How to Be a Martyr

In media, at least

Medieval scene. Inquisition. Burning witches. Middle Ages parchment style. Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc...

In the centuries since Joan of Arc was burned at the stake and formally declared a martyr and saint, the concept of martyrdom has evolved. An undesirable psychological neurosis has become known as the “martyr complex.” Various lifestyle-oriented websites and TEDx speakers promise to teach the victim-inclined how to “overcome the martyr mindset.” But it might surprise these hustlers and wellness coaches to learn that, in today’s polarized cultural landscape, being a martyr is no longer an impediment, but — with the correct framing — can actually open the doors to major success.

Consider the media martyr (because, unfortunately, that’s where my knowledge base lies, although other kinds of martyrs certainly exist). You probably know the type. Someone who became embroiled in a very public controversy and, in the process of tweeting through it, became a figurehead of sorts for one cause or another — free speech, objectivity in journalism, anti-racism, etc. — and came out the other side arguably in a much more enviable position than before, buoyed by tens of thousands of new followers most ardent about the indignities that person has suffered.

Sometimes the indignities are real. Sometimes they’re a little more exaggerated. Either way, no judgment; martyrdom is in and of itself a morally neutral state of being, and in an industry as volatile as this one, it’s hard to condemn anyone for trying to make the best of a shitty situation (that is: having to work in media). If you have the natural survival instincts to pull off self-martyring amid tenuous circumstances, all the more power to you.

But for the rest, it may take a little more coaching to get you there. Luckily, here at Gawker we pride ourselves on providing helpful instruction designed for real-world application. Take my hand and follow along in this step-by-step guide to media martyrdom:

1. Embed yourself within an institution

Martyrdom is still possible even if you are not part of a well-known establishment, but it obviously helps to have your name attached to a bigger entity that people have strong feelings about. A low-level staffer putting up with daily humiliations at some place that nobody’s heard of? Sorry, that’s just most jobs, sadly. But experiencing that at the New York Times or a well-regarded food magazine with an enormous fanbase? Suddenly everyone who has ever had anything to do with the outlet is going to have some vested interest in what’s going on.

2. Experience or emulate the sensation of being wronged

Maybe your coworkers have truly been censoring you, or maybe you’re just unpopular in Slack. It doesn’t really matter. What’s important is a conviction, both internally within yourself and and externally among spectators, that you have been treated unfairly by a force much bigger than you are, whether that’s a storied publication or a billionaire celebrity. This is one of the easiest steps by far, as life is just one long series of affronts — some admittedly much worse than others — and to be human is to feel deeply the sting of every cut.

3. Double down

Alright, now here’s where you have to exercise some discipline. Repress every instinct screaming at you to crawl into a hole and draw as little attention to yourself as possible. That is known as shame, and although shame is the purest virtue, it will get you nowhere here (unless it’s you shaming the entity that wronged you, which you must do). Instead, you have to keep posting. Do press. Pen strong-worded, eloquent statements that will win hearts and minds. Craft a narrative so compelling — although it doesn’t have to be airtight; remember that onlookers will be too busy being swept away with passion — that it becomes a saga. Connect it to a broader issue that is proving divisive in the culture wars. The point is to make as much noise as possible; after all, it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the Substack deal.

4. Attract disciples

If you have achieved the previous step, then this one should naturally follow. Don’t overthink it! Just be yourself and watch the new friends roll in :)

5. Ditch the institution (if you haven’t already done so)

Frankly, it’s just dead weight now if you’re going to position yourself as someone who has been treated unjustly by “the man” or “the establishment” or “the oppressive forces of the mainstream.” If your step No. 2 didn’t already include being fired or pushed out, then now’s the time. Go ahead and send in the resignation letter, followed by an electrifying “personal news” tweet announcing your departure. May hundreds of sympathizers quote-tweet it with praise such as “brave” or “inspiring.”

6. Cash in

Finally, you are ready to reap the benefits of all your hard work and suffering. Assuming you have a) successfully controlled the narrative and b) amassed a following exponentially larger than the one you started with, then opportunities abound, my friend. You could get scooped up by another, possibly even better, employer. Or, if you’re tired of toiling away for the establishment, with your newfound platform you could easily land a book deal; create a podcast or Patreon or the aforementioned Substack; or continue the good fight as part of community of thinkers, activists and citizens who are committed to debating and reinvigorating the values of a free and fair society. In the words of a wise man, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” — or, put another way, the marks of suffering are but the green buds of a promising career.