Knowing your fans - Shawn Loughlin editorial
Many years ago, I wrote a column and received some unexpected fanfare as a result. A rather kooky man who has been known to run in various elections in this area from time to time came into the office to tell me just how much he’d loved it.
While “existential crisis” isn’t quite what I’d say I experienced, it’s safe to say there was a long, hard look in the mirror that night for me after I received those words of admiration from someone whose admiration that, not only didn’t I want, but that made me question what I wrote and why it appealed to such a reader.
However, in a creative field such as this one, there is a certain degree of letting go. It’s kind of like baking. There is a lot of work that goes into it - between preparation, measuring and so on - but, when your creation goes into the oven, it can only stay there and take its time. You can’t do any more to help it.
That’s kind of like being creative. You write a piece or a book, you create a piece of art, you make a film, a play or a television show and then it goes out into the world. What happens next, to an extent, is beyond your control.
Just recently, as he was doing the rounds to promote his new film, The Killer, director David Fincher was asked not about The Killer, but about Fight Club, a film nearly 25 years old now, and its relationship to the so-called incel (involuntarily celibate) community.
“It’s impossible for me to imagine that people don’t understand that Tyler Durden [the film’s central character] is a negative influence. People who can’t understand that, I don’t know how to respond and I don’t know how to help them,” Fincher said to The Guardian, adding that he didn’t make Fight Club for such a specific community, but that he couldn’t help who interprets his movies how.
Fight Club is far from the first movie to fall victim to such co-opting. The Matrix, mainly its long, black coat fashion and gun violence, caught heat after the Columbine shootings, while, more recently, Joker has also caught the eye of incels. In it, Arthur Fleck (the soon-to-be titular Joker) tries to find romance with a neighbour, she’s not into it and what follows, coincidentally, is a killing spree.
Joaquin Phoenix won a Best Actor Oscar for the role (though don’t look at me - I thought Adam Driver in Marriage Story was the far superior performance of the year) and his own Joker has become a bit of a guiding light for people who turn to violence after being felt put upon by the world and the people within it.
The other side of the coin, I suppose, is when you make something creative that inspires people to be a better person. I remember, after I wrote a whole column about the concept of being magnanimous (must have been a slow week, idea-wise; kind of similar to this week), a neighbour told me that she hadn’t before read the word, but that she would now strive to be more magnanimous in her day-to-day life.
And, while I certainly don’t think I have to worry about inspiring the incels among us with my column, the 600-or-so words I write in this space each week tends to attract feedback at times, both positive and negative, and there is a question about who is being affected by what it is you create, and how.
The concern there, of course, would be the inclination - more so for people like Fincher, rather than community-based journalists like myself - to then only tell good, happy stories in an effort to keep the negative thoughts away. In real life, there are bad people doing bad things and those stories need to be told too. If someone takes it the wrong way, that says more about them than it does about the art.