“How did it get so late so soon?”
– Dr. Suess
So I was kicking it old school yesterday and writing a check when it hit me, I mean really hit me, that it is 2013. Continue reading
“How did it get so late so soon?”
– Dr. Suess
So I was kicking it old school yesterday and writing a check when it hit me, I mean really hit me, that it is 2013. Continue reading
You may be asking what does “Jakarta is Coming” mean. Well, here is the Coors Lite history. Prior to the the military coup in Chile in the early 1970’s, this phrase started being posted around Santiago, Chile. The message was meant to alert Chileans that something akin to the coup that took place a few years before in Indonesia was working its way, via multinational corporations and the CIA, to Chile. On September 11, 1973 the government of the democratically elected socialist Salvador Allende was overthrown by a military junta led by General Augusto Pinochet. What followed was an economic full nelson, led by Milton Friedman, which gave corporations operating in Chile huge profits and led to a societal bloodbath, sanctioned by the CIA.
Corporatism, or corporativism, has more than one meaning. It may refer to political, or social organization that involves association of the people of society into corporate groups, such as agricultural, business, ethnic, labour, military, patronage, or scientific affiliations, on the basis of common interests. (1)
We all know that here in the United States, the majority of all media, excluding terrestrial and satellite radio, is controlled by six companies: Time Warner, Walt Disney, Viacom, News Corporation, CBS (Spun off from Viacom) and NBCUniversal (Part of Comcast). (2) Taking that into consideration, the majority of mass media available for consumption here in the United States is provided by six huge corporations.
As recently as 1983, more than 50 corporations controlled the vast majority of media disseminated in the United States. In 1996, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was signed into law by then President Bill Clinton. The first comprehensive overhaul to the Telecommunications Act in over sixty years and containing the contentious Title 3, which allowed for media cross ownership. (3) Building off that, and in keeping with the shroud of secrecy for which the George W. Bush era is known, in 2003 the FCC under Michael Powell set about to re-evaluate media ownership rules. I know this shit is boring, almost done. And in June of that year, the FCC voted 3-2 and “approved new media ownership laws that removed many of the restrictions previously imposed to limit ownership of media within a local area. The changes were not, as is customarily done, made available to the public for a comment period.” (4) Upon appeal, it was overturned by the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (the Supreme Court turned down an appeal by the FCC). In 2007, under Chairman Kevin Martin, the FCC relaxed some media ownership rules.
Creative Corporatism takes the core of corporatism, an “association of the people of society into corporate groups…on the basis of common interests.”(1) in this case of media, profit and influence. Creative Corporatism is the idea that creative and news outlets are being manipulated and cajoled by the interests and agenda’s of the corporations.
Now, more than at any time in media history, almost whatever you consume through whatever vehicle you choose is controlled by one of the “big six”. And what actually makes it to air or to press is being controlled by a group of people that, combined, is probably less than a few hundred. This includes your news directors, your newspaper editors, your web content folks, your television and film development and programming decision makers.
Network television still serves as the benchmark of media and has all but abandoned its educational, creative or societal responsibility. The network news programs do virtually everything they can to package important news into their allotted format and ideology, typically less than a couple minutes and it usually leans either hard right or hard left. The scripted shows networks continue to push on us are, for the most part, so bad and unimaginative that I am not even sure a word has been created yet to describe it.
Unscripted programming, also known as reality television, is…is…ya know, I’m at a loss to describe it. When Pete Rose gets a reality show (on TLC, The Learning Channel) and the news that Kim Kardashian is pregnant with Kanye West’s child trumps coverage on the pending “fiscal cliff” one really has to wonder not only where programming people have their heads placed but also where we as a culture have our heads. “At the end of the day, corporations exist to make money”(5) and I guess that explains the proliferation of mind numbing unscripted shows like the Pete Rose show or the endless supply of those damn Kardashians. These shows are cheap to produce and should one become successful, it means black ink on the bottom line. Corporate profitability and innocuousness are more of a programming green-light than actual creativity.
Look, I am not some hoity toity pretentious person who ignores television or watches only “off the grid” programming. I like my share of crap. I’m a sucker for ID Discovery, I have an unparallelled affection for re-enactment actors, one of my favorite movies is “Airplane” but I have to wonder if a comprehensive unscripted show (re: boring) like PBS’ An American Family from 1973 or a movie like “Network” would be produced today. There is a place for crap on television and it should be there but one has to wonder what is going on and when will it stop.
Historically speaking, Hollywood isn’t known for breaking new ground or being a MENSA think tank. I get it. But when news programming is so shallow it is akin to the reporting found in Highlights Magazine or a sitcom narrative and its corresponding punchlines are even more banal and predictable than is typical of the genre and a studios movie release schedule is either a re-boot of already mediocre material or a comic book, you have to wonder what’s going on. “When you control what Americans watch, hear and read you gain a great deal of control over what they think. They don’t call it ‘programming’ for nothing.”(2)
Corporatism has been reaching its tentacles into the creative sphere for years now through a number of avenues such as MBA’s, network and studio acquisitions, product placement and placing a tighter control on costs. In and of themselves, these are not necessarily bad things. What makes them awful is that along with them comes a bevy of voices that aim to influence, control and ultimately crush creativity, which is Creative Corporatism. Now, I’m not trying to expound some far left or Marxist idea that in order to be creative, you must be true to your art and ignore any and all outside influence. Personally, I don’t believe that. I believe there should always be room for a discussion and for compromise, especially if your goal as an artist or creator is to be heard or seen. But when the ideas and principles of the corporation influence, determine and drive the content of our media, all of our media, that is Creative Corporatism. And that is wrong.
Jakarta isn’t coming, it’s here.
I have deliberately left out new media and most cable outlets, which I believe offer better alternatives across the board, but sadly, everyone still looks to the big networks for guidance. Both the Internet and cable television offer some truly fascinating and original voices in creativity. But for how long? Most cable outlets are owned by the big six and the Internet…well, as Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Comcast and Microsoft continue to reach their tentacles further and further into the web, it’s simply a matter of time before there will be six companies c0ntrolling what we view on the web too.
“The Revolution introduced me to art, and in turn, art introduced me to the Revolution!”
I subscribe to Seth Godin’s blog and periodically receive some really interesting quotes about art, about commerce, about being an individual. Wanted to pass some along:
When John Coltrane plays the melody early in the track Harmonique, you can hear some of the notes crack.
Of course, Coltrane was completely capable of playing these notes correctly. And yet he didn’t.
It’s this effort and humanity that touches us about his solo, not just the melody.
Sometimes, “never let them see you sweat,” is truly bad advice. The work of an individual who cares often exposes the grit and determination and effort that it takes to be present.
Perfecting your talk, refining your essay and polishing your service until all elements of you disappear might be obvious tactics, but they remove the thing we were looking for: you.
“This is the best I can do.” vs. “It’s not good enough.”
Both are symptoms of a huge problem that doesn’t even have a name.
Entire industries lull themselves into believing that what they make and how they make it is good enough–until someone comes along and turns the market on its head by proving them wrong.
At the same time, countless projects go unlaunched, improvements hidden, thoughts unstated–because the person behind the idea is hiding behind the false understanding that their work isn’t good enough yet.
Which problem do you have?
When you don’t know what to do.
That’s when we find out how well you make decisions.
When you don’t have the resources to do it the usual way, that’s when you show us how resourceful you are.
And when you don’t know if it’s going to work, that’s how we find out whether or not we need you on our team.
Making instructions is harder than following them.
“So we cheated and we lied
And we tested
And we never failed to fail
It was the easiest thing to do.”
– Crosby, Still and Nash
The other night the girlwife and I went to go see CSN at the Beacon Theater. I had wanted to see them since 1984 and since they’re not getting any younger (neither am I) I figured it was time. And they were good. Not great. They played what I wanted to hear. It was also nice being some of the youngest people at a concert for a change. But let’s face it, these guys are in their mid to late 60’s and, well, the years they’ve lived have taken their toll. But they can still harmonize, they have an amazing catalog of songs and Stephen Stills is a killer guitar player.
But I left really impressed with their commitment to the hippie ideas. Even after all these years, they’re not afraid to let their political freak flag fly. On the night we went, CSN had someone in the lobby handing out “Free Bradly Manning” post cards. Admittedly, I walked right by. I didn’t recognize the name and you may not either. He’s the guy who released all of those military files to Wiki Leaks a few years ago.
Mid-way through the first set, Graham Nash announced they were doing a new song. Nash then told us it was a song about Manning and how he is being treated while awaiting trial. Someone in the audience bellowed “WHO CARES?”.
Well, all of us should. If what my cursory search about his incarcerated treatment is in any way true “In early April (2011), 295 academics (most of them American legal scholars) signed a letter arguing that the treatment was a violation of the United States Constitution.” , then this is exactly the type of shit we should be caring about. If we are the lone democratic superpower, what does it say about us as a country if we treat our own citizens so poorly, especially given that our entire legal system (even the military one) is built on the “innocent until proven guilty” ideal? What does this say about our government? What does it say about us as humans? Right about now someone might say “Whadda ya think he deserves, backrubs and steak?” No. I don’t think that at all. I think he should be held accountable…and treated fairly. As a human being. I don’t think he should be stripped of all basic human rights under the guise of “suicide watch”.
Do I think Bradly Manning is a scumbag? It doesn’t matter what I think. What matters is how we treat him. Does he deserve to be treated HUMANELY? Of course. And the cynic in me says that he, more than anyone, deserves fair treatment because the eyes of the world are on us and our treatment of him.
Almost as alarming as his treatment is the lack of media coverage. The news media should serve to keep the government in check and from what I can tell, the news media has been co-opted by Washington and Wall Street and has ceased doing that. That is not to say some media outlets do not report this stuff, they do. Here in the states, it is usually way left media and blogs, both of which are not widely read. Elsewhere in the world, it is more traditional media. But who in the states is really watching Al Jezeera or reading The Guardian? Comedian David Cross once said “Why do I have to read newspapers from outside my country to find out what’s going on in my country?”
I understand that people have very strong feelings about this guy. I do too. While I agree with him releasing the information and I agree with the care in which Julian Assange took with the data. Like it or not, and most people do not, Assange is doing what traditional media should be doing. Reporting facts and not opinion. Ultimately, I have very real doubts about Manning’s motivation. He is not Daniel Ellsberg, the guy who released The Pentagon Papers (which helped stop the Vietnam War). The main difference, for me, is that I believe Ellsberg truly had the countries best intentions at heart. Ellsberg was part of the Vietnam build up so he knew what he was talking about because he helped create it. From what little I know, Manning was an enlisted IT/Communications guy who, for whatever reason, had incredible clearance and just comes across as a disgruntled punk.
There is also something more thoughtful, more planned about a middle aged father sneaking into the RAND Corporation on weekends, with his kids, and copying reams of classified information versus a twenty-something hitting “send”. One requires a great deal of planning and thought and one requires limited motor skills.
This is not to say the information Manning released shouldn’t be available. It should. Without a doubt. As citizens it is our right to know. Whether we choose to exercise that right is a different argument. Did the information cost American lives? Yes, but I submit, no more or less than the actual war would have without their release. Did it put Americans in harms way? Yea, probably, but I would argue no more and no less than any soldiers superior officer or some private enforcers boss. Ultimately, what Manning did proved to have little effect on much of anything. Unfortunaltely, it did not yield the same results as Ellsberg. We’re still there, our soldiers and others are still dying. For me, it begs the question if Ellsberg’s secretary had released the Pentagon Papers, would it have had the same effect? Conversely, if a four star general had given this information to Wiki Leaks, would he be on trial?
I believe the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be noted in history as epic fuck ups. Not as a result of any of our soldiers or military. This mess lands, rests and lives on one mans shoulders, George W. Bush. George W. Bush and his brethren of “intellectual idiots” who spent 8 years bullying and running amuck over our civil liberties, padding the wallets of the wealthy and pretty much giving the finger to the world community.
If Bush’s goal was to kill native Iraqi’s and Afghans and then screw the soldiers who return home, mission accomplished. If his goal was to invade those countries and act like a drunken frat boy on a Friday night, mission accomplished. If he goal was to spread democracy, crush Al Queda and push out the Taliban. Epic failure. For a great read about the war in Afghanistan and its inevitable conclusion, read this Rolling Stone article. For a great read about our treatment of returning soldiers read this NYTimes article.
So, to the lady who bellowed “Who cares?” I do. Crosby, Stills and Nash do. And you should to. How we treat each other is one of the defining principles of us as a people and as a nation. It was also one of the guiding lights of the hippie movement that gave us Crosby, Stills and Nash. We don’t always get it right, personally, professionally or with our government, but it doesn’t mean we stop trying.
“And we never failed to fail, it was the easiest thing to do”
It’s easier to paint Bradly Manning as a villain and treat him like a piece of shit. It’s easier to make him the scapegoat. It’s harder to understand the failings of our system that led us to this place. It’s harder to stand up for an alleged treasonous soldier being mistreated. When we take the easy way out we fail, and to fail is easy. To succeed takes work.
Bradly Manning should be tried and if found guilty, punished. That does not mean he should be tortured beforehand. We fail as a society when we mistreat people that are in our care. We fail as humans when we allow that to happen.
“Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody can plan weird; that’s easy. What’s hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”
Far be it from me to crush anyone’s dreams, but someone needs to say this, not everyone needs to write a book, paint a picture or make a movie. Now before you get yourself all knotted up, I simply mean that not everyone is creative.
It seems lately that an emphasis is being placed on this notion of “creativity”. There has been a culture grab for those people who have both right and left-brain sensibilities. In the white-collar world, the proclamation of “out of the box thinkers” (really just an ivy league way of saying creative) is nothing new. However, in the large companies that exercise this trite phrase, the very last thing they want are “out of the box thinkers”, they want malleable mindsets; people who won’t question or stray from the corporate message or objective. And to the truly creative individual, staying “on point” with the corporate message is anathema to their essence.
So if your company makes jet engines, installs home services or is in general beholden to shareholders, don’t be fooled into believing they want to hear your “out of the box” ideas. They don’t. If their job is contingent upon staying the course in order to receive their 12-15% annual bonus and their 4-5% annual increase, don’t kid yourself. I’ll be blunt, they don’t give a fuck.
Which seems the anti-thesis of what Barnes and Noble and snake oil salesman have been pitching us over the past ten years. As the web community has grown and the ability to create and distribute all forms of content has become more user friendly and readily available, an entire industry has exploded teaching people to embrace their creativity. But the sad truth is putting pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, paint to canvas or eyeball to lens does not make you creative. A creator, for sure. You see creativity is not something that can be learned through practice or rote behavior. Creativity is first and foremost, a mindset, a belief.
Creativity is strength; it is CHOOSING to go against the norm. It is a particular point of view and ultimately, a life choice. The degrees of each of these will differ depending on the individual. The easiest way to find someone who is not creative is to find the person who proclaims that they are. My personal rule of comedy applies here, if you have to explain the joke, it’s not funny. If you have to say you are creative, you are not creative.
Now look, I am not saying you are not creative. I firmly believe buried deep in the recesses of our brains is a seed of creativity. Some people learn early on to grow and water the seedling while others find and feed it later in life. Sadly, some people never know its there. And make no mistake, you don’t need to be a writer, actor, director, artist, musician, whatever, to be creative. Look at scientist Alexander Flemming; this is a guy who changed the entire face of medicine through one little creative moment. So, Flemming is conducting his experiments and wakes up one morning to find ONE of his petri dishes didn’t react the same as the others. Now, for whatever reason, he made a decision to examine what went wrong with that one petri dish. He made a very simple decision and thus changed medicine forever. How easy would it have been for him to just say, “Shit, I fucked up.” And thrown it out? VERY easy. If he were working for someone else, odds are he would have been berated and then told to throw it out. (Yes, that is a gross over simplification of things…I’m trying to illustrate a point, not shooting for historical accuracy) So what did he do that was so creative? Science is not known to be the most creative of fields. So what did Flemming DO? He thought differently. He questioned things. In the matter of a few seconds, he made the decision to not throw out the flawed petri dish and then thought to himself “OK, now what’s this all about?” THAT is the creative mind. And that you cannot teach. You can teach people mechanics of being creative, to paint, to write, to act, whatever. What you cannot teach is for them to look at their world differently. That is something some people simply have. “Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.” Is Andrew Flemming any less creative than Pablo Picasso?
So what did Flemming discover? Penicillin. Might someone else have discovered it? Yes. But they didn’t, HE did. ‘Nuff said.
You see creativity is bereft of the banal. It is the person who looks at the thing everyone is asking “why” about and asks “why not?” It is the person who looks at the ordinary and finds the unordinary.
Steve Jobs was a flawed human being, we all know this, BUT he did more for the creative (and non-creative) mind than almost anyone since Johannes Gutenberg (he invented the printing press). Jobs made the chief modern creative tool, the Mac, user friendly but much more importantly, he (probably more realistically, Apple’s ad agency creatives) provided the two words that provide the true definition of the creative individual. THINK DIFFERENT. Does that really need further explanation?
And the one thing no one will ever tell you about creativity? Oh sure, they’ll tell you it’s hard but the one thing they seem to always leave out? They always leave out the pain. A creative mind is riddled with doubt, insecurity, fear. A creative individual is self absorbed, judged, pushed down, brushed aside, encouraged to color inside the lines. If they are lucky enough, they can break through all that and suddenly be championed as a hero, visionary and forward thinker. But all too often, they’re left toiling away at their canvas, their computer, their camera, etc. and leaving a flood of hurt people, broken hearts and hatred, most of it turned on themselves, in their wake. But they continue to create because they have to. It’s what drives them, it’s not what defines them.
All of this must sound horribly pretentious. To try and put some sort of definition to creativity is akin to trying to define what makes The Beatles one of the most important group of musicians ever (note: I am not a huge Beatles fan, but one can’t deny what they did and their influence). There are indicators, sure, but how can you identify, qualify or quantify the essence of the creative individual? The fact is creativity is a mindset; it need not be a life choice. You see, most people think creativity can only be found in the arts, but you can see it in the middle manager who encourages his subordinates to start a company newsletter, the manager who recognizes talent and defies their own career to push someone else’s forward. It is the carpenter who simply turns a piece of wood a different way and changes the outcome of the design, or the hotel janitor who suggests building escalators on the outside of the building so he won’t be unemployed for two months. Creativity can be found everywhere and it is a seed in everyone, but only a few can actually see the seedling grow.
So, I’ll condense all those books about finding your creativity into one simple sentence; Open your eyes and think differently (I just saved you 20 bucks). It’s as simple as that. Maybe you are destined to write the great American novel or screenplay. Go for it. You should. Maybe you are the one of the lucky ones who are truly gifted. Just do me a favor, don’t ask me to read it, unless you think it sucks. Then maybe I will. Oh and I don’t mean to perpetuate the image of the tortured creative soul. I’ve met plenty of really confident and creatively gifted people, they just don’t preach of their awesomeness.
So, what does that make me? Am I the master of creativity? Nope. Far from it. I don’t know what that makes me and I don’t much care. Other people take much more pleasure from labeling things than I do. I’ll keep doing what it is I do as long as I can. And the things I think are worth showing, I’ll show. It doesn’t mean they will be found. And it sure as hell doesn’t mean that they’re any good. They are simply an expression of my world view that I want to share.
Dear TV Network Executives,
I realize this letter is a shot in the dark, but, I’ll use a modern colloquialism, WTF…I don’t have anything to lose.
I won’t bother you with what I hope you already know (you know, the rapid decline in television viewership based on the fictionally representative Nielsen ratings system) and this letter is not about the past, or even the present, it is about the future. And the future is now.
I write this letter in the hope you may actually be looking for outside input (which is about as likely as Brad Pitt staring in a food cooking reality show…on PBS). What I propose is something kind of radical, and by radical I pretty much mean not what you are used to. So, I am guessing that is almost anything, but I digress. Today’s current television programming is a mess. That’s not news to anyone. Least of all you…I hope it’s not news anyway.
The program development landscape is simply not what it used to be. WHOA! I realize that is probably not a revelation to you. now it has been said time and time again that content is king. If that is indeed true, then the king is powerless and the bottom line is supreme overlord. Oh, TV Network Executive, your emphasis has drifted from original programming to bottom line driven programming. Why do you do this to us, your faithful viewers? The people who actually want to see good television. If we are being truly honest, the word “development” is really a misnomer. I know, I know you are probably aghast that someone like me feels confident enough to speak to you this way (see previous colloquialism, WTF).
You are probably reading this thinking “Who the hell does this guy think he is?” I’m nobody. I do not have an MBA from Harvard or Stanford. I do not have an Ivy League pedigree of any sort. I do not have any development experience in broadcasting, which, I might argue, makes me way more objective. Or at the very least, someone with a fresh perspective. Recycling development people from network to network as their contracts come up or as they fail upwards is hardly a business practice that seems to be working anymore. I would argue it was only nominally successful for you in the past. So who am I? No one. I’ve written some off off Broadway plays (I mean WAY off-Broadway), some short films, some short stories, nothing any of you would have seen or read. But, I have 35+ years of active television viewing. And not just the dreck you try to cram down our throats, I refer to myself as an actively engaged viewer.
What I propose to you is this. A shift away from “program development”. That is to say, a radical re-think. A paradigm shift of proportions you are obviously not thinking about. Now, if you have made it this far you are probably either intrigued or incensed…I am guessing more of the latter. But allow me a moment. Let me throw two words at you, content and curator. Now come with me as we combine those words and create “content curator”. THAT is what you need to start thinking about. That needs to be your starting point for new television shows. Television, for better or for worse, is an art form and you really need to start treating it as such. And all art deserves a proper curator, wouldn’t you agree? And most curators don’t have MBA’s or a history of failing upwards. And for the record, “The Jersey Shore” is NOT art.
Now you are probably thinking, “What?! TV as art?! That is crazy talk. It’s revenue driven. Art is not revenue driven! WTF do we need a curator for? Wha, wha WHAT are you talking about?” Relax, that windsor knot must be too tight. What I mean by that is this. There absolutely must be a shift in mindset away from program development into one of curation. Those given the power to green light a show need to take great care to see that shows are properly nurtured in order be successful. That is not to say they don’t now…oh wait, actually it is to say that. A show needs time to find its footing AND its audience. The curator must work with the creator in developing the shows to their maximum potential. Whatever that may be. EVERY show will be different in its life cycle and SHOULD be different. Do we need to bleed every show creatively dry over time? No.
Secondly, I propose the creation of a Content Curating Department, formerly known as “program development”, that works with producers and creatives in the similar manner that a curator may work with an artist. They work with the creatives and not the non-creatives. For example, a pitch may be made for a show and it would be up to the curator to determine if that show is worth curating (nothing terribly radical about that, I know). And then, working in tandem with the show creator(s) and producer(s) the curator grows the show as needed to insure the predetermined success benchmarks are met.
Look, end-to-end shows are the future. Shows need to be pitched as complete concepts with a beginning a middle and an end. Once again, I posit, do we really need to bleed every show creatively dry? NO! Curating shows from start to finish will cut your costs overall and increase viewership or, at the very least, increase the incalculable “buzz”. This is not rocket science, this is television. The revolution could actually be televised.
On paper, I would not be your ideal candidate to help any of you create an entire content revolution. I know that. I also know that the likelihood of any of you reading this is as slim as taking the “Law & Order” franchise to Lincoln, Nebraska. But I’m tired of seeing you all completely screw up one of the most powerful and creative tools in media history.
I like to say that balls and brawn made Hollywood what it is. And at the end of the day you can analyze all the data and trends in the world, and I am sure you will. Because most of you are afraid of taking the big step forward you absolutely need to take. As anyone can tell you, the greatest triumphs come from the gut. I can promise you guts are not found in a spreadsheet or in a Power Point presentation. They’re not in a group think over focus groups. Your figurative guts are in your head and in your heart. Your literal guts are made up of you stomach and intestines, and we know what those create. I’ll give you a moment to come up with your own analogy there. You can shape your own future? Sure, it will not be without bumps and bruises and failures, but isn’t the only real failure not trying at all? Now, of course, you can always take the other, as Robert Frost said “more well worn path”. You know, the one paved with mediocrity, banality, production deals and platinum parachutes.
America has long been driven by creativity, determination and rebelliousness. I know I am probably not saying anything you don’t already know. You’re all, by textbook definitions, bright people. You’re bright people making poor programming decisions. As you know, the future is content and the future is now. Help restore the monarchy.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Keith R. Higgons