The death of the Condé Nast internship program is a lot like being at a funeral for the meanest, most popular girl at school. We're now at the point where everyone is remembering what an awesome time they had at their internship and forgetting what a cruel and terrible mistress Condé Nast was. It's not unlike hearing someone talk fondly about being hazed, which is why we created a little quiz (below).
"I have never been better groomed in my life," Lauren Indvik, the future editor Fashionista, told The New York Times. "I’m disappointed on behalf of all future interns as well," another current intern added. Another former intern compared the unpaid Condé Nast internship to a class. "And you don’t expect to be paid for auditing a class," she points out, perhaps not realizing that students often do not carry the assumption that they will be paid for attending any class.
These people reminiscing fondly about working for free and about a company that didn't want them to pay them minimum wage. Obviously, having a set of parents willing to pay to have their kids live in New York City makes the memories a little more fond (the former interns who The Times spoke to say that living in New York City without parental aid is impossible). There's something not right here.
There was a whole book and movie about how bad interns at Condé Nast have it, and including the lawsuit which ended them, there's no shortage of horror stories from interns at Condé and Hearst which involve disrespect, long hours, and working as hard as a full-fledged employee but not being treated as such.
Science would agree there's something off about waxing poetic about these internships too. "Nostalgia had been considered a disorder ever since the term was coined by a 17th-century Swiss physician who attributed soldiers’ mental and physical maladies to their longing to return home," The Times reported this summer. "Couples feel closer and look happier when they’re sharing nostalgic memories. On cold days, or in cold rooms, people use nostalgia to literally feel warmer," The Times added, explaining that nostalgia is a bittersweet mechanism to keep the human heart chugging along.
I began to think of the puzzling, perhaps inexplicable not-so-fun things privileged people like to do and then rave about when asked about it later. The list is small, and includes things like volunteering, going on Survivor, or joining a fraternity or sorority and being hazed. That in mind, here's a little game, see if you can tell the difference between a sorority/fraternity member (some of whom were hazed) and a Condé Nast intern/ wannabe Condé Nast or Hearst intern:
1. "From the outside looking in, you can never understand it. From the inside looking out, you can never explain it."
2. "I always thought about it and still think of it to this day ... I feel anger because it is still going on."
3. "I was never too happy ... yet I miss [it] like an abusive lover."
4. "My [internship or sorority membership] taught me the most about PR and the industry by far."
5. "You hear the stories beforehand about never sleeping and ... you triple-guess yourself about why you’re even doing it in the first place."
6. "Actually, in hindsight, I realize there was a lot of crying."
7. "We were constantly told [this] was special, that it was a privilege. And it is. To this day, I absolutely believe it is."
8. "Can help open up many doors, but be ready to put in the time and effort."
9. "I bought designer clothes off eBay and blow dried my hair and steamed my clothes every day."
10. "The group of people you associate with says a lot about your character. In my opinion, we're on the right track."
As it stands, no one will be able to be an unpaid Condé intern next year. That's a good thing. Previously, the only people who could be unpaid interns were kids who came from families wealthy enough to afford it. Ultimately, the move will either result in more poorly paid, freelance assistant jobs (Condé Nast assistants are reportedly only paid around $27,000 to start), or more work being handed off to existing assistants. But, at least they're getting paid, right?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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