Like other people who drink a lot of coffee and say words like “poignant,” one of my favorite podcasts is Marc Maron’s ‘WTF’ — in addition to being funny and a great boon to the workday, I like it because I (and everyone else my age), will get to recall upon it fondly for decades to come.
“Maron’s podcast was something else,” we will say. “Not like the heinous feces we’re pumping out these days.”
Earlier this week I listened to a particularly intense episode featuring famed radio personality and still alive human Artie Lange. At one point, Lange said something that very much stuck with me; he said that the next generation of comics will be terrible, because the next generation of comics will be afraid to bomb — that there’s too much of an emphasis on twitter, blogs, and social media validation to willingly fail; that today’s budding creatives aren’t gonna be so keen on taking the creative risks necessary for finding and developing their true artistic voices, because failure presents way too big a risk — a risk that can very easily result in very public failure.
Said Lange, “an anonymous set is what makes you…the comics are gonna get worse because they’re gonna check themselves all the time…they’re not gonna wanna see themselves bombing on instagram or whatever the fuck it is, and they’re never gonna take risks and fail, and we’re gonna have a generation of shit comics.”
It’s hard to put yourself out there creatively (vulnerability is scary), and I think it’s getting harder. We may have this big giant internet to express ourselves, but the outpouring of expression has created these very specific and distinct taste silos — increasingly, we’re being governed by a greater power that’s telling us what we can and cannot like. Louis CK is a comedic genius, and Jennifer Lawrence is “hilariously perfect.” But saying Kevin James is your favorite comedian? Or liking Kristen Stewart’s poem*, let alone Kristen Stewart? These are bad ideas, because aligning yourself with something that hasn’t been approved by the cultural taste mafia has become an increasingly risky move. Which is why when we admit to liking things that haven’t yet been “knighted,” we often do so with a caveat. Songs made of music become “guilty pleasures,” and movies made of art are “actually not as bad as we thought it would be.”
In a way, this is us protecting ourselves — when these things are inevitably mocked by the taste mafia, we’re acknowledging the fact that we’re in on the joke. That we know we’re not supposed to be aligning ourselves with this mixed reviewed rom-com starring Zac Efron, but our awareness of that makes it OK to do so.*
*Saw That Awkward Moment. Big fan.
I’m a 23 year-old male writing a blog post, so it’s safe to say I don’t know much about anything, let alone why our we’ve become so hypercritical when it comes to this predisposition to not liking things, and why we don’t instead initially view them on a neutral ground. But I do have a theory:
In today’s world — a world where creative success thrives on validation, and validation thrives on likes and retweets, everything brought into the world faces an uphill battle. Getting zero likes on a funny Facebook status is a failure, but getting zero likes is also where we start — creating a mindset that inherently says “Ok, as of this moment, this sucks. Convince me that it doesn’t.” Liking something then takes work (as does not liking something, as proved by YouTube commenters), but neutrality is interpreted as indifference. And indifference, by virtue of not being a “like,” is therefore the same as a dislike.
Of course, not everything deserves to be liked or retweeted, because not everything is good. Everything can’t be good. You need the bad. Learning from the bad is what makes you good. But it seems as if we’re increasingly losing that part. The internet enables us to “publish” any of our works, which for many creative pursuits, is something that’s necessary to figuring out and cultivating one’s voice. Without the internet you don’t have The Lonely Island, Workaholics, or a lot of the young talents working in entertainment today. But it’s a medium that treats every product, be it “in development” or otherwise, as the final product. So if you’re failing, you’re failing quite publicly. And when you fail publicly, you’re at the mercy of being judged by the gulp-inducing taste mafia.
The common thread of any pursuit, particularly creative pursuits, is that getting good at it takes a ton of time. (See: the famous 10,000 hours theory) Louis CK, for example, has stated a number times that it took him fifteen years to get funny — more than a decade after he had started doing comedy professionally, writing for Conan, and doing all sorts of creative experiments — including his recently released movie, “Tomorrow Night“; a movie that didn’t necessarily get slammed, but didn’t get the usual CK praise either. Ultimately, the evaluation for “Tomorrow Night” was, “If you really like Louie, you might like this. Otherwise, it’s probably not be for you.”
I’m paraphrasing that last part, but what happens if Louie releases that film in 1998*, before Louie was Louie? Maybe it bombs. Well never know though, because he didn’t release it; he didn’t have to endure the potential bomb, so he wasn’t subjected to the scrutiny of the taste mafia at large. He didn’t have to deal with the lack of validation that would inevitably make him question whether he was doing the right thing. Instead, he put it away, and was able to take away from it whatever he needed to take away from it. You can definitely argue that in some way, it helped Louie arrive at the point we see him at now. Or at the very least, it didn’t limit him.
*”Tomorrow Night” premiered at Sundance and was shown at a few other film festivals, but was never released to the general public until this year.
Today though, the failure would be a lot more public. That movie would’ve been posted YouTube, or Vimeo, because that’s what you have to do nowadays — if you’re showing something to three people, you’re somewhat showing it to the entire world. So that movie would’ve been posted on Facebook, and bunch of “Burgeoning Louie”‘s comedic pals would’ve tweeted it out in support. Maybe it would’ve gotten 11,000 views — a solid number, but not definitely not enough. Maybe that would’ve been very discouraging, and maybe “Burgeoning Louie” would’ve decided that having the movie on public display would do more harm than good — maybe his agent or manager would’ve told him it’s a bad look to have a tepidly received movie be the first thing on his YouTube page. That it wouldn’t help him get booked, or prevent him from getting a development deal. So maybe he’d decide it was in his best interest to admit defeat — to consider it a “failure,” and take off the internet. A whole sequence of events plus an evaluative reality that didn’t even exist a decade ago.
And after all that, maybe Burgeoning Louie would be very cautious about doing something that “out there” again — maybe he would’ve decided that it’d be more beneficial start tweeting taste mafia-approved jokes about how Seamless is awesome, or how he watches Netflix streaming too much. As Lange said, Burgeoning Louie isn’t gonna wanna see himself bombing again. He’s gonna check himself.
And if this all happens in 2014, Burgeoning Louie may never become actual Louie.