Being Good at Something

One thing that has worried me is how the number of fans doesn’t indicate the worth of a project. If I (not so hypothetically) make a comic that has 750 fans on facebook, how can I know that my comic is any good? I mean, way more people are going to watch The Zookeeper starring Kevin James. Lots of people listen to Rush Limbaugh and read Thomas Friedman even though they can be wrong by a lot of things. So, having fans doesn’t necessarily mean what I’m doing is worth anything.

I’ve recently made a distinction in my head between something being good at something and making something worthwhile. Pundits can be very good at what they do. They’re paid to spout interesting opinions while sounding confident. Maureen Dowd is annoying as hell, but she’s good at writing what she does. The pundit, however, isn’t paid to be right. Being wrong about the future, or the present, doesn’t affect their bottom line or their self-worth.* So, they can be good at being a pundit, but it doesn’t mean that a pundit does any good. Rush Limbaugh is a very good talk radio host. He has millions of listeners because he’s good**, not because he’s wise.

Likewise, it’s not actually that easy to make shitty music or a shitty movie. I have respect for even the shittiest TV show because I worked with my friend to put together an episode of Larry Whitman: Data Entry Maverick. There’s so much that goes into it: editing, music, writing, directing, storytelling, camera work, set-building, props, costumes, acting, and more. The same goes for movies. Even though The Zookeeper will be a giant turd, the acting won’t get in the way of the film, it will successfully tell a very basic hackneyed story (as opposed to failing to have any story at all), and it will probably have funny moments. I’m sure the digital animation of the animals will be decent too. It won’t tell a worthwhile story or be great art, but it will be good at what it wants to accomplish. With music, there may be a shitty repetitive song on the radio, but the sound people who do the editing are the best at what they do. Even though the music is inane, it won’t sound like someone recorded it in their garage. It’s professional.

I guess that means when it comes to art, I shouldn’t have as much anxiety about the number of fans I have. The number of fans can help me tell if I’m good at what I do, which is actually helpful. However, it can’t tell me if what I’m doing is worthwhile. I suppose this is where I end the essay with something cliched like, “This is only something I can decide myself,” but I haven’t said anything to support that conclusion. Instead, I’ll end here, still puzzled about what makes something worth doing.

*There are always exceptions, but sometimes we they must be set aside in order to make a worthwhile point.
**And lucky. We all have our debts towards Fortuna.***
***As an interesting aside, my thoughts about luck inform my proto-thoughts on redistributing wealth. The rich should pay more as a kind of luck tax. Capitalism can create a system where wealth is distributed according to a curve defined by a power law. Similar to how fame begets more fame, riches can beget more riches. The only way to be fair is to tax this.

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