The other day I heard an interview with Edan Lepuck on NPR. She was talking about her new novel California. I haven't read it. But it's about a world with dwindling resources and I've been working on some clients involved in those issues so I thought it would be interesting to listen to.
It's a good interview but one answer in particular made me really happy. The host asked a question about her book fit into the Cli-fi genre. (That's the one that all this apocalyptic weather fiction has come out of with the express purpose of making people wake up to the terrors of climate change.) Here's Edan's response:
"I didn't set out to make any kind of message when I was writing it. That seems to didactic. I really was thinking on the pure, emotional, thematic story level."
She went on to explain that while the book might make people think about scarcity or the potential for scarcity of resources that wasn't some pointed argument she was trying to make.
I found this really refreshing. Not because I think art with a point is a bad thing (pointless art is sometimes nothing more than a bird's nest full of shiny objects) but because I think that art doesn't have to be this grand things that's trying to change the world. It might be but it doesn't have to be.
So many people seem caught up on doing something with a secondary purpose. Having some grand mission that everything flows into a changes the world in some way some person deemed necessary. And with this extreme rise in cause-based stuff we just get a pile of garbage that we're supposed to support and love because it's for a cause.
And that's fine for some people. Some of that stuff is rather good. But I don't think there's enough people willing to admit the bullshit people assign to their work is bullshit.
Or at least that things do not have to do anything beyond be an affecting piece of fiction that entertains the viewer (viewer being a very loose term for whoever is interacting with whatever was made).
I understand the impulse to big yourself up. To latch onto a cause because you worry that you're not interesting enough, or likable enough, or palatable enough on your own. I've fallen into that trap myself. But all that leads to is being a person who co-opted a cause because you really haven't looked hard enough into your soul to express what's important to you.
These are broad generalizations but it's what I've seen in my own life and in the mountains of drivel that show up on the internet every day.
This problem has also infected marketing to a point where companies feel the need to hide their company-ness behind a cause.
I don't believe for a second that a corporation really cares about any of the causes they're co-opting. They wouldn't co-opt those causes unless they were really, really good for business.
Capitalism is a flawed system and if there's not anything in it for the company then they're not going to invest in it. These cause efforts are often done to un-do some of the bad or make companies look better.
It all go back to companies being ashamed that they are companies and the people in marketing departments and agencies fostering their own shame about shilling product. There may be a way to marry these two outlooks (like the way Toms and Patagonia have put them firmly at the center of their business). But it seems for most companies there's still an inauthenticity to anyone trying to co-opt a cause.
If it develops organically or really changes things systemically within a company that is a very great thing. But if it's sending clean water to a village in Africa already flush with clean water because that's what media and the account people told you you could do then what a fucking waste.
You might as well done something that isn't detrimental and does entertain people. Like Edan did. But what do I know?