From Celebrity to Creator
We owe our attention to what’s being created, not the producer
“Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury—to me these have always been contemptible. I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, best both for the body and the mind." — Albert Einstein, 1931
Have you noticed how we seem to have turned a corner on influencers?
We used to hear about influencers all the time (don’t get me wrong—we still do), but now there’s a new term in town: creators.
The “creator economy” is at the core of many things: cryptocurrency, NFTs, Substack newsletters, videos, and the like.
Aside from some of the digital executions, there’s nothing new here. The so-called “influencers” (more on that with Jason Falls on Timeless Leadership) have always created things. We can thank them in part for the rise of Instagram and TikTok, among other platforms.
But this focus on creators fascinates me because it places our attention not on the individual as much as on the output. The creator economy seems a byproduct of the creations rather than solely the creators themselves.
And in that regard, we all have a chance to contribute to it. In many ways, it’s a continuation of a theme.
At critical moments in history, the creation and distribution of information were radically altered and the course of humanity took a vastly different path.
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When Gutenberg introduced the printing press to the world, Dr. Conrad Gessner was there, warning of the dangers and evils of books. Up until that time, books were the province of monks, and educating the masses was considered dangerous, as they might get ideas.
During the U.S. Civil War, newspapers carried updates to citizens dispersed across the Union and the Confederacy. While these weren’t in real-time—that’s a privilege that was reserved for Lincoln’s White House—they were far more timely than in previous wars. Of course, newspapers could add their own commentary, which in turn swayed what readers thought.
Television allowed us to see the same images at the same time. And the internet gave everyone a chance to be a publisher, democratizing the media (to a certain extent).
And yet now, in the midst of this “creator economy,” we’re taking two steps backward—not into our own past, but into the past of literature that predicted a dystopian or autocratic future.
Over the past five years, we experienced the popularization of the phrase “fake news,” and have been exposed to such ludicrous concepts as “alternative facts.” It’s straight out of George Orwell’s 1984, where we were told:
“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”
As we saw the footage from January 6, we witnessed history being made. Yet the Big Lie keeps getting propagated rather than addressed, and we see where we might be heading:
“And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’”
Similarly, the outrages at school boards across America are driving us in the same direction: toward knowledge suppression, whether it’s eliminating words teachers are allowed to use,1 banning books,2 or even suggesting that books be burned.3
Academics have become “the elite,” a pejorative term, and like in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (a novel about a dystopian future where books are burned), to be uneducated is to be part of the collective society:
“With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word 'intellectual,' of course, became the swear word it deserved to be.”
A world devoid of education is a world with fewer creators.
Words matter. Read widely. Write indiscriminately. Publish what matters to you.
Your legacy will be your integrity, your character, and your reputation—things that are held in an irrevocable trust, as outlined by what you create.
It is not your fame but rather those creations that will reap dividends for many people in the future.
“Drive from my breast that wretched lust of praise; Unblemished let me live, or die unknown;
Oh! Grant an honest fame, or grant me none!” — Alexander Pope, 1715
Journalist Michael Musto used to cover celebrities and nightlife, and that world gradually crept into his own personal life when he let his boundaries slip. (Longreads)
The Information Age has given rise to creators everywhere, and with so much information out there, what distinguishes us? Italian philosopher Gloria Origgi says our reputation matters most. (Aeon)
The vanity of princes is an old story; so is the wish for kings and the gazing into the pool of Narcissus. If our focus continues to be on celebrity, instant or not, it may be our undoing, writes Lewis Lapham, as he passes a newsstand. “The celebrities pictured on the covers of the magazines line up as if in a row of ceremonial grave goods, exquisitely prepared for burial within the tomb of a democratic republic that died of eating disco balls.” (Lapham’s Quarterly)
“Now there is fame! Of all—hunger, misery, the incomprehension by the public—fame is by far the worst. It is the castigation by God of the artist. It is sad. It is true.” —Pablo Picasso, 1961
With the advent of newsletter publishers and short-form videos, smaller audiences are turning out to be where the money is. (New York Times)
Patreon says it’s building a YouTube competitor and their CEO Jack Conte is launching a podcast called “The Creator Economy.”
Rex Woodbury looks at the rise of celebrity as content empires, from Greta Garbo to Oprah, the Kardashians, and microcelebrities. (Digital Native)
Recommended Listening / Reading
“Glory is like a circle in the water,
Which never ceaseth to enlarge itself,
Till by broad spreading it disperse to nought.” — William Shakespeare, 1592
🎧 The Art of Manliness Podcast looks at The History of Fame, From Alexander the Great to Social Media Influencers in a conversation with Leo Braudy, professor of English literature, film history and criticism, and American culture at USC.
📚 Creation: A Novel is a sweeping story of politics, war, philosophy, and adventure–in a restored edition, featuring never-before-published material from Gore Vidal’s original manuscript–Creation offers a captivating grand tour of the ancient world.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.
“'Equity,' 'Multiculturalism,' and 'Racial Prejudice' Among Concepts That Could Be Banned in Schools by Wisconsin Bill,” Reason, September 30, 2021
“Kansas district orders 29 books removed from circulation,” AP, November 10, 2021
“We have reached the book burning phase of American authoritarianism,” Mehdi Rhasan on Twitter, November 11, 2021