It's got to be karmic payback -- occasional-designer-Fuzzy defended Pixish against charges that it was spec work, and then actor-Fuzzy was presented with an audition this week where the power relationship was very askew and pay is uncertain.
Derek Powazek defended Pixish again in more detail, mainly by talking about the power-relationships difference between spec work and Pixish. That is, it's spec work if a big company does it to a little design company. Pixish, he argues, is different because the power relationship is different, especially because the process is open. (Insert here the stuff I said about Threadless earlier.)
But besides the power (and the money) there's another criticism -- spec work is both a symptom and exacerbation of a devaluation of design. Some companies, I'm sure, solict spec work as business proposition -- why pay for anything if you don't have to? But many others likely do it out of ignorance. Design is "just moving words and pictures around", right? I could do that, if I just had the time, the client thinks, so it should be cheap and easy for the designer to throw something together. (Clientcopia abounds with just such stories.) (Of course, I think design is becoming a more accessible and distributed skill.)
It's a lot harder to quantify that devaluation, of course. And it's a lot more emotional because it's tied up with questions of respect. (Threadless, to go back to that example, has, I think, increased the respect for design among their audience -- the comments in the scoring section of the site are often filled with cogent and constructive design criticisms.) Every time a client lowballs you because they don't think design is important, it reminds you of when your Archtypical-Aunt-Tilly asks if you're "still doing that work with the little pictures" and you want to scream a little*.
And if you think you hear that as a designer, it's a lot worse as an actor/comedian, believe you me. If someone asks me about "your skits" one more time -- to the moon, Alice, to the moon. Last week, I came off stage after an improv show, which the audience had paid to see and I had been paid to perform, and one of the audience members congratulated us on the show and asked if any of the cast were "aspiring comedians". Sigh.
So we're back around to the audition I just did and I probably shouldn't say anything more because I do actually want the work (it'll be fun! it's building relationships!) but just know that it's all a little wonky and you probably shouldn't trust any pontificating I do. Because lord knows, I love me some pontificating.
* Feel free to yell "projection!" at any point here.