My friend Richard is a film critic and also writes novels and screenplays. He is also the author of a blog featuring film reviews and race car driving, along with a host of other things. He recently blogged about his issues around the idea of “branding” – the fact that these days everything has a logo or a market identity. And people too. Yes we now have copyrighted identity brands.
My thought is that capitalism will always be the culprit in this and it’s a complicated paradigm.
But I believe that we are constantly inundated with a consumer mentality and we’ve become numb to it. Everywhere we look there is an ad, a billboard, trademarked clothing, all items intended to sell us something. And now it’s people.
No longer are we disillusioned when artists or musicians sell out. It’s become expected, even admired. And there are few places in the world without a trademark stamped across them. Persons, places and things have become like their logos themselves, commercialized artifacts of the real thing. We can hardly identify what a real experience is sometimes, at least without some kind of icon or bumper sticker announcing the whole thing.
I remember when I first heard the word brand applied to an actual person – it felt so wrong, so embarrassing. Weren’t we trying to liberate ourselves from that high school mindset and break free from the labels and the cliques?
For a writer it feels especially demeaning. Before we wrote in order to simply get published. Now we have to have a niche market, a website, an Instagram, Twitter, Tumbler, YouTube channel and so on.
And in the blogging world we are encouraged to follow our stats and to ambitiously court thousands of readers. We’re supposed to aspire to a featured spot in an online magazine or host a web chat. As if everyone’s goal is to be famous.
I can’t stand thinking about myself that way. I’ve always said that I write this blog because my journal was so boring and knowing that if even one other person was reading it then it would keep me motivated. And it has.
For me, it’s more about focus. The upside of social media is that I can have an automatic venue for my work, without expensive agents or publishing houses. And it feels sort of democratic or at the least somewhat independent.
But when I look at all the stuff on Facebook and how people are promoting their schtick any way they can, it makes me question my own place in this racket. I feel a little queasy sidling up to these people.
Writers are using their words and ideas as slogans and mantras.They’re copyrighting their own catchy phrases, even offering up coffee mugs and t-shirts to promote their enterprises. Guru writers. They get inspirational/motivational speaking engagements and have groupies.
It isn’t enough to just write. Instead we’re supposed to use a quick, pithy style to attract readers, preferably short articles with a bulleted format. Get a ton of hits on your site, score millions of followers.
Maybe I’m a throwback but it feels like a grabby pitch for fame – when is it ever enough?
This all came up when a friend suggested that I might try to appeal to a wider audience. And I thought what’s wider than this? It’s the internet for crying out loud. And a book deal? Yeah, right.
The reason I love Richard’s blog is because it’s real, it’s pure Rich. When I read his words I remember his dark horned-rim glasses beneath his curly hair (in need of a trim), flopping over his brown eyes. Underneath hid a killer sense of satire. And now his writing offers up that rare thing: his humanity. His own non-commercialized, uncensored, unique Richard-ness.
We writers all have our stories. We worry about who is reading them. If anyone is reading them. We think about being too personal in our writing or overly sensational or exploitative. Are we narcissists, exhibitionists?
But what we should really be worried about is being branded.
And even though I’m on the web, I hope my own writing isn’t explicitly promotional. I hope it reflects me just sharing who I am. Most of the time I imagine you, my friends and your particular faces as you read this.
And I think about my friend Emily who is covered with all of her colorful tattoos. I view her young body not like a tell-all paperback, but just one page in a chapter of a great book. And her body ink is simply a way she shares her art with people around her. She’s like Richard and Liz M. and me and all my artistic friends, we’re all looking to etch our own watermark onto someone else’s imagination.
We simply want to share the process – a tattoo, a personal essay, a script, a sketch or page from a journal. And hopefully what we create won’t be promoting any commercial brand. We’ll actually be doing just the opposite.
We’ll be grabbing onto that fiery iron ourselves, forging our mark on this jaded old world of ours. And we’ll engrave a new world order in the best way we know how: with our poetry and prose and paints and ceramics and all of the messy materials of our creative experience – honestly and with no copyright needed at all.