"Democratizing Talent" not so democratic

07 Jun

The latest example of “democratizing talent” seems to be this video of Grayson Chance playing Paparazzi. I tweeted my eye-rolling reaction to it, but felt I needed a bit more than 140 characters to express why this bothers me so much.

I think what bothers me most is how we like to invoke “democracy” whenever someone is “discovered” online. It’s not democracy, people. It’s luck. Wait, let me elaborate before you jump down my throat.

People getting “discovered” online is much like how it happens in an offline world. We can sit around here and say that the Internet “makes space” for everyone with a computer and an Internet connection to post media and distribute art, and sure it does. But you can also make space by putting your artwork up on a street corner. Doesn’t mean how talented you are, if someone from traditional media doesn’t see it, doesn’t think it’s good, you’re dead in the water. (of course, this works the other way too – you’ve got to be talented, or that curator of the MoMA or the record executive from BMG isn’t going to give you a second glance, unless it’s one of abject horror)

The article states how Grayson has teamed up with Guy Oseary (a manager), who’s a traditional media guy (read: plays and understands the game of music industry power, and probably makes up a few of the rules himself). Look at the chain of happenings – it’s not about talent – it’s about popularity, and, perhaps, how easily impressed we are nowadays. Shervin Pishevar (the author of the article that riled me up) received the video through Nowmov, which is this box of algorithmic fun, spewing out what “collective intelligence” deems worth the time of millions of Internet users. It has nothing to do with talent. After all, “David After Dentist” (60 million views) and “Charlie Bit My Finger” (close to 200 million views) are two of the most popular videos out there. And damn, those kids are wicked talented (facetious, people). (I use this example to say that just because something is viewed many times does not mean its subjects are necessarily “talented,” and while I will admit to not knowing much about Nowmov, it looks like an algorithmic trap based more on numbers than human opinion and sensitivities)

It is also because of Pishevar’s connections with the music industry’s Powers That Be that propelled little Grayson into the pop culture stratosphere, and indeed, his seemingly personal relationship with Ashton Kutcher, who is involved with Nowmov. How about the other thousands of would be Elton Johns and Billy Joels out there?

So stop patting yourself on the back for thinking you’ve helped in the process of democratizing talent. Truly democratizing talent (or to make an argument that the Internet does so) would be for all kids who are talented, who have YouTube videos, to gain economically (like Grayson Chance will, no doubt) from their talent. No, right now, it’s all about the bottom line for those entities at the top (the PTBs) who hold all the cards and in their fickle benevolence bestow fame and fortune upon the select few.

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Posted by on June 7, 2010 in Uncategorized


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