Hustlers and freelancers in the excitingly barbaric gig economy don't have time to look up at silly ad campaigns — but if they did, they'd be treated, at least in San Francisco BART stations and on Muni buses, to these cool posters valorizing the tragedy of our hopelessly fragmented economy.
For some time now, Fiverr, a "marketplace for freelancers," has been papering cities with increasingly dark ads for their services. Capitalizing on models with chic, urbane looks, the advertisements criticize "dreamers" in favor of "doers," which is basically to say "give up, forget about health care, and do some odd jobs you find online until you can legally sell your organs."
"Fiverr celebrates entrepreneurial spirit, and San Francisco's innovative environment makes perfect sense as the home for our newest office," Fiverr CEO Micha Kaufman said in a press release that announced the opening of Fiverr's digs here last summer. The brand was in the news last month for its association with Youtube star PewDiePie, who used the service "to show how crazy the modern world is," by paying people to hold up irreverent signs, which included a perhaps unexpectedly antisemitic one, in one of his videos. That lost the star his deal with Disney and Google.
Meanwhile, the company's ads, and maybe the gig economy itself, are beginning to strike a dark chord, as New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino pointed out in a piece yesterday.
A press release for the ad campaign claims it "positions Fiverr to seize today’s emerging zeitgeist of entrepreneurial flexibility, rapid experimentation, and doing more with less. It pushes against bureaucratic overthinking, analysis-paralysis, and excessive whiteboarding.”
But Tolentino observes that "This is the jargon through which the essentially cannibalistic nature of the gig economy is dressed up as an aesthetic."
No one wants to eat coffee for lunch or go on a bender of sleep deprivation—or answer a call from a client while having sex, as recommended in the video. It’s a stretch to feel cheerful at all about the Fiverr marketplace, perusing the thousands of listings of people who will record any song, make any happy-birthday video, or design any book cover for five dollars.
Tolentino's critique begins by invoking an incident from last summer in which a Chicago Lyft driver, nine months pregnant, picked up riders on the way to the hospital, a move Lyft's PR department celebrated. “Since she didn’t believe she was going into labor yet,” Lyft wrote “she stayed in driver mode, and sure enough—ping!— she received a ride request en route to the hospital.”
Writes Tolentino, "Within the ghoulishly cheerful Lyft public-relations machinery, [the driver] is an exemplar of hard work and dedication—the latter being, perhaps, hard to come by in a company that refuses to classify its drivers as employees." But without the boosterism, the scene is simply sad. "The contrast between the gig economy’s rhetoric (everyone is always connecting, having fun, and killing it!) and the conditions that allow it to exist (a lack of dependable employment that pays a living wage) makes this kink in our thinking especially clear," Tolentino writes.
It's also a predicament that blurs the line between boosterism and parody. Consider a post this week on the Onion's website Clickhole:
"Gender Equality FTW! This Company Has Installed Stirrups On All Of Its Desks So Female Employees Can Give Birth Without Falling Behind On Their Work."