Artists: Got a job? Don't lose it.
Naysayers have always had plenty of ammunition to shoot down the aspirations of would-be artists. Most popular is the rationalization that creative pursuits aren’t worth the requisite time and effort, since they rarely produce steady income. If that’s the case, then recent developments are showing a devastating corollary:
Good creative decisions can get you paid, but bad ones can get you fired.
Armchair auteurs, moonlighting musicians and novice novelists, beware — ‘don’t quit your day job’ is slowly becoming ‘don’t lose your day job.’
This axiom is no more evident than in the case of Helaine Olen and her blogging nanny. Apparently Olen, after being informed directly from her nanny about the blog’s existence, became disturbed by the her nanny’s postings. Not because they contained eccentric details from her social life, but because they also contained many personal details from the job – a job which took place in Olen’s home. So distraught was Olen about her nanny’s running commentary that she fired her.
But that, of course, wouldn’t be news by itself, would it? Nannies get hired and fired all the time. What makes this notable is the fact that Olen then wrote about her experience in The New York Times – a move which earned her plenty of ill will around the blogosphere. After all, if you fire someone for writing about you, then turn around and write about them for a much larger audience, it doesn’t speak well of your credibility.
While Olen was justifiably upset about her nanny’s commentary about her marriage and household, most of the shock and awe in the Times piece came from passages about her nanny’s bizarre habits and desires – passages that, upon further examination, seemed awfully blown out of proportion. The whole thing smacked of hypocrisy, a point which many bloggers have hammered home on their own.
And while the nanny herself later admitted that she probably shouldn’t have told her boss about the blog in the first place, it certainly took two to tango in this sordid sonata. The nanny probably could’ve avoided A) writing in such specific detail and B) telling her boss about it, but her boss certainly didn’t have to C) fire her, and D) write about it in a major metropolitan newspaper.
At the hazy intersection of creativity and responsibility, both parties charged forward with little regard to the ensuing complications. As a result, questionable decisions on each side left both parties looking bad.
Niner Gate: Too Hot For TV
Of course, some decisions only look questionable in retrospect.
Napoleon probably liked his chances at Waterloo. The Portland Trail Blazers were confident in their pick of Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. I’m sure Ben Affleck had nothing but high hopes for Gigli.
And Kirk Reynolds probably thought he was really onto something with the concept for his training video.
Reynolds was the public relations director for one of the NFL’s flagship franchises, the San Francisco 49ers. As such, he had the unenviable task of creating a short film to show new members of the team, a film that would orient them to public life in San Francisco. I guess the idea was to expose them to all the particular facets of city life that they might experience as being 49ers.
In years past, Reynolds had taken a more straightforward approach with the video, which many players later told him was boring. So as he sat alone in his office (I’m assuming he was alone, because no one in their right would call this a good idea) he got the bright idea to – wink, wink – spice things up.
I’m not going to say it was obscene, but according to published reports, it was less “Spice Girls” than it was “Spice Channel.” Not only that, but it was also full of ethnic stereotypes and caricatures of public officials. Now gratuitous nudity and offensive typecasting are generally bad film attributes to start with, but they would’ve been much more forgivable had they come from the players themselves. The fact that the video was conceived and executed by the 49ers P.R. director, the one person in the entire organization who ought to have known better, made it ten times worse.
There are those who would say that one bad lapse in judgment isn’t an offense worth being fired over, but here I disagree. By making such a horrendous video, Reynolds revealed a clear inability to relate well to the general public. In his defense, I’m sure he probably never expected the video to go public in the first place. He probably just wanted to make a video that the players would remember for a long time.
I guess that’s why the phrase ‘time will tell’ is such a cliché. Because history is usually the ultimate arbiter of justice. In this case, once the tape was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle, that’s just what Kirk Reynolds became – history.
When I Flow, It’s Hostile
Say what you want about Kirk Reynolds, but at least his motives were clear. The same can’t necessarily be said about Bassam Khalaf, whose story is so bizarre, it sounds like a sketch from the late “Chappelle’s Show.”
Khalaf, 21, is an aspiring rap artist in Houston, TX. Like many emcees, he needed an angle, a niche – something to set him apart from the legions of other rappers out there. As it was, the only thing he could think of was his ethnicity, so he decided to cash in on the myriad of negative stereotypes of Middle Easterners by calling himself the Arabic Assassin and filling his raps with violent bravado and terrorist threats. Khalaf adopted his incendiary style in order to attract attention, in the hopes that the controversy and exposure would gain him a distribution deal for “Terror Alert,” his latest CD.
As the Arabic Assassin, Khalaf got plenty of attention – just not the kind he was hoping for. Apparently one of his coworkers found out about his microphone alias, read some of his lyrics from his website, and reported the findings to his superiors.
Information like this could be vaguely troubling to many employers, assuming of course that they weren’t amused by the absurdity of it all. But because Khalaf worked for the Transportation Safety Administration, working as – no, really – a baggage screener, at – I wish I was making this up – George Bush Intercontinental Airport – his is bosses were not in a position to find any of it funny. Thus, they promptly fired him.
I’m speculating here, but I figure Khalaf couldn’t have been too particularly talented, or else he could have found another gimmick. Granted, I don’t know if he is or not. Far be it from me to indiscriminately evaluate another rapper without actually hearing his work, so for the sake of argument, I suppose it’s possible that, talent-wise, he could be Tupac, Biggie and Eminem all rolled into one olive-skinned emcee. As my man Charles Barkley said, “I may be wrong, but I doubt it.”
And even if he was that good, there’s no way that he couldn’t have seen the axe coming from miles away. Talent can overcome a variety of misdeeds – just look at Terrell Owens – but it can only take you so far. There’s a reason why the ACLU’s not holding any press conferences to rally around this guy.
Newton’s Third Law
Simply put, nothing ever happens in a vacuum. Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of motion illustrates this rule in the physical world, but it’s true on a social and psychological level as well. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Therefore, any work of creativity should be evaluated not only on its own merits, but in the greater context that surrounds it. One of the responsibilities of being an artist is to, inasmuch as it’s possible to do so, anticipate the reaction of the audience.
This is why there are jokes that work on BET Comic View that would never fly on Letterman. There are some things that Black folks can say to other Black folks that no one else would be able to say without being offensive. That’s not necessarily fair, but it’s the way it is. This is also why “The Aristocrats” will never be televised on any of the main broadcast networks.
Ironically, had the blogging nanny never wrote the poem about the child in her care that prompted her telling the mother about her blog, she would probably still be that child’s nanny. And if the 49ers training video had never been leaked to the public, and if Assassin-boy would’ve just stayed to himself at work, neither of them would have lost their jobs, either. Having said that, though, each responsible party still took a tremendous risk by creating artistic product with such a significant potential to offend.
On the flipside, many artists will tell you that’s a key part of what’s so satisfying about creating art. If you do it well, the reward is worth the risk. That’s a sentiment that I agree with, having offended a few people in my day. However, there are some things that are so patently vulgar, offensive and lacking any redeemable quality that, quite frankly, you just have to shake your head and roll your eyes in disgust. (The new Deuce Bigalow sequel immediately springs to mind.)
As I see it, the trick is in learning how to manage the tension between being an artist and being a citizen. It’s in assessing your message and selecting the best method of getting your message out. It’s knowing when to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.
Getting all of that down… it’s a tall order. And you want to know something else depressing? You could devote your whole life to this pursuit and still not gain public acclaim, since doing it well necessitates living on the frontiers of acceptability. And if you eschew monetary gain and choose to be rewarded only by the validation of the artist community, word can still get around, and you can still be fired from your day job.
So killjoys, unite.
The rest of us will just have to be a little more careful.
I’m G*Natural. Thanks for mixin’ it up with me.
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