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Puppets, theatre and the conflation of ‘successful’ with ‘popular’

UPDATE 03/17/09: This post is the center of my core conversation of the same name at SxSW 2009. If you are visiting this page following on from my talk and would like to subscribe to my blog please check out the RSS feed! Thanks!

Loren Feldman may be hanging up the Shel Israel puppet but sadly we’re still a long way away from bringing the curtain down on the banal theater that’s consuming what the rest of us once proudly referred to as “our industry”.

And ‘theater’ is exactly what it is. With set pieces, stooges, rehearsals (backchannels) and whole troops of merry men.

The trouble with theater is that it’s fake; the lines spoken by the actors are chosen for effect and for entertainment – often exaggerated and rarely based on any real fact or merit.

Sadly the theater on display in “our industry” is often to intertwined with the ‘expert’ analysis we précis (tech blogs), the peer communication we read (twitter, friendfeed) and even from the pioneers of the products we love and use (ego CEO’s).

This is now occurring to an extent that is beyond avoidable. Not only that, but the farce is becoming ever more ridiculous, as the ante is upped and the perceived need to placate the gallery increased.

Not only do I personally find it frustrating and irritating, but it gets in the way of the business so many of us have sacrificed so much to participate in… To ship great product, to change the world and perhaps to earn a little coin to make our lives a happier place.

The ace or the joker?

The problem with “our industry” is that so many have conflated the term “successful” with the term “popular”.

One way of being popular is to put one’s self center-stage. One way of being successful is to put one’s head down and graft.

In related matters, Sofia and I enjoyed a delightful drive down to Palo Alto today in our recently purchased sports car. I can’t tell you how proud I am, at the age of 26, to have been able to pay for this piece of highly tuned German engineering upfront in cash. No loan, no hire. We found what we wanted and I wrote the check.

I’d be just as proud to tell you what I’ve produced and achieved during the relatively small number of consulting days I had to work to pay for it, such is the standing I’ve been (fairly quietly) able to achieve in my practice. Fortunately, for me at least, some sense of humility kicks in. I am not about to join the performance and begin a rendition.

In fact I now feel guilty even using it to illustrate the point. I certainly am not going to use it to puff an already inflated ego in a series of twitters or cerment a semi-faux persona I’ve carved out for myself that I must now live up to or otherwise feel inferior.

Here to make me laugh, too?

And so back to our old friend Loren Feldman, perhaps the only person in all of this who I must let off the hook without charge. As Loren so eloquently writes in his final tirade to the beleaguered Shel…

…Mike [Arrington] is busy taking on AP and the NY Times. Jason [Calacanis] is taking on Google. I’m taking on TV, do you think anyone of us have the time or even give a shit enough about you…[Shel Israel]

(emphasis mine)

Yes, for much of what you see from Loren is self-labeled, self-described entertainment. I just wish everyone else could decide too whether they’re striving to change the world, or simply striving for shits and giggles.

Published in Thoughts and Rants


  1. The sad thing, is the fact that perception oftens turns to reality. All the brown noses I’ve ever known from my younger years, and the ones I come across now in adult life, seem to have fruitful careers. Fuckers.

  2. Bill Bill

    If you just ignore the no-loads and the blowhards, they go away. Any wounds suffered in the late fracas have been largely self-inflicted. 99.999999999% of the world never noticed, and if they ever hear about this, will not care.

  3. I couldn’t agree more. The Web 2.0 world is a small, self sustaining enclave which is often far from the real world of satisfied customers using your service.

  4. ant ant

    I’m not sure that the taking down of the theatre, along with all the hoo hah about it, isn’t still just another act in the play. Even this comment I’m making here, on the page of a fairly well recognised character in the whole narative, is itself another line of dialogue.

    If it makes any odds at all, I have no idea who Loren or Shel are, and having spen the last ten minutes peering at their tawdry slanging matches and purile puppet shows, I don’t think I want to.

    Ben, thanks. Every so often I wonder if the big noises on the west coast are having the life I always wanted. It would appear not. I’m happy with my lot, and glad you are with yours. Enjoy the new toy.

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