and mainstream media in particular — privileges whiteness in a way that creates space for women like Korey and Haney to fail as founders and executives while excluding people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals from a fair shot at succeeding in those roles. Ask any non-white creator with agency over their identity and their work, they’ll probably tell you that they first had to explicitly center whiteness or filter their creativity through the white gaze to gain access to power.
The era of “worker obsession” (publication date: 3/17/20)
What if companies started with delivering on the needs of workers and their families first? What if we stopped back-patting Silicon Valley bros for offering perks like ping-pong tables, snack bars and massage chairs and pushed for paid sick leave and worker-friendly success metrics. What if meaningful benefits for all workers — regardless of if they’re designated as employees — was the rule instead of the exception since they’re actually the ones that execute the ideas that it possible for us to enjoy modern life?
Anger is not a creative strategy (publication date: 4/20/20)
In my experience, anger is a response to feeling unseen, unheard and/or unacknowledged. So when it’s expressed, anger functions to compel the recipient to see, hear and acknowledge us. But our culture has seduced many of us into wielding our anger with the expectation that doing so will achieve the political, economic, social, and creative outcomes we desire. However, favorable outcomes need strategic action. And anger, no matter how intoxicating or alluring, is not a strategy.
Facebook wants you to forget that it’s a private for-profit company (publication date: 5/28/20)
Another distinction Zuckerberg has failed to acknowledge is the one between truth and fact. Truth is something that depends on your perspective and experience. Facts are pieces of data that cannot be combated with reasoning. It’s reasonable for users to expect that the posts that are published to their public feeds be grounded in facts. And it’s possible to foster a healthy discourse rooted in facts without assuming the role of a truth arbiter. (A Facebook spokesperson did not respond when asked by The Supercreator if the company agreed with this belief or if Facebook had a formal definition of the word truth that it used internally.)
Mark Zuckerberg and Donald Trump deserve each other (publication date: 6/1/20)
It’s also fitting that Zuckerberg’s inaction on Trump’s posts resulted in a phone call with the president because both men operate as if the outcomes of their decisions exist in a vacuum — even though they occur within the context of our country’s painful history, fraught presence and uncertain future. The patriarchal white privilege these two men enjoy insulates them from any meaningful recourse for these decisions and gives them little to no incentive to shore up the blind spots that sustain their arrogance. Good for them that they’ve recently reconnected because they deserve each other.
Bring on the reparations (publication date: 6/3/20)
No matter where or whom the push comes from, it’s hard to dispute that if Black Americans are to ever to realize a proportionate amount of the wealth and power our white counterparts enjoy, then we require an equitable opportunity to participate in the promise of American capitalism. And reparations would accelerate and sustain this equity. So I say bring ‘em on.
This is what happens when Black journalists stop being polite and start getting real (publication date: 7/9/20)
The default to whiteness is not only prevalent in beauty media though. It’s fashion, food, music, entertainment, politics too — the list goes on. And it’s demoralizing for your identity to be marginalized by the very institutions that provide such access and credibility. Sure, I got to go to fashion shows, but they were often grim reminders of how whitewashed an industry I chose to work in was. Yes, I got to turn most of my ideas into articles, but I held my breath each time my editor pressed published because I knew I would let someone in the Black community down since one person’s point of view is hardly representative of an entire culture. Black journalists understand this reality going in. But most of us assume two things: If we’re creative or respectable enough, we can transform these brands from within or [that] the commitments to diversity and inclusion from white decision-makers were made in good faith. At some point almost all of us discover that both are usually untrue — and the emotional labor required to reconcile these faulty assumptions while filing quality stories on deadline is an intense burden.
“I’m still unlearning”: Black creators and mental well-being in times of crisis (publication date: 7/21/20)
Black creators — professionals who make media, art and technology for the pleasure and progress of others — have been especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of depression and anxiety. It’s one thing to live through the sustained horrors perpetrated by a global pandemic and white supremacy. It’s another to choose the added responsibility of making creative work in the face of messaging and policies that destabilize your sense of belonging.
Don’t be fooled: Independent media is whitewashed too (publication date: 8/6/20)
There’s enormous value in a media ecosystem with fewer gatekeepers. And as I mentioned in my last post, a direct relationship with your supporters is one of the straightest paths to a sustainable creative practice. But what troubles me is that there are so few environments outside of traditional media and journalism school to learn the reporting, writing and editing skills that separate amateurs from professionals and gain access to the tight-knit networks the media is notorious for. It’s this opportunity gap that spells doom for so many Black journalists.
Well, at least Uber’s CEO tried (publication date: 8/13/20)
Khosrowshahi argued that drivers don’t want be employees because they have “total freedom to choose when and how they drive, so they can fit their work around their life, not the other way around.” He pointed to a recent survey commissioned by Uber and other companies which found that two out of three app drivers would stop driving if their flexibility is compromised. But as I reported in this article, the average Uber driver earns $9.21 per hour, which equals less than $10,000 a year ($9,578.40) for part-time drivers without paid time off for vacation or sick days. Even on a full-time salary of $19,156.80, drivers would fall below the poverty line in all 50 states. (A spokesperson for Uber did not respond when asked to confirm how much average drivers earn per hour.) No one is questioning that drivers, like most workers, want more flexibility, not less. But what good is that flexibility when your quality of life prohibits you from actually enjoying it?
White America gives grace to everyone but Black people (publication date: 9/29/20)
When I was 17, I was doing ho shit in the backseat of my 1996 Nissan Pathfinder and walking around the outdoor promenade at AMC 30 every weekend as if it were a campus courtyard instead of one of the largest movie theaters in the world. (In retrospect, I guess we were too cool for the Town East Mall.) Back then, my parents taught me to mind my business as a matter of survival. It was my responsibility to be a kid: Go to school, respect your elders, volunteer at the local food pantry, keep family drama in house. On the other hand, white people — especially mediocre white men — exist outside the realm of limitations. They think they can do anything they set their minds to. It’s an astonishing phenomenon to behold. So it’s no wonder that a white teenager would feel compelled to go somewhere he was not invited without a second thought. The adults in his life probably taught him that other people’s business was his too. After all, in their eyes, he’s just a “little boy” who could do no wrong — even after he did.
Is Prime Day really worth it? (publication date: 10/6/20)
But Amazon’s relentless “customer obsession” — paired with the consumer and shareholder perception that convenience is a commodity instead of the luxury it actually is — has marginalized the interests of the company’s working class. Remember: It’s the workers who pick, pack, ship, and deliver the millions of items purchased on Prime Day and are fundamental to the perception that this massive operation runs without a hitch. And from their vantage point, you wouldn’t be wrong to wonder if Prime Day is worth the pressure to perform it creates for these unsung heroes.
The $185 million campaign against gig workers (publication date: 10/14/20)
App-based companies are the offspring of a new economy that works for fewer of us the more advanced the technology is. These executives can romanticize jobs even they wouldn’t do all they want. But the reality is that most people, if given the choice, would work one job — not two or three part-time gigs — if it provided them the wages, benefits, and “flexibility” they needed to earn a predictable and sustainable living. This should be the status quo. Instead, we’re stuck with an exploitative hustle culture that compels the working and creative classes to work more to get less — while the rich and powerful bankroll policies to make sure it stays that way
Social apps and media organizations need new organizing principles (publication date: 10/20/20)
Even if people want to be more discerning, it’s almost impossible because all social posts look the same even though they have different functions. Whether you share news, memes, misinformation or hate speech, it’s all decontextualized as a Tweet or News Feed update until it reaches enough people to editorialize it. It’s in this period between the time something is published and realized to be problematic where bad-faith actors thrive. Meanwhile, journalists have responded with a 200 percent increase in the number of fact-checking organizations that have launched since Trump was elected in 2016. But as Nathan Walter, a disinformation researcher at Northwestern University, said to Mathew Ingram of the Columbia Journalism Review a year ago, fact-checking works in the sense that “people’s beliefs become more accurate and factually consistent” after seeing a fact-checking message.” And attempts to add relevant context, a popular recommendation from the “the solution to bad speech is more speech” crowd, can actually make the problem worse according to Walter’s research.
Instagram thinks you’ll get over it (publication date: 11/16/20)
Instagram, like its parent app Facebook, is optimized for growth and relevance. “The biggest risk to Instagram is not that we change too fast, but that we don’t change and become irrelevant,” Mosseri said in his blog post. What he omits is to whom Instagram fears becoming irrelevant: advertisers, which have maxed out most of the meaningful value available from Feed and Stories. It’s unsurprising that Instagram would encroach on popular categories with untapped financial upside — short-form video and social commerce — that it feels it can dominate. What it lacks in innovation it makes up for with scale and resources to play the long game and iterate until they get it right. And for businesses and causes that want the most attention for the least money, Instagram and Facebook ads that value proposition is often too tempting to ignore.
It’s not enough to just hire and elect us (publication date: 12/1/20)
Despite the persistent trope, board rooms suffer less from a “pipeline problem” — the idea that there is a lack of qualified candidates — and more from pervasive laziness that results in narrow searches and lengthy term limits that maintain the status quo. In other words, it’s up to leaders and executives to demonstrate their companies and organizations as inclusive spaces for us. I look forward to the day when white men are willing to spend the emotional labor to interrogate the biases that inspire the belief that they got and have stayed where they are by dint of hard work alone. Perhaps it would lead to more empathy towards those of us who are exhausted from navigating their white male sensitivity just to feel seen, heard and acknowledged minus the code-switching, tongue-biting and fake-smiling we’ve perfected with the precision of a Beyoncé eight-count.
Thank God I’m not the only one who dislikes Amazon’s new ads (publication date: 12/9/20)
These harmful ideas are related to the corporate and consumer expectations that creative professionals should accept less value because some of us enjoy the labor as much as the fruits. It’s what sustains the myth of the starving artist that socializes consumers to view professional creators who possess the audacity to put a price tag on their creative work as sellouts and grifters. This same mindset is what fuels the belief that warehouse workers should be content with the status quo because, um, look how fucking fun it is to work at Amazon with your family. Where’s your gratitude, you monster?! Beyond the smoke and mirrors of these ads lies the truth though: Amazon is a for-profit company worth more than $1.5 trillion. It places immense pressure on its warehouse workforce to pick, pack, ship, and deliver millions of items with increasing speed and precision that feeds the mindless consumerism our economy requires and likely leaves little room for the laughing, dancing and flattery we saw in those ads. And what’s the point of being in a family if you can’t be honest?