Something insanely tight about me is I’m always thinking about shit. Like, on a deeper level than most everyone else. I’m literally contemplating, all the time, and that makes me unique. So let me lead you all up the stairs into my two-story brain, gesture at a sparkling new piece of furniture, and say, “Check this out”: do you guys think people, like, actually care about stuff?
I’m watching an interview with Riz Ahmed talking about his new movie, and he’s going on about the six months of prep and research he did, the motivations of the character, how he truly delved deep into his neuroses—and I’m thinking, really? Does he really do all that, or is this just grist for the awards circuit mill?
In the average regular-season basketball game, I’m seeing Draymond Green implore his teammates to hustle—to “get a stop!”—in a timeout in the third quarter of an otherwise middle-of-the-road game. Does he really care that much? Is everyone truly—like they claim—going home and “watching film” and “trying to get better” and all the other shit we always hear?
And then I’m watching Top Chef, thinking, “There’s no way Shota could possibly care this much about the texture of his chawanmushi…” But…I guess he does?
It’s all fake! Right? For some reason, I can’t fully wrap my head around the idea that anyone actually cares about their work. The pilot of a daily Delta JFK - SFO run turning to his copilot somewhere above Wisconsin and talking about potentially improving their takeoff next time, but for now remarking on the vast beauty of it all, how it never gets old—impossible. I cannot imagine that the average bookseller at an independent bookstore is foaming at the mouth to give a genuine recommendation to a naive customer, or telling their coworker that they’re unreasonably excited for the new Ishiguro copies to arrive. And you’re going to tell me that there’s even the faintest chance that Jon Hamm was suggesting possible character arcs for Don to Matt Wiener over breakfast in the offseason? Get out!
Intellectually, I know this is not the case; I guess there’s evidence (obviously) that proves me wrong many times over. Whenever someone is Mic’D Up on TNT, it’s patently clear these guys think deeply about the intricacies of the game; and it appears that Scott Rudin would clearly lay his life down for film and theater, maybe to a violent extent.
Yet in my cynical, blackened, Cajun-spiced heart (which is its current, late-pandemic state), the notion that people care about what they do, and that they think critically about what they do, or that they might even want to improve in what they do, is a stretch. Maybe I’m just Dhar-pilled; I’m convinced that once the cameras—proverbial or not—shut off, and whatever theater necessary to do one’s job has run its course, people drop the mask. To my mind, everything is PR, and what you truly carry a torch for is what you do outside of your “work.”
I am a moron, so there are counterexamples to this everywhere I could care to look. A recent story I read about the Anne Hathaway-James Franco Oscars revealed that, apparently, Anne Hathaway was hella into it, and she showed up to rehearsals and writing sessions constantly workshopping material to try (and fail, ultimately) to create a superior product. This guy named Scott Chang-Fleeman, a farmer in the Bay Area I’m genuinely inspired by, is doing some of the coolest shit imaginable—clearly he cares! And this mf truly gave a shit.
So maybe it’s the Content ferris wheel we’re all on, maybe it’s the unprecedented churn of most of our cultural products, maybe it’s Maybelline. But outside of our civic-minded saints—your public defenders, your postal workers, your Broad City girls, what have you—it feels like the modern economy has stripped away all meaning from your livelihood. And not just in the initial layer—caring about the end product—but in improving yourself, in passion and attention to detail for the process. The Creator Economy, ironically enough, feels utterly divorced from its namesake. And who wants that?
So that’s where I’m at, I guess. Everything is fake and I don’t think people care about stuff. Hope you all have a good weekend!
I’m going to do something unprecedented here… I disagree.
This one’s tough, Nabeel, because you have cynically chosen to equate people who work on something to people who work for someone. I do not think that Anne Hathaway is completely disinterested in the craft of acting and filmmaking—she has the power to see her creative vision made reality; why would she not be invested in it?
In my real life day job, I am a software engineer. Over the course of my career as an engineer, I have worked on a number of products for for-profit companies, none of which I can profess any particular emotional connection to. But there is a bit of a rush just associated with Getting Better at Doing Something, anything really, that drives me to want the thing I’m working on to be good. Otherwise, why spend time on it? I can’t say that building the specific thing I work on is my passion, but I desperately want to get better at it, if only to make the work less mentally exhausting for myself and my colleagues. I don’t find spiritual or ethical comfort in what I do, but I do find meaning in the practice of getting better at something, and I think that drives a lot of people to truly, actually care about their jobs, even people who ostensibly have no power in their workplace.
Of course, if we lived in a socialist utopia (which would be so fucking epic sauce) we would all be able to get better at things divorced from their Profit Potential, but under the onerous weight of “Late Stage Capitalism,” this is all that most people get, fam.
I do think that most people who are “content creators” (said in the pejorative sense) or whatever have rocks for brains and just want to be super famous, and that’s why they care, but there’s a thin slice of them who clearly are just farming rubes for ad dollars, and those people are Pure Evil.
Both parts, very good.
I agree with Ritam.