Computer geeks and college kids have replaced the master technician and artistic visionary as the symbols of cutting edge creative labor. Digital technology has changed the cultural understanding of creative labor because the newest creative tools, computers and the Internet, are the same ones that many people use in their own jobs. Thanks to this technology, amateurs and independents produce the majority of web series, websites and digital services.
The web series Hardly Working, produced by the website CollegeHumor.com, acknowledges the blurred boundary between producers and consumers. The scripted series, shot in the New York production office’s of CollegeHumor.com, stars the young creative team behind the website. Episodes make comedic observations about modern office culture and draw heavily from workplace comedies. The series does not spend much time being self-reflexive about the creativity of digital production. Instead, it shows that digital producers are ostensibly the same as any other office worker except perhaps a little younger and more willing to cross the boundaries of political correctness.
The brand of the website plays a role in the tone of this series and its depiction of creative labor. CollegeHumor.com has developed as an online destination for young adults looking for a satiric take on current events and sophomoric entertainment content. A series which represented creative labor as a noble artistic pursuit would not match the website’s carefully constructed brand. Another reason to draw similarities between the work environments of producers and consumers is that independent production companies like CollegeHumor.com rely on their audience to distribute their content and contribute videos and commentary. It may be that these producers are attempting to maintain their relationship with their audience by representing digital production as a job like any other.
The depiction of digital labor in Hardly Working is very different than those found in digital paratexts produced by the big six media companies. Scholars have been critical of the ways that the big six use digital paratexts like behind-the-scenes featurettes and making-of documentaries. They worry that these digital texts are efforts by the entertainment industry to discipline new technologies and valorize creative labor. These same scholars rarely recognize independent digital producers and their efforts to challenge the industry’s representation of digital labor. Independent web series producers have created their own trade materials (http://news.tubefilter.tv/) and awards shows (http://www.streamys.org/) in an effort to define their own craft. Scholars have a responsibility to consider these efforts when describing the production culture of the digital media.