Logic can be so seductive, and seem so sensible – and be so completely wrong, in the long run. It’s easy to forget that any conclusion is only as good as the information that backs it.
For example, take the “logic” that says if you want success you have to work out what people want, and provide it. Seems pretty sensible. Seems statistically supportable.
I’m always reading articles which say that if you’re writing and you want readers or success it’s no use writing what you want to write, you have to figure out what your audience wants. I can understand how that seems logical and based on common sense. After all, I read what I want to, and I tend to look for what I’ve been interested in so far. But for writers – and publishers, I guess – to conclude that I only want to read something similar to what I’ve liked so far, and won’t be attracted to a new voice and way of writing, a new perspective, a fresh way of thinking, is just dead wrong.
Publishers, agents, producers, some teachers, even writers, are always making two mistakes. The first is thinking that the potential audience won’t respond to the energy, the thrill, the excitement an author conveys when they write on something they’re passionate about. The second mistake is thinking that the audience doesn’t like what’s new. It’s ridiculous: marketers and manufacturers are always looking for new perspectives and new products, because they recognise that LIFE CHANGES, that people need newness. Newness is the lifeblood of the commercial world. And it is the artists who create the newness which we all crave, yes?
Yet publishers, producers and agents are always telling writers and artists that they must conform to some nebulous idea of what the public wants – which is in fact a formula they the publishers et al have created out of what’s been done. What is it with these guys? They’ve got to be the most ignorant bunch of humans ever. And they don’t seem to change from generation to generation. Somebody should write a book, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and Publishers, Producers et al are from Some Other Alien Universe.
Look at anyone who has risen above the masses – haven’t they all been complete individuals? Haven’t they all been rejected by agents, publishers, producers, you name it? Haven’t they all been told “nobody will want to listen to you / watch you / read you / buy your art because you’re too different”? Yet they’ve shot to great heights of fame and fortune – not because they adapted themselves to “what people want” but because they gave free reign to their passion and individuality. And it always turns out that the audience was utterly starved for something new. Oh yes. It’s been proved time and time and time again. Fred Astaire (can’t act, slightly bald, can kind of dance), Charlie Chaplin (too silly), Sidney Poitier (should get a dishwashing job), Walt Disney (unimaginative), Oprah Winfrey (reputedly fired as a reporter for being “unfit for tv” – boy was that a mistake!), The Beatles (guitar music is outdated), Elvis (probably too sexy) , J.K. Rowling (very big publisher oops), Stephen King (ditto).
Publishers and “authorities” are bullies, that’s all; egotists trying to hold onto their power, trying to control their world. They can never have enough uniformity, it keeps them safe. Or that’s what they believe. But here’s the curious thing. They could be so much safer if they recognized talent and newness and understood how much it is craved by the multitude.
How misguided can you be? And really, aren’t there already enough people spewing out formulaic crap that has no life in it, is predictable and utterly dull dull dull?
The funny thing – right, it’s side-splittingly funny – is that the authority bullies never ask anybody real what they like. They don’t actually speak to anybody and say “excuse me, what do you think of this or that?” Their bullying isn’t based on anything real at all. It’s not clever, it’s not perceptive, it’s not street smart. Ever. It’s based on their own fear-driven, control-freak-driven narrow-mindedness. Greed might play a little role in there. They don’t think they’ll make so much money if they take a risk on an individual. Well the joke always ends up being on them. Always. Think of all the publishers who rejected J.K. Rowling! They must kicking themselves. And they deserve all the bruises they self-inflict, that’s what I say!
All of us, artist and audience alike, we’re all human, we’re not sheep or lemmings. We all have hearts and souls and minds and we all long to be touched by somebody’s passion – and when we are touched by it, we all register it. I know it’s true, because if it wasn’t the bright individuals would never rise above the mundane, to shine like stars for the rest of us to be inspired by. There’s real logic for you.
Personally I love to hear somebody say “whatever you do, don’t try to please people. Be real, be passionate, take risks”.
Robert de Niro said that. Good on you, Mr. de Niro.