Reading, Writing, and the Commodification of Leisure

In Deborah Brandt’s “The Status of Writing” and “How Writing is Remaking Reading”, she discusses her belief that there is a moral economy of reading and a social economy of writing.  She argues that reading is done so that people may obtain a certain level of social/cultural capital, information and perspectives into things they may not otherwise care/know about; reading, as she states, is not a sustainable process that will pay the bills, however.

BusinessGhost creator, Michael Levin.

On the other hand, she believes that writing should be/is done strictly for financial gain and societal notoriety/fame.  In watching the season premier of one of my favorite shows, Shark Tank, on ABC, there is a perfect example of this as NY Times best-selling author Michael Levin pitches his publishing company, called “BusinessGhost”, to the show’s “sharks” (prospective investors).  The premise of this company is that ordinary people can got to BusinessGhost and describe a story that they’d like to have written for them; this story can be an autobiography, a memoir about their career/professional experiences, a novel, etc..  Once the initial information gathering process has taken place, the team of authors, or what he calls “ghost writers”, at BusinessGhost writes the story to the customer’s exact specifications and the work gets legally published and printed under the customer’s name.  By having the writing process of one’s own life done by a professional company, for $25,000-75,000, one can become a published author without making a single keystroke or picking up any sort of writing utensil at all.  In other words, writing, even to a highly-acclaimed, award-winning author, is thought to be produced in the interest of financial gain rather than enjoyment and personal satisfaction.

Shark Tank on ABC

For me, I do not write for financial gain or to attain fame; I read and write because it is critical to my success in school as well as my understanding of life and the world around me.  Though reading and writing will play a critical role in my future career in law, I do not do so solely for the purpose of satisfying my academic, social and professional obligations.

I think it is interesting how Brandt says, “there is no reading without writing and no writing without reading.”  This claim is absolutely true and I completely agree as I can see such a distinction in my own life.  At the same time, I wonder if society’s perception of reading and writing is going to tilt more towards that of a BusinessGhost-like model or if reading and writing will ever re-establish themselves as art forms to be practiced, crafted and enjoyed.  What do you think?

Watch the full Shark Tank Episode here.



5 thoughts to “Reading, Writing, and the Commodification of Leisure”

  1. I’m kind of on the fence about Brandt’s claim that writing is all about producing something, so my answer to your questions is that I really don’t know. Brandt talked about how our society has already shifted from focusing on reading to focusing on writing, however she doesn’t seem to address the forms of writing that people do for their own enjoyment. I can think of a few friends who have blogs and, as far as I know, write solely for their own enjoyment. They don’t thrive off having lots of readers or comments; they just like writing about their lives. At the same time I see so many people that write only because they have to for class or for a job. I think most students can identify with you in your claim that writing is crucial for success in school. It’s so highly emphasized, its difficult to ignore this aspect of writing in our society as well.

  2. The “Shark Tank” reference that you bring up is really interesting to me. The fact that I could pay a fee to have a piece of work published for me seems pretty immoral, don’t you think? I mean our entire high school and college careers have been built upon the foundation of honesty and creating one’s own work. This company, “BusinessGhost”, definitely violates everything I know to be true about ownership and plagiarism. I mean, isn’t having someone else write a novel for you the same as plagiarizing an essay or cheating on an exam? Its simply someone else’s work. That being said, I think it relates well to Brandt’s article in that she tends to assert that forms of “mass writing” are produced only for the sake of personal or monetary gain, which is exactly what BusinessGhost seems to encourage. To me, the idea of paying someone to write a piece of work for me seems crazy, but I guess there are people out there who are just lazy enough to do it.

  3. I guess I didn’t take as her saying the only reason why people write is for some sort of compensation. Although, she doesn’t address people who write for pleasure I don’t think that was the point she was trying to make. I think she really wanted to emphasize the things that have become government regulated and writing is another one of those things even more so than reading now. And even that claim she talks about it being more so in the work force. I did find it interesting though that she didn’t address fully a lot of main stream writing.

  4. I think I share the same sentiments as everyone else who has commented so far. What really stood out for me was when you said, “one can become a published author without making a single keystroke or picking up any sort of writing utensil at all.” I mean, really, how is that in any way “fair.” I realize that the world isn’t fair and all that, but seriously, becoming a published author without writing a single thing? There has to be something that can preserve the dignity of being credited with being a published author.

  5. Fascinating post, Joey, and great conversation you got going here! I think the Shark Tank example is kind of a perfect illustration of the concept of writing as capital that Brandt is driving at, AND I love that you ended your post with a question–clearly it got folks thinking. I wonder what Brandt would have to say about Shark Tank; did you ever think about asking her? I bet she’d respond if you wrote her an email. Shanel is right on, too, I think, about Brandt’s claim being primarily in regards to the ways that regulation has effected writing, and for writing in the professional world. (Which, I think, makes the “BusinessGhost” model particularly–I agree–horrifying, and makes Brandt’s claim seem prescient!) Thanks for a lively exchange; I hope you’ll keep pushing on these ideas, all!

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