The Tyrannical Bullshit Of Objects


The way our culture works, depending on what field you’re operating in, certain kinds of objects (or in some cases, events) generate more cultural focus than others. Shirky gives an example from painting: “Any one can be a painter, but the question is then, ‘Have you ever had a show; have you ever had a solo show?’ People are always looking for these high-cost signals from other people that this is worthwhile.” In music, maybe it used to be an album; in comedy, it might be an hour-long album or TV special; I’m sure you can think of others in different media. It’s a high-cost object that broad casts its significance. It’s not a thing; it’s a work.

But, this is important: it’s even more fine-grained than that. It’s not like you can just say, “in writing, books are the most important things.” It depends on what genre of writing you’re in.

Take your high-cost signal cultural snobbery and shove it up your snooty asses.

Television was once looked down on. Then Rod Serling wrote Patterns and Paddy Chayefsky wrote Marty. Television became “legit” then. Decades of mass-market stupidity intervened, until NBC overturned things in the 1980s with dramas like Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere — and then even the snooty wanted to watch TV again. But then Dennis Potter came along and showed how shallow NBC’s leap was! People will watch Pennies from Heaven or The Singing Detective more than once. What about Hill Street Blues or St. Elsewhere? No.

Raymond Chandler’s books were ignored during his lifetime. All the so-called “serious” novels of his day got the gold-star reviewers and big press. Yet Chandler’s work remains in print, is now recognized as the art it always was, and all the “important” crap from then is out of print or entirely forgotten.

In all the instances I’ve cited, it wasn’t the object that was important, that mattered: it was the artist.

Artists are the standard of value, not the damned transient packages that someone can look at or read or DVR or put on a bookshelf.

If you’re a writer who has only been published in e, and someone asks why you’re not in print, here’s your retort: “Because I’m not addressing handicapped people who need print as a crutch.”

Don’t play their game. Create your own. And stick to it.


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