Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Small-Time Fame, Fragmentation of Community, and the American Dream

In the 1950s, America went through an economic boom. That show Happy Days got it pretty close to right--ironically Happy Days was made twenty years after the Baby Boomer generation, in the seventies when everything about it was sarcastic and meant to justify discomania and to make America feel guilty about the Rolling Stones and doing drugs. In the fifties, a module of the ideal American family became created: two parents and one and a half kids. A stupid average, but that was the average. Suburbs started being built to support the average, McDonalds and the rest of the fast food industry went on a skyrocket trip, and America started to generate a particular image of "normal." You lived in a suburb with your mom and dad and your half a sibling, your dad went to work, your mom kept house, your half a sibling made do with one shoe, half a pair of pants, and a weird set of nicknames. You got a job by the time your were in high school and you started buying yourself cars and radios and records and clothes, and everything was happy days.

This model of "normal" endures in the American imagination, for some reason. A lot of people still live in suburbs, they go to Starbucks and shop at J.C. Penny's. They have a job when they're in high school and they start buying things for themselves as soon as they can. America is trying to be homogenized across the board. Whether you're in Chicago, Florida, freaking Denver, or Houston, you can still find those suburbs designed for one set of parents and their one and a half kids. These people expect that America is all suburbs. Suburbs hold a lot of America's population. One hot and steamy pile of happy to be normal.

All of this is made possible because of pop icons. Pop icons are only possible through mass media: TV and radio and internet make it so Californians and Dakotans and fucking Brits can have the same damn ideas about that Bieber kid and his ilk without ever trying very hard to discover what they actually like. Multi-national pop icons are not so because of talent but only because everyone knows them as such. They caught a marketing break. Good on to them.

Meanwhile there is a layer of fame below the international pop icon, probably six or seven steps down. This layer includes authors like Tim Powers and Diane Duane and David Brin and musicians like Coheed and Cambria and Cage the Elephant. At this level, the kids might have a fan base of several hundred thousand. These several hundred thousand are loyal as all hell, but scattered across the globe. So if you find that you're a huge fan of Coheed and Cambria, you might have a couple hundred Coheed and Cambria fans living within fifty miles of you but not many more. And you might not ever find many of them if you live in a reasonably large city. Additionally, this presents a marketing problem for Coheed and Cambria. Coheed and Cambria need to first market themselves to the masses in order to attract the few that really like them. That takes a lot of time, money, and energy. Hopefully the return on investment is worth it. In their case it seems to be.

This all makes me wonder about bipassing the attempt to draw a massive, multi-state/multi-national audience. I wonder why at least at first one might condense one's efforts. If, say, you live in Denver, as I do. The population of Denver is over six hundred thousand. That's just a bit less than the fan base of Coheed and Cambria--according to the facespace. I wonder how it would be if, rather than beginning by trying to appeal to the massive market of everyone, you tried appealing to the immediate market of your town and nearby towns. One of the things about marketing is that customers buy products from people they like. In my case, my product is my stories. If I'm going to sell my stories then they'll have to like me. I can't very easily nor quickly market myself to a massive audience. But I can more easily market myself to a local audience, an audience of six hundred thousand in Denver and more if I include the satellite states--which I will. Many of my favorite authors have quite small fan bases on the interwebs--less than ten thousand, by the study of a few moments. If I can get one in fifty people in Denver and the outlying areas to think I'm cool then I could be reckoned as successful as many of my role models.

I suppose that's a bit optimistic. Still, it makes me wonder. Conquering my hometown sounds much easier than attempting to conquer the world.

Which brings me back to my original thought: Homogenized America. See, the thing is about homogenizing anything is it makes everything the same. If everything is the same then how do you know what you like? It's all the same. So you don't know your neighbors because they're like you. Everyone wants to find what they like, but nobody can because there's just too damn much to sort through. So the pop icons become more famous because they've floated to the top so they can be found easily. Everyone knows of them, everyone likes them, so everyone feels as if they have this community because they can see that everyone likes what they like. The cycle continues as American homogenization continues.

The whole cycle makes originality very difficult. There may be a lot of people in the world who think that what you're creating is the cat's meow. Good luck finding them in the mass market. Unless--here's the clincher--you think about how big certain areas are, and, conversely, how they could still be manageable. If just the Denver and surrounding areas chunk is considered I could very possibly find a sizable amount of people interested in exactly the product I'm pushing, enough to make a scene.

This is exactly what the American Homogenization Comity--also known as the government--does not want you to figure out. What I could possibly be doing is setting out on the first steps of promoting local community. Le gasp!

'Tis a thought.

I'm not over!

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