Friday, October 10, 2014

Where are the Ugly Novelists?

(ripped from my Facebook wall)

The shyest people were forced to read their work aloud. The shyest group was entirely composed women, music students, and most ppl of color. The professor told them that as artist these days have to be able to speak in public. Simply being a 'genius' won't suffice in the age of Twitter, Facebook, and cult of personality. You have to sell yourself. Some students got kind of sad but acquiesced because they knew that -in some ways- their fate was not in the art but also in having to be presentable.

Later that day, I'm in the Juilliard Business Entrepreneurship Meeting. This is a program for artist whose proposals won a prize for development at school. The group was ethnically diverse (Asians, Latino, Blacks, Whites) and diverse in field of study. But it was only composed of men. I found everyone to be ‘great guys: no hesitation in artists speaking about themselves, their accomplishments, goals, social media followers, their following. These were well-adjusted alpha male hybrids: well-adjusted enough to measure the amount of time we were speaking, but also perfectly willing to take up the entire time talking about ourselves. I include myself in this category.

It made me wonder a few things: maybe all this social media/cult of personality is killing it for introverts; are we missing out on all sorts of brilliant minds who don't promote themselves; and also are we handicapping things to favor male artists? I also questioned whether American patriarchy privileges boys with the expectation of battle/fighting/winning, but for girls emphasizes community wellness/agreement, compromise. As far as the latter is concerned these are great characteristics to have, but not the most flashy traits for selling oneself as the leader/entrepreneur in the American leadership molds of 'lone cowboy maverick' and 'organizing/building mogul.’ That’s not to say that there aren’t many male introverts and countless female extroverts, but does society expect it more from one gender, and thus train one to be more likely to be centerstage while the opposite sex is expected to stand in the background, concur, and defer?

In some ways social media helps introverts 'cope' with presentation, but the ppl who really excel (not just get by) at it seem to be natural extroverts. And also social media is still an outlier of a societal trend of explaining oneself constantly. For instance Juilliard musicians are some of the best in the world but they're not expected to do recitals any more. They're expected to 'present' 'explain' and then play a little, be interviewed, have jokes, etc. So it becomes like a cabaret performance.

Social media can get you in the door but our entire culture (on and offline) seems to be more like "Inside the Actors Studio" where you have to sit and talk about your craft, in order to be properly rewarded so that you can just continue to do the thing you really want to do: your art. A novelist these days should be loquacious. But even better if they're loquacious AND photogenic. Have you noticed how gorgeous novelists are these days? The same trend holds with tv writers and producers who are now getting magazine glamour spreads as a ‘reward’ for a hit show, while Oscar nominated directors pose for Vogue. When I was growing up in the 1980s, this wouldn’t be considered a reward for a writer, but the most cruel form of punishment. Unlike actors and dancers, these tradesmen are not public performers.

We are in the midst of the extrovert revolution is happening. All of sudden everyone is gorgeous. Either 99% of talented novelist and directors have become incredibly good looking, well-adjusted, talkative or the last 20 years...or something has gone askew. If novelist and poets have to be attractive and socially-balanced to be worthy...well goodbye to a craft which typically has some really gremlin-looking crazies who write great work. Goodbye to countless masterpieces we will never be able to see. Goodbye to the craftsman so focused on their art that they have no time to shave, comb their hair, find the right anecdotes for cocktail parties. Hello to the commerce of beautiful people. Hello, to beautiful one-hit wonders who quickly exhaust their repertoire of topics because they only look to themselves and their immediate circle. Hello to endless waves of meta-art, of self-reflective, psychotherapy of artist analyzing their art  because that's what they've been forced to do: constantly look into the mirror to validate themselves as people rather than look out into the world to enlighten humanity about our condition. Hello to the age of loquacious mediocrity.

Both facets of extrovert/introverts are needed for balance and wellness in a culture. But what happens when one is dominating the other? Anyway, I’m off to go figure out a way to use Instagram and become more of an social media extrovert.

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