Quality and the Now
A quick lament of how to live in it
I think now I realise why so many people indulge in this collective consciousness of bad media. It's not because they have a distaste for themselves - nobody does something that they truly believe is bad for them. It's not because they think it's good... to believe in measures of quality would mean that you have a sense of taste, and people who regularly indulge in bad media hasn't developed that taste. I believe that, and I could be wrong here, it's because they choose to be a part of a culture that is easier to get into, has more people inside it, and can talk with anybody about, than if they chose to be outside the mainstream and indulge in the obscure, though much more fulfilling, arts. The people who watch mainstream movies, join anime fandoms, and choose to play the hottest video games as opposed to the good ones, are doing it to be a part of a culture where everybody else knows what they're talking about. It's easier to be an insider than to be on the outside looking in, and we have to understand that the mainstream media culture... is still culture. And the indulgers are a part of that culture.
There are several reasons why so many people choose to thrash against the mainstream. Quality is one reason, and it's not hyperbole to call the appreciation of the good arts and the criticism of the bad as "good taste", because the word "taste" is derived from the appreciation of good food as opposed to the horrible. If you put a man in a cooking class for six months, make them cook their own meals from scratch five times a week, teach them all the varieties and the flavours of the human taste experience, then I guarantee you they will never again touch a prepackaged food again. What's the best way to make somebody eat healthy? You be honest with them. You describe what goes into the frozen food, what trans fat is, what margarine is made of, and how food is distributed from supplier to table. And then when you show them the alternative, making them cook real food, not just for themselves, but for their partners and their family, and showing them what it takes to be able to provide your own meals rather than depend on somebody else, then there is no reason for them to ever eat unhealthy again.
The arts are similar. When you allow your children to indulge in media that was made with full respect given towards them, as opposed to the neon-coloured branded books and cartoons which exist to sell a product, and imprint on them a brand that people will be loyal to even after basic business studies will assure you that most companies don't care about you. This is one of the reasons Disney is so successful: they have every opportunity, with their massive marketing and production empires, to imprint brands onto children to the point where they can't help but be loyal the company which exists to abuse them. Disney takes so much from the public - its fairy tales, its land, its media space, the works of fanart which don't adhere to their arbitrary standards, our right to free culture by extending USA copyright by another twenty years, and anything that might cause Disney to lose a single red cent to a competitor - and yet never, ever gives back. They have extended far beyond simple entertainment and has become, instead, a dynasty. And our children deserve better.
The picture book is one of the most unappreciated mediums, providing our children with the means to experience the beauty of the arts combined with simple life lessons that even adults may appreciate. When I was a child, and I was reading Calvin and Hobbes way back when I was three years old (supposedly I was special in being literate so young), I assure you that I didn't know every single word that was in those comics. But I was in awe at the imagination, the scope of the art style, and all that went on within it. There were a great deal of words I knew because I had to learn them to understand the comics, though I saw those pictures, and I knew what was happening. I suppose it needs no introduction that Calvin and Hobbes is one of the greatest newspaper comics to grace the world, and I am proud to be able to look at them as an adult and appreciate everything that it stood for, in all its messages and all its morality. How much children's media have you experienced that has the same impact?
Granted, I was subjected to a lot of life-changing media that was made out of corporate interest, such as almost every video game that I can look back at and said made my childhood, but we must understand that even art made out of corporate interests may be appreciated for what it is, and not the circumstances surrounding it, judged on its own merits rather than moral ones. Please, insult a company that deserves to be insulted. Insult the reasons why they make things. But for the art itself? Leave the drama as a historical section. All art is made to sell, and this is the unfortunate reality of this scarce world we live in, though just because something is made to sell, this does not mean that somebody is in the wrong for selling it. A man is entitled to the sweat of his brow, so long as he does not infringe upon fellow man's right to enjoy his labour.
To indulge in a culture of good art, art that is made primarily for the impact of its existence rather than how much it appeals to a specific demographic, is to indulge in a culture that is foreign to the mainstream. You indulge in work not based on how many people know the same things as you, but on how much it affects you personally. It is a culture of self-reliance rather than following what the newest trend is, or what a marketer is telling you to consume. And indeed, "consume" is the right work, as most art made by the mainstream is made to appeal to the broadest audience they may. Even with supposedly "counter-culture" works like Homestuck, they, too, are appealing to an audience, albeit a different one. The audience for angsty teenagers with a culture based on Hilarious™ dialogue that isn't at all dated we swear on me mum's life will always be there, at least until they are quickly killed by the audience that indulges in whatever the fuck is going on in Japan these days.
But, to indulge in the art of the mainstream, such as your Eminems and your Blink-182s and whatever was going on way back in the weird old years of the 2000s back when the United States was ready to bully some previously unknown middle-eastern country for no other reason than to make use of decades of the world's most inflated military budget that is used exclusively for such curb-stomping affairs. Spoiler alert: they didn't stop terrorism, but given that the older, less-educated generation didn't give a single damn what the cool kids thought what it would look like to go into a decade-long war with an undefined enemy invading a foreign land for unspecified reasons, demolishing the reputation of the United States in the process and making them into the laughing stock of the world, doing what they have always done but with the increased ability for everybody in the world to go online and see their actions, at home and abroad.
This isn't just a space to bitch about the state of the world; there is a lot of world to go around and a lot of time to talk about it. I'm saying that there is always going to be a disconnect between the ignorant, outdated, and conservative old folks, and the more educated, more liberal youngsters that they spawned. This disconnect is nowhere near as defined as in the popular arts, where marketers realise that, a) teenagers have a shit-ton of time and nothing to do with it, meaning they can indulge in whatever they want, b) teenagers have tons of disposable income, and c) teenagers are desperate for human interaction, and they can sell that to them by providing arts that they can relate to their peers with. The reason Snapchat is so huge right now isn't because it's just a random collection of assholes indulging in self-generated prolefeed. It's because it's your friends doing the same thing. Whether they are really your friends will only come after high school, where every teenager wants to believe they're mature and yet without any of the life skills or emotional maturity to understand that they're not going to have the opportunity to dick around on their cell phones all day with people they barely like.
But during this brief period of time, marketers have the whole field to themselves, the savviest ones hopping on the current cultural zeitgeist as the out-of-touch ones use trends that were only cool five years ago and have stopped being since. Cultural trends are no longer defined by decades as they once were; the world is too damn fast for that, now. The year 2005 and the year 2010 were too different to even compare, the former being a brief experiment with several technologies as we shed off the burdens of the ancient tech, and 2010 being the year where this "Internet" thing started being a really big deal, no small part due to the rise of social networks, memes, BitTorrent, and Anonymous-related hacktivism. The same with 2010 and 2015, with 2015 being the year where social media wasn't just something to dick around with, but starting to be the defining force of the entire world. Memes stopped being for fun and started being a way to express political ideologies. Truth stopped mattering, in favour of who could appeal to the hundreds of scattered echo chambers strewn about Facebook, Twitter, and the like, where nobody ever has to have their opinion challenged if they don't want to. Out of pure coincidence, this was very profitable for social media, gaining more loyal audiences than ever before.
When you look at the way the world is, you shouldn't look at it with admonishment. While media like The Matrix and Eminem have been so assimilated into culture that taking a look at what the original properties were getting at is nigh-impossible unless you have been strategically living under a rock like the rest of those kooky sorts who don't feel the need to look at the grand new thing, maybe it would have been beneficial for you to have at least seen what all the fuss is about. Even though most media is absolutely terrible [source: turn on the radio once in a while], it's still an indicator of what's popular right now, even if it's only popular to the broadest and most easily-placated members of our degenerate society. Turning on the radio will tell you all that you need to know about the current state of music, and even if you don't like it, it doesn't do you any good to be ignorant of what's popular.
The mega-stars of today like Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber will be as irrelevant in a decade's time as the punk-rock icons of the 2000s, like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, being an embarrassing facet of the nostalgia of old - a bit like Lady Gaga, Owl City, and Foster the People, being perfect indicators of the culture of 2011. Hardly the worst acts, mind you, but seeing any youngster seriously say that they still listen to them is a rarity. Foster the People didn't even get big, so I guess they were never a part of the equation. I suppose some small part of me wanted them to succeed so my strange fetish for experimental electronica would finally be cool. Who remembers The Postal Service? Yeah, I fucking bet you don't.
Hindsight is 20/20, because we're not biased with what exists in the present, don't suffer through the miasma of uncertain dates, events that we may or may not be a part of, and don't have to predict what will be popular. Every trend we document in the past is well-documented, because they already happened. We can cut the wheat from the chaff and see the effects of the most popular music, movies, and so on, unlike the present where we just have to live through it, be in an uncertain atmosphere of hundreds of different brands competing viciously for our attention, and try to piece together and gain information about every new release and see what's worth our time, rather than have years worth of reviews and opinions to base our viewing pleasures around.
But when you see the newest trends, it does not do you any good to simply throw your hands in the air and give up trying to understand a thing. If you are going into business, or even as an artist (as art is a business), then you must understand what is popular right now. You may either exploit it, or thrash against it, or find out what else might be popular than just what is available in the mainstream, but you cannot ignore it! To ignore what is current in favour of doing your own thing, so to speak, is playing a game with the fog of war all around you. Granted, it is extraordinarily helpful to view historically good works and understand what makes them stand the test of time. Please adopt as many examples as you can. But if you're going to sell to a current-day audience, then you must understand what is out there today.
Is the gaming scene starting to warm up to retro first-person shooters? It's a bad time to make another one, because I bet you the market is going to be saturated as fuck come 2020. Is Outrun getting popular in its own little niche? Exploit it! Exploit it now! Nobody is taking it, and it's not dense enough to be uncool. A triple-A video game that uses Outrun as its inspiration is going to have some easy bank. What about the indie scene? Is it stuck with the roguelike plague, with absolutely nobody marketing their work, just letting it wallow like its nothing? Don't make an RPG now - that genre is dead. But at the same time, don't be shoehorned into being 100% different. Make something worth looking at, first and foremost. Make something with a lot of heart and a lot of interest built-in. But don't be different for the sake of it. Be different because you are.
What about me?
I have a blog that is equal parts sincerity and vulgarity, with jokes coming as rapid as do the nuggets of inspiration. I'm the longform Zero Punctuation, talking about things on a daily basis that it doesn't get to. If you like Yahtzee, hey hey! You're going to like me. But I haven't been selling that. I'm already at a disadvantage when I, a) make thousands of words worth of content in an atmosphere that favours the hundreds, b) on a website that's incredibly small (though I must stress that I have a very loyal niche and am, for all intents and purposes, a big fish in a small pond), c) innately anti-social on other websites and afraid that anything I do will come back to bite me here, privacy and all, and d) haven't done anything outrageous that makes people want to go "oh my fuck check this out!". All I have is a good, solid, dependable website for anybody to look at and make their life a little bit better because of it. I don't have a target audience besides those who are like me: a little cynical but with a lot of hope for the world. It turns out there aren't many people like that looking for somebody like me.
I could go on... but this isn't really what you're here for. The point of this triad (and I do have one. blatantly reusing this sentence from the last article) is to state that it is important to respect the history you came from, to indulge in good work, but to never be so above it all that you cannot understand what people are into nowadays. Could I have said this all in a few hundred words and not a few thousand? Perhaps. But, as I will always say, it is never about the destination, but about the journey. Sometimes it is about the destination, granted, such as when you click on an article saying "what is the leading cause of obesity?", and you full well expect to learn something about obesity. It's you. You're the reason you're obese.
This article caused me to think a lot about myself and what I do, about how I supposedly review things, but wonder what the point of all of it is. I make articles for the purpose of enlightening somebody else. But then it's presumptuous of me to assume that you do need enlightening, now isn't it? I'm simply providing a different culture than what the mainstream offers, saying that it's important to develop a sense of taste in order to become a person who can truly appreciate the arts as they are, and not as they are sold. I'm asking you to be more cautious, more wary about what you consume, because bad work is made to be sold, and if you are being sold to, then you are no longer a patron of an artistic culture, and are instead being patronised by the mainstream one.
Be aware of the worst of the world and understand why people still enjoy it. But always be above it so that you may create the best. Don't be so above it that you are not aware of what's happening, though never get mired into believing that low-quality work is actually of some quality at all. Life is variety, and you must experience this variety in order to spread it to other people. I think this is very basic advice. Though as I write this, I also realise that some people still need to be taught these supposedly obvious facets of being a gentleman, as they were never taught earlier on. It is a privilege to know you're ignorant, isn't it? That way you may learn.
Here I am, forever: Froghand.
Today's page was updated on 2016-12-12 and created on 2016-12-11!
I shouldn't sell ads if I can't make these articles.