Another PCHH reaction post.

Dear blog,

Someday, for whatever reason, the run of Pop Culture Happy Hour will come to an end, and on that day, this blog will die, because apparently, I suffer from a total lack of any original ideas whatsoever. I just can't help it! The conversations are so good! I can't help but want to chime in. In fact, I might as well make this a weekly blog feature, entitled: "Screaming Into The Wind: A PCHH Reaction Series" (so named because, let's face it, nobody reads this except me).

Let's get to it, then. This week, in one of the better episodes that I've listened to thus far, a good chunk of time was devoted to a discussion of Kickstarter, and the ways in which crowd-sourced funding may have a negative impact on the final outcome of a project. On the one hand, there's "Hooray, this affords artists the chance to still eat while they make great stuff!", but on the other hand, there's "Will the artist still be capable of making great stuff while keeping a financially invested audience in mind?".

Both are good points, of course, but the thing I'm stuck on is the fact that the second argument seems to presuppose that creators are free from the pressure to make their projects turn out a certain way if fans don't have an obvious financial stake in it. I think, in a roundabout way, fans have always dictated the outcome of the art that we consume; it's just that it hasn't always been this direct. Like with New Girl. The funding for that show isn't crowdsourced, and so the writers are, theoretically, free to have the characters do whatever they want. Except, we all knew Nick and Jess would hook up eventually, and of course, they did. It became less about tuning in to see "if" they would get together, and more about "when", because you wouldn't want to miss the episode where it finally happened. My point is that once fans latch on to an idea about the direction in which a show should play out, or what a photographer's pictures should look like, or how a band should sound, then there already exists a financial stake in the creator's Next Move, and that's not a new idea that came along with Kickstarter.

To give another example, let's talk about (brace yourself) Radiohead's release of Kid A (let's all just calm down!). I was a huge Radiohead fan in high school. You couldn't not be, attending high school in the 90's. Fake Plastic Trees may as well have been our collective fight song. And then OK Computer came out when I was 15, and sure, it sounded different, but it was still mopey and sulky enough for me, and it gave a form and a voice to my nascent feelings of weltschmerz. Kid A was released when I was 18, and with my sense of weltschmerz now fully-formed, I cannot begin to convey how entirely disappointed I was with this album full of videogame music. I thought it was some kind of joke that Thom Yorke was trying to pull after how critically revered OK Computer had been. Like, "What would happen if I just made a cd full of noise? Will they still call me a genius?". And I wrote the band off. Even now, more than a decade later, I can listen to some of the more recent Radiohead stuff, and I can appreciate it, but I can't bring myself to deeply love it the way I loved The Bends and OK Computer, because there's too much cognitive dissonance created between the way that I expect Radiohead to sound, and the way that Radiohead actually sounds. So, no more album purchases, and, probably more importantly to the Radiohead camp, from a monetary standpoint, no more concert attendance. Now, do I think any of the members of Radiohead give a flying fuck about my expectations? No! Of course they don't! Nor should they. Sure, they lost my dollars, but they probably (definitely) gained someone else's.

This is my point: The fans of any given artistic endeavour have always had a financial stake in the final outcome. It's just that, with Kickstarter, you can see their stake measured in actual dollar amounts, whereas before, their stake was measured in tv ratings and album sales. In pre-Kickstarter times, the dollar amount was seen after the fact; now, it's seen beforehand. And, sure, that creates pressure to live up to the audience's expectations, but is that any worse than a situation in which you're either receiving pressure from The Big Guns to create something that they think will sell, or else you just don't get to make any real profit from your art at all? I mean, you don't need me to tell you that Nirvana's Nevermind is a fan-fucking-tastic album, but it just sounds so... slick. And I have a really hard time believing that the way the songs sound on Nevermind comes even remotely close to the over-the-top histrionic noisiness that Kurt Cobain was undoubtedly hearing in his head, that shone through on even the cleaned-up version of In Utero (which is, not coincidentally, the album that made a Nirvana fan out of me). The point is, pressure to change one's art in order to make more money from it has always existed. Some artists make the concession, and others don't. And that's not something that I feel qualified to discuss in terms of one being right and the other being wrong; it's just something that is, and will always be.      

I also think that there can be a discrepancy between what an audience thinks it wants, and what it actually wants, and an artist of any merit will know how to finesse that line. I think that we consume art, be it highbrow, lowbrow, or somewhere in between, not just because it amuses us, but because it stirs feelings in us, and to me, the whole point of being alive is to feel as much as possible, because, as they say, you can't take it with you. You're not pleased because you bought the album, you're pleased because you heard the music. What's the point of plodding through life as a seemingly endless string of days, in which you consume much, but take nothing? We line our shelves with dvds and books, but the only ones we really have in any meaningful way are the ones that we take the time to absorb, because the rest all gets forgotten. And I think the things we absorb are inextricably linked to the things we connect to, that make us feel like we are having some sort of shared experience. So, to cite Linda Holmes' example of The Office, if Jim and Pam had gotten together in that fifth episode, yeah, we viewers would have gotten what we wanted in terms of the story, but not in terms of the feeling of it all.

One other concern that was voiced was that of, what reason is there to write a concrete ending to something, if there always lies the possibility of kickstarting a movie, or a new season of a show, or what have you? I think that's a really interesting question, and it sort of gets at the heart of, are you Making The Thing to make money, or are you making it to create something wonderful? Because if your intention is to create something wonderful, then "spinoff potential" probably isn't the foremost thing on your mind.

I guess all of this is to say, the responsibility of creating something worth creating lies in the hands of the artist. Just because you feel pressure, doesn't mean you necessarily have to yield to it.

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