Hustlers and the Hustled
Today’s Hustle Economy is measured in market shares of ‘influence‘. How many Followers do you have? How many subs (subscribers)? Comments? Likes? Views? What’s your engagement like? In an age when anyone can have a free digital soapbox to prosthelytize from our egos become our brand. So, when you attack an idea you also attack the brand; and when you attack the brand you also attack the ego whose identity is the brand.
Our livelihoods, our wellbeing, are vitally connected to with a Brand of Me which in turn is intimately connected to the self. The separation between man and brand becomes more difficult when his revenue stream(s) is dependent upon man and brand being synonymous. That brand’s value is also quantified and qualified by the platforms (soapbox) it’s based on. Lose followers, lose viewers, lose money and lose self. As a result you get pathological hustlers grifting on other pathological hustlers by selling them access to exposure, influence and and insurance for their very precarious-but-lucrative brand of me. In turn, this “insurance” is a buffer against losing an equally precarious sense of self.
From 2000 to about 2015 organizing live events and conventions was a fairly lucrative proposition in the burgeoning Hustle Economy. Being a speaker at a TED talk held a certain gravitas for the Brand of Me who was invited to relate his very important, self-affirming ideas to a rapt audience. Today, not so much. The TEDx series saw to it that anyone could pay-to-play and thus debased any legitimacy the original TEDs started with. I remember the pay-to-play grift that destroyed the late 80s’ metal scene in Hollywood. Show promoters would buy out a classic venue like Gazzari’s or the Troubadour for a night and then talk “up-and-coming bands” into playing the gigs. All they had to do was sell enough tickets to cover their portion of whatever the promoter had paid to reserve the venue. Whether the bands decided to sell their tickets at a profit or a loss was irrelevant to the promoters – they just had to cover the rent on the club for that night. Most promoters were making their money on marking up that rent, and a percentage of the alcohol sales they’d arrange with club owners. It didn’t matter if the bands were great or they sucked, just that they covered the rent with ticket sales – usually to friends and family to come watch them play on the same stage that Van Halen and Ratt got their start on. The promoters weren’t selling actual talent, they were selling the fantasy of playing on historic stages in L.A. to guys who believed they were good enough to play them. By 1989 pay-to-play was killing what was once a vibrant music scene that naturally culled the talentless bands from the great ones.
Hustle Economy conventions today are following the same pay-to-play graft. It makes little difference what the niché is – masterminds, hotseats, summits, etc. – conventions have become Brand Showcases replete with (gumroad) book signings and the hot girl “Booth Candy” to prove proof-of-concept (i.e. Receipts). Convention promoters care less about the messages of the personalities who speak at their events and more about the gravitas it brings to their event (which is also part of their own Brand of Me). And the loudest most extroverted (pathological) brands of that year always draw attention.
What you get then is a competition of escalation. Punch the biggest guy in the face as soon as you arrive in the prison yard or you’ll end up as his bitch. If you want to make a name for yourself as a niché marketer (especially as a noob in the Manosphere) you have to punch up. Call the biggest name in that sphere a charlatan or a hack and some of his followers might defect to your cult out of spite. Grifters sell other grifters programs and templates to ensure their brand’s value, which increasingly is tied to their own sense of personal worth. Mastermind sessions and “hot seat” workshops become psychotherapy for the Hustle Economy “Guru“.
Insurance of personal brand value will be big business in this decade. It will be sold using the same perception marketing that Instagram influencers use. It will be based on the same insecurities the Hustler sells his products with. Image is all – the Hustler becomes the hustled – but image is fleeting. Even mediocre minds can figure out how to jump on a current trend. Copy & paste a viral tag, aligning with something trending; all that is easy to do, but most niché marketeers lack the talent and insight to understand (much less foresee) a zeitgeist. Good hustlers borrow, great hustlers steal, but the true “ideas guys” are exceptionally rare in the Hustle Economy. Innovators and New Thinkers are the carrion that draws the Brand of Me vultures out in the open.
Hustle Economy carpet baggers live a very insecure and unpredictable existence. They are not innovators – they are fast followers. Not only is their sense of self fused to their brand, but their brand’s success is their metric of self-esteem. Their (often tenuous) mental health is measured in Followers, subscribers, views, comments, likes, engagement, analytics and clicks-per-minute (CPM). It’s never quality of ideas that define value; it’s only numbers. Money in the payment processor or number of email addresses on your list. It’s never ultimate causes / effects, it’s only proximate causality. It’s the number of trees over the health of the forest. But the numbers don’t lie, so the new teachers give the Lost Boys cigarettes, candy bars and cheap booze – or their emotionally proximate equivalents (hope). It’s what they really want, it’s what makes you money and it’s what your ego-brand’s long term security needs. Besides, if you don’t give the temporary salve for their miserable lives another Influencer has already copy & pasted your tags to lap you on the Hustle Economy racetrack.
Insecurity in self, brand, livelihood, sustainable ‘lifestyle creep’, even family relations are what define the Hustle Economy today. Most personal brands rarely last more than two years – at least in their initial incarnation. As such, there is a constant need for belief pivots and “brand makeovers” for influencers. Reinventing one’s “self” becomes a vital part of existence for the career grifter. And there’s a lot of money waiting the clever guy who figures out how to cater to this pivoting need. Those unable to adapt, or those who miss the cues of the rapidly changing zeitgeist, will become extinct. Only true innovators – the Ideas Guys – have any kind of real staying power, and that’s if they can roll with the social changes; if they can put off the ennui of seeing their ideas cannibalized and bastardized by the next wave of hustlers who will plagiarize their work with impunity.
Continued in part III next week,…