by Cameryn Moore
When I was at Edinburgh Fringe this year, I had the good fortune to meet Tomas Ford, an Australian musician/performer, and to see his show, an industrial/techno/electronica cabaret entitled Electric Midnight Cabaret. It is not normally the kind of music that I like, but I loved the show so much that I took people to see it TWICE (also I had the password, yay for artists getting other artists in at festivals). It was weird and loud and hilarious and subversive, and he gave a little Easter egg to the artists in the audience, flashing it on the screens as a “subliminal message” during one of the songs:
Let’s face it: work that good usually is ignored. Our culture routinely rejects quality or innovation, works that legitimately shake the foundations, in favour of art that bolsters someone else’s bottom line and/or strengthens the status quo. There is a massive social inertia, an unthinking, reflexive, collective defence of the way things are, that makes it so hard to change, and then to see the changes that we are striving so hard to effect. Compound that with real and sometimes violent prejudices on a personal and collective level, and it’s obvious: sometimes—almost always—'amazing' is not enough.
I see the myth of meritocracy; I know what a sucker’s game it is. But you know what? I buy into it anyway, I step right up and buy my baseballs and I heave them at the stack of milk bottles, over and over. I think many artists do, if not most. There’s a whole bunch of confirmation bias, going both ways. We cherry-pick our beliefs, depending where we are and what challenges we face, and unlike in science, where cherry-picking data is bad and wrong, I feel like, in this case, it’s actually sound survival strategy. In a good time, when the five-star reviews and the solid box office returns and the earnest messages from audience members are flowing, I feel stronger. I can make it, I can change things, if I am good enough. These beliefs are fuel, to keep me going on my trajectories, and if I can hold onto that energy, they will keep me going a little longer through the bad times too, when the reviews are harsh and I have three people in my house and someone walks out of a show, I can say, they don’t get me. It’s sex-negativity in culture, it’s slut-shaming, it’s age-ism, it’s fat-phobia or looksism or sexism, or all of it at once. Personally, I feel even stronger (or more stubborn) when I believe that I’m pushing my work out into a hostile environment, so yeah, I manage to extract fuel out of it either way.
During the times when I’m actively aiming at the myth, I have to keep a particularly sharp eye out on my creative process. It’s easy to overwork and overthink and STRESS THE FUCK OUT, because if work can be good enough that it cannot be ignored, then the corollary must also be true: if work is ignored, then it is not good enough. Oh, shit. So I work and edit and rewrite and rehearse, because I want to do everything I can to minimize that depressing possibility.