Is dignity the only thing standing between Hack Circus and success? I’m pretty sure too much dignity has never been my problem. But I won’t email people again and again until they ask me to leave them alone. I just won’t. Maybe *that’s* the problem? I could try different emails, or different people. Maybe that’s the problem? I’ve been obsessing over what the problem is, as you can tell.
“Oh do you still want to be successful?!!”
Someone I know sneered this at me recently, when I said something ambitious – then immediately apologised. And, ha, god knows I’m not going to apologise for THAT. Of course I do, more than ever, as I feel conscious of time twisting in on me (maybe I shouldn’t still want things like that at my age? Maybe I should’ve bowed out years ago? Maybe that’s the problem?)
Actually, it’s amazing how many people think there is dignity in giving up. A friend shook his head at the mention of a performer friend’s name. “Why is he still at it? He had some success 20 years ago, his partner became much more successful, he should just do the decent, dignified thing and quit.”
I suppose it makes people feel more comfortable when “failures” go away, rather than flapping on, twitching around the floor like injured birds. There’s an overwhelming urge to crush the weakling aspirant for the sake of the strong. We have no psychic space for something that isn’t just somehow born into the world magically, stridently successful – and allows you to see its weakness. However much we like to think we root for the little guy, we fundamentally will not reward visible effort. Do or do not, there is no try. Effort makes us uncomfortable – it’s too real. It brings the constant threat of failure. We will pay good money for the magic of effort disappeared.
Hack Circus as a magical object and event does disappear some of its constituent effort, but – and perhaps this is part of the problem – I’d rather be honest about what’s going on. It’s not in my nature to obfuscate; I’m not a salesperson. I want human help, and I’m at the point now where I’m prepared to try total transparency.
The reason I will not give up on Hack Circus, the reason it is so important, is this: it has the potential to prove a point about what’s possible. If people will get behind things like this, I think something quite amazing could happen. I think we will have an example of a genuine creative alternative to both mass-scale corporate media and 25-year-old, white male Shoreditch start-up culture. We will have people being paid for something they do really well without their fees tracing directly back to corporate evil. We will have people supporting and working for a world where the most influential voices and ideas don’t fit the mould we’ve come to expect from the powerful and privileged people behind the UK media and publishing industries. Hack Circus could become a point of proof that we are living in an enlightened age, that people don’t just buy what they see advertised on the sides of buses, that they will go in for originality over derivatives, and get behind things not because they tick enough cool boxes or solve an obvious problem but simply because they think these things just should happen in the world.
Hack Circus is not hip. I think this is a major stumbling block. Hipsterism is about the ironic appropriation of the little-known, the uncool, the dull – and at its best is does regenerate these things to some extent. But Hack Circus is about stuff everyone finds interesting even if they can’t really admit it, because it’s no longer fashionable to find actually interesting stuff interesting. Everyone publicly hates “link bait” because everyone wants SO HARD to click on those goddam headlines. Not that HC is link bait – but it is a celebration of the stuff you always thought was interesting but have trained yourself to be too good, grown-up or sophisticated for. I mean for goodness sake, who doesn’t love thinking about illusions and A.I and quantum physics and time machines and life without a shadow, and submarines and tanks and holographic universes and ghosts in SPACE?
Naturally I am idealistic. But why would anyone go into anything like this not imagining it’s immensely important? For me, it’s not a game or a hobby or even an art project. I’m trying to see if the world works a certain way. And I think, maybe naively, that if enough people behave like it does, then it will. Most people don’t behave like it does, and that makes me very angry, sometimes. In fact it makes me want to publish a list of everyone I’ve tried to talk to about it who has ignored every word I’ve said. It makes me want to compose a tumblr of loads of amusing comparisons: ‘I pitched this story to this section of this paper, they published this the next week.’
It’s interesting to find yourself in a position of immense gratitude for every crumb. Interesting and fantastically disempowering. Personal charity doesn’t feel like the path to the scale of influence I want HC to have; of course I AM grateful – it’s all I have and a really big deal – but to begin with at least, it makes things feel smaller.
I am arriving at the grim conclusion that you can’t get people, en masse, to buy into an unironically interesting world that isn’t powered by media giants unless you have a powerful influencer behind you. As you can imagine, I don’t like this conclusion, so this, these writings, everything I’m doing right now, it’s all a kind of stalling before I get there. Just in case some unforeseen intervention occurs. It’s weird to find yourself waiting for a miracle, but I’m seeing more and more advantages to a credulous life.
If you want to do something properly, you can’t set out with the notion it’s a hobby. You might remember my (often mis-attributed, to various men) tweet, a couple of years ago: “Any sufficiently advanced hobby is indistinguishable from a job”. I remember some wags replied, “Except a job usually pays!” If a hobby is good enough, I replied, it’ll be making money for you. But I think I was wrong. I think you have to go into things with a sense this thing is much bigger than you are; that you’re not always going to enjoy it as a casual leisure thing.
I’ve been saying for years that passion and excitement translates into meaningful stuff, but I’m almost certain I’m wrong about that now. Meaningful stuff is powerful stuff, powerful stuff has influence, and whatever you’re making – if you want it to be influential, you need money. After all, we are living in a society.
It’s a cute idea, but I’m afraid you can’t try to make good stuff with no money and with no influential ‘man on the inside’ giving you the thumbs up, and this is the advice I would give everyone, now. Everyone! Having seen absolutely no evidence to support the alternative, I am increasingly convinced that it’s just not possible. Even vanity projects only work out if you’re from a privileged background (and let’s not underestimate the influence family privilege has historically had over big cultural achievements.)
I’ve been over it all in my head this week, and given everything I’ve done so far, I think there a few things that might increase my chances of success for Hack Circus.
1) Posting more stuff to the HC blog. When I post material from the back issues I get a few retweets. Well, it’s a start.
2) Get the ear of someone, somewhere, more influential than I am.
3) Change what it’s about. Go completely commercial. Make it about consumer tech.
4) Become a free PR for celebrities and get them involved as a ‘big name’ to support the small names, despite having no interest in them and it totally changing the tone and point of the project.
5) Abandon the independent dream and try to find a corporate sponsor.
6) Focus on the press push and beg more.
So what should I do? Make my choice for me. Go on, think of my life as a choose-your-own-adventure.