Once upon a time the working class ruled the arts in this country, cos frankly we’re better at it. Perhaps not the disciplines of writing, music, theatre or film but the creativity yes. We have that spark, that intangible, inexplicable thing that gives us a voice, an insight that can’t be achieved by the upper or the middle. That’s not meant to be offensive to any creatives, just an observation.
You see, we have to struggle and nothing breeds creativity like adversity. The problem for us is it takes a knowledge of that oppression to recognise the difference between working class writing and middle class writing about working class life. The people with the money to support us, the influence to get us out there, well, they tend to know very little about our struggle, or any struggle for that matter other than their own wealth driven self-loathing. But, the point isn’t to attack the middle and upper classes, although undoubtedly I will slip into that from time to time, it’s to talk about what it’s like to be a working class creative in these times of mass inequality where the working class no longer have the opportunities that were once in abundance.
I will not mention the name of the company I work for. I have known a few to have lost their jobs after having complained on social media using the companies name. They really don’t like that. They prefer to keep the abuse of their staff to themselves, where they can paint it in the distorted colours that shield them from any blame. One time, 6 o’clock in the morning to be exact, the manager descended upon us, armed with paper meant for us to sign. She stood at the front of the room and without beating around the bush she explained exactly why it was in our own best interest to not post negatively about the company. She told us that three people had already seen these consequences. A quick scan of the room confirmed her claim, not that I thought it was a bluff. The paper was sent round the room. I was fascinated with what they were making us sign. Would we be giving away our freedom of speech online? What would be the limits? Was there some clever loophole I could exploit just to do it?
The ‘contract’ was nothing more than a photo copy of a page from the ‘handbook’, which told us to remember we are representing the company and to never ever say anything bad. But, at the same time, always be honest – as if that were not an entire impossibility. There was no dotted line to sign on, in fact no recognisable agreement. The page simply contained advice. I pointed this out to the manager. “This isn’t a contract and having us sign this is nonsensical,” the final word threw her and she stared at me with a blank expression for a while before asking me if I had signed it yet. I complied because it was easier. The company doesn’t care as long as the illusion is maintained. It does not care for my achievements, nor my ambitions and certainly not my commitments that are so important for converting the ambitions into achievements. They care solely about numbers, their brand image and making the most money out of as little as possible. I know that’s the way capitalism works but, none-the-less, I’m sick of it.
Money is not my driving force but self-betterment and artistic endeavours are instead. I told my employer exactly why I applied for such a low paid, low skill job, I told them that time to focus on my creative work is a greater commodity to me than the minuscule amount of money they pay me. Did they care? Of course not.
Making it harder for me to take time off for myself was a hobby to them. There was a stream of ‘Attendance Reviews’ in which I would be told, by my so-called superior, what the company needs; as if that should be my priority. I explained time and time again that this job is not my priority and never will be. They didn’t like that. I’m not sure if it was because I was undermining the company or whether it was because my lack of dedication made them question their own. There is no point hating or even disliking those people though – it’s not their fault. It is a far wider problem than that. It seems to me it’s still frowned upon in society to value anything above money. Art in its very nature is opposed to this notion.
Art simultaneously has and doesn’t have value, because it has no empirical measure of worth. And, so it is disregarded as an unachievable pipe dream destined to fail and obstructs my search for a ‘real job’. Despite my bleak cynicism however, I am grateful for what I do have. I may not have money and no clear cut path to success but what I do have is the opportunity to be creative and the frustrations to incentivise and inspire me.
Perhaps that’s the way it has to be. I am sure I am not the only one out there who appreciates my fucking moneyless, and mostly tedious, existence; simply for the moments of creativity and the creatives who surround me.
Living as a creative in this world is bitter sweet – you know?