Creativity Is About Art, Not Follower Counts, Jamming, 29/08/2015

I read an insightful article on Slate this week about the downfall of Josh Ostrovsky, the uncomfortably named Fat Jew. The link above tells the Ostrovsky story well, but here's the short version. 

There is clearly nothing at all
ridiculous or stupid about this man.
A ridiculous-looking jackass builds a huge following on Twitter and Instagram by republishing jokes and memes from actual comedians and more faceless joke aggregator sites. He always removes the attributions (if they haven't been removed already) and posts them with his own brand. 

He's built a large following of people who like to laugh for five seconds at juvenile humour. And he’s unashamed about the fact that he never writes his own material, only re-posting jokes. He uses this following to score some sponsorships and personal appearance money from Mike’s Hard Lemonade and a wet T-shirt contest for pregnant women.

All class, I know.

Eventually, a critical mass of comedians piled on him. Patton Oswalt was the most notable, at least in my experience of watching the shit go down. I've been a fan of Oswalt for years as both a stand-up and an actor,* and I always enjoy watching him insult someone who deserves it.

* Seriously, if you spend any time this weekend in front of a screen, watch Oswalt's best starring role, Big Fan.

What inspired this pile-on was that Ostrovsky got an offer from Comedy Central to develop his own show. Executives at the network apparently saw what a huge social media following he had, and because he was just one guy, they thought he was a real comedian. 

Now, on the surface, this is just crap research, and some folks in Comedy Central’s talent development wing deserve whatever discipline they get for not actually looking at the content and sources of Ostrovsky's material. All they saw was an individual with a lot of followers who posted funny stuff. He must be a comedian!

No, he's not. He's a one-person aggregator with a bunch of interns who do most of his actual work of poring through Reddit and 4Chan boards, 9gag, Imgur, and the Twitter feeds of actual comedians to find Ostrovsky more jokes to post. His business is using these generic joke reposts to build followers, sell promoted posts, and get paid for personal appearances. He's even said that he will never actually perform stand-up comedy because he can make more money through product placement on his feeds.

A comedian is someone who writes and produces humorous art, and makes money from performing and selling that art. See the difference? It's the difference between an artist and a listserv.

This is seriously the level of Ostrovsky's humour. Look
at Fry dressed like a Street Fighter cosplayer. Laugh for
maybe six seconds and forget about it. Then FOX and
Nintendo each pay Ostrovsky $5,000.
Thankfully, Comedy Central saw sense, probably because nothing worth putting on television ever came out of development sessions with Ostrovsky, and they dropped his deal long before the recent Twitter blitz against him. But even the comedians who railed against Ostrovsky on social media made the same mistake these dunderheaded execs did: they talked about him as if he was a comedian stealing other people's jokes. But he's not. He's a human 9gag.

The clincher in the article is when they talk to people who follow Ostrovsky’s feeds and enjoy them. They don't care that it’s been recycled through a thousand aggregators, or that the new creative content is published without attribution or royalty to its creators. They just want to laugh for five seconds at a juvenile gag.

Since shifting to a career in communications last year, I’ve a lot of very intelligent people in public relations and marketing who've taught me a lot in a short time. They've shown me that, with my understanding and approach to our media landscape, I can achieve some very good work if given the chance.

But there are also dumb people in the media industry, people who don’t understand online media even though we've had years to learn how things work. All such people see are dollar signs and follower counts, not the content that sets real artists apart from trash. 

If you give a TV show to anyone, you should give it to someone who’s already producing creative, original ideas of their own, and lend your company's marketing muscle to people who can do again what folks like Tina Fey, Kristen Schaal, Andy Samberg, or John Paul Tremblay did. Which is create comedy that isn’t quite like anything that's been done before.

You don't deserve to work in media if you can’t tell the difference between a gag recycler like a one-man (with interns) Imgur and an actual content producer. 

And by content producer, I mean creative worker, I mean artist.

You might work in the media, but you don't know what the hell creativity is.
• • •
If you know what the hell creativity is, then you should consider buying my book if you have a spare $20. Under the Trees, Eaten is a science-fiction novel with one finger in the Lovecraft tradition of weird horror. The middle finger, if you must know.

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