Archive for February, 2015

The Terrible Tyranny of Positivity.

I’m not one of life’s perky, positive types. I tend to a dark, downbeat cast of mind. Greed, venality, entitlement, exploitation depresses and disgusts me. We have been fed a self-serving lie that allows our prosperity to be built on the backs of the poor. As children, we’re told to behave properly, to say “please”, to share, to “play nicely” – while our nations behave like psychopaths, always finding excuses for invasion and plunder, and then over-laying it with a self-serving narrative: the civilizing mission, American exceptionalism, saving one tribe from another while helping ourselves to the resources of both. Western foreign policy is planned robbery. But we wrote a heroic history of explorers and adventurers. So a murdering fortune-seeker in search of loot and glory has a holiday named after him in several countries. Wave your flag and sing along.

From the historical/political to the social/personal. Imagine you have a disability – many people do, This will have impacted your employment prospects, it may have isolated you socially, chores will have become difficult (housework, shopping). You have cause for complaint and need of support. But, in the Tyranny of Positivity, your example will be a paralympian. What the Tyranny is seeking to do is undermine your right to grievance. Be brave, it’s saying, and don’t bother us. Everything, including the lightning that strikes you, the hunger that burns you, the disease that eats you, is YOUR responsibility. We, the fortunate, do not want to be made to feel bad about it. We are the fortunate, the blessed, and we need to convince ourselves we deserve our good fortune. How else do we get to blame you for your misfortune?

This is what enables the sneering at, the demonization of, people on benefits (personal tragedy becomes political opportunity). It is, the Tyranny states, their own fault, a character flaw. And so the Tyranny’s media encourages the low-paid, those on little more than the minimum wage indeed, to kick down, to enlarge and empower themselves by blaming social ills on those on benefits. Meanwhile, on a yacht somewhere, a billionaire tax-dodger quaffs champagne and awaits his Knighthood for services to the coffers of the party of the moment. He and his ilk – doing the business and buying the political process. Not selfish greedy exploiters – no, no! innovators, entrepreneurs, wealth and job creators. Fully deserving of tax breaks and political patronage. If the chips go down, we can always tax the poor and introduce austerity. We’re too big to fail, and you’re too small to care about.

Be positive by all means, but don’t blind yourself to what’s going on. You’re being liked because you’re shielding the fortunate from your misfortune. “After the accident, he/she (delete as appropriate) just got on with it.” They do so like people who just get on with it, don’t they? Far better than the negative, embittered types who reflect on the unfair distribution of luck in the world, and loudly proclaim it to anyone who’ll listen. You’re allowed to be envious enough to keep you on the work/consume treadmill, but not so much that it puts you on the path to revolution. The fortunate like to hear the sound of your applause. That’s what you’re here to do – applaud! Oh, and to clean up after their parties, banquets and balls while thinking yourselves fortunate for the modest remuneration offered for so doing. How amusing it must be to watch an awards ceremony on TV in which you had the honour of clearing the tables or cleaning the toilets.

Don’t be bitter. Be positive. Think positively. Just do it!  Don’t give way to the politics of envy. How glib and fatuous are the injunctions from the lips of the fortunate. The positivity mantra drowns the small voice of your grievance, the plaint of your unhappiness, the quiet moan of injustice heavily felt. Because, says the Tyranny, there is no grievance; you just have to be positive. Here! Read the guru’s latest books: Being Positive on an Empty Stomach and Breaking a Positive Sweat: Positivity for the Sweatshop Worker.

What you’re really being asked to do, of course, is shut up, stop with the complaining, make yourself invisible. Work (if you can get a job; die if you can’t), consume (to fill the corporate cash-tills), and praise and applaud those who prosper in a gamed system. The world isn’t fair, smirks the Tyranny. Deal with it! Smile, be positive, and call your exploitation opportunity.

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Marketing your novel.

This is not a vacuous (copy and paste type) post about marketing your novel (designed to attract eyeballs and comments). It’s more to do with the dreadful necessity of doing it (marketing, that is), and the feeling of unseemliness that accompanies the so doing.

First, you have to be (or have something) “out there”. I’m not going to reflect overly long on the kudos afforded by the fact of being “out there” in a loud, notice-me, capitalist world. It’s perhaps enough to remark that it might be making a virtue of necessity where artistic endeavour is concerned, since post-production you’re engaged in the game of getting noticed.

Picture me walking into a room of disparate people who share my plight. My name is John, and I have something “out there” – a novel to be (somewhat) more precise – a stylish, philosophically bleak work of detective fiction. One of my readers (and, like all rare things, I value them all) told me recently that they’d read a quarter of it and put it aside because it was too depressing. Clearly, it’s bleaker than I thought.

Okay, so let’s put together an entirely fictional marketing strategy. You persuade twenty people to buy the book (I managed that bit). They read it (mostly succeeded in that. Thank you, dear readers), and then… what? Well, they feed back to you, which is helpful and useful and generous and kind. Unfortunately, what you really want them to do is blog and tweet and Facebook and review (on books sites, preferably those from where they purchased your book). You need to be talked about on social media. I’ve entirely failed in this. I just don’t know those sorts of people, and it’s surely deeply unseemly to be nagging people who bought your book as a favour in the first place to spend time reviewing it. I mean, life is very busy. I do more blogging than anyone I know.

In short, then, to succeed from Nowhere, you have to become a needy, whining, attention-seeking wannabe prattling on about yourself and your work at every opportunity, constantly racking your brains to come up with ways to attract attention to yourself. Not very dignified, is it? That presumably is what agents and publishers spare you, allowing you to get on with the art and (mostly) skip the marketing, notice-me indignity of it all.

I’m writing my second novel (or was; I have 9,000 words of it), which is much more mainstream in terms of subject matter and, perhaps more importantly, style. This is what feedback does to you. Needed and necessary, ultimately it promotes conformity. Truly individual voices go unheard.

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