How much is our work worth?
Point 9 reads:
Expect poverty. Theater is a drowning man, and its unions—in their current state—are anvils disguised as life preservers. Theater might drown without its unions, but it will certainly drown with them. And actors have to jettison the living-wage argument. Nobody deserves a living wage for having talent and a mountain of grad-school debt. Sorry.
So let's talk about this... And I warn you readers, that I'm going to be doing my best to discuss this point as an artist and not as a Libertarian Socialist... That would be a rant for another blog.
I'm not sure how many actors feel entitled to anything simply "for having talent and a mountain of grad-school debt." Have you ever heard that argument? I certainly haven't. What we do have are artists and actors who wish they could work for a living wage. There's a big difference here. The statement as written seems to imply that demanding a living wage is symptomatic of some sort of entitlement culture. Moreover, most actors I know don't have grad school debt. Most actors I know don't even have grad school degrees. But you know what I have? Undergraduate debt. I have a ridiculous amount of debt from a four year school, which I sought to attend based on the information I was drilled with as a child that "Education is the key to success" and that getting a college education would increase my value of my labor.
Evidently, the invisible hand has decided otherwise. There was once a time when you could support an entire family with a single income source without a college degree. Now, having a Bachelor's from a prestigious, private college can't stop you from working retail and temp jobs to make ends meet. How many underemployed law school grads are out there, while we're at it?
The fact is, no one class of person is entitled any sort of wage. However, can't we consider the idea that anyone willing to work hard is entitled to a "living wage"? Since when did this become an unreasonable demand? Yes, I believe I am entitled to a living wage, as a 40+ hour a week worker with two jobs (three, if you count theatre/film). Just as I believe a janitor, fruit picker or Wall Street executive is entitled to a living wage.
Fuck the invisible hand. We are constantly being told that our labor is worth only as much as we are willing to work, and that we have choice. No one forces us to be working poor, working class, we can lift ourselves by the bootstraps, all that crap. The fact is that our labor is worth more than we're willing to work for and we need to have higher standards. The choice between being evicted and working shitty job you hate IS NOT A CHOICE. Liberty depends upon the power to choose, and a rock and a hard place is not a choice.
I'm not saying I want to be wealthy. But we've accepted that certain careers are known to be low end. And that's the way it is, and if you don't like it, get a different job. "You don't have to work, you know." It's the same for a waiter. It's the same for an actor.
Imagine a world without waiters? That would kinda suck now, wouldn't it? Now imagine a world without actors? How boring would that be... We'd all have to start reading again... ::shudder::
So the logic implies that if you are willing to work for nothing, then that's what your labor is worth. By that logic, actors who love the work that they do should be paid nothing. Eventually, there'd be some people who left that labor force, but many would stay. Why are there some actor jobs and day jobs that pay and some that don't? Because we have some standards and some things we aren't willing to compromise. And that's a good thing.
So Mr. Kiley, while I really enjoy your article and think everyone should read it...
Don't preach about living wages. That my friend, is an insult to workers of all classes and occupations. Maybe there's an argument to be made, but that is not a very good one. "Expect poverty"? Who doesn't do that? Name me one serious actor who thinks they're going to make good money doing what we're doing.
But I refuse to accept poverty.