Monday, September 26, 2011

Preview Article #1: An Introduction

               Before you continue reading, for the purposes of this introduction (and, indeed, in many ways, in order to appreciate the guiding principle behind this website) it is necessary to walk through a very simple thought experiment.
                Consider that you are thinking of something right now.  Now, consider that (to simplify) 7,000,000,000 other human beings on the planet also just thought something a second ago.  What are the odds that someone thought that exact thing (say, peanut butter-covered Sour Patch Kids).  This is a multiplicity that could stretch infinitely, but, again, we are speaking broadly, so a reasonable estimate is 1 in 7,000,000,000.  This is, of course, not true, because they would have to be in the same situation as you, say, in America.  Now you are at 1 in 300,000,000.  Following that logic, they’d need to be in the same city as you (for our purposes, say, Lafayette, LA).  1 in 100,000.  Continuing, they’d need to be in your house.  1 in 4.  Your room.  1 in 1.  So the odds actually get smaller, until it is almost a certainty that at least one person had the thought that you just had.  Which, since you did just have that thought, someone did.
                If you understand what just happened, the rest of this will make sense.  If not, we are pretty sure that could always do with a few dozen more readers.

                If you, in a late-night drunken stupor, pound your keyboard in frustration because the Internet is down and you can’t put yourself to sleep watching videos of cats doing cat-like things like you did when you were in college, except this time you accidently open a Word document and the resulting logorrhea looks exactly like the argument outlined above, did you steal our idea?  Of course not.  Having never read this article before, even if you publish your brilliant logic trap on your often-ignored blog, you definitely cannot be said to have taken our words and stolen them.  Except how would you prove it?  You were alone in an apartment and for all anyone knows, you could have actually been downloading all night. 
                This is the myth of originality, and the dangers of adhering to the cult of the individual creation are fast becoming less of the concern of art-critic types who pay $1.2 million for a photograph of a photograph and more the nightmare of the slash-fiction author whose brilliant acid-trip induced vision of a world where thought-spies can infiltrate their victims’ dreams and plant ideas changing reality is actually just a rip-off of a movie she saw mentioned once on in an entertainment magazine while waiting for her car’s oil to be changed.  Now, instead of a 62,000 word debut novel, she has three months of wasted time and useless words she’ll never be able to convince someone to read, let alone sell. 
                The myth of originality is perpetuated by the classic American idea of doing something first.  People who fantasize about sleeping with virgins are not usually masochists who get off on really terrible sex, they are driven by a sublimated desire to do something that no one else has done.  This is particularly troublesome with the spread of information that has metastasized quicker than anyone could have imagined with the growth of the Internet. 
                Quick, try and have an original idea.  Go ahead, take as much time as you need.  It doesn’t need to be commercial.  Ok, we’ll narrow it down for you.  Come up with a plot of something, anything, that you don’t think anyone has thought before.  Ridiculously small aliens made only of teeth and Silly Putty dream of building the world’s first Museum of Hentai curated by grade school children whose parents watched the purple dinosaur, Barney, on t.v.  Did you come up with something like that?  Probably not, but a post-modern novel generator could.  And, in fact, if you scour the Internet, we guarantee that you can find at least three of those concepts combined in some sort of fiction, meme, or message board signature somewhere.
                Ignoring our pop culture philoso-babble, it has become extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to actually imagine something that someone else hasn’t.  So the newest trend is to “do it better,” or “make it new.”  Never mind that those are both quotes that are almost a hundred years old and that Stephanie Meyer in absolutely no shape or form did either of those things for the vampire story.  Max Brooks may be the awesomest name ever associated with zombies, but there are literally hundreds of World War Zs to be found in archived fiction newsgroups from twenty years ago.
                So when you go into your next writer’s workshop, or you plan a pitch meeting about a fantastic new use that your company can get out of Facebook, keep in mind that nothing you are saying or doing is original, and that that simple fact does not matter.

We Are All Living in a Simulation of a Simulation of the Matrix

                Nihilism is not, in and of itself, entertaining, whatever Seinfeld may have led you to believe.  Pointing out the obvious fact that people are not inherently original (something that philosophers and Sarah Palin have known for thousands of years) is not meant to be defeatist or apologetic.  Instead, we mean only to illustrate the reality that many, many people have fantastically creative, wonderfully personal, and deeply profound ideas every day, and that most of them are the same as others that were conceived of yesterday.  This does not, in our eyes, diminish the value of the concept, or the beauty of the art (we, however, do reserve the right to make fun of it, or, at least post links to the Onion making fun of it).
                Eating an Angus 3rd-Pounder or a Whopper and noting the incredible similarities in the texture, smell, and taste of the food does not necessarily decrease our enjoyment of the sandwich.  What we are doing, instead, is appreciating it in a different way than our three-year old cousin who we are pretty sure rivals Jackson Pollack in his artistic choice to decorate both the top of the table and the opposite side with his exquisite rendering of Jesus riding a Velociraptor in juicy pickle and the crimson hue of Heinz-brand ketchup.
                Part of the problem is that "getting there first" is a objective measure of success.  Either you did or you didn't.  Analyzing whether someone "does it better" is a matter of opinion.  You could, for whatever strange reason you come up with, say that Collins's "The Hunger Games" is better than Takami's "Battle Royale".  You would be wrong, but you'd at least be able to argue the point.  Most of the content you will find on this website will also include detailed (or at least cursory) critical analysis of the article, photograph, or creative writing.  It isn't enough that we publish something, we are going to take the time to understand why it is "better" or "new".  For any potential submissions, we encourage you to consider adding an explanation of your content, or at least be prepared for us to do so.  In essence, while we are all for and encourage creative practice without limitation, and we will enjoy your mystery patty either way, a small part of what we want to do is understand on some level just where it is that the meat comes from.

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