Friday, December 07, 2012

Useful Obscurity and Celebrity Opposition

The title of this post is a play on Ivan Illich's "The Right to Useful Unemployment and Its Professional Enemies," which I read once long ago, but haven't been able to re-locate.  Illich is one of those people that would make my list of authors who've influenced me, and while much of what he says is flat out wrong, naive, and unworkable, it's useful to read him as a thought exercise.

In the title I've referenced, Illich makes a plea for the idea that too much of what is done in society is relegated to "professions," which he views as blocking people from entering endeavors they otherwise would have little problem entering (if people were "usefully unemployed"); in effect, professions are an otherworldly clerical class as seen by Illich (oddly, given his theological background, or more properly precisely because of his theological background). 

As a professional, as one who has seen the rank stupidity that goes with people acting as though education and credentials don't matter, I can't abide by Illich's position categorically, though for sure many professionals have huge blind spots and canyons of ignorance abiding in their minds, and no doubt that goes for yours truly.  But Illich's point does have some utility...when it comes to "celebrity."

It's an interesting coincidence in the Buddhist blogosphere when in the short space of time the Joshu Sasaki thing is going on while it's announced that Bernie Glassman and Jeff Bridges will kind of sort of do a road show together.  Celebrities.

Why are there celebrities? The short answer is because there are those that make others to be that.  Maybe they are attractive or like Stephen Hawking, ostentatiously crippled.  Maybe they are brilliant, like Hawking, or maybe they're NFL linebackers.  In some cases, they are human bubbles (well, we're all human bubbles) - really popular human bubbles, such as Bruce Lee, who was incredibly talented, and not simply physically and whose celebrity became a kind of bubble which if traded on some kind of market exchanges, would have reached stratospheric heights.

But almost all of us are not celebrities.   Many of us are fans who live in a kind of symbiotic albeit likely dysfunctional relationship with celebrities.  I think the whole fan - celebrity thing is indeed dysfunctional.  I think it's more than OK to consider that John Lennon or Lady Gaga are talented folks, but the idea that these people are different - they are the celebrities who make the fans who the fans are - that idea is strange and unhealthy.

As I get older, I am trying to develop and keep learning new things, and not simply technical things in my chosen field.  I am doing this not only because I don't want to watch TV all day when I'm retired (if I ever actually retire), but also because I find it inherently interesting.  I am not a professional musician nor artist, but I would like to find my own voice and view in these things; my own idiom; I can say after all these years I kind of do have my own idiom in my style of technical development/design approaches.  And I am fortunate enough to be doing some parenting/mentoring/leading...hopefully passing on what little I have learned with a minimum of damage to the next generation.

I have been fortunate that in more than one of these endeavors I've met people with remarkable, tremendous skill and in some cases trained with them.  You've never heard of them unless you're a kind of specialist, but it doesn't really matter; they never needed popularity or fame to do what they did, but they did need the 10,0000 hours of practice and effort.   That 10,000 hours tends to be 10,000 hours not doing PR; it is indeed useful obscurity.

Now I have no problem per se with a Jeff Bridges/Bernie Glassman road show; I liked The Big Lebowski as much as the next guy (probably more - I maintain the film can't be fully appreciated without a deep knowledge of The Big Sleep,  because that's where the humor's really deeply embedded).   I just can't imagine what claims they could make on my attention beyond those things that already have huge claims on my attention.   I mean ...seriously...why should I see them? Does it have to do with clown noses?  An understanding of Zen?  The basic goodness of a fictional naive stoner who is really an anti-Philip Marlowe? (A more interesting area of exploration: Jeff Lebowski contra Philip Marlowe; but you can explore that yourself, can't you?)  Well, whatever...

Good luck to Danny Fisher and Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman - though I hope somebody gets to ask the latter about Genpo Merzel, if only out of a sense of mischievousness.  But even if I lived in the LA area, I'd have other plans that night. 

1 comment:

NellaLou said...

Similar thoughts here.