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Someone has to win

Monday 5/29/23

This is from an essay I've been working on and was working on again this morning on the 1977 children's BBC mini-series--and that term "children's" is meant lightly--Children of the Stones, which will be in And the Skin was Gone: Essays on Works of Horror Art. I thought I'd include this section here, given that to which it speaks, and how it functions as stand-alone entity of truth.


There’s a mistake that many content creators often make: they think everyone is an idiot who needs to be spoon fed, largely in following from what they themselves have become. The result is that the content creators themselves are a version of what they create. We become mired in the throes of devolution, where idiocy begets idiocy, presumption presumption, laziness laziness, and echoes spawn echoes.

Foster enough echoes and you get what is tantamount to faux-gospel; the accepted way of How Things Must Be, with no admittance of further thinking or that there could be any value in additional thought, unless one wishes to be alienated from the group and essentially have to go life alone, or certainly with fewer and fewer people every day with whom one might travel, connect, have for company.

A lot of naked emperors and empresses pass through the streets of our culture to the accompanying strains of praise for raiment that isn’t there, while those who are aware of this—and it’s a bigger number than almost anyone thinks—are cowed into silence, lest that bring problems into their lives, having no awareness that they’re doing just that via their passiveness.

If you’re around anything long enough, it can become your version of normal. Standards change and also devolve—and become batshit crazy—based upon environment and exposure and what is reinforced—insisted upon—supported, backed, touted as high quality.

Imagine a planet where you listen to Kenny G 24/7, try to make music like Kenny G because that’s what you’ve been taught or told was the way to go, enough people cite the work as outstanding, nonsense like a Genius Grant is awarded, and then when you’re given a copy of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, you don’t know what’s going on and reject it as inferior, because it’s so dissimilar to what you have come to think of as good. We push back from reality without even knowing it. We don’t need a trip to another planet—ours will do in this unfortunate regard.

That’s why we see forgettable, valueless works win major awards and a litany of content creators gain lionization status by default. Once we go down that ladder, it’s increasingly harder to reverse course and begin climbing upwards again.

The mistake that many make is thinking that entertainment content has to be this way, which results in a drastic underselling of the capabilities of an audience by people who should care the most about audiences and really don’t at all; they want attention, and credit whether they deserve it or not—they don’t—just so long as it's given to them.

Humans don’t need to get everything in a book, a film, a show; they need to be pulled in. They need to care. They need to be roused. They need to feel the work in their breast. They need to be invested and they need to think about how the work applies to them.

That takes many forms. If an audience knows to come to a work--that it exists; that it's worth their time; that other humans are also coming to it, because we wish to feel like we're part of a group—and is given abiding reasons to care, the audience will go where the work goes. It will take the journey of the work.

Not everything has to be laid out and hyper-explained, because nothing in the life of those people in that audience—nothing real, that is—works that way. They’re veterans of this kind of scene, whether they're devolving or not. That’s the nature of life and being alive.

Sometimes it’s just a case of compelling people to ask themselves what they would do in the same situation as that character one is locked in on and cares about. I say “just” but it’s a tricky, hard-won “just” that takes someone who is actually good at something, not good in the pretend, pile-on way way we so often see as we collectively skid down that ladder. Approbation becomes about everything save the actual quality or appeal or utility of the work.

What suffers? The best works, for they’re less likely to have a chance to get in front of audiences. And: the world, because there are fewer and fewer people to go back up the ladder and create those works we need and actually love in a real way.

Never forget that something always has to finish first. You go to the fair and there’s a contest for the best pig. Three gassy beasts are in a pen, lying on their sides, passed out. A pig sort of snorts, which is more life than the other two show. But even sans snort, one of those creatures is going to be crowned a champion today. Porcine Pam is taking home that ribbon, because a ribbon is being bestowed, dammit. Someone has to “win.” Increasingly, that winning means nothing, and we all end up losing out.

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