Tag Archives: the great American novel

Head Starts: creative platforms for culture makers

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I was reading a great post on fan fic and was struck by this phrase.

“When the stress of world-building goes away, it’s easier to let words flow.” http://bit.ly/1gq0nyl

And the obvious struck me.  (I’m one of its favorite targets.)  The cunning of fan fic is that it passes off the hard work of origination to someone else and allows the writer to take up residency in a ready made world.  The stress of world building does go away.

One of the things that impresses me about the 1950s is that an awful lot of people on Madison Avenue had a novel in the drawer.  And not just any novel.  Everyone was hoping to pen the great American novel.

This novel was many things, a ticket out of your career as a copywriter, an apology for working for “the man,” and, not least, an opportunity for immortality.

But it was a fantastically tough assignment.  You had to start from zero.  Before you could write a word, you had furnish your novel with assumptions, architectures, infrastructures, presuppositions, characters, events, narrative arcs.  You had to build an entire world.  And this is precisely why so many of those novels never got written.

The genius of fan fic is that you just move in to someone else’s world.  Most of the heavy lifting is done.  To be sure, you are not the captive of this prefab world.  You can change anything you want.  But your creative platform is in place.  Your readers are “half way there.”  And perhaps most important you have a community of fellow fan fic writers who are also rehabilitating Star Trek or Elementary.  This is a community of problem-solvers from whom you can draw when you are not astonishing them with your brilliance.  Competitive collaborative creativity, like.

This is the cultural version of the thing we have seen happen in the technological and start up community.  I recently heard x and y give a talk about how much more code is available to hand every time they start up another startup.

Like the post yesterday, this encourages two points.

One, that we are more productive when we work with creative materials in place, a starter kit, so to speak.  Starting from zero was an avant garde conceit.  It was why novelists were obliged to retreat to garrets and torment themselves with months of solitude.  Not us.  We just drop into any existing property, take the money and run.

Two, this is where the value is.  We have thousands of people poised to innovate and create new content.  And sometimes it’s true that another app is exactly what the world wants.  But more often, and more thrillingly, what the world wants is a creative platform, like fantasy football or fan fic, that gives us materials with which to work, a place to start, a platform and infrastructure.  We have the creativity.  We have a deep knowledge of culture and how to make it.  What we do not have is an infrastructure that takes this work into the world, there to

All those TV shows and movies have supplied this head start.  But they have done so accidentally.  I wonder if there isn’t a species of capitalism that could go at this more deliberately.  We need an industry of raw materials.  We need an economy through which culture creators can be compensated.    We need platforms through which value flows.


Art used by kind permission of Stanley Chow.  See more of his remarkable work at his website here.   See the Offbook PBS special “Fan Art: an explosion of creativity” in which his work is featured here.

It would be too cruel an irony to talk about compensating people for their work on line and then give Mr. Chow nothing so much as a “thank you very much.”  As it happens, starting today I noticed Google gmail and Google wallet now make it really easy to attach sums to an email.  So I sent Mr. Chow 5 bucks.  It’s not much.  And it makes no claim to ownership of his art.  It is merely meant as a way of saying “thanks.”  (We really need a tipping system for work on line. We really do. )