Wednesday, September 20, 2006


A guy who's far too well-dressed to work in information technology but nevertheless does, told me blogging was like filling a cup full of urine. Easy to do, hard to get anyone interested. He's also too witty to work in IT. And he's right I've been doing this over a week now and I'm not rich and famous yet. So what's the point?

Well set aside twentieth century notions about status, wealth etc. Because the twenty-first century will be a different place. I'm not saying there won't be any rich people or any famous people. There will. That won't stop. But fame and wealth are not intrinsically connected to cultural activity. It's a feature of contemporary customs which may become a thing of the past.

Shakespeare was never famous the way Dan Brown or Stephen King are today. Fame as we know it didn't exist then. And the closest thing to it was reserved for political, military and religous figures. Elizabeth Tudor, Charles de Lorraine or Clement VIII may have been "famous" but Shakespeare?

Charlie Chaplin's tramp, probably the first global human icon was a product of a complex intersection of stuff. Chaplin's impoverished upbringing imparting a certain social perspective and sense of humour. Years in tough English music halls leading to "overnight success" as one of Mack Sennett's players. The rushed grabbing of a few wardrobe items that became the Tramp look. And there was the early twentieth century with it's economic upheavals, it's terrible wars and nightmarish political landscape. It's difficult for us to imagine how bad things looked to people who made their way through the world between 1914 and 1950. But they were universally attracted to Chaplin's Tramp who was a new thing. A movie icon. The key to understanding the power of icons like the tramp is to understand how unprecedented they were.

Consider the Rolling Stones who emerged after the second world war. There was no such thing as a rock star before the Beatles and the Stones came along. Even previously massively successful recording stars like Crosby and Sinatra didn't have the god-like aura of these English guys who just wanted to play American music. I'm certain if you could go back in time and tell a fifteen year old Keith Richards that he'd become rich beyond imagining for playing this back door music he'd think you were crackers.

But again there's time and place. Sure Richards plays wicked guitar and the Stones are one of the best bands in the world. They click and it's a pleasure to hear them play even when they're awful. But time and place. The world had gone through decades of deprivation and grey-faced discipline, bad food, shabby clothes and marching up and down the square. This was a new generation and it wanted to shake it's arse. Such Dionysian gaisers after decades of repression make big waves in the cultural waterways. A whole pantheon of legendary figures appeared between 1950 and 1975. Often not doing all that much. James Dean's immortallity rests on three pictures, a catalogue of foxy photos and one spectacular death.

Now we've had sixty years of people wanting to be guitar gods and screen idols. And for exactly the same reason they used to work for Wall Street. Money and power. People are crawling over each other to be famous. And less and less do they have to do anything worthwhile to get there. A pimple treatment infomerical featuring a swag of the famously mediocre wearing extremely serious expressions as they discuss blemishes as if they were the Third World Debt. My favourite is Jessica Simpson the icon for what one can achieve if you swap dignity for fame. With that zap-eyed look of the media crazy she announces that she has cameras on her face twenty-four hours a day as if it's a massive accomplishment.

And it is! She has been working at it her whole life. Her schtick is to do whatever various armies of publicists, journalists, choreographers, directors, photographers, producers, executives and stylists want her to. It is hard work I'm not being sarcastic. But there is absolutely nothing memorable about anything she does. It's all fast food wrapping to be dispensed with likewise. The originality of Chaplin and Richards are gone. People are following a template that is less exciting then the career path of a chartered accountant.

Which brings me back to blogging and other related internet activity. Blogging is underground. People have to seek you out. There's no money in it; no recognition much. People do it for a variety of reasons. But they don't do it for the same reasons that people go to Wall Street. Is it a waste of time? Depends on your terms, but the phenomena at least is interesting. Even if the results are frequently not.


Anonymous said...

Blogging's a waste of time when you do it. You might not think Jessica is doing anything worthwhile but she is buddy. A lot more than you. Who gives a fuck about Charlie fuckng Chaplin and the Rolling Stones they old man, why don't doncha go buy yoself a tea cosy and a lawn bowls club membership.

cristy said...

Well that was a productive and insightful comment wasn't it anonymous.

Adrien - I like the fact that it is the low-key nature of blogging that you are attracted to. That makes sense to me.