Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The "Your Own Private Idaho" Micro-Revolution || Open Thread

It seems everywhere you turn these days there are stories of people rejecting the extant systems and power structures and building their own private empires or networks. Taking matters into your own hands seems to be a micro-revolutionary response to limited access or limited ability to get the powers that be to change how they run things.

Among others:
  • Writers are rejecting the hard to get into publishing houses and cashing in on self-publishing.
  • Comedians are rejecting the club/TV/movies circuits and cashing in on direct access to the laugh-hungry masses.
  • In our own industry, what many pundits seem to miss is how the explosion of art fairs recently ( here are two brand new ones in Miami: Miami River and Miami Project [in addition to the 4,382 already there] ) is in part a response by dealers themselves (who are launching or collaborating on most of the new fairs) to the fact that that's where the sales are happening.
  • There are even still people rejecting the governments of the world and establishing their own micronations. (Don't miss this fabulous story of the island nation of Sealand.)
It's a concept I've long been aware of and encouraged in lectures about blogging. "Think of a blog as your own private media outlet," I tell people. Long ago it struck me that the real goal of getting press for your efforts is having readers act on their sparked interest, not simply seeing your name in print. It doesn't really matter where they read it, so much as they act upon it (in my case, that means by creating a wider dialog about an issue or getting people to visit the gallery to see a show, etc.).

The trick with all these efforts, of course, is offering something that people will actually like or care enough to participate in, and then defending it from those who would swoop in to co-opt it. Sealand, for example, had its sovereignty undone by a 1987 extension of Britain's territorial waters from 3 to 12 nautical miles, swallowing up the tiny kingdom.

What's most attractive about establishing a micro-version of the network or system your industry relies on is the freedom and purity of intent or message, of course. Consider the revolution in comedy:

The turning point arrived in December, when the comedian Louis C. K. released a stand-up special, “Live at the Beacon Theater,” that was sold only as a $5 download, without electronic copy protection, from his Web site.

Louis C. K., who stars in the FX series “Louie” and has performed in comedy specials on HBO, Showtime and Epix, said that he was seeking minimal outside interference and maximum ease for his audience.

“I don’t have to go, ‘Here’s this product,’ to whatever company,” Louis C. K. said, “and then cringe and shrug and apologize to my fans for whatever words are being removed, whatever ads they’re having to watch, whatever marketing is being lobbed on.”
Youtube has also been an important tool in the micro-revolution of wrangling power away from the long-established gatekeepers of taste and access. In fact, YouTube is such a well-established path to your own private happiness and success, there's even a WikiHow outlining the six steps need to "Be a YouTube Star." The fact that all six are either obvious (#1. Get a video camera) or much easier said than done (#2. Develop an idea or get lucky), shouldn't discourage you. WikiHow is also its own Private Idaho, circumventing the stranglehold by certain publishers on "How to..." books or seminars.

As it suggests, though, referring to these micro-revolution as one's "own Private Idaho," does mean to indict them for the pitfall they most often fall into: myopia-induced shorter shelf-lives. By not being connected through the larger systems (which overlap and are frequently inter-dependent), the micro-versions lack the resources (and support networks) to withstand the tougher times or capitalize on shared interests. Just like Sealand, you're literally out there on your own.

Still, the freedom is pretty damn sweet, I must say. ¡Viva la Micro-Revolución!

Consider this an open thread on taking matters into your own hands.

Labels: blogging, open thread, revolutions, self-publishing


Blogger Jesse Brown said...

This is a thoroughly fascinating and very astute commentary. I think it is well stated. I never thought about these processes as micro-revolutions. I think it does bring art more to the people. Great piece!

3/21/2012 03:39:00 PM  
Anonymous zipthwung said...

Well the flip side is large companies or organizations that maintain "independent" subsidiaries with their own brand or brand experience. Independence means no brand erosion.

Subsidiaries benefit from larger distribution networks - zines, beer, movies, t-shirts. Essentially the stores have gotten larger and more inclusive. This is similar to drop shipment businesses but include cottage industry commodities.

What you are really seeing is an increase in manufacturing as distribution models expand. Or did you say that? I'm sorry I am probably just stoned. Count me in though, man.

3/21/2012 05:27:00 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

I'm interested in how personal digital modeling and fabrication will affect art and the wider culture. Fab Labs are already springing up all over the world and according to the people at MIT that instituted them, they're just a stepping stone between the factory and an eventual place in the home. On one hand, they free people to realize ideas but I don't know how they will affect attitudes towards handmade production.

The human population continues to grow but we are needing handmade skills and labor less. As long as we have the raw materials, we can skip the third world and bring production back home to a computer that can tailor objects more specifically to our desires. It seems both wonderful in terms of innovation and yet possibly very isolating.

3/22/2012 10:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...


Don't forget that these machines that make things also have to be made, and they have to be maintained. At some point in the chain humans are still required. Less manual labor is starting to happen in more developed countries but in some parts of the world manual labor is cheaper than making and maintaining these machines.

3/22/2012 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger Cathy said...

You are right Bernard. There are Fab Labs in places like Afghanistan and Ghana which I suspect are financed elsewhere to promote a utopian vision of self reliance or worldwide pr for the technology. Still though, I wonder how it affects incentive for handmade work right here. Once an artist saw how precisely and quickly computer controlled lasers make a woodcut, would she still want to do the one off? Admittedly, I'm more on the technophobe rather than technophile end of the spectrum and never wanted a Star Trek replicator.

3/22/2012 12:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

The natural conclusion is that artists might as well try to disintermediate the galleries. Your thoughts?

3/22/2012 01:15:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I think artists are already trying. The biggest drawback to doing so as successfully as people have with books or comedy is the rarity of the art objects. CK Louis can charge only $5 a pop for his online comedy show, because at 100,000 viewers that's a hefty take.

The average painter needs to charge a fair bit more, limiting the number of purchasers and increasing the need for sorting through the population at large to find those limited purchasers. If an artist can find direct access to the collectors for their work, I'd say they should.

It's just not that parallel to finding direct access to people willing to part with $5 to be entertained.

3/22/2012 02:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I agree. It will probably get traction in the print market, and maroon there until someone can figure out a reliable upsell. I don't see galleries going away, but they could turn into something like music venues, in that their main offering was a physical space and not access to the work of particular artists, which the artists could provide themselves.

3/22/2012 04:08:00 PM  
Anonymous ursula said...

Louis C. K. is awesome, but his YouTube show is awful :) I love the fact that he's such a hater (just like me), i probably should be ashamed of my views, but the fact that Louis has the same views is cool, here's one of his audios about other people's kids. But some people really shouldn't start their YouTube shows :)

10/21/2013 06:09:00 AM  

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