Experience And Exploration

As often is the case, Serdar and I were discussing media and creativity, centered around exploring media properties. I was discussing how I enjoyed “Lower Decks” and how it explored elements of the Star Trek universe that needed it. He noted missed opportunities. This got me thinking (which obviously, as usual, turns into something like blog posts).

I began thinking about “universe” projects, projects that involved a deep exploration of the setting and often via multiple books, movies, etc. When you have a big setting to play in, there’s a lot one can do. What one choses to do on the other hand can vary.

First, the universe one creates can be explored. You can understand the repercussions of the world(s), track cause and effect, dive into possibilities and results, and so on. A setting can be a huge playground that lets you do all sorts of things – often to your own surprise. It’s a place to ask “what if” and see where you go.

Secondly, a universe can deliver experiences. Settings with a given flavor allow you to have certain feelings, scenes, and so on that are desirable to you and the audience. Settings have certain emotional, cultural, and psychological resonances that some will want to experience. They can deliver the “hits” people want.

In any media franchise, big-universe project, single-setting series, creators can deliver both. Now I am biased towards exploration but the experience is important because sometimes that “feel” is what helps you get the exploration.

However I think we see that big, corporate-owned franchises tend towards the experience part of the equation. The big universes create certain feelings and people want that. Companies want to make money, so they deliver said experiences If you explore too much, you risk changing things and not delivering the experiences people want.

We’ve probably all seen cases of series, series endings, books, etc. that explored a bit too much for people’s expectations because they were used to things hitting certain emotional resonances. I could point to recent examples, but it would A) date this column, and B) probably make some people I know mad at me.

But you set some expectations, don’t allow too much change, and that happens.

On the other hand, we’ve also assuredly seen cases of big, moribund media franchises getting a chance to explore and going hog wild. I’ve sung the praises of Star Trek: Lower Decks because it “went there” on so many occasions I really felt things – and it somehow delivered the Trek experiences I’d come to expect. I feel the positivity towards The Mandalorian was well deserved – especially as it’s thematics of a slow-moving character drama seemed at odds with much of Star Wars media.

I mean I didn’t care about Star Trek and still don’t care about Star Wars anymore and I’m praising these works.

The Exploration and Experience labels give me a better way to understand media and creation. I consider Exploration to be valuable – it’s what I’m inclined to do and if part of the value of fiction. I consider a focus on Experience I can be a trap – but also that you need a certain “feel” to communicate the Exploration part I love. I’m not saying they’re equal or opposites, but useful tools.

Now I wonder how I’ll see various media differently.

Steven Savage

Hard Because We’re Inside

Writers, artists of all kinds, can be incredibly hard on themselves. If you’ve dealt with such creatives, you know it. If you are such a creative, well, you’re nodding along. I myself can be harsh towards my skills, abilities, and works.

I’ve wondered why we do this. I mean sure, not every artist or writer self-flagellates, but it’s common enough that I feel there’s something to it. We creatives can turn on ourselves.

A book could be written on this – indeed I’ve written about it before. But one of the reasons that comes to mind is simply that we’re inside something no one else can experience.

Each creative person is living inside their own unique experience and creations. No one can see the flaws of our work because only we have them inside our head. No one can see the flaws in our process like we do as we are the process. No one lives with them as much as us – only we know what that’s like.

We experience our creations and creativity so intimately its easy to see the flaws. It’s also hard to express or connect as no one can really get what’s going on as they’re not us. It’s lonely, in our face, and intense.

Solving it is also hard because our self-loathing is so intense and personal. For us creatives wanting to mitigate this – and help others, I think there’s a few lessons.

First, any creative has to be aware of their own mental health and use our awareness of how personal our experience is. Being aware that yes, we have unique experiences, yes its hard to share, we can approach our own well-being better.

Secondly, I think we can network and connect with fellow creatives so we can support each other better. Being aware we’ve got some isolation, we can mitigate it as best we can socially, in writer’s groups, etc. It may be hard, but we can try – and our fellows can tell us when we’re being too cruel to ourselves.

Third, we have to remember creative support groups – writer’s groups, art jams – have to be about more than what we make. We have to talk challenges and problems in being creative and what we face. You can’t just talk word count and editing them go away. Creative people need people because hey, we’re people.

We might be in our heads because we do a lot of work there. But we can have guests and we can visit. With a little less sense of disconnection, with more people to understand, we can get more done and maybe get over those times we’re hard on ourselves.

Steven Savage

Diversity: It Is Good

Let’s talk diversity – I’m all for it. Yes, I’m an older white guy, which ironically means people may listen to me more about diversity. Yes, I accept the irony.

In fact, since I’m being blunt, let’s get to it – arguments against diversity are almost always rooted in sexism, racism, and territoriality. They have nothing to do with making things better and everything to do with people’s bigotries and wanting things to be “for them” which is often a pretty narrow definition of “them.”

So let’s talk diversity in groups, businesses, boards, teams, etc. and why it’s great.

Diversity brings a wider range of experiences and knowledge. Having people be different means they have an understanding that others may not. When you’re trying to deal with complex situations like life, you kind of need broad knowledge.

Diversity also ensures less groupthink. When you have a diverse team or group then people think differently. Yes they may conflict and that’s good. Less homogeneity decreases the chance for everyone to decide the same stupid thing at once. If people make a bad decision, at least it may be a more informed bad decision.

Diversity also means that people may express ideas clearer and learn more. When people are different, then you can express your own differences. You’re also going to pick up a lot more from a diverse crowd than people just like you. You might even learn what you don’t know.

Diversity also brings a range of skills to a situation. You never know quite what you’ll need to solve a problem, and may not even know you need to know. Even when people have the same skillsets, diversity means it’s still different from person to person. Writers, artists, coders, leaders are not the same – and that’s good. Mix them up to get better chances to solve you rproblems.

It all sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? So why do we often hear arguments against it?

As noted, I think it’s bigotry and territoriality.

We know diversity brings broader skills but we hear the tired old bigoted argument of “we should hire by ability” which really means “those people are getting special treatment.” Well when everyone in a team or group or organization is all alike people are getting special treatment – by being like everyone else. I’ll trust diversity to solve a problem over an organization of people who want everyone to be the same and call it “talent.”

That also leads to territoriality – people against diversity as, though they oft wont admit it, they want to be surrounded by people just like them. It’s a peculiar kind of mental inbreeding, and just about as healthy for people as the actual inbreeding of royal families throughout history. Yes, it may be comforting, but if you’re trying to lead a company or solve a problem then comfort may not solve your problems.

Of course as we’ve seen many an organization that was undiverse fail, and people escape without consequences – and that’s part of the problem. People get away with all sorts of crap by being “part of the in crowd.” Diversity challenges that layer of protection – when everyone is not 100% “the same” there’s more chance you might get held responsible.

So I’m all for diversity. I’d like to actually work with people, not a hall of mirrors. The world would be a better place with more of it.

Steven Savage