Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This is true in both the physical sciences and the interpersonal realm. However, when it comes to your emotions, how you react and what you do with that energy speaks volumes.
There is a lucrative bitch-and-moan economic ecosystem in the Internet among types involved in the arts and culture. I suppose “entertainment” is the better word, but my increasing level of snobbishness keeps me from employing that rather gauche term. I say this because even “mere escapism” still carries lessons. All fiction is message fiction.
Interestingly, this bitch-and-moan economy is not very effective in making any sort of change on the actual culture it decries. I have mentioned before that the best thing to do is to starve the beast, as even hate-watchers and critics give oxygen to the all-consuming fire of corporate entertainment. I understand that it gets clicks and attention but it changes nothing.
“Go woke, get broke” sounds nice and it rhymes, but it’s simply not true. Some television show gets canceled after one season because not enough viewers were tuning in or subscribing to its joyless and poorly-written socio-political screeds? That’s not a failure to the people behind it, because the ideas contained in said show still permeated the zeitgeist. The message got out there. People are talking about it, whether in praise or in condemnation. That YouTube video some hardcore anti-SJW truthteller made about how horribly propagandistic Brand X’s new series is? That’s success to these people.
The deep pockets bankrolling all of this don’t stress out over lost profits. They probably have some sort of tax structure set up to turn that “loss” into a financial victory in the form of paying less to Uncle Sam while you must still pay your “fair share,” and in any event, there are other streams of revenue to more than offset any hit to their bottom line. And they’ll bankroll the next show destined to fail after half a season and the next franchise destined to fizzle out partway through.
It’s not about money. It’s not about the economy. It’s about the morality, stupid. This is a religion.
You cannot counter a religion with discussions about dollars and cents and the tax code. Voting with your wallet only economically harms small businesses. The big ones can deal with you taking your money elsewhere. Boycotts are about stopping them from hurting you.
But your attention . . . now that’s a more powerful thing.
A reactor is a controlled environment where fissionable material can be made to undergo a self-sustaining release of energy. You are also a reactor: you take in material into your heart and mind, that material undergoes a process which then releases energy in the form of your subsequent actions.
It feels good to pop off about the latest cultural and artistic desecration, to vent your outrage. That is certainly a form of energy. But what does this energy do? Is it self-sustaining? What is the source of this reaction?
The source of this reaction is often that which the reactor claims to hate. Let’s use slightly more primitive technology in our example: the reactor (consumer) is like a coal-fired furnace. Brand X is the stevedore shoveling fuel into its gaping maw—let’s say the coal equals product. The reactor consumes this product and lets out a bunch of steam (energy) which provides the motive energy to the train that—hey!—is also owned by Brand X!
Let’s say, instead, that the coal-fired furnace does not produce steam but, through some miraculous process, produces something else entirely. Using our imaginations, since such a thing doesn’t exist, pretend that when Brand X shovels coal into the reactor, the coal is burned and the resulting reaction creates an energy that builds a different and better train.
Thankfully, the creative products of our minds are not bound by the laws of physical reality. A productive reactor would take in all of these inputs and, instead of merely complaining about them (I like to imagine such an end-product looking like a rather brown and smelly puff of smoke), create something better.
I take no issue with people consuming or even enjoying Brand X. Some stuff might actually be pretty good. What I do take issue is people who make their living complaining and just perpetuate the problem they pretend to hate. It’s quite disingenuous to say you dislike Brand X when they’re the ones providing you with the constant stream of fuel you use to make your living.
My challenge to dissident creatives and dissident fans is to take these inputs and be deliberate about your reaction. A well-reasoned critique to help other storytellers and creators learn what went wrong with Brand X’s new thing and how to avoid those pitfalls is an example of bringing a positive from a negative. Maybe so-and-so’s new album inspires you to make a better one. Maybe this person’s latest book really fell flat, but you can point fans to similar works that do it better. The possibilities are endless.
It’s a very tall order to cut yourself off from every single thing that’s out there. It’s not a very tall order to avoid mindless reactions that feed the system you complain about. Brand X can provide useful material for creating something better.