5 'Cool' Brands That Have Big Problems

No one expects an insurance company to be a thrilling place to work, or for Smith and Wesson to be taking a bold stance on police brutality. Different brands have different reputations ... and sometimes companies with hip, progressive reputations haven't actually earned them at all.

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5
Coachella Is Owned By An Anti-LGBT Activist

Featuring massive headliners like Childish Gambino, The Weeknd, and the infamous Fizborp Jr., Coachella is the wildly overpriced music festival to be seen at if you want all the other trust fund kids to know that you once bought a Radiohead song off of iTunes. And, like many of our hippest cultural institutions, it all traces back to a Methuselahian oil billionaire. 

5 Cool Brands That Have Big Problems Philip Anschutz who owns Coachella and supports anti LGBTQ causes
Seriously: guy owns more railroads than Mr. Monopoly.
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Coachella is run by entertainment behemoth Anschutz Entertainment Group, which is owned by the 81-year-old Philip Anschutz. And hey, the old and ruthlessly capitalist can be as cool as the rest of us. Shawn Mendes is just a septuagenarian with an amazing skincare routine, and Billie Eilish is on the board of Dow Chemical. But Anschutz, who heroically launched his career by inheriting his father's oil empire, has thrown money at causes that would make Coachella himbos rend their tank tops in rage. 

Anschutz supported a wave of Trump bozos in 2016, and while he mostly seemed interested in their tax cuts he still helped birthers, climate change deniers, and anti-LGBT politicians get elected. His money has also gone to organizations that are doing their best to break up unions, argue that climate change and evolution are deranged liberal myths, and oppose abortion and LGBT rights (one called homosexuality a "Satanic perversion" and another confusingly compared the pride flag to the Confederate flag, although at least opposing the Confederacy is a step in the right direction). 

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In response to criticism Anschutz released a rare public statement saying that reports of his donations were "fake news garbage," because we've reached the point where "Hey, this is on public record" is now seen as an invitation to discuss the nature of reality. Although we guess Anschutz would know fake news, because his empire also includes The Washington Examiner, which routinely denies climate change, ran discredited illegal immigrant panic stories, and fueled the election fraud conspiracy theory, among other pernicious nonsense. Although at least Anschutz actually pays musicians, because …

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4
Spotify Is Making It Impossible To Have A Music Career

Once upon a time, if you wanted to listen to a song you liked without phoning a radio DJ named the Kansas City Ding-Dong, you had to buy a whole album and hope that these Smash Mouth fellows hadn't just crammed a bunch of filler around their big hit. But the convenience of streaming made its dominance inevitable, and while Spotify makes it easier than ever to ignore the majority of an artist's output while wringing every last drop of dopamine from a song you heard on an episode of Ted Lasso, it also makes it really, really goddamn hard for a musician to make a living. 

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Cellist Zoe Keating, for example, racked up two million Spotify plays in 2018. 240,000 fans listened to her work for 190,000 hours, which we can only assume is the most attention that anyone has ever given to cello music, and for providing a collective 21.6 years of entertainment she made a staggering ... $12,231. Someone will make more money this week for teaching an orphan factory how to create a Caribbean tax shelter.   

5 'Cool' Brands That Have Big Problems a bowl of gruel
The first trick is to classify gruel as a tax-exempt religious sacrament.
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Spotify has a few problems, each dumber than the last. First, instead of divvying up a user's subscription fee between the artists they listen to, all income goes in a Scrooge McDuckian pile that's distributed to every artist based on their play numbers. You don't need fans, you need listeners, and that's a subtle but important difference. It's more profitable to release a pair of three-minute songs than one six minute track, even if the longer one is better. Or you can just scam the system with bots and blank tracks. Music is being added to Spotify much, much faster than users are, and if artists can't keep up, they'll drown. 

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The irony is that artists now have to be "Spotify-friendly" in the same way they once had to be radio-friendly. Appearing on one of Spotify's influential playlists is crucial in scoring listens, especially because the success of one artist is now bad for everyone else. Say that your Limp Bizkit ukulele cover band has 10,000 listens, but then Lady Gaga drops a new single. Spotify's total listens skyrocket, making the platform as a whole more successful ... while shrinking your slice of the pie. You're also competing against music designed to be looped endlessly, like background music for department stores. Physical media wasn't perfect, but at least rock bands didn't lose revenue when Elevator Music Volume 17: Flautist Follies came out. 

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Spotify is trying to address the tremendous income inequality they've created ... by allowing artists to get paid even less. Musicians can opt to take a pay cut to boost their tracks in Spotify's recommendation algorithms, in the hopes that sacrificing money for attention will eventually lead to more of both. The giant labels who already dominate the platform can afford to take that gamble, while everyone else just keeps getting screwed. 

3
OnlyFans Is Hard To Make Money With, Can't Do Much To Stop Leaks Or Shaming

OnlyFans, the only 85-million user website that no one will admit to using, is like Patreon for nudes, both because it's subscription based and because a lot of people turn to it after their industries fall apart. But there is perhaps no market more oversaturated -- practically dripping with hot, wet saturation, if you will -- than porn, and while some women have found themselves flush with sweaty, turgid cash, others hoping to supplement their underpaying job have found themselves working two underpaying jobs. 

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There are certainly success stories, but the amount of effort it takes to create and market good OnlyFans content often doesn't justify the return. But, putting aside the fact that America has decided to eschew a social safety net in favor of suggesting that you find out if enough people think you're hot, some women who only get modest returns still find it empowering. And that's great! Until you get publicly shamed. 

When the New York Post discovered that a paramedic had started an OnlyFans to help pay the bills, their reaction wasn't "Huh, maybe we should pay medical workers better, especially during a goddamn pandemic" but "Ewwww, she's helping save lives and sometimes doesn't wear a top." Granted, the New York Post is to journalism what RC Cola after it's been urinated out is to refreshing beverages, and so the paramedic's job survived the kerfuffle. But that's not always the case; after a mechanic's colleagues discovered her OnlyFans, watched her content at work, and sexually harassed her, she was the one fired for "encouraging" it. When the people in your life discover that you have an OnlyFans, it's basically a crapshoot on whether the news will go over well. (She's seen here fixing an air conditioning, because posing nude doesn't stop you from being a person with interests.)

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Then there's piracy. OnlyFans does its best to police theft, and you can no longer get away with openly sharing thieving tricks on Reddit and YouTube, but there's only so much that can be done against organised efforts to scrape OnlyFans content and sell it to shady sites. 

So we have a system where full-time jobs don't pay enough to support people but, when they embrace the hustle ethos of capitalism and attempt to improve their circumstances through entrepreneurism, they're shamed for it by people who say they're not doing real work but absolutely jerk off to stolen content. Which is all just swell.

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2
GitHub Fired An Employee For Using The Word "Nazi"

GitHub is a massive source code repository and a key tool in modern software development, so while it may not be cool in the traditional sense it's beloved by the kind of people who have strong opinions on Star Wars novels and still say "pwned." It's also had no shortage of self-inflicted wounds. 

In 2014, a programmer left GitHub after alleging that its CEO and his wife had repeatedly harassed her, to which GitHub responded by saying "Nuh uh!" until an internal investigation revealed that it was actually more of an "Uh huh" situation. One resignation later and GitHub promised they would ensure "employee concerns and conflicts are taken seriously," a friendly new attitude that lasted until 2020. 

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When an employee observing the attack on the Capitol posted "Stay safe homies, Nazis are about" in a company Slack channel, an argument over "divisive" language began, because what could fracture a workplace more than the hurtful politics of calling people wearing Nazi paraphernalia Nazis? A sanction from HR somehow morphed into the termination of a Jewish employee who had lost family in the Holocaust, because subtlety is dead. We can't believe he would make such an incendiary comment about a mob that included a man in a pro-Holocaust sweatshirt.

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After an employee uprising and the worst press you can get without announcing a puppy slaughterhouse, GitHub apologised, admitted "significant errors in judgement," and offered the employee his job back. But that wasn't the only time in 2020 GitHub took a look at its foot and said "Man, a bullet would look great in there."

During the George Floyd protests, GitHub's new, less harassment-prone CEO announced that the company stood with Black Lives Matter and supported police reform initiatives. "Great!" employees said. "So GitHub will cancel its contract with ICE, what with their tendency to let people suffer and die in their custody and all?" To which GitHub replied, "LOL no," and then, when asked to elaborate, added "LMAO." (We're paraphrasing here.)

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The whole affair reads like Office Space crossed with Kafka. GitHub responded to employee grumbling by throwing $500,000 at an immigration charity and eliminating the use of "master" and "slave" from the site's programming terminology, but kept dancing around the ICE contract that people were actually upset about. Their whole response was so performative that they're about a month away from announcing that they've asked ICE to respect the preferred pronouns of the asylum-seekers they torture. 

1
Pinterest, The Friendly Site For Women, Has Not Been Friendly To Women

 

Pinterest is the site that's launched a thousand wildly overambitious living room redesigns. Part of its popularity comes from its inoffensiveness; in a world where you can receive death threats for expressing the wrong opinion about Miracle Whip on social media, Pinterest is a soothing parade of beaches, bathtubs, and furniture restoration projects that have absolutely zero political opinions. Naturally, a site that innocuous has some chunky ol' skeletons in its closet. 

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In 2020, Pinterest faced multiple accusations of discriminatory working conditions; one prompted an eyepopping legal settlement, and the other led to an employee walkout. First, Pinterest brought on Francoise Brougher as COO to manage their 2019 IPO, then left her out of key meetings, underpaid her, gave her an inferior stock plan compared to male C-suite executives, and canned her when she objected. Her lawsuit was eventually settled for $22.5 million, which is a pretty steep price tag for not looping someone in on your Outlook invites because of their cooties. 

5 'Cool' Brands That Have Big Problems Pinterest on an open phone
That's a looot of restored bookcases just to try and rip off a coworker.
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And if an executive took umbrage to Pinterest's culture, you can imagine how things went for the rank and file. Two black women in managerial positions, Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Banks, accused Pinterest of putting them several compensation levels below male managers doing equivalent work. After they quit, Pinterest used the timeless playbook of shouting "Pfft, no way" before announcing an internal review when denial didn't solve the problem. They also had to field an employee uprising, and it was an especially bad look for a company that's aimed at women and was trying to ride the Black Lives Matter wave without actually, like, doing anything. 

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Pinterest, despite its cuddly reputation, is still an insular techbro company, and people tend to hire people who remind them of themselves until there's pressure to do otherwise. Hell, until 2019, Pinterest was allowing vaccine misinformation and espousing the romance of plantation weddings. At least they forced out the very employees who helped squash such PR headaches, so there's that. 

Mark is on Twitter and wrote a book, which is like an OnlyFans for words.

Top image: Melinda Nagy, Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

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