In the spirit of “let’s have everyone vote on everything such that nothing is ever an individual creation or decision, and then we can feel that we’re secure and right because the GROUP decided this,” a new promotional idea for writers has popped up. A published novelist with a website is holding a “You Tell Me the Story Event.”
What the heck is that, you ask?
The novelist has written the first chapter of her book-to-be, and will post it on her website. At the end of the chapter, she is going to list three possibilities for what should happen next in the story. Visitors to her site will vote. She will then write whatever option gets the most votes and will post that chapter with three potential options for what happens next. And so on.
This book will, presumably, satisfy the most people. The promotional hook is, “You get to tell an author how to write her book!”
Now, as far as promotion, this is genius. I can’t fault the author or her publicity people for thinking it up or for doing it. She’ll have a blast, she won’t have to invent the story entirely by herself, and she’ll have people waiting on the dock to see whether Little Nell survives. I certainly give the author snaps for this. I can see how well this will work as a promotional tool to keep clickers coming back to click and to be exposed to “Buy Me” vibes via the site. Heck, if you do it, let me know how your sales go. It’s pure gold as far as sales technique for bringing ’em back for repeat visits to the site and feeling a sense of ownership of the resulting book (even though they didn’t write a word of it nor even suggest the twists and turns–but it’s like the ownership sports fans feel for their teams, even though they don’t play on the teams themselves.)
However, how well it works as a way to develop a creative work . . . I suppose that’s what I’m wondering about right now. Okay, what I’m REALLY thinking is that if this catches on, every book will become a “Write Your Own Adventure.” No author will be allowed to write his or her own stories. Stories will be reduced to a connect-the-dots game played by the readers who voted on them. Publishers won’t want to print anything but these kinds of books, because they have a “proven audience” who made them what they are. It would mean the end (at least for a time) of writers making up their own stories and owning them.
Paranoid? Thanks, I’ll take two.
But this all dovetails in with what I was musing about earlier. I was thinking about the new vibe of “voting on everything.” For a few years now, all the cable channels have had viewers use their cell phones to call in and vote on this or that poll, and websites have had polls, and all sorts of things are run by focus group. Then we started having the whole reality show thing of voting people off the island or voting people off of the game show panel/stage. It’s as though we’re saying, “The majority is always right and always rules.” Even though this is a self-selected majority–made up of people who have the means to vote, the time to spend watching the show and voting, and enough of a motivation to do it rather than just sit and watch–it’s kind of assumed that the result of the voting represents EVERYONE, and if you don’t fall into line with that, well, there’s something wrong with you because you’re not like us and don’t agree with the group.
Doesn’t this vanilla-ize the results, though? The bell curve comes into play. The artists on the “edges” will fall off as the votes tend toward the middle of the curve, and pretty soon you’ll be rid of anything controversial or way-out or “too different” or whatnot and will have the answer that offended the smallest number of people. Supposedly, this will also please the greatest number.
I have my doubts, though. Has every great artist been recognized during his/her time? Van Gogh’s brother stored his paintings in his attic until the world was ready to recognize their greatness. Bach was almost lost to the world until Mendelssohn rediscovered and republicized the St. Matthew Passion by conducting it. Many films that were considered flops when they first were released have become cult classics or have become just plain classics that are now seen as “the greats.” I mean . . . as the wag (P. T. Barnum, in this case) said, “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the public,” or something like that.
That’s not what bugs me the most.
What bothers me is this “everyone votes, whether they know anything about the subject or not, and the most votes means the best” attitude. The rubric used by each voter can be different from the one used by every other voter, so there’s really no consistency or reason as to why Dinglebug got kicked off “Singing Idol” and Bellytrot was kept. Mind you, maybe Bellytrot IS the best. But if he is, it’s probably even odds that the voters could tell you WHY they recognized this or why they voted as they did.
The next step, I think, will be the “majority rules” attitude that the government and big business (including all the media) would love to adopt . . . in which there’s no need for individual thought, because we will let EVERYONE decide everything together in the hive-mind. Anyone who does not conform must be wrong, and must be “corrected.”
Maybe I’m extra-aware of this because the other evening, during the James Stewart Birthday Celebration on TCM, I watched “The Mortal Storm” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” in succession. In both films, it is demonstrated how easy it is for people to fall in line behind a powerful or charismatic leader who seems to promise them something good, and to completely lose sight of the truth about the mob scene that results. But anyway, this is the way that our society is moving. While I would not be one to step forward and say that we shouldn’t decide some things via voting, I would also warn that sometimes if you don’t have an informed voter, you have a problem voter.
And I’d also say that not everything is best done by committee. Some things are better done by one creative mind that has a vision and shepherds the creation towards fulfillment, or by two/three collaborators who are in tune and are all working towards the same goal with it. I’m thinking of songwriters and songwriting teams . . . of artists . . . of novelists. When *everything* goes before a committee for approval–as novels must now do, I hear, when an acquiring editor wants to buy them–then we get a compromise answer that isn’t always the worst, but isn’t always the best.
After all, a camel is a horse designed by committee.
I’m not thinking here of critique groups/circles or brainstorming sessions. There, the artist has the final word, and gets priceless assistance in seeing her/his work as someone else sees it. I’m thinking of the way that an artist or a collaborative team of artists (Lennon/McCartney, say, or Rogers/Hart, or whoever) might create a work, and how detrimental it might be if the process became one that had to be voted on at every logical branch. You might end up with a hodgepodge mess. “Norwegian Wood” set to a hip-hop beat and played by a brass band, lyrics shouted in Pig Latin. The greatness of the song *for what it is* might be forever missed because of the “votes” to make it this or make it that. It didn’t become what it should’ve become. It missed its greatness, all because people thought they had to go with The Most Votes.
Certainly I believe that we can determine which of three somethings is the most popular by voting. But I am not so sure that we can determine what’s the BEST by voting.
I’ve said in the past that there ARE objective measures–that we can name the 100 Greatest Novels of the 20th Century or the novels that should be in the Western Canon–and that these lists have to be made up by someone, usually someone who has studied this stuff, and therefore I have said (in effect) that we can “vote” on that kind of thing and have it work well.
So what if by now saying THIS, I am contradicting myself? “I am large . . . I contain multitudes.”*
Then again, maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps individualism is overrated and out of date. Maybe we should form a hivemind and eliminate all individuality and nonconformism. It’d certainly be cheaper that way for big business. . . .
* [“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.”–Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”]