View From The Side: Everybody’s Free
Picture the scene. Your humble protagonist, nose bejewelled with snot, fidgeting on a creaky sofa as a grey English Sunday leers in through the window. My dad, resting stately as an overweight lion, is thumbing through his Sunday times. Suddenly he yawns, looking up above the parapet of his reading glasses and drones: "Well yes its bloody true Eleanor, you only get what you pay for these days." whilst letting out an insidious fart. Me, in desperate need of corroboration, look to my mum, only to find her silently acquiescing with an expertly political grimace, honed from years spent in the fan assisted oven of a turgid marriage. I sit, blinking in my child like stupor as this new axiom becomes law in my puttied mind.
Which neatly brings me to the internet. I mean, wow. The Interweb. The Information Motorboat. The Pornography Waterfall. The Cyberfruit Haribo Tangfastic Megamix. There he was; Sir Tim Berners Lee, just chilling, in the past, probably smoking the herb with his compadres, when BLAM, LimeWire and Pornhub. Nice one Tim, you smashed it.
Before The Internet we were all just walking around, scratching our arses in a torpor because current affairs were only spoon-fed to us twice a day.
Before The Internet we had to schlep to HMV or Virgin and shell out 17 quid for an imported Onyx album.
Before The Internet we had to sneak into our older brother’s room like an ovulating ninja and nimbly procure the choicest cuts of VHS and gladrag materials before cartwheeling out as silent as a cat.
Now look at us. We’re tantamount to Gods compared to our fuzzy 90s counterparts. We stride over cultural landscapes in a single bound, wrenching whole trees of music and film from their roots in a single 10 minute movement of our arm. For free! We have so much porn available that sometimes I actually sit there and think “You know what, not tonight.” For free! The news is now hung in the corner of our minds like a pipette in a hamster’s cage, for us to suck and nibble at whenever we see fit. For bloody free! It all sounds bloody beezer, don’t you think? And it’s all absolutely, 110% fucking free! Nice one Tim, you killed it.
*backslaps and hifives*
But what was it my Dad was saying all the way back when? What is that nagging drone in my mind's ear? Something about how you only get what you pay for. Something along the lines of there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Some bollocks like that. I mean, old people, amirite?!
Because I love free things. I love it when I’m popping into the tube in the evening and hear a wizened fellow shout “FREE, STANDARD!” like a philosophical rudeboy as he thrusts an inky paper into my mitts. I love being off my nuts at 4am and wrestling the YouTube song selection off of an increasingly agitated fellow party goer. I love all the porn and, much like you’re doing now dear reader, I love skimming a pretentious and over-worded opinion piece, all for free.
But at what cost is free? Let’s take the news. I mean, why is there a proliferation of shit like this you’re reading right now on the internet? Unhinged, bombastic shit? Because it’s free, so it doesn’t have any standards, as you can probably fucking tell. But what about the actual news? I mean, a quick glance at the opinion pieces on The Guardian website doesn’t yield anything much better. Even news that is generally accepted as of a high standard is now at the beck and call of ‘free'. Gawker, Buzzfeed, Daily Mail, The Guardian, anything that is free to consume is either agenda-filled trash spurred on by ever more demanding financial backers or clickbait trash spurred on to be as annoying as possible in the vague hope your disinterested click will save that advertisement contract. The quality is rubbish but it’s free, so who cares? You get what you pay for. Cheers Dad, you berk.
And then there’s music. When Napster and LimeWire came out, we all went mental, downloading free music with aplomb. It was a veritable orgy of low quality Limp Bizkit mp3s. Then Metallica came along with the audaciousness to ask for money for their work and everyone was all like “Boo Metallica! Free is how shit works now, dickface!” and carried on their merry way. But what has that done to the music scene? Well, a load of bad fucking shit. In essence, making everything free made it harder for the artists to get paid. Spotify pays something like 0.007p per stream and album sales have nosedived. The only tangible way musicians get paid unless they’re Taylor Swift is through live shows. Some do well, most don’t. Wonder why most successful bands you see these days look like Abercrombie & Fitch models after a fight with a vintage shop? It’s because they’re the only ones rich enough to have Mummy and Daddy pay for them while they follow that dream. Same reason everyone complains that acting is becoming the refuge of ex-Etonians. How else are you meant to afford to live in London on a pittance?
Because that’s what creative industries get paid these days. Actors, writers, musicians, all of us irritating cunts, we get paid fuck all. In fact, a lot of the time, we’re asked to work for free. That’s right, free. I write at some places (like this one) for free cos I like the cut of their jib, but others pretend like you writing for them is a fucking honour. Ask any photographer, musician or artist and they’ll tell you a story where some company has asked them to work for free because it gives them ‘exposure’. What the fuck is exposure? A bullshit excuse to get your effort for nothing. Why do they want your work in the first place? Because it’s worth something. They want it, as a company, so they can make money off of it – however small the amount. Yet here we are, looking up to them like they’re the spaceship at the end of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, begging for some validation, financial or otherwise. This isn’t just for the creative industries either. How many hours have you worked unpaid overtime? How many times have you come in on a weekend, or done an unpaid internship? It’s all you, working for free.
Why do we accept it? Well, maybe it’s because everything is fucking free. Maybe we’ve become so used to having all of our culture and news for free that it’s devalued our own creative self-worth. As a generation of people we have grown up expecting something for nothing so now we may have finally assimilated that into our psychology to actually become something for nothing. Increased competition for places and a hyper-capitalist society has left us all in a creative zero-hours contract. The Internet has now put us all in an everlasting gladiatorial battle with each other to push ourselves more and more, competing with the invisible millions willing to tear you apart at the drop of a hat. In a way it’s great, all this information, music, film and art for free. In another way, it’s all become diluted, screeching, insecure, devalued. Nice one Tim, you fucked it.
*sighs and kicks pebble into nearby river*
So lads, what’s the answer? Another round of WKDs? A few cheeky 'Bucas? No, you twat. The answer is just to bite the salty bullet and pay for shit. Stop downloading music for free. Stop streaming films. Pay for a newspaper once in a while. Buy that single on mp3, subscribe to Spotify, or Netflix, or just stand outside Blockbusters and weep inconsolably as the spirit of DVDs past swirl within its dusty gates. We as consumers have the power to shape how things end up. We can either keep getting everything for free, and watch as the creative industries fill up with upper class goons and low quality shit, or we could all just chip in a bit and, slowly but surely, we might gradually see the creative industries turning a corner and becoming what they're worth again. Or, option three; they’ll just all stay being conniving bastards, who knows? All I know is that I’d like to live in a society that values creativity again, instead of looking down on it like a spoilt child throwing a tantrum in a supermarket. And creating that value won’t come for free.