Some thoughts on diversity and representation in our work

By Marke

I wanted to write something after reading Lexi’s recent record about gender representation on Season 2 (among many other records and comments), because I think it’s so important. Also, just wanted to clarify that I’m just writing as me, Marke, who happens to work for hitRECord the company — but certainly not on behalf of hitRECord in any sort of official way.


Reading this was honestly disheartening and depressing, not because I don’t believe it, because – while I may take issue with a few numbers or assumptions - I do think the picture it paints is accurate, even if narrowly focused. But it caught me off guard and got me thinking, because I think the story it shows is so antithetical to what I believe we’re all trying to do around here.


I joined hitRECord, and continue to love working here, because it is not a traditional media company and I have no desire to work at a place like that. And I don’t just mean old media in the sense of copyright law or remix culture, but old media’s cultural values: “the man” for lack of a better term… or straight, white, male content to sum it up very coarsely. (I also get the irony of that previous sentence uttered by a straight, white, guy — but honestly, that default mode of old media storytelling feels increasingly lazy, uninteresting, and boring to me; not even mentioning its insidious cultural impact, which is clearly a more important issue than my boredom :).


Anyway, I started working here because I loved (and love!) the core idea of a creative platform, open to anybody regardless of location, income, gender, race, or really anything else, that fundamentally embraced art for art’s sake — but also a place with a director and producer I believed (and believe!) in, a point of view, and interesting plans and ideas about how to show all that art to audiences (and hopefully make some money for everyone along the way). And we’ve always made it a point in designing the site and creative methodologies to fundamentally emphasize the art over the individual. To intentionally avoid popularity metrics, account profiles that ask or show gender, requiring real names, and so many other little things like that. I can’t tell you how many meetings happen where we’re talking about a new piece by a new artist on the site that are like, “I really love her drawing style here… or, actually, maybe *his* line style? I don’t know, do you?” I always smile and enjoy that inherent ambiguity whenever it pops up. And it’s a big part of what I love about hitRECord and why I’m proud of the art we make and the company we are striving to be.


I think that’s part of why these stats feel so depressing to consider. To know that even among our best intentions to create a global, open community of artists where the coolest art ideally rises to the top in a democratic and organic way — that was then directed and produced with a deep idealogical commitment to positive impact — even still these troubling imbalances in representation and diversity reveal themselves. It probably shouldn't surprise me because I know how culturally embedded this stuff is, but still it makes me feel awful, and it makes me want to do better, both as a company and as a community. I think we all can do better.


And, without wanting to sound defensive, I think we are already a better company than most (I’m biased :). We’re *clearly* a better community than most on the internet. I believe that we are not “the man.” And yet I also believe that that’s not enough. That we can do better, and we need to continue to do better. And I don’t think we know all the right ways to do that. But that's why I’m glad these issues come up — because, really, I think it’s bigger than Lexi’s numbers — it’s bigger than gender or diversity. And I know we all have our own personal issues that we care most about, but I really believe that, beyond just gender, we can make better and better art the more it shows wide-ranging and unexpected views, tells weird personal stories, brings in outsider voices over the dominant cultural narratives. And that’s a big part of why I care so much about this. I’m proud of so much of our past work for these reasons. And I think we definitely can do a better job. I think if we push ourselves to do better, our art will become weirder, more interesting, more provocative, personal, and powerful.


(I also think that we don’t want to do what a lot of companies do to address these issues — which is to say I don’t want to make safe, inoffensive, focus-group-tested, token-inclusive, anodyne art. I know that’s not what anyone’s suggesting, but I do think it sometimes happens even when people have the best intentions.)


I think one way to keep getting better is to continue to put the art first, always. To continue to build the company and the community around the core idea of making the best things we can together. But it also seems clear that that’s not enough. That we all need to be more conscious of our innate cultural biases. Our culturally lazy defaults. And also simple omissions or easy opportunities to make more inclusive, weirder, better, more diverse stories.


I keep thinking of simple pieces like ‘Future Boys’ — it’s not really about characters at all; it’s a little funny bit of philosophical musing critiquing common practices we accept today but when viewed from afar start to seem bizarre. And yet, in our media culture, it’s common to make a non-important character like that “normal” — which, sickeningly, means — again — male, white, able-bodied, straight, and so on. Defaults. We have all been taught by the media we grew up on that if one or both of those characters were, say, black or homosexual, or even a woman in some cases, it would *mean* something. That it might muddle the basic message of the piece because “is this about black people in the future” or “I don’t get why these gay characters didn’t understand how money worked” or shit like that. It’s depressing, and unfortunately in some cases true. If we did it, it might confuse some viewers. But, really, fuck that. It’s not going to change if we don’t all work to change it.


Anyway, those are a few of my thoughts as “creative director” for hitRECord (but, again, not as official spokesman for the company or anyone else). Thanks again to Lexi and all in the community for continuing to push us on these things. While I admit it does sting to feel like our motives or methodologies are under attack, I do believe that a majority of the criticism gives us the benefit of the doubt and is aimed at making our community and our company better.

Some thoughts on diversity and representation in our work

Created: Apr 16, 2015


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