Over the past couple of years, courtesy of my wife and a couple of other people, I've learned more than I ever expected about certain circles of YouTube-dom and influencer culture. Some of the folks who blow up bigtime on YT seem likeable and provide some enjoyable content (e.g., Anthony Fantano / Needledrop); but a lot of this material seems best sums up by the way one person recently put it: it's a reality show, with all the concomitant detachment from actual reality, all the drama, and all the wretchedness and self-indulgence of privilege and celebrity from old-school media.
People have told me, if I wanted to, I could start something like this and might even do well with it. I can be funny and spontaneous on camera (or so I've been told), and based on the contents of this blog, I might even have something to talk about. What I don't have are two things: a) subjects that have anything like buzzy mainstream draw, and b) the desire to spend oodles of time hamming it up in front of a camera for the sake of attention, instead of actually working on the things that matter.
I won't lie. It's frustrating to see trashy attention-getting slurping up all the gravy, while people with trailerfuls more talent have to dance for dimes. But it's not new as such, though. Just newly incarnate, delivered to people in a way that feels new. Good things have always been rare, and have rarely found the audience they deserve. I knew all this walking in.
That doesn't stop me from grinding my teeth in disgust, though. There are people who make more money in a month than I do in a year, and many of them do it by providing something lots of people are willing to pay for: a distraction, a cheap laugh or three. But doesn't that put the responsibility for such a wretched state of affairs right back on us? Who would celebrities be without us to make them famous, reward them for their excesses, keep their stars shining long after all reason to do so dwindled and died?
There are far more of us who don't care about that situation than those of us who do -- far more of us who will keep on giving those people a pedestal long after they stopped deserving it, than those of us who don't or never wanted to. Fame, like capital, is self-perpetuating. Hoard enough money and you can live off the gains in perpetuity. Likewise, people are famous for being well-known, and well-known for being famous; after a while, it's less about what you've done and more about the mere fact that you are remembered for having done anything at all.
Back to my own ambitions, though. The main reason I never tried to get on that gravy train in the first place was because I knew it would derail, and take me with it. It wouldn't be about the work I was doing anymore, but instead about my cute little self -- about promoting myself, about "making a name" for myself, about all the other horse puckey that is the sine qua non of being anything like a remotely public figure in modern life. And I was never clever enough to come up with some brilliant intersection between the work I actually wanted to do and the promotion of it (see: Chuck Tingle, god love him). It always seemed to mean making a choice I would always regret.
I never wanted Fame with a cap F, or Money with a cap M. Enough attention for my work to enjoy it in the company of some beloved peers, and enough money to live comfortably and savor a minor vice or two. But we're being bulldozed off a cliff into a world where you either get rich or die trying, where you go big or go home, where there is no middle class, no middle-range productions, no middle anything. Just a top that recedes further from sight with each passing year, and a bottom that grows all the more bottomless along with it. It's hard not to feel like I'm in the wrong line of work.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind