Complacency Kills

We’ve all been pirates, exploring this new ocean of digital media. Just the other day I ripped a track from YouTube to play on the radio because it wasn’t in the system at the studio. I did this more out of utility than out of cheapness. Still if you can share a song for free, why pay? Us musicians, artists, writers exchange ownership of our work for attention. And in this new media environment, as algorithms take over the practical roles of promoters and distributors, it seems hard to get paid.

I wonder if Amazon, Google, Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, CraigsList, GrubHub et al would be cool with posting the source code that they use for their algorithms/platforms in “fair use” so every local news website and small run publisher would be able to compete. It’s all just text, after all. The answer is, actually it’s all already out there. Just look.

Leeches are everywhere online. Artists not only compete with each other for attention, but we compete with our old creations already published and proliferating for free. Recently searching for an old handle I used once, Google found this audio short that I had uploaded to Soundcloud for a contest, and sent me to download it at a torrent site full of ads for men’s virility and goat weed. It was oddly gratifying to see someone else capitalizing on my work.

This business of leeching other people’s creativity and industriousness is not really new, though. Legend has it Dostoevsky almost lost the rights to all of his work past present and future by signing a 3,000 ruble contract with a creditor who put the squeeze on him after his brother died. He bet this publisher he could write a 160 page book within 5 months. He did it, producing The Gambler at the same time as he was writing Crime and Punishment.

The starving artist is not a new trope. Great artists must suffer to produce works of value, give everything in exchange for ovations, or so goes the tradition. But I think lasting art is commercial. Transformative art, art that changes a culture, art with the longevity of a sphinx comes from the creative investment of many people working hard to live and achieve together. It may grow out of sensitive hearts. It’s certainly created by artisans who open their ears and eyes to the stories and sights that move the people around them, but fundamentally good art inspires us to live well and to dream.

Over the past decade, brilliant engineers have transformed the ways we read and consume media. They have created platforms where artists can thrive and sell their work. While people bemoan the death of the old publishing industry that made Dostoevsky famous and preserved his works through the simple mechanism of capitalist proliferation via multiple presses and book sellers, more people than ever read online.

We can moan about languishing in estuaries, in the vast slush piles online, and the unfairness of mainstream extroverts making massive amounts of money by printing their names on mass produced lip gloss containers, at the writers of click bait, or at old mistakes by programmers like Ethan Zuckerman. Or we can make our own ruckus for whoever listens. The platforms will keep multiplying, and we don’t need to judge them or get sucked into vortexes of disrespectful comments and critique in order to create.

Less than one percent of artistic creations strike the right nerve to spread virally. But let’s not be dismayed by all the good stuff now languishing on the press, getting overlooked in favor of dank memes and bum fights. Artificial Intelligence (the instant presses that are proliferating between us, spreading our audio/video/texts) is still in infancy, and it will not save our work without active input from us. By reflecting on the successful creations of past generations of war veterans, this site attempts to identify touch points that inspire people to share and spread ideas. Some worthy stuff decomposes, while vile ideas spread. So it goes.

Regardless of success, artists continue to create, innovate, and fill these spaces with good material. Let’s not get complacent in our successes, or wallow in the injustices of brute ignorance. Let’s just jettison the bad, and spend time on the good.

This site is aggregating new creative work by veterans, along with tributes by friends and family members. The goal is to uplift content to spread across platforms and rise above the din in the town square and crowd source new creative projects. This site draws eyes to creative accomplishments that grow out of conflict.