When you live this close to the Big Apple, you’re bound to have THAT friend. You know the one: they absolutely LOVE New York City and hate anyone who doesn’t. And even that’s an understatement. It becomes clear over the course of your friendship that this person’s affinity for the iconic metropolis may, in fact, border on psychological codependency. According to their smug, elitist ideology, all the best things come from the bowels of the “greatest city in the world”: the best food, the best music, the best fine art, the best drugs—hell even the homeless population is cooler than you.
This was exactly the crap I was listening to from a long-time friend who, on a consistent basis, employs a school of encouragement which requires she degrade me by insisting that I’m wasting my time and talent in New Jersey.
“There are so many amazing people out here for you to meet. Everything is a new experience because in the city you meet so many new people all the time. You need to quit your job and come out here to write and do music full-time.”
This was par for the course. For years she had been my biggest cheerleader and confidant until moving to New York, at which time, by default, she became all-knowing of things “amazing”.
It would later come to my attention that “new experiences” and “meeting new people all the time” were excerpts taken from the pages of after-work drinking binges at dive bars, where horny men higher up in her company were eager to offer cocaine and sexual advances.
“I don’t need to write in New York City. I’ve been writing just fine here in New Jersey.” I said.
Someone who loves New York City cannot stand that you don’t love it as much as they do. This, more than anything, becomes a personal insult to their sense of self, and ultimately, your difference in preference becomes the focus of their efforts rather what you REALLY want.
“You should be here Matt. I’ve always believed in your talent, but you’re just wasting it out there in Jersey. No one ever did anything great in New Jersey. All the best artists and musicians start here. I’ve tried to be supportive, but I don’t know what else to tell you. I’m so glad I left Jersey.” (At this point I wondered if she knew that John Lennon was actually English, even though he was shot in New York)
People who scold you about NOT living in New York always make it a point to highlight how it was the best decision of their lives to move in with four strangers, work 60 hours a week for rent, and remain broke nearly 100% of the time.
For the record, I do enjoy New York City. I was fifteen when I snuck into a concert to watch Weezer play at Roseland Ballroom. Since then, I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the kind of adventures only a big city can offer. There’s a unique high produced by the anonymity of urban life that also feels strangely personal. I suppose the effect is something like going out to a cafe to be alone; you can be alone at home, but home demands too much of your attention because it’s familiar. Somehow, there’s an inexplicable privacy to be found in being publicly ignored by millions of people. I like that. But from a creative standpoint, I just can’t imagine how struggling to pay rent for a room the size of a closet is going to help me write any better.
The financial strain imposed upon middle-class New Yorkers makes money the focus of their world. For me, I can’t create under such circumstances. When money becomes the focus of my daily life—constantly working for “never enough money”—the playfulness and exploratory nature of writing doesn’t flow freely. This is where the relationship between money and creativity gets really interesting.
The Starving Artist.
There was an interesting article I shared on social media last week, donning the title, “Why I Got Out Of New York City”. The author interviewed long-time New Yorkers who described the desperate state of a doomed cityscape whose culture has been flatten by a relentless addiction to money. Over the last 30-years, financialization, the war on wages, and the continued rise of the 1% spawned a high-income housing boom whose epicenter has now spread to the outer boroughs. No longer able to reap the benefits of New York’s once-famous “cheap rent” and low cost of living, today’s writers, musicians, and artists are less diverse and more likely from family money. The result is the funneling of food, music, and art culture through the “money-looking glass”, where only the interests and approval of the elite class are served, and where “creatives” look to master branding first and worry about content later.
Cashing In and Checking Out.
Few outings to the movie theatre have ever really tempted me to end my life. But, if you’re ever looking to waste 95 minutes of your life, watch Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. Despite what respectable attempts the first movie made at paying homage to the game franchise, the sequel was nothing short of a blatant cash-in. This one review pretty much says it all, and nearly had me rushed to the ER for stitches after laughing so hard. The reviewer nails the film’s rage-inducing deficiencies as a problem with creativity and effort related to fast-money, where cashing-in on a fad and checking out on quality produces a film best used as a method of torture.
Where Are The Guitars And Drums?
If you have any serious doubts about the creative health of monetized arts, just turn on the radio. Bass guitars and acoustic drum sets are nearly unheard of these days. Oh sure, you could buy the album online, but you’ll never hear the original on your favorite FM station. That’s because everything your car tuner picks up is either Electronic Dance Music or an EDM remix of a song’s original version. Try to hear the ORIGINAL version of a popular song on the radio—it’s next to impossible if it’s not already some form of HipHop/Electronica/EDM. Any music composed with guitars and drums is instantly remixed with screw-loosening pulsar star kicks and baselines from the Andromeda Galaxy. If you’re skeptical about the quality of art this EDM revolution brings to real musical acts, consider the reverse translation and try sitting through the live performance of Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger”. It’s thin, limp, and lacking, leaving the audience member excruciatingly unsatisfied and slightly embarrassed for the band.
Taylor Swift may sound good as a electronic pop-star, and her shift from country rock to EDM pop may be a signal of a “maturing and evolving” artist, but it’s more likely the result of a desperate music industry looking to adopt a formula that generates safe revenue—not risky innovation. In the end, the death of her original sound (whether you liked it or not) results in far less diversity in the music world.
Much like the music industry, as film studios search for ways to streamline creative formulas that yield steady profits, ultimate diversity suffers. This is easily observed in the amount of “reboots” that have come to the big screen. Each one, not necessarily as successful as the original, aims to peg down guaranteed profits by piggybacking the former high earnings of its predecessor.
While I’m certainly elated to watch vintage comic heroes fight crime in real-time, reboot plot quality, pace, and character development seem to produce a less-than stellar performance and a lot more “What the hell were they thinking?”
Save Harry Potter.
Harry Potter isn’t over yet and I don’t understand why. I stumbled upon the cryptic revival of the series through the reported anagram posted by author, J. K. Rowling, on Twitter. Apparently, the coded message was deciphered as “"Harry returns! Won't say any details now. A week off. No comment." Now, me personally, I don’t much care for young British men in glasses, waving their magic wands about. But as a creative person, you’d be insane to deny the awesome imaginative quality of the Harry Potter world. J. K. Rowling’s vision of a magical realm beyond modern banality ranks up there with Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Respect.
Yet still, an eye-rolling sigh of disgust manages to escape me. The Harry Potter story is one of great integrity, born at hands of an underclass woman whose personal adversity has acquired nearly as much fame as her beloved characters. That’s why I can’t help but groan at the thought of Harry making a “comeback”. What does he need to come back from, exactly? He’s already a winner. This skinny little English twit practically kickstarted a whole new renaissance period for grammar school kids around the world. For years on end Harry was the sole reason kids actually finished their summer reading assignments. Brilliant.
Facts are facts: Harry Potter is a legend. So why is it that his creators feel so compelled to force this young man to shave his face clean, tuck his balls between his legs, and take up that silly wooden stick once more in the presence of millions?
As I sit here typing these words, I relax into the back of my chair and settle into a deep pool of depressive revolt. I can’t help but conduct a quiet mental protest: Another Harry Potter? They can’t just let the story end with dignity. They've just got to bring him back so that an already exclusive group of wealthy people can make an extra $500 million destroying every last bit of credibility the series has left. Bloody Tasteless.
THE BOTTOM LINE
There’s nothing wrong with money. I love capitalism. But the value of capitalism shouldn’t trump other valuable assets of our culture. Fine art, music, film, and literature are among the most important and influential mediums by which our humanity is supported and shared. Yet the increasing monetary incentives now tied to entire creativity industries have produced a bottle-neck of production that releases more content that’s “revenue safe” rather than risky. In effect, the ideas and adopted messages of our culture have become less diverse, more homogenized in order to keep the money machine rolling.
But there are some things most people don’t consider. When revenues are on the line, creative industries adopt models that set profit “targets”, tight deadlines, and consequences for falling “under budget” (this, simply meaning that someone above you isn’t going to get a bonus, so they’ll eliminate your job and give someone else your workload just to get it). The resulting corporate culture becomes an endless campaign of crisis after crisis, where hitting this quarter’s revenue goal doesn’t put an end to the pressure—it perpetuates it. The problem is that, while financial incentives work well for straight-forward physical tasks, they don’t work well for creative tasks.
Money kills creativity because using it as an incentive forces people to focus, and focusing makes people less able to think laterally. Simply put: people think more logically rather than creativity when money becomes the goal. Thinking logically is great for some tasks, but creative thinking requires one to think “outside of the box”. The other component to attaching financial goals to creative works is that it often involves restricting time and resources, which are ultimate creativity killers.
If you’re still skeptical about the role of money in the death of creativity, check out this guy's story and consider the Candle Problem first presented by Karl Duncker in 1945. This isn’t just some crazy anti-corporate rhetoric—there’s real empirical science behind this idea.
So until we can successfully liberate artists from the restrictions imposed by money as a culture and as an “incentive”, we’ll have to get used to watching shitty reboots, listening to mind-numbing dance beats, and the monotony of homogenous expression that exist only to serve our corporate masters.