“Are you… are you… Pop Chassid?”
I remember when I first heard those words. It was the most bizarre experience in the world.
Pop Chassid is my blog, you see. See the title up there?
A writer is a sort of semi-public life. People know the most intimate details of your life, but even the biggest writers aren’t really celebrities. Hardly anyone knows or cares what they look like, and you can’t really be a celebrity in a country where reading isn’t exactly the biggest hobby of all time.
So, when that person came up to me and was kind of like… celebritizing me, telling me they love my work, it was quite bizarre. And I never really got over that feeling.
I’ve noticed this same phenomenon with my small interactions with some famous folks. I remember working on the set of The Kingdom as an extra, and the way I and others were fawning over Chris Cooper. You could tell he hated it, and he kept a distance.
There is, in essence, something that is actually dehumanizing about having “fans.” Not dehumanizing in the negative sense we think of it, but in the literal seeing someone not as a person but almost as an object of utter beauty. Some might even say it verges on idol worship (hm, that sounds like a familiar word we might use when describing certain celebrities).
The thing about art, whether it’s written, played, painted, or expressed in any other way, is that it is completely, utterly magical. It is a form of telepathy, except that it goes beyond thoughts and into emotion. True effective art, as those like Tolstoy have said is the ability to “infect” others with the artist’s emotion.
That’s why it can be so transformative and transcendent. We are transported into a world that we may have not known was possible, or elevated into having emotions that can go beyond our day to day and into the other-worldly.
But the thing about art is that while it can be magical, the artist themselves are in no way magical. They are no different from you, no better. They have a skill, and that is to elicit emotion.
Now, there is surely something beyond special in that. Perhaps divine. A connection from one soul to another.
But the person is not the beautiful object, that is what he creates.
Art, then, in its essential form, is one person’s thoughts and emotions resonating with another’s. And the issue we have, one that has been turned almost mythological at this point, is that we tend to only see the artist end of that. That the receiver has no role; he is simply a passive recipient.
How untrue! How unfair! How negligent!
The receiver, the audience, the “fan,” is an active participant in the art. His emotions are actively engaging with the emotions the artist has tried to convey. In fact, it is because those emotions already exist somewhere deep (or maybe not so deep) inside the audience member that he can even feel what he feels.
Art, in other words, is communication. And just as in any conversation, the speaker tends to get much too much credit, and the listener not close to enough.
These realizations have made me understand why I’ve always been uncomfortable with “fans” coming up to me as a writer (don’t worry, it doesn’t happen that often, I’m not that cool). Something in me knows that it isn’t right. That they should be considering me a friend. Maybe not their best friend, but someone who has a connection, a real connection with them.
They’re responding to my writing because they are like-minded, like-hearted, like-souled. I have sent out the vibrations of my soul and they were so moved because the same vibrations exist within them.
I think this is why music is the most powerful and unifying form of art. It takes that idea to its essence. It literally vibrates into people’s hearts. And I think that is why musicians tend to be worshipped more than any other artist.
So, you see, there should be no such thing as “fans.” There are simply two or more souls connecting. And while it may be from a distance, the connection is just as real, maybe more real, than any other form of communicative connection. It’s just that the artist hasn’t had the chance to hear back yet.
Unfortunately, I think that artists have cultivated fan culture for far too long. It is business mechanism, and it has nothing to do with true art. The more you get people to worship you, the more you can get them to obsess over you, to follow you fanatically, and to, ultimately, buy from you.
And, let’s be honest, many artists simply love the feeling of being worshipped. Pharaohs loved being considered gods. Now it’s the celebrities who’ve taken over.
But that is changing. We are reaching a new era, one in which artists can no longer hide behind a facade of stardom. The internet has put them face to face with their audience, with the people whose vibrations match theirs. And the intelligent, sensitive ones have started to realize that those people deserve their attention and appreciation.
Perhaps it’s meaningful that the wording for connecting with another person on Facebook is “friending.” Perhaps we are moving beyond the facade and towards the reality.
Of course, there are still the people clawing at the idea of fame and fandom. They so want to be stars, to be worshipped. I’ve seen friends of mine fall into the trap, suddenly acting completely differently towards others when their work becomes popular, as if they have somehow become mini-deities. It’s pathetic, quite honestly, when you see it up close.
But it’s changing, it’s changing. And the only reason it still exists is from the inertia of a time when artists could be given the distance of television and huge concerts and books that don’t have dynamic comment areas. And the inertia of ego, the deep desire to go back to that time.
But it’s changing, and we are beginning to see why it is so important that it does.
An artist, when he accepts his true role as emotional resonator, becomes a friend, a comrade, and a leader. He art can transform from simple words or music to a community, a group of people who have realized that they resonate around the ideas or feelings this person is sharing with the world.
A community can do so much more than a fanbase ever will. It can inform the artist about his work, help it improve. It can inspire them, the very fans, to also become artists. It can spread not just emotion, but inspiration. And it can give agency to every fan to realize that they deserve to be heard just as much as the artist.
Imagine a world like that. Where communities instead of rabid fanbases are built. Where friendships are forged instead of altars of worship to false idols. Where artistry isn’t seen as a privilege held by the few, but a way of life possessed by us all.
Then look around. And you’ll see it’s happening already.