Sunday, November 18, 2007

Dave Eggers' response to "keeping it real" - not his phrase

I was taken by Dave Eggers' long and impassioned response to a Harvard student's interview question on "how do you keep it real?"

And here's my response to his response.

Dave Eggers' piece resonated with me. Yes to saying yes. But if this were a live conversation, I'd want to put the following to him: what about the implicit contract an artist or entrepreneur (while still early and small) makes with his or her viewer, reader, listener, user? I think Dave doesn't acknowledge that there is an intimacy to the relationship between an emerging artist and audience member/fan, a bond more imagined than real, full of unrequited passion and adolescent fantasy perhaps, but no less visceral to the early fan or the early adopter of a new technology for that matter.

When the artist or entrepreneur gets big, this notion of monogamy or mutual loyalty, albeit illusory, is shattered. So the young person, explorer/discoverer, president of a fan club of 3 feels an inexplicable sense of betrayal and moves on to support the next underdog. Remember "you were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar, when I met you. Now 5 years later, you've got the world at your feet. Success has been so easy for you. But don't forget it's me who put you where you are now and I can put you back down too. Don't you want me baby?" Creepy, yes, but kind of a hard-to-ignore part of the psyche of fan-hood.

And this goes beyond the arts. Mike Arrington, tech guru, writer, investor wrote a sad post about the state of silicon valley now vs. a number of years ago, Silicon Valley could use a downturn right now.

Small is beautiful, big can be devastatingly gorgeous and infinitely renewing, but the journey between the two is by definition a relationship between creator and experiencer and therefore inherently fraught with negotiation.

3 comments:

Baron Von Luxxury said...

The intimacy point is valid, but I don't think that the was the idea Dave was trying to convey. I think he was responding to the knee-jerk "authenticity" card that is so often played, generally by younger/less accomplished people. As we both know, once you leave the comfortable realm of critic and start making things, both creatively and business-ly (and the natural intersection thereof), one's "hata"-ness tends to diminish. Because saying yes is much harder than saying no, and finishing is much harder than starting. But you only learn this once you try; and upon trying, you see your fellow entrepreneurs and creators with a higher level of respect. Because caring, trying and saying yes require effort.

I think you are right to point out (or maybe this is my interpretation) that when intimacy with your hero is lost we feel betrayed. But thats not a reason to obsess over an overly idealized (and very American) notion of rootsy, independent, commerce free artistic idealism.

Taken to the extreme, the cred obsession ends badly. Cobain articulated the problem well, at first ("He's the one who likes all the pretty songs/but he knows not what it means") but in the end was haunted by the Punk Rock Ethics committee in his head. So, sadly, were our two dear friends who gave up the struggle this summer.

So I applaud Eggers' ability to try and articulate the shape-shifting chimera of what it means to "keep it real." Because its a phrase that, similar to the word "cool", has no meaning when you try to dig deeper to find a universal definition. It is personal, it changes, it evolves, and no one should be held to someone else's standards of it (including the lingering ideals of our 18-years old selves).

Ryan said...

I didn't see an immediate way to contact you via e-mail or otherwise. I'd just like to say your point made on stereogum about kevin barnes and selling out was beautifully and eloquently worded, and completely captured what I was trying to say. Thank you. if you'd like to stay in contact tvontheryan@gmail.com

I'd love to prode your ideas about life, love, happiness, death, reality, etc. Thanks :]

Hobart said...

First of all, I love your reference to The Waitresses (Don't you want me baby?). Great song. Great band.

I didn't hear the Eggers speech. But I do think that this is a regrettable part of getting big. There comes a moment when a company that started small (and lest we forget, they don't all begin this way) has to decide whether it's reason for being is to make as much money as possible, or to (continue to) cultivate a market comprised of people who believe in the product/service. If that leads to fabulous rewards, that's great too. In my experience, you can't have it both ways.