This article is a continuation from Project X And The Age Of YouTube
Project X Is A Mirror
We live in a social-media-driven world, which is a very different beast to previous century’s reality. Everything is up for grabs. Nothing is secret — or supposed to be — anymore. Privacy is getting redefined, realigned and reframed in a paradigm of shared information. To ‘be’ is to be liked, known, followed, shared, tweeted about, talked about, commented upon, awarded points, friended, circled, poked and pinged and mentioned, at least in the teen world. Lack these qualities and you don’t exist. The swell of information displaces you, and you’re nobody.
Fact is, to be liked and friended and talked about you have to make yourself available. You have to be seen. You have to make an impression. And to make an impression you have to put yourself out there, on the web, where fame, even if temporary, is but a few million clicks away. Do the right thing, be it exciting, provocative, entertaining, fun, original, cool or sick, whatever, and you get your fifteen minutes of fame. Or a publishing contract. Or a role in a Hollywood movie.
Here’s how Dax Flame landed his role in Project X. The producers saw his work on YouTube and gave him the role. Simple as that.
To be fair, the material sucks. I mean, Dax Flame has panache, and it serves the purpose for the moment. But there’s a low ceiling hanging over this type of approach, accompanied by a short half life. It’s amusing for a while, but meh. I mean, talent and determination need more. A person needs training, practice and polish to become inspiring. There’s only so much you can do with the ‘oh look at me, I don’t know what I’m doing — am I faking it? — but who the hell cares because it’s kind of cool to be lost for words, just another Andy Kaufman clone’ approach etc.
A lot of the material out there blows. The age of institutionalized and glorified amateurism is upon us. The hype that comes with the technology that brought the studio to every man, woman and child has also enabled a whole bunch of mediocrity to rise up and saturate the scene. With empowerment comes great inability to play at the top level, and somehow this is deemed a good thing. It becomes the norm.
It’s a problem. The standards are falling fast. We rate aptitude and skill on the backdrop of those who can’t pull it off. The craft suffers for it, and so do we, losing that edge. Where’s the wit of Robin Williams? The class of Katharine Hepburn? The professionalism of Jack Nicholson? These superb individuals were not squares – not even close – but they had their craft down to a T. They worked hard to get to that level, settling for nothing short of excellence.
It’s hard to see the same level of devotion in the ‘me too’ world of YouTube and the quick-buck platform the studios are eager to capitalize on. The time of improvised endeavor and short performances is upon us. If people are satisfied with lower quality, then why spend all that money and effort getting it right? Why not just wing it, shoot it on the fly and pass it off as the ‘new thing’? Audiences seem to like that because it comes across as authentic.
The problem comes later, when we’re lost in that vibe, forgetting to reward the outstanding among us…
So screw quality, cut the costs, and keep audiences happy. Have your cake and eat it too.
See, the problem with World 2.0 is not the rise of enthusiasm and the amount of material it has spawned. That’s the upside. The more stuff the better, it drives motivation up, creating good vibes along the way. The problem comes later, when we get lost in that vibe, forgetting to reward the outstanding among us, whom we sidetrack in favor of the ‘swell’, dropping the standards and redefining what quality means.
Our Applaud Is A Mirror Too
Bottom line, many of the performers we have turned into stars over the years don’t make the grade. They don’t have their craft down to a T. They glide through the job, perfectly happy to play the ‘oops, I don’t know what I’m doing’ card, improvising their way out of the lulls they keep getting into, and not doing a good job of it. But we like that. We applaud it. The choke has suddenly become the trademark of the new performer, especially the comedian.
Here’s an example of how this looks (from the movie Wedding Crashers with Owen ‘Always in the same role but somehow getting away with it’ Wilson – and Will ‘I act crazy to cover for the fact that I’m not very funny on the fly’ Ferrell).
“Hey mom! The meatloaf [pause]… we want it now… The meatloaf!”
Way to go! Woo-hoo! Unable to handle the ad-libs, Will and Owen deliver a sloppy, crappy performance, which, nevertheless, makes the final cut. WTF! These are dull lines, geared for an audience that accepts – no, embraces – no, applauds! – the inability of an actor to be witty. Long silences and weird moments have suddenly become the new humor.
To be fair, awkward humor can be real funny. But it doesn’t work all the time, and it’s not synonymous to ad-libbing.
Long silences and weird moments have suddenly become the new humor
To add insult to injury, gratuitous awkward humor is paying off. People like it. Why? Because it makes them feel good. They enjoy the fact that the pros are getting average. It makes it easier to become a ‘star’.
No matter, the trend will taper off, like all passing phenomena do. It’ll burn out, leaving the diamonds to shine amid the sea of ash it leaves behind.
To shape things up and close on a sharp note, here’s a low-resolution but high-quality clip of a young and up-and-coming Williams from back in the day when it was cool to be sharp, witty, and on top of one’s game.