Remember that inane question posed by your teacher in school, scrawled across the blackboard in pompous white chalk – “What is your ambition?” Doctor, astronaut, and teacher are some of the ubiquitous replies, including the occasional mentions of actor, artists, and poets by the creative brats in class. The best part was that the teacher would nod furiously in approval, but thinking back, was that condescension Mrs Lee?
She must have never imagined the impotence of a singular career in today’s times. Introducing the new social currency, or status in town – the multi-hyphenate, the slashie, the hybrid – think lawyer/baker, actor/model/host, writer/stylist, social media influencer/photographer, advertising executive by day, food blogger by night. You get the idea/drift.
These days, almost everyone aspires to be a multi-hyphenate, especially twenty-something and thirty-something millennials who grew up in a post-materialism world and strive for success beyond material comforts. Instead, they thrive on expressing creativity beyond just one outlet, beyond the confines of structured organisational behaviour, and beyond the one-dimensional nine-to-five job for the rest of their lives. In fact, it is already happening: from Karl Lagerfeld and Tom Ford to Kanye West, Drake, and Donald Glover, these gentlemen are well versed in designing fashion collections, creating music, making Oscar-nominated films and launching fragrance lines. It is also nothing new when we are reminded of the OG multi-hyphenate – Andy Warhol, the eccentric artist who painted, conjured media installations, and even ran a magazine.
What could be the fuss then with the slashie? What is so cool about having “/” on your LinkedIn profile? Think of it as a trophy, or bragging rights. It is like those precious gold stars in the weekly behaviour chart you received back in school for helping others, handing in your work on time, being polite to teachers, and doing a mean sweep of the classroom floor. In addition, you are probably used to being dragged by your tiger mom to soccer, piano, and swimming lessons all on the same day, and somehow magically survived and excelled at most of them. Now that is how a slashie is made.
Speaking of achievements, one can argue that a slashie is a glorified version of an overachiever. It is true in every sense because you do need to find success in your works to stand out from the crowd and be a celebrated hybrid. You can be a writer/photographer, but you have not really arrived at the pinnacle of success unless you get your works published, talked about, and clinched 100,000 followers on Instagram. Who does not love an overachiever? Ask any company, start-up, and HR professional who is willing to pay the price to snap up a slashie who can double hat, and do different roles for the price of one. Guilty as charged, in the name of work efficacy, productivity and talent development.
This writer is equally compunctious to the somewhat multi-hyphenate label. Besides filling pages of zines with words, this writer has taken photographs for a handful of fashion labels in spare, languid times, while also styling them at her own whim and fancy. It is almost inevitable not to be a slashie in today’s times since social media provides a platform for creatives to showcase their works, to network with people with the same interest in community-based groups, and to share the spoils on the gravy train. The point is, you might even be a multi-hyphenate before you know it.
The rise of the slashie might be overrated for some, considering the adage – Jack of all trades, master of none. Can we treat this self-important hybrid tribe seriously? Perhaps it is unwise to suggest that you can master all skills, trades, and crafts simply by devoting time to it. Do we push aside specialists who deep dive into their training? Do we focus singularly on a task or split and spread ourselves thin? We have probably heard of multi-hyphenates who cannot cope with the pressure, shoot themselves in the foot by taking on one job too many, and then fade into oblivion. Nobody really remembers them or even mention them because no parent wants to scare their children off the tall task of being a slashie.
Sitting in the middle of the spectrum there are those who get by with mediocrity. An impressionable youth who blogs weekly suddenly becomes a writer. An Instagrammer whose photos garner hundreds of likes is now a professional photographer. It is easy to call yourself a multi-hyphenate but to be truly a good multi-hyphenate takes more than just guts, glory, and the ability to snap flat lays on your phone. In this age of instant gratification, memes, and user-generated content, we can often get caught up in the noise and hyperbole, unwittingly forgetting about the need of possessing mad good skills. Quality suffers as a result, and sloppiness trumps greatness. Sure, the boy probably got his 15 minutes of fame, and sometimes, that is all that matters.
Conversely, there are multi-hyphenates who are flying the slashie flag high and proud with their exemplary work. The quality is impeccable, and you sometimes wonder how they achieved so much in so little time while you idle your time away with Grumpy Cat videos on YouTube. While we are saddled with mediocrity, we should also celebrate the slashies who have done what we can only dream of, and continue to be our beacons of hope.
As observers of the gaze and audiences participating in this congeniality contest, we are all culpable in ensuring the term “slashie” do not fail us or fall prey to a frivolous territory and end up with a bad rap. If we continue to accept mediocrity, it only breeds a culture of excessive, average content. How many times do we have to scroll through our Facebook feeds and roll our eyes at ludicrous posts by wannabe influencers, emcees, and singers? We need to be more discerning in what we consume, so the onus is on the audience to verify their slash career credentials; look at the background, and sift through the bulls***. If you want to engage a singer, check his showreel. If you want to hire a photographer, look at his portfolio. It only works if we continue to separate the good apples from the bad ones and cease incentivising the mediocre ones.
At the same time, detractors posit slashies are at the risk of a slash and burn, driven by ambition and ego rather than fluid and fuss-free expressions of creativity and artistry. For some, it is driven by the necessity to pay for the rent, while for others, it can be a psychological need to determine their own self-worth and value. Some would argue that slashies are seeking attention and upselling themselves gratuitously in order to be heard, hired, and appreciated; they have FOMO (fear of missing out), so they push themselves to the limit to rise above the crowd. But at what costs? Picture the Titanic going at maximum throttle, running 24/7, and the impending doom of an iceberg on the horizon – complete sink and burn.
However, who are we to judge? Why are we suddenly intrigued by multi-hyphenates once they have been cloaked with this decade’s shiny hype term “slashie” when they have existed and adored from far before this? Multi-hyphenates definitely belong to the zeitgeist of this century, and they are probably going to stick around since most of them are millennials, forming a sizeable part of the workforce with the most spending power and appeal to advertisers, brands, and politicians. The hype of slashies is akin to that of cryptocurrencies – celebrated, revered, and even respected. And it is either everyone else co-exists with this clan, be part of the game, or be left behind in the race. Even as a fellow slashie, multiplying titles comes naturally when it comes to strategising one’s palatability to the global market. If you do not like it, get over it. If you like it, then put a slash on it.