The World Turned Upside Down


Van Eyck – The Goldsmith’s Guild

In 1781, as the British fleet withdrew from the newly freed American colonies, the band on board Lord Cornwallis’ flagship played an English song entitled “The World Turned Upside Down”.

It was the end of an era.

The rise of Capitalism in 16th Century Europe also brought about a ‘world turned upside down’. The Medieval Guild, the way people had worked and guaranteed job security for nearly a thousand years was drawing to a close.

The economist Milton Friedman called this Licensure, in his seminal work Capitalism and Freedom.

In the Medieval guild system, access to crafts and the ability to do work was heavily restricted. The Guilds thus were able get control over who got to be a barber, for example; and how many barbers there would be in any given town, and thus how much a barber could charge. It enforced a non-competitive world, (or limited competition at best).

The end of Medieval economies spelled the death of Guilds (though some aspects of this, as Friedman points out, exist to this day). The competitive world of free markets is antithetical to the Guild economy.

The world of television has, until now, been one of those remnant Guilds.

Who got to be on air, a producer or a tech. was highly restricted. A very closed an insular world.

So long as the equipment remained expensive (and the Guild was careful to reinforce the notion that making television was somehow a ‘dark art’, taking years and years to learn), the Guild was viable. It was a false economy predicated upon a very high barrier to access.

Well, now that barrier is being smashed. Cheap cameras, cheap edits and a web that distributes video for free are all conspiring to end the Video Guild System.

But the Guild members are not happy.

The Cameraman’s Guild’s hi-tech bulletin board is

This morning, there are two fairly healthy threads related to the “VJ Revolution”.

Here’s one.

Here’s the other.

Read ’em if you have a minute. They are pretty funny.

I have not participated in either one. Don’t have to. Like the wildfires in California, the tinder is there. They take on a life all their own.

What you are looking here is actually a fairly interesting historical phenomenon. A Guild is dissolving. It makes the Guild members very unhappy, but that’s life.

They, like the Medieval barber or baker or Goldsmith, are angry that ‘anyone’ could try their hand at their ‘special craft’.

That’s free markets for you.

As Milton Friedman would tell you, these kinds of economic dislocations are messy… but important.

They pave the way toward much more efficient economies. This does not mean there is not going to be work for those who make videos, but it is going to be a very different world.


2 responses to “The World Turned Upside Down

  1. This post has a beautifully subtle subtext (which I hope was intended).

    The refrain from this song is :

    Yet let’s be content, and the times lament, you see the world turn’d upside down

  2. The guild is disbanding??? Damn and I sent so long learning the secret handshake.

    I think the thing… one of the things I find frustrating with the current VJ model is to make money it still has to go to the state controlled “factory” to get packaged. A lot of us could deliver a lot better product if we were just allowed too. That @#$%ing morning meeting and the assignment desk are death to creativity. In the end, VJ or traditional crewing it’s all just the same old milk but with the VJ usually not technically as well done.

    Comrade you looked at changing the wrong part of the system. Personally I think you were onto something with the 30% failure idea but cynically I didn’t believe there was a management team in the world who would allow that sort of “waste.” Maybe the BBC… maybe not?

    There are existing fixes to the story choice problem, I’ve been lucky enough to work at a few stations that employ them but they are all dependent on management finding creative solutions and investing time to the best people, again cynically, good management is rarer than hen’s teeth.

    I guess you would argue the internet will eventually bring down the broadcasters and their unimaginative gatekeepers but I just don’t see it. The big guys will always out muscle the little and with a few spectacular exceptions the self publishers will be like lemonade stands on the side of a suburban street.

    I thought the comment on your site about successes is about learning to fail faster was interesting but I couldn’t help wondering on the path to success why get lost at all when all you need to do is ask directions from people who know?

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