Monday, June 17, 2013

Some Advice for Bloggers and Other Online Personalities from Johnny Carson

I hope that your Father's Day was restful, reflective, well, and nurturing.

I have explored the meta-game of online writing and blogging in a number of posts here on We Are Respectable Negroes. I am very fascinated by what separates the "also rans" and those others who quickly give up on writing (in any form or genre) from those who stick with it and find some amount of success--however defined.

Of course, timing and luck are critical to life and professional success. Talent matters, but is it less important than sheer volume and persistence? Who knows? Thus, the mystery of those elite few who are both 1) talented and 2) able to make a living from their creative work.

Writing online is a type of performance art. And as I alluded to here and elsewhere, politics is a performance as well, one that most closely resembles professional wrestling. While watching the very mediocre WWE pay per view Sunday night--yes, CM Punk did beat Chris Jericho here in Chicago for the former's return match--I kept thinking about the core elements that make professional wrestlers and other media personalities successful.

They both need to be sincere, establish some type of "connection" with the audience, feign (or actually channel) vulnerability, and be themselves "with the volume turned up."

Professional wrestlers, as well as other actors/personalities have to understand the medium in which they are working, the informal rules that dictates how they relate to the audience and public, and how their craft is evaluated by their peers and gatekeepers. Adhering to formula will only get a person so far; how one innovates and improvises around it, I would suggest, is the key to long-term success.

There is found wisdom and knowledge everywhere...if we are open to it.

Saturday night I was watching PBS's great series American Masters which featured a documentary on the legendary late night TV host Johnny Carson.

American Masters observed how Carson was working in TV, a genre which has famously been described by cultural theorist Marshall McLuhan as a "cool medium". As American Masters suggests, even by those standards, Johnny Carson was "cooler" than the medium he occupied and mastered.

As I often talk about in my podcast series, I am very fascinated by how smart accomplished people go about doing their creative work. This is the essence of process, what are the nuts and bolts of how creative work gets done on a timetable and for specific ends and goals.

Johnny Carson's process of structuring his performance as a story, one that offers up a tour of the day's events, resonated with me as an insight into what separates those who are successful as members of the online commentariat from those who are less so.

A blog or other type of social media website is a product.

Ultimately, as in professional wrestling, the People will let you know by their cheers and boos and paying attention (or not) if one is "succeeding" or not as a showman. Carson mastered that process, while also realizing that he was a businessman selling a product and a brand name called "Johnny Carson", the success of which was predicated on being transparent and relateable.

Yet, and here is the existential dilemma, what if a person wants to be a showman who both educates and enlightens? Who are those bards today? And are people laughing with them or at them?


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buddy h said...

An interesting, forgotten humorist/comedian/writer from the 19th century: David Locke. A northern abolitionist during the civil war, he decided the best way to criticize southern racists was to create a character "Petroleum Nasby" who spouted all the bigoted idiocy that we still hear today. Here's an article about him:

chauncey devega said...

What a find. I remember when I first stumbled upon Twain in Middle School. For some reason it was a revelation that people were writing "funny" stuff so "long" ago.