Am I Trapped Online?
Well, internet, looks like you're stuck with me.
I should probably just introduce myself, yeah? I’m Akilah Hughes. I’m a writer—I wrote a great book of essays titled “Obviously: Stories from my Timeline” for Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Randomhouse— I’m a podcast host— I was the founding host of “What a Day,” Crooked Media’s #1 hit daily news podcast, and I’m currently working on a project for iHeartRadio about my high school mascot (read: it’s deeply offensive)—I’m a comedian, and made a great web series for Comedy Central with Milana Vayntrub, and most recently I wrote for COMMAND Z, a show from Steven Soderbergh.
And somehow none of this was enough to “go legit” and not be back here online.
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My wet dream is to be paid buckets of money (or at least enough to cover rent and a vacation now and then) on TV, or in movies. I love hosting panels. I love making things. And considering all of the pitfalls of social media and the robotic, cold, assholes who run the sites, I’d rather make things for an audience that won’t inevitably be overrun with people who say slurs before they say hello. In sum: I hate the internet now.
Let me be clear: I’m not mad at you for reading this. I actually really like that you’re reading it, it gives “it” a reason to exist. But I am mad. You see, I’ve been online since I was a child. I’m one of those. I had a YouTube channel in 2006, and made hundreds of videos with millions of views back when virality was pretty novel. I wrote articles for Fusion (RIP) that fundamentally changed the way YouTube interfaced with their Black users. I was chosen for the Sundance Episodic Story Lab, the USC and MacArthur Foundation’s Civic Media Fellowship, and a bunch of other really cool things. In short: I’m proud of my career. If you were proud of your career you’d tell me all about it too. But my point is—it’s never enough.
And I know how this sounds already, right? I’m tooting my own horn. I need you to feel some grievance like I’m owed something. I know I’m not. It’s a privilege to be in the entertainment industry (or whatever the fuck is left of it after the strikes bankrupted LA and all the streamers bankrupted Hollywood). I don’t feel owed. I had a show at a huge company that was a casualty of the strike and management changes, but for even that I don’t feel owed.
I think what actually makes me mad about all of this, is that I’ve done everything. I hosted a cooking show for Food Network. I went to Coachella with the massively popular video game, Fortnite. (And yes, I will squad up with you any time). I hosted the series finale after show for Killing Eve, I’ve done talks at conferences and universities. I was a voice on Bob’s Burgers!
But that resume isn’t enough to ever get up-front funding, or development money, or…really, anything. It’s a farce. There is no meritocracy. I’m honestly starting to believe it doesn’t even matter who you know or who knows you. You’re either born with it, or it’s heaped on you, but neither of those things have anything to do with what you’ve done, what you’re capable of, or what you dream of doing.
One thing I’m Not Allowed to Do™ is assume that this seeming lack of upward trajectory is because I’m Black. Thankfully, for those who believe nothing is ever racist, I can always fall back on being a woman, or over the age of 25 as reasons things don’t seem to happen anymore.
I’ve had a really tough year. Working backwards: a friend of mine was murdered, another friend passed away from ovarian cancer, the writers and actors’ strikes meant I spent 6 months not working or getting paid, which I guess was good, because I had to heal from 2 surgeries, because my own body has seen the world we’re living in and has had enough. The landlord from my old apartment harassed me to the point of me getting a restraining order against him in court like I’m a lawyer and not a starving artist, and the B storyline all year has been continued legal battles with him and his ugly family. The Soderbergh series I wrote for came out moments after the writers strike began so no one was allowed to promote it, and oh yeah, for the past two years I have been writing what is the greatest work of my career for a network that I’d bet $10 isn’t going to exist after the first quarter next year thanks to corporate greed and consolidation.
I don’t want to whine, plenty of people are worse off than me. The world is literally witnessing abject horror of unnecessary violence in the middle east, Sudan, and Ukraine. And my two friends who are no longer with us would probably trade places with me, and find some value in living. But I can’t shake the
feeling fact that things weren’t supposed to be like this; That if the pandemic hadn’t happened, and my web series (which has gotten millions upon millions of views across platforms) had gone to regular tv series, and I actually had a community in LA instead of being told there’d be one waiting for me and watching it fail to materialize, my life would be different, markedly better, and potentially energizing.
You may be wondering why I resent having to be *here* online so much. Several answers come to mind:
I’ve proven myself here for decades and the *real* money (like idk, affording a house) to be made was always from outside the internet in a place called “traditional media.”
The internet is oversaturated and the culture here is now stagnant.
Competing with teens for attention is a fool’s pursuit.
Being online has really only led to being forced to be online, and as previously stated, I don’t want that.
Outside of communities I’ve created on my own, this place is a goddamn cesspool.
That last point is why, though, I am launching my substack. Look, Twitter is dead. It is! Elon is a mad man and people who pay for Twitter give me hives. And while I continue to write in the interim (for zero dollars) screenplays I hope to one day sell, it is a nice reprieve to complain to an audience of people I actually enjoy. Plus, this platform will give me the space to complain about things that aren’t just my life, but the state of the world, the state of the industry, being in my 30s, and my beautiful dog, Fauci, who is perfect except I wish he was warmer to strangers more immediately.
In short: like a woman out of a toxic relationship who is returning to the streets—this is all I have left. That sounds bleak, like I wrote it in blood on a mirror, but what I mean is: maybe this old bird has it in her to create one more great community one more time.
Please expect a variety of playlists, rants, observations, fears, and whatever else fits on substack. If this entry sucks (I have no metric to measure against tbh), surely I will figure out what people actually want to talk about and what might succeed here, and hey, maybe one day I’ll even graduate from the internet purgatory I resent for giving me everything (which is actually nothing) but meh, let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.
TL;DR: I’m Akilah Hughes. Funny seeing you here on these internet streets. In spite of everything I’m happy to be here. This is the spite stack.
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