Friday, August 10, 2007

A Different Idea of Creativity

I saw a Slashdot comment a few weeks ago that impressed me with its passion, its simplicity and its point of view.

It was in response to a story about the RIAA forcing YouTube to remove free guitar lessons that used copyrighted songs. Much of the ensuing discussion focused on the general merits and specific abuses of copyright.

In one thread, "This is Madness - eradicate all copyright!" someone makes this defense of copyright:
what bullshit. And how exactly are you going to encourage people to create new works? J K Rowling (Harry Potter) was an unemployed single mother when she wrote her first novel. In your world, she would have gone to work stacking food in a supermarket instead of wasting her time thinking she might make money as a writer.
But the beauty is in the rebuttal:
Thousands if not millions of people have to work stocking supermarkets. What makes her any better than anyone else? What would be truly fair is if supermarket-stockers made a fair living wage. Hey, if people could work freely and not have to stress over feeding their kids, we might see a lot more artwork come from people that would otherwise be too downtrodden to be creative.
Do we prepare the fertile ground of Memphis for everyone to be creative? Or do we set aside special plots for special people and leave the the rest fallow?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can't prepare the fertile ground here because everyone for whom you would do this is so wrapped up in themselves and takes so much pride in their own self-involvement that you can't prepare anything for them. They want you to believe they can prepare it for themselves; however, in reality, they are stacking cans in the supermarkets inside their own heads when they go to sleep at night.

I love Memphis and I know that there are people here who are satisfied with promoting their own mediocrity as if it were gold. Maybe I'm just jealous that people can survive in the vacuum of their own mediocrity while I personally want the gold ring or nothing. I want reasons to stay here, and every day all I find are more reasons to leave.

8:15 AM  
Blogger fearlessvk said...

that was indeed a beautiful rebuttal. truly a great example of the distinction between those who can only imagine tinkering within the currently existing system and those who can dream of a completely different system. thanks for posting.

9:07 AM  
Blogger Will Barrett said...

Maybe all the supermarket stacking dreams are what lead to Memphis becoming America's Distribution Center?

11:39 AM  
Blogger Will Barrett said...

"wrapped up in themselves"
"vacuum of mediocrity"
"stacking cans in supermarket"

There's a million dollar idea in there somewhere.

11:41 AM  
Blogger Justin W. McGregor said...

I think the J.K. Rowling comment is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of creativity. I don't think for one bloody second that a ex-school teacher on a train in Edinburgh started scratching out the most popular children's book in recent history because she new it was going to make her a zillion dollars. I think Harry made it to the page because he had to get out.

Of course she had the time to start daydreaming about stories about boy's who lived because she didn't particularly have to worry about subsistence (something Maslow teaches us). I'm not saying that living on the dole in England is great fun, but it provides the kind of social safety net that the post "Contract with (rich white) America" doesn't really give us here in the states. Imagine how many more Harry Potters there could be if working folks knew they could take a chance on their creative urges without threat to their homes or health. Imagine what YOU'D do...

I think that the misunderstanding speaks also to the myth of the Genius Working In Isolation. It's an idea that some how the "creatives" (or the "creative class" if you like) are this separate thing from the rest of society and all we the lowly worker have to do is sit around waiting for the arrival of the Kwisatz Haderach to deliver us all from the cultural desert in which we find ourselves.

The creative class is already here... it's us.

Assuming that only one in ten (or hell, one in a hundred) of the benighted shelf stockers our earlier anonymous commenter decries has in them some great idea/insight waiting to get out but they can't afford to take the risk involved in making it happen, then isn't it worth it to us as a society to make sure they have that chance? Or are we as a society willing to stand by our de facto position that creativity is meant as the purview of the idle rich?

12:04 PM  
Blogger EJ said...

I think the anonymous commenter has a solid point. People with ideas are always slaving away in anonymity while the faux-insiders are littering social functions. Cities with a creative class represent an inter-generational outpost for resume builders and snake oil peddlers.

You've gotta toot your own horn because nobody's gonna do it for you. But it's always the same dilemma -- if you've got enough money, you can probably steal an idea from a horn tooter, bring it to your resume-building social function and look brilliant as you pass their idea off as your own.

If nothing else, it makes you wonder what's waiting just around the corner.

11:51 PM  
Blogger gatesofmemphis said...

anon-6:15, is it lack of creativity or imagination that you're talking about ("stacking cans in the supermarkets ... when they go to sleep") ? Or is it a stunted creativity, or faux creativity, the social affect of creativity?

One more question -- why the mediocrity? It sounds like you think it's a mediocrity not merely reducible to statistics, that it's unnecessary. Or is it something else? thanks for the comment.

fearlessvk, I'm glad you also liked it.

Justin, I don't think we've seen the last of Kwisatz Haderach in these parts. He's welcome to join us, everybody, the creative class, but while we're waiting for him to show up, we won't be waiting for him to show up.

ej, I think it's going to be harder and harder for someone to steal horn-tooters' ideas. Or they can "steal" the idea, but only someone recently freed from a long-term cave experience will believe the idea a clean-room original. Hyperlinks will out them.

thanks a bunch for the comment!

12:44 AM  

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