Rather than admit that IÕm purely envious of the ambitious, I will attempt to suggest that my resentment of those whose beings are but a MEgaphone, is more complicated than envy.
We all know those who are loud and those who more soft spoken. We all put up with friends who are farther back in their consciousness than others, those who assume that whatever they have to say, whatever they may be up to, should dominate the air around our heads. We may complain about them behind their backs, avoid inviting them to quiet get-togethers but somehow we seldom put it to them. And even some with a ŌhealthyÕ dose of ambition themselves may admire the endlessly self-promoting, as driven, durable, evolutionarily solid, successful. And so it takes all kinds is the mantra that shoots down the grumbling humble type who may suggest that the ambitious shouldnÕt represent us in history, though they may be quick to grab the mic.
Peoples the world over use expressions about the virtues of the meek and mothers have been heard throughout the ages suggesting to their brats Is this how you want the world to see you? In other words, it hasnÕt been just a northern-European Puritan notion that one should refrain from babbling on and on about oneself, that one should wait for a prompt like HowÕs life? before charging into a diatribe about oneÕs activities, be sure to finish with a Well, you askedÉ
But then we have the problem of survival of the fittest or at least a position for the squeakiest, or is it just a matter of style? And many have actually said to me: WhatÕs wrong with ambition? In other words, would you prefer if no one ever did much? ThatÕs not the point of course. ItÕs not about loafing as an alternative to MEgaphone, itÕs the difference between contributing to society something of some knowable worth, something of integrity that is noted not by obscure research, but by reputation – and drawing attention to mere content that a population notices only because they are beaten over the head with it. But then the MEgaphones will counter by suggesting that with this meek strategy, I will die in obscurity rather than integrity; Ōno one is searching for you.Õ And theyÕre right. But of course, everyone dies in obscurity; in 500 years Hitler will be as distant as Genghis Khan, and have less descendants.
Perhaps part of the behavior that I despise is born of necessity. Surely throughout the ages the squeaky wheel has been oiled. No doubt there is a physical law governing the inclination to respond to squeaks when they occur (if not belatedly) rather than before the squeak. Preventive maintenance is not only expensive, itÕs a privilege of the affluent, and requires getting out of a chair prior to a fire alarm. There certainly exists no equilibrium of opportunity such that all efforts of all peoples are considered and offered their rightful place in human history just because they have been brought into being. Those who may celebrate something called the marketplace of ideas would claim that the rightful place for efforts not naturally absorbed by the limited interest of humanity at large, is the refuse bin. And this is truly natural. Even evolutionary attributes, arguably much more important than a novel or an ŌappÕ, have succeeded or failed on this type of Ōtest.Õ
Of course I have a problem when I speak of worthy: WhoÕs to decide? I suppose what I might consider just, is a system of initial judgment as to the worthy nature of a product by the powers that be, something near reasonable attention. Those in control of a film festival, for example, apparently consider a pre-screening committee, a volunteer panel built of friends of the festival janitor as such reasonable attention. And one might argue that ambition has led to the growing size of the mountain of mediocrity, and that it is natural for weeding to follow weeds. Inspired or talented ŌstudentsÕ are not so easy to distinguish from ŌprofessionalsÕ, especially in an industry always salivating for Ōnew blood.Õ So one cannot consider limiting offerings to those ŌworksÕ professionally approached. But of course there are many such limits, referred to as production standards or as one gatekeeper told me: ŅWe only show academy-award winning short films,Ó though something demonstrably untrue, and of course, the academy is just another group of subjective gatekeepers. There is no shortage of instances when an artistÕs first efforts are thought to be their most inspired, by the way.
In conversation with some filmmaker types and a programmer the other day, I let slip my opinion that film festivals are merely cocktail parties for the bourgeois, the ŌmakersÕ merely modern jesters invited to provide this yearÕs content. Not surprisingly those who live in this world couldnÕt accept such a critique and were politely silent, though the curator responded by saying this might be true for the large, big-city events, but the smaller festivals provide an important function - bringing material to people who wouldnÕt otherwise see works from outside Hollywood. This may to true to some extent, although IÕve seen a lot of ITVS and HBO logos lately, on the heads and tails of a lot of film festival content - and youÕre telling me American households canÕt find PBS and HBO among the 838 channels of ŌprogramsÕ piped into their homes?
The fact is my interests compete in this marketplace and my reach is shallow, my work utterly ignored, so why would I respect these people and their venues? When my work has been in film festivals, itÕs been largely disappointing. The attention is nominal at best, the events rather uneventful and as one successful filmmaker told me, rather lonely places. There are nice words, smiles and stroking up front, expectations are built (no curator wants to suggest that their festival offers little to filmmakers), but then I run upstairs to focus my own film as the projectionist has gone out to smoke or whatever. In any case, you stand up there in front of the screen to say thank you for coming, and if time allows, make some vague comments about your intentions, receive a question or two about why you chose a shot of so and whatÕs youÕre next project, etc., and then everyone goes home to their real problems. Of course, the old standby that keeps everyone in tow is the mantra about reaching just one audience member, and we all cherish that one person who asked that potent question that tears down the premise of the whole film, forcing some sort of filmmakerÕs maturity.
Of course there are still comments about production values and professionalism. Something called ŅindependentÓ or ŅalternativeÓ have emerged after Roger Corman or others demonstrated that anyone could make a movie with a camera and a subject. As Steve Albini has so eloquently described in the baffler some years ago, alternative as with independent are vacant terms co-opted by the money changers, and anyone can essentially see Terminator8 on the Ņindependent film channel.Ó The term indie is not meaningless I suppose – a movie made without ŌhouseholdÕ names for less than 3 million dollars is independent of 297 million and free from ŌstarsÕ, cultural icons we can all be proud of like Adam Sandler, Nicole Kiddman or Robin Williams. But I wouldnÕt suggest that the industry number crunchers donÕt know their business.
ThereÕs a tragedy in what IÕve called the floodgates open: the relaxing of the parental authority with regard to wasting oneÕs life. My Great-grandfather told my Grandfather you will be a doctor or a lawyer or a minister, my Grandfather told my mother you canÕt go to art school without also studying something marketable, and my mother told me nothing but you can do anything. Armed with this lack of guidance every fuckhead under 60 thinks heÕs an Ōartist.Õ
But IÕm not bitter, I mostly shake my head – until I realize that IÕve paid $50 to have my film rejected in favor of a reel of colored leader. But who am I to say that an audience wouldnÕt prefer blurry splotches to cryptic ranting about injustice. An audience might very well have such a preference. ThereÕs reason why people paid their last nickel to watch Buster Keaton risk his life – they could stay home for free and think about the worldÕs problems, or at least their problems.
So I havenÕt proved that IÕm anything here but envious. If the system in which I have found myself supported me for the innate drivel that drips from my mind, I might have a different perspective. And IÕd spend more time defending myself to those excluded. IÕve already spent a number of words in other forums spouting off about the injustice of modern advertising, so I neednÕt go on about it here, but essentially this is the heart of the matter: We all know one is aware of the existence of a message, because it is fed in the meat grinder of an industryÕs promotional machinery. The nature or type or style of the ŌcontentÕ that is fed to the bell is not really important; it is good or fresh or whathaveyou because the babbling boxes constantly say so. This is essentially the situation when you stand in the laundry soap isle to choose either the green, orange or blue brand. Most consumers of soap or culture or medicine ŌchooseÕ between what is presented and donÕt make a career from researching alternatives, even if their criteria is that the product be obscure.
IÕd rather have an argument besides I hate you, your style and your volume and I think your topics (should you have any) are not worth exploring. The fact is I do like and appreciate certain people and their efforts, and I donÕt have the requirement that they be soft spoken. I kinda like David Yow who is pretty obnoxious, for example. When I met him he was super drunk but not in a frat-boy way that made me want to poison his beer. To a person who isnÕt familiar with Yow and his career activities, not much would differentiate his behavior on the night in question from a homeless man. The key to my continued minor admiration was perhaps that he was to too drunk to talk loudly about his latest great idea of which I thought little. So, do I just accept some and reject others?
And it isnÕt that I havenÕt perceived a resentment of this type in reverse. It may be that I wait for a prompt before launching into an update about my activities, but IÕve still seen adjacent people tire of my descriptions, probably because in the name of being specific and thorough, I go on too long. This is likely why IÕm fond the the phrase ŅYou asked, and I deliver.Ó as Alan Bishop would say.
Well after all that, perhaps my disdain for the MEgaphones does boil down to a matter of style. Merely someoneÕs appearance, the tone of their voice, whether they launch to the MEgaphone without prompt, will condemn them to my distaste. Maybe that just makes me a envious grump. It shouldnÕt bother me that someone in a Q&A at a film screening goes on about themselves or their project when the forum is supposed to be about the work presented. ItÕs only natural to think the whole world must care about you and your projects, they just need to be aware of you and them, and a notion of the appropriate forum is just puritan and passˇ. Screaming into the vacuum means screaming at every moment.
I may be talking about the attributes of those I respect and of those that I despise, and this is hardly a legitimate topic for discussion. If I say I admire someone who doesnÕt say much but tends towards getting down to work but also say of someone else, she is very prolific, seems to make a lot of things that appear to be rather easy and superficial, yet popular due to her ability to hob-knob - why is this anything but a style preference? I am not empowered to decide what is a proper use of time, to make pronouncements about what human effort is worthy or not. Nor shall I be warranted in suggesting to gatekeepers what is appropriate content for their machines. One is slow to admit one might prefer a world populated by like minded people yet we admire the idea of celebrating diversity. I suppose IÕd like to extract the sopping ambitious, narcissists from that pool of diverse agents that we might celebrate. But itÕs not that simple. I donÕt really want to resent the ambitious, but I do. Oh well.