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Monday, October 15, 2018

The Vagaries of Experience (The Renown Margin)

Reminder: I'm not famous. But because of having such a big Facebook page, and several viral articles, my life is starting to bend towards some level of kinda, sorta Internet fame, and (as this blog exists in part to share in real time my experiences of writing with the very deliberate attempt to find an audience and make a living) one of the experiences I will share with you is my foray into the liminal space between complete unknown and some Q-list celebrity status. 

One of the most interesting experiences, as I push against this membrane of quasi-fame, is having a dawning realization of why actually famous people do (or don't do) certain things. ("OH. THAT'S WHY!") I realize why they don't open themselves up to random criticism from strangers (there's way too much of it), why they accept a revolving door of their fans (too many to try to please), and why they compartmentalize their private lives (some people's obsession can be harmful).

I've stumbled on another one: the reason people in a spotlight so rarely mention products by name unless they are getting paid endorsement. They often speak in vague terms of A store or A restaurant or AN online company run by the richest human on Earth, even when they're being quite specific about some level of criticism or some level of enjoyment. It's not that they never name names, but it's much more calculated. Usually they describe their experiences with carefully curated vagaries.

I started noticing it innocuously enough, but even at my not-quite-Q-list status, it's gotten to the point where I want to back off on the casual. If I'm going to drop a name, it needs to be worth it. I'm ticking off too many people just by telling them how my day was at that level of specificity.

See, the good words are basically low-key commercials. Point at something and gush, it's basically unpaid advertising, and folks who have begun to understand what their social capital can command may not wish to do this over something trivial or to essentially use that social capital to lift up capitalism and be a commercial.

But where it really gets hairy is the less than stellar thoughts. That's where the shit really goes down. I have enough friends, followers, fans, and people generally watching "The Show™" that if I talk even casually about my experience with some company or product that has let me down, I'm going to make SOMEONE's head itch. Maybe they work for that company, have a lot of brand loyalty, or just generally have some vested interest in not letting it stand, and suddenly you feel like you're arguing over whether how and why you're not really having a good customer experiences with someone.

And I get it. I do. Personally I find memes about how teachers never teach anything important annoying because I'm a teacher. And it's just not that simple. We are teaching you that the blue curtains represent sadness for a reason (often several reasons). So if I've eaten my Wheaties and I see someone post about how teachers never teach anything useful, I try to add some informative nuance about being pinioned between district curriculum and rising class sizes and so sorry that you were personally reading two years beyond the rest of the class and this wasn't a useful lesson.....blah blah blah (you get the idea). So when you realize that someone in your audience probably works for or loves to bits the company or thing you are about to share a not-so-hot story of (and may have had THEIR Wheaties), you begin to question whether you need to actually include the product name. Is it really that important that it be Cold Stone™ and not just "we went out for ice cream...." Is it vital in the story you want to share, that you name the phone you are frustrated with (and thereby invoking the Apple vs. Android battle royale in the comments of your post.

I've even had people who MADE something grief me before. Who knew?

You can kind of see how this would telescope out as fame levels rise. Chances go way up something's going to get back to someone who cares about what you've said. Add in the perception of an attack to a peripheral issue (like say an indictment of the focus of US education on white men) and you get all kinds of pushback ("My school wasn't like that!" to "Teachers have no choice!" to "What about the whitemenz??") Quickly you wonder if it's even worth it. Particularly the more specificity the story has.

It's not that I won't still say these things or call out some shitty company for a bad decision, but I've come to understand that it is a trade off. This is directly launching a bee into SOME bonnet and the more bonnets are out there, the bigger the chance of it happening. You have to weigh your interest in having that caliber of encounter, and if you just weren't that happy but whatever, it's not worth it.

I'm just a little guy with a little following, but suddenly I understand why so many celebrities speak in such vague terms and often feel a little "above it all." It's because of what happens if they're not.

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