Why Do We Hate Money?

Posted by @ 3:36 pm on November 2nd, 2010

The Kenyon Review announced (today, recently, I’m not sure) that their short story contest would be funded by Amazon. Did you know that Amazon is now offering grants and supporting literary magazines and other nonprofits? I didn’t. People are reacting. There’s a lot of skepticism and concern. The reaction is understandable. Amazon.com has exhibited some questionable business practices. Their ambition is naked and their willingness to dominate the sale of, well, everything, is amply documented. My co-editor and I e-mailed about this and we both expressed some uneasiness about the idea but then I said, “I don’t mind Amazon’s dirty money.” Then I thought, “Why is their money dirty?” Is there any such thing as clean money? Everything associated with money is in some way a little bit corrupt.

In The Daily Rumpus last week (or the week before last, I’m not sure), Stephen Elliott asked about advertising and if that was something The Rumpus should consider and I e-mailed him and essentially said, “Hell yes you should bring advertisers on board.” I couldn’t believe that capitalizing on a revenue opportunity was something worth questioning. Then I felt like a greedy capitalist and I was mostly okay with that. I am offering tattoo space on my forehead to any willing buyers.

Somewhere along the way, I think those of us toiling in the non profit, indie publishing world decided that money is bad or that only some kinds of money are good money while other kinds of money are bad. ¬†Profits from a book by Tyra Banks? Bad. Profits from a book by Alice Munro, also published by a Random House imprint? Good. Sometimes, I wonder if we’re more attached to our ethics and the idea of the right kind of money than achieving success. This is not to suggest that we should abandon our ethical codes for the sake of financial success but I don’t know that patting ourselves on the back for the right ethics or the right politics, while we wallow in poverty, is doing us any good. I like money. I think money is great. The older I get, the less concerned I am with where that money comes from. It’s not like I want to traffic in blood diamonds, or anything, but if some corporate sugar daddy wanted to enable one of my passion projects, I’d be okay with that.

In graduate school, most of us lived on $10-$13 K a year. Our voluntary poverty was so abject that it became almost sexual, how much we enjoyed discussing our brokeness, brokitude, and the creative ways we managed to make ends meet while doing things like not shopping at Walmart. We were (relatively) poor but principled. Once in a while, we would buy ourselves a little bauble like a laptop or a car and some of us would literally hide these new possessions for fear of how such a vulgar display of consumption would contradict our ascetic lifestyle.

Poverty is not awesome. I cannot say I am at all acquainted with poverty but I have certainly seen it (both relatively, in the US, and absolutely, abroad). Graduate school taught me that it’s a pain in the ass to live on an extremely tight budget. There was nothing cool or special about it. Just because we can live on some absurdly low sum of money does not mean we should if it is within our means to do otherwise. Just because we can produce a good literary magazine on, say, $5,000 a year, doesn’t mean we should turn our noses up at producing a magazine for $25,000 a year or even $250,000 a year.

When the VQR story broke, a lot of people, myself included, were simply staggered by the kind of money they had to work with–not thousands or tens of thousands, but hundreds of thousands of dollars. The death of Kevin Morrissey and the accusations of bullying were troubling and tragic, but really, it was the money we were interested in discussing. Being able to produce a magazine with that kind of capital was (and is) simply flabbergasting. Many of us began composing wish lists of everything we could do with a mere fraction of the VQR money (unicorns! ponies! cupcakes!) and there was an undercurrent of anger in many of the discussions. We weren’t worried about a man’s unfortunate passing or the events leading up to his death. We were outraged, I think, that a magazine dared to spend money, and a lot of it and did so without explanation or apology.

My thoughts here are a bit scattered but I’ve been thinking about money a lot lately. How do we pay the printer? How do we pay an iOS developer? How do we pay contributors?¬†How do we survive? How, how how. There’s not a lot of money in literary magazines and small (tiny) presses. I don’t know that we can afford to worry about where our money is coming from.