How to Stop a Dictator: Read This Blog
The other day I listened to this podcast, Benjamin Walker’s Theory of Everything, part of the Radiotopia network (who, by the way, has some of the best storytelling podcasts out there and is highly recommended). The episode was a short one, beginning with an advertisement for Radiotopia’s latest Kickstarter campaign and then continuing into a short interview with someone who works on the show. They are in the park and there is a concert happening, the guest Walker interviews makes a point of clapping nine times once the musician is finished playing. When Walker asks him about this, he goes into an anecdote that has captured my attention for a couple of weeks now. The guest asks us to ponder if Hitler had been able to have a successful art career, whether or not human history goes down in the same way (I think the knowledge that is excluded is that Hitler at least attempted to have an art career and failed). He goes on to give a couple of other examples of people who had failed careers in creative endeavors and later committed horrendous acts. He then turns his attention to the performing artist, saying that we should support those attempting to make art as a way of contributing into their lives as they try to make something. The whole thing can be listened to here.
I’ve been an advocate of this approach, especially when it comes to people you know or are friends with. Creating something and putting it out there takes a level of vulnerability. Even in the YouTube, blog, and podcast era where having a voice is just a few clicks away (this reminds of the Portlandia “DJ Night” sketch–everyone has something that they’re making), committing oneself to creating content and continually putting it out there is difficult. This is why half of these efforts are given up on within a matter of months–it’s hard and if you’re not getting a lot of positive feedback it leads into this spiraling creative depression and discouragement. The real creative types have a need to express themselves and frustrations are paramount when people just don’t get it. But these people are expressing themselves and trying to do something which I would posit is a better, more active life activity than say, watching cat videos or playing Iphone games. They are making contributions to life and while not inherently good, creativity is a net positive.
Now let’s address the elephant in the room–you are obviously reading this on my own personal blog right now (or more than likely not reading it, if a blog gets written and nobody reads it, has it actually been written?) and so I will throw in my two cents from personal experience. I’m not really going to complain because I don’t blame anybody for not reading these posts or not listening to my podcasts (check them out here and here) they are hardly lucrative mediums and the content I’ve produced is not populist at all. But I suppose there is part of me that wishes there was some sort of reward or recognition for the work that I make. Even when I try to go more mainstream (celebs!) it doesn’t really payoff and when I see others regurgitating simple ideas and expressing thoughts that don’t really say anything, it annoys me.
It’s fine. I get it.
When my friend and I ironically created a Facebook page for a hail storm that happened three years ago, it gained 65 likes even though we didn’t do anything and didn’t try to do anything with it. When I created a podcast where over two years at least two episodes were released per month, 34 people liked it on Facebook. I don’t know if I need to do the math here, but that ratio favors one much more than the other.
What’s with that? There’s part of me that gets it–people don’t want to be spammed on their social media sites and self-promotion can feel nagging and annoying. I have 385 friends and if we’re being generous, probably 200 like me or desire to have some sort of relationship with me. Of these let’s say 100 would have any interest in listening to a show about taking things in pop culture and ranking them in top 5 lists–a silly and lighthearted venture. Yet, 34 of them clicked like.
Despite this complaint–or lament if you will–consuming things takes time. It is often expensive (here is where I again plug my free podcasts) to support people over and over. We are often flooded with options–what I like to call the Kickstarter effect: the result of there being so many crowdsourcing options, one feels obliged to help this or that via Kickstarter, but ends up so overwhelmed that you end up not endorsing anyone. You can’t give to everyone all the time.
There is also the coffee shop dilemma. We should want to support our friends and our community’s local artists, according to our thesis it will lead to a more positive world, possibly life changing for certain people. Yet every coffee shop on every corner on every Friday night hosts their open mic where aspiring musicians come to play and these musicians cannot possibly all be supported. Most of them hardly stand above the fray of any musician or artist or whatever playing in your local cafe.
How should we respond? This isn’t communism, not everyone can be good or worthy of supporting (cue The Incredibles—if everyone’s special then nobody’s special). Is it even right to support and encourage somebody who is not good? (This is the question parents must ask themselves of their not-good children and one that American Idol brought to the forefront with all of its notoriously bad singers).
Either way, I think it’s worth it to support our friends in their attempts at creativity. Life has a way of weeding out the bad and the worst that could happen is that they realize they suck through terrible and humiliating failures, or they become incredibly successful despite the fact that they are no good at all.
In a world–or generation–that is increasingly cynical, steeped in ironic support of the viral, there is something deeply sincere and authentic about the creator and that alone is worth rewarding in some way.