Of Writers and the Audience
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of the SuperNerdLand.com staff and/or any contributors to this site.)
It takes a special kind of writer to be able to actually reach out and touch the audience. It’s far too easy these days to be clinical, detached, uncaring and unfeeling. When it comes to writing, those writers actually tend to be best at covering news. Keeping as objective as possible is necessary there. It can be soulless work, writing facts that are going to just be read, deadpan, by an audience. One doesn’t even have to worry about influencing audience thought with most coverage; that is not what a good news writer should be doing. This is the one type of writing where you want to keep your own soul out of it as much as possible.
Sadly, this is also the one type of writing that gets abused the most; filled with people who can’t help but inject their own leanings. This is why we have such a biased media. Writers and editorial staff can never seem to remember their place, and chose to line their wallets with clickbait and vitriol instead of advocating for the objective truth of an event.
Conversely, you have things like opinion and editorial, as well as essays, poetry, and longer-form writing. These are the materials that are meant to touch the soul of the audience. Those writers are meant to inspire thought and emotion; to touch the audience in the most fundamental ways. A good writer can make you laugh, cry, fear, and hope. A really good writer can make you do all those at once. This is their job, at the end of the day.
Just as we have too many news writers injecting their viewpoints, we have too many mediocre writers incapable of finding the right vein to hit. I suffer from that, myself. I’m horrible at touching the emotions of the audience, but I do try. We wind up with too much schlock being printed, though it’s not a recent trend that leaves the ratio of hack to skilled writers where it lies.
For every writer that inspires, we have a dozen pumping out the next 50 Shades. That’s the nature of writing, and a long running historical trend.
It’s just that mind-numbing content has become the biggest commodity in this digital age of publishing we find ourselves in. Real thought doesn’t seem to be profitable, and is actually detrimental to the business practices of those outlets that cater to emotions. They exploit psychology as well as any skinner box simulation of a game does, and get you coming back like it’s some bag of MSG laden corn chips.
Not that I’m putting the problem purely on the writer; the audience does have their own role to play. The audience has to give a damn, going in. The audience cannot be placated cattle, fed a strict diet of cat pictures and clickbait and told what to read by the latest designer hashtag. It can be hard to break into a new diet when consuming media — especially after years on it, but the Buzzfeeds and Gawkers of the world will continue to give people crap when people keep coming for it.
There are hundreds of fantastic pieces of writing published online every week, but it matters not when the audience en masse seems to gravitate towards the literary equivalent of processed dog food. [Editor’s note: Alexander Macris of The Escapist Magazine got into a bit of this in his interview with us and his TEDx talk.]
The audience has to be willing to take a risk on the skills of the writer; to be willing to let the words in — and possibly touch a very scary part of themselves. The audience should also think on working harder to act as feedback. To tell a writer what they do well, what they need to fix, and correct them should they err. This is a symbiotic relationship we have here.
Sadly, the internet at large tends to be lax in this. A majority of people are far more likely to read clickbait and insipid images that turn culture into soundbites. Everything is so much easier to stomach when it’s silly pictures, top ten lists, and compilations of soundbites. It becomes a sort of hug box, where you only reach out to get your pre-existing notions validated narrative driven news, or absorb information that is useless, non-challenging, and allows you to escape harsher realities. Hell, you’ve even got social media engineered to deliver the quickest dose of cat pictures, cultural soundbites, and clickbait right to your face. The miracle of the hashtag dictates what you want to read, and even what reaction you should have to it.
There’s no intelligence, no questioning of values, no impetus to form a new opinion.
It’s not to say that that amusement, entertainment, and distraction don’t have their place. It’s just becoming the norm, as even formally well respected outlets fall to the prey of chasing ad revenue down a drainpipe.
The problem is neither on the writer nor the audience entirely. Both shoulder the burden, because this memetic soundbite culture we have is easier than actually creating culture of our own. It’s easier to make and curate pictures of animals, Hitler, or John Cena than it is to question why we need so many of these damned things in the first place.
The writer can be lazy, only creating for a buck, and not for the beauty of touching the audience. The audience can be lazy as well, consuming like Pacman, but never once taking the time to question why or taking a risk to absorb a dissenting opinion. When your culture is a non-stop repetition of thought boiled down to single images, and your entire identity is awash in soundbites, what concept of the life around you do you really have?
So writers, write something. Touch someone’s soul. Feel the power you have in your mind and heart, instead of the power of the wallet. Create because it’s what you do best, because you have that burning passion. Not because it’s an easy buck. Audience, step outside your comfort zones. Read something no one told you to now and then, something that runs against your own viewpoint, something that makes you question what you believe. There’s no reason we should be stuck in a rut, lined by pictures of cats and the latest two minutes hate.
A writer that cannot make an audience read is useless. An audience unwilling to read is nigh useless as well. It is the writer’s job to connect with the soul of the audience, to find something to make them react; we have to make that connection, be it with joy, sadness, anger, or fear. The crux is that in order for this to function, two things are needed: 1) The writer has to be able to touch the audience and 2) the audience has to want to be reached.
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