Monday, May 16, 2005

All They Want is Everything

I have watched with growing consternation the behavior of my fellow music fans as regards the objects of their obsession, musicians. It seem to me that the complex artist/fan relationship has, paradoxically, become increasingly dysfunctional as the world has become more “connected” through cell phones, the Internet, etc. The easier it is to monitor what an artist is doing, the more control people seem to think they have over that person. The more license they seem to think they have to intrude upon that person‘s life in any way shape or form they see fit. To pass judgment not just on the artist’s creative decisions, but on his/her life decisions.

It has always been difficult to be in the public eye, especially when one is shy and retiring to begin with. Some artists handle it more easily than others. Some attempt to be as “normal” as possible, appearing in public often, letting fans approach. Others lead very private existences, barely emerging from their cocoons except to appear onstage. This was once a part of the pact artists had with their fans, and no one ever questioned it. However, with the increasing dominance of the entertainment industrial complex here in the U.S. (America’s only true export), there is now a correspondingly insatiable, nonstop demand for informational details about musicians and their lives. Encouraged by the ever-intrusive media, fans have grown increasingly demanding of personal details and, paradoxically, less receptive to being challenged by what truly is their business: the creative output of the artist. In 2005, the artist must create exactly what the fans want when they want it and live his or her life in accordance with the fans’ wishes, or there will be hell to pay.

Now I have no problem with fans criticizing a musician’s artistic choices—that is a natural part of the relationship, and every fan is entitled to his/her opinion. Where I really have a problem is with the fan who feels entitled to dictate to the artist how to conduct his/her personal life: how/when/where to create, whether or not to buy that house, get that nose job, whether or not to marry whomever he/she chooses. The right to tell the artist whether or not he or she is entitled to use the stage—the artist’s stage—as a platform with which to communicate his/her personal or political beliefs. It is as though the right to speak out in the very setting in which he or she is most comfortable is somehow denied to the artist precisely because he or she is an artist. It is as though the fan owns the artist, as though the artist ought to function as a person’s own private jukebox or trained monkey, or better yet, a puppet on a string that each fan has the right to manipulate in whatever fashion suits his/her fancy. Film aficionados may recall the Martin Scorsese classic that deals with this complex, fascinating subject, The King of Comedy--an eerily prescient tale about a couple of obsessed fans who stalk and kidnap the object of their mania in a misguided effort to force him to capitulate to their increasingly intrusive and bizarre requests. At the time the film was released, it seemed almost cartoonish. Now it just seems, well, like real life.

And that’s too bad, because this level of fandom, now accepted as “normal,” is a real hindrance to artistic creativity. The artist, who exists only to create, to express the complex feelings that buzz inside the brain because he/she must do so or go mad, must now fend off constant, ever more intrusive barrages from “fans.” Must receive unrelenting criticism, must constantly justify his or her entitlement to the same beliefs, personal opinions, and personal life as anyone else—as though because someone is an artist, he or she is no longer a person deserving of rights as a human being—that he or she belongs to us, the fans wholly and completely. The fact that we, as fans, have been graced with this person’s gifts—art that somehow makes a harsh, sometimes unlivable world seem infinitely less so--seems to mean nothing anymore. The artist must have artistic output only when, where and how the fans dictate. Must not speak his mind onstage or off. Must dress a certain way, think a certain way, be a certain way. And woe betide the poor soul who puts up an argument.

This is, of course, an impossible situation, one that, as the creative sort myself, I find increasingly difficult to stomach. Where will it all end? Will we all have our own personal holograms of the artists we admire, our own Sims characters that we can order around? What’s great about art is that it confronts, forces people to think about and see things in new ways. I do not subscribe to the belief that I ought to be able to dictate what someone else’s art ought to be, what it should say, how, when or where it should exist. Once it is out in the world, it is now mine to interpret for myself, and to incorporate into my life as I see fit. I remember when that used to be enough.

1 comment:

  1. Heya, really interesting post. At shows or just in general I've occasionally thought about "what must it be like to be so-and-so?" and it's a question that can hit hard at certain times. Could Bruce know the joy of going to Ben's Chili Bowl and having a delicious meal?

    This question becomes more complicated by the technology we have available. The first year of the Austin City Limits festival, not a lot of people had cameras. The 2nd year, it seemed like everyone had gotten a digital camera in time for the festival. If you're an artist who doesn't want photo/video/audio taken at your shows, those festivals aren't really going to have the forces to stop everyone with a camera from walking up to the stage. Thus the technology is overriding your wishes. In addition, we all know those sets get out on the 'net as well.

    In my own fanboyism, this has been a difficult question to balance: do you separate the art from the artist? I can, but that doesn't mean everyone does. While it may be interesting to track everyone Mr. Rock Star is sleeping with at a given moment, it's a far more important question as to whether their work is any good. Being a Dylan fan, for example, definitely means separating the music from the maker--lest the music be spoiled for you. I've read entire books on the guy, but do not feel like I know anything more about him as a person. That's probably just the way he likes it, and he's free to live as he chooses. I may read about what he gets up to, but the music output is ultimately where he's best critiqued. This is a major point of critical thinking in general, and one that seems to be lost on a lot of people.

    The net does allow any blowhard with a keyboard to hurl their thoughts into the void... but the artist is free to ignore such nonsense and pursue their vision. Your point about how it impedes the art is a valid one, absolutely - the temptation to read one's press when it's "just a click away" is a lot harder to resist when it is available 24/7/365. And it doesn't involve physically going out & getting the paper.

    Good stuff today.