Thoughts on the modern plight of creatives
As a creative individual, surviving Earth where banality and spectacle reign could drive you mad, finding rebellion might be your only chance
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
― Viktor E. Frankl
In the strange scheme of life, our home of Earth has evolved into a sprawling marketplace, a kind of cosmic mall. Here, survival hinges purely on one's ability to sell something: be it a product, idea, even yourself. You were born into a sales simulation and there is no escape for most to live a genuinely free creative existence of their own design. You must meet what the market wants, which likely isn’t anything a creative person wants to make. This cold, ruthless reality mirrors a Darwinian struggle, where adaptation and cunning determines who thrives and who succumbs. As bleak as it sounds this concept has echoed through the ages, resonating with the philosophies of thinkers who grappled with the complexities of human existence.
From the ancient Stoics to modern existentialists the notion of navigating life as a constant negotiation is not new. Stoic philosopher Epictetus famously remarked, "wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants." In this light, the real trick to survival lies not in accumulating material wealth, but in mastering the art of selling what is essential and of high quality. Few embrace this philosophy in what they produce in modern times. Even fewer live it. This explains much depressing phenomenon: from the banality of today’s Hollywood to planes losing doors in the sky.
Our world has transformed the marketplace into a battleground where all too frequently the vapid and cheap reigns supreme and ‘more profit in the short term is good’ without asking further questions. As the thought suggests, the trend of our time is biased to favoring the superficial over the substantive, because for humans with the mental capacity of bean counters who were trained to meet the quarter in business school, this makes sense. Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre's existential angst resonates here, as individuals are pressured to conform to societal norms and mass commercial interests at the expense of authenticity and doing work that’s interesting and meaningful. The longhouse also provides explanation for modernity’s specific brand of nihilism — however you interpret the root causes the problem is clearly multivariate.
One must work hard to pick up scraps of optimism amidst the pervasive pessimism of being a creative individual forced to walk this place for 70 years or more. Despite the commodification of creativity and the triumph of banality, there is some solace in the fact that humanity has, at least for the most part, and on most days, evolved past more primitive forms of conflict. Many may be selling their soul in pursuit of short term profit, but at least they’re not (all) still fighting with swords and spears. Sadly, we do seem stuck moving past this part of our societal evolution, at least for the moment. Lindyman talks about this notion of “stuck culture” frequently.
Within the confines of our creative dystopia there does still exist opportunity for work that matters (even if no one alive today cares). Friedrich Nietzsche's concept of the "will to power" comes to mind, where adversity serves as a catalyst for growth and self-overcoming. In a world where odds are stacked against those who champion depth over shallowness, we are still free to pursue personal rebellion, for pushing against the currents of mediocrity of pop stars, cheap consumer goods and sequels to nowhere. The internet is trying to empower a resurgence here we have not seen in some time, if we let it (gov regulation and corporately-controlled algos implemented poorly could easily still chill this, these are ongoing fights).
The marketplace rewards conformity over creativity, but also presents a challenge—an invitation even—to defy the status quo and carve out a niche that balks at convention and legitimately cares about the product, the user, the art vs pure spectacle and value extraction. As my man Albert Camus once said, "in the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer." Within the depths of the lowest forms of commercialism, there lies the potential for genuine human connection, for moments of transcendence that defy the cold, uncaring nature of 2020s Earth.
From the electronic music movement’s rejection of ordinary pop lyrics and return to creative instrumentals, to the punk movement's anarchic ethos, history is punctuated with instances of individuals and groups rebelling against the commodification of creativity and destruction of our inner lives. In the face of a culture that prioritizes profit over authenticity, rebellion becomes not just an act of defiance, but a reaffirmation of human agency and the quest for real expression. It is in these acts of defiance that the spirit of resilience and innovation finds its home, reminding us that even within the confines of Earth's selling simulation, there exists the possibility of transcending the mundane and embracing the profound. Even if just for a moment. Even if the market still values this work at zero and there are no financial returns. Perhaps AI will change the calculus here when light is shed on what actually matters and the paint-by-numbers corporate “creative” industry illusions are shattered.
All this may evoke a sense of existential dread, but it also invites contemplation on the nature of human agency. While the pursuit of lowest common denominator attention and cheap grifting by the masses overshadows deeper interests, there is hope in the capacity for individual rebellion and the quest for meaning in a world driven by short-term gratification. You can simply choose not to be a part of that. This might be a calling for you, or you still might not care. I believe anyone who read this far is in the former category.
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