Virality Banality

(This column is posted at, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my

Over the years, the term “going viral” started to get on my nerves.  As I’m a writer, this nails-on-chalkboard-in-my-soul experience is common as “going viral” is oft a goal of writers.  We want tales of our books to “go viral” so they reach our audience – oh, and so we make money.  Despite the “positive” take on it, I kept finding it annoying.

I figured it out recently – and I’m glad to say three years of Covid-19 chaos was only a minor part of it for this hypochondriac.  However, it does involve viruses-as-metaphor – so let’s talk viruses.

A virus isn’t even a living thing; it’s a replication machine that uses living creatures to reproduce.  It has no reactions, no feelings, it’s not even a single-celled bacteria.  A virus is pointless – which is probably why they’re so scary – at least a bacterium is alive like you.

The idea of “going viral” as an author or artist gets to me as the idea is “you hijacked a bunch of people’s attention and got them to spread what you posted.”  The quality of your book or art doesn’t matter – at best, it’s an afterthought of whatever meme or clever marketing phrase you used.  Dross and brilliance, specialty work and mass appeal creations, the content doesn’t matter.

There’s a creepy implication to “going viral” that your work could be like a virus, and that’s laudable.  You can make your work perfectly calibrated to sell, create a perfect campaign, and get a bunch of attention – but there’s nothing there but a bunch of optimized math.  I’m unsettled by the idea of “virality” replacing creativity.

When you take a look at our media and social media landscape, you can see it’s gone in that direction.

What do I do with this knowledge of my opinions?  Mostly it tells me what I’m comfortable doing as an author to promote my works.  Partially it may tell me why some of my fellow creatives are unsettled by “going viral.”

But it also means I’m casting a far more jaundiced eye on marketing and social media, and I’m sure I’ll have more opinions to follow.

Steven Savage

A Certain Intimate Dissatisfaction

(This column is posted at, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my

I’ve felt a disinterest in media lately.  It was only after some analysis that I understood how much media lacks intimacy.

Something has been itching at the back of my mind lately, a dissatisfaction with most media.  It wasn’t  hatredjust a sense of being unfulfilling.  I’m not saying the media were even bad, but I felt something was missing.  Instead of trying to scratch this itch, I leaned into it to learn it’s nature.

This sense of unease was tied to a recent interest in old alternative music radio shows, strange zines, audio ephemera, sound collages, etc.    Those things were unique, with passion for once-obscure (and still obscure) bands, remixing techniques, personal interests, and so on.  Each one was a little ball of itself.

Compared to that, many movies, television, etc. seemed so sterile.  Oh, it might be good, but the market is filled with works that look alike, everything is overhyped, and it’s impersonal.  There was a lack of connection there.  I could enjoy some crappy B-movies more than the big thing I had to see, with a few exceptions (Everything Everywhere All At Once, for instance).

This ‘itch” didn’t apply to video games, which was another clue.  I love Early Access games, being able to give feedback, and be involved in the process.  I also loved digging up strange, obscure, and unique titles to play, those visions giving form.

I understood then – I craved the intimacy of media involvement.  Of being involved in the creation and sharing it (like Early Access games, or Zines).  I missed things that were personal experiences with that sense of craftsmanship (Zines, alternate music, strange films).  With this in mind, I’m finding my interests again, often in the strangest places – of which I may write more in time.

I think our modern media, which often produces things that can be good, also creates works that are mass-marketed, polished, and targeted.  Things may be optimized, but optimization isn’t personal.  When you’re just caught within a statistics range, you know.

I suspect this is an unappreciated part of fandoms as well.  Some fandom experiences are intimate, with fanfic, art, cosplay, conventions, etc.  The flawed or over-engineered creation can bring people together, who then transcend the original work.  Fandom can add something to the experience of a media, a something I don’t think is fully appreciated by many.

So now I have a grasp of this itch, this sense of dissatisfaction.  I miss work that is connected, personal, and above all not over-engineered.  I miss media that helps me connect with people and indeed to the “bigger picture.” 

I’m not sure where this will take my tastes, or my own creative works, but it’s going to be an interesting trip.  You’ll be along for the ride and plenty of blog posts – and what’s sure to be a connecting experience.

Steven Savage

The Artist As Art

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Friends and I regularly run movies and videos for each other online, a wonderful tradition it only took a pandemic for us to devise. We recently watched The Horse’s Mouth, a film based on a well-regarded book, starring Alec Guinness as an artist who destroys as much as he creates. At first it seems to be a relatively standard comedy, but as I sat with it, I felt it was more like Spinal Tap and similar movies – a comedy that hits close to reality. The artist Guinness portrays, Gully Jimson, is a a rambling storm of pathologies, who fascinates and repells at the same time – everyone seems to have a radically different opinion of the man.

The Artist As A Loutish Rorschach Blot as you will.

As Serdar, who introduced me to the film, noted, there doesn’t seem to be a market for stories of working artists. We seem to like our films to be about people who are wild or crazy. We may often see them as offensive like Mr. Jimson, but ultimately there’s something about our culture that accepts artists as talented a-holes. In the film, Mr. Jimson at best does a month in jail for threats, but is somehow accepted despite the fact one may question if his art is worth putting up with him.

But when we step back, our lives often contain many workman like artists and creators. We just pay attention to the annoying ones, and as they consume mental space, we forget everyone not being a bipedial emotional disaster. For every musical star posturing in their psychopathic delusions, I can easily think of ten of more talent and less need for treatment. Why do we ignore this?

First, I think that this is part of the Great Man theory that has infected our culture. We want to believe in a rule-breaking Ultratalent who transcends all boundaries to create great art. Certainly encouraging that viewpoint has fueled the rise of many artists and creatives and leaders, as well as the fall that always seems to come later. We create the idea of a Great Man.

Second, we are envious even if we may not admit it. We wish we were that person, who breaks rules and is awarded fame and money and sex and places in a museum. We want to believe it, so we both encourage it in others and feed the media our demands. We create the idea that maybe we can be like that – and should be.

Third, we believe each creator is unique and thus uniquely valuable. It is true everyone is unique, but that doesn’t mean there is superior value in that uniqueness. Because we may assume some ranting business leader is somehow unique, we assume he must be special. Sometime one is merely uniquely annoying. Yet we create the idea of value.

Fourth, we are distracted by spectacle. A posturing performer, an artist leaping atop a table and yelling at a convention, a start-up king burning millions gets attention. We want to enjoy the show, and writers and moviemakers will deliver that. We’ll create an interest in showing our dreams on sreen.

In the end, the reason we get these figures in media is we want them. Sadly, it means we miss out on the fascinating figures who may have not been drug off into rehab or melted down publicy. This is one of the reasons I adore movies and documentaries that go behind the scenes and into the less known – because often there’s far more there than a strutting rooster of a performer.

We get stories of these pathological artists as we created the delusions and the demand.

This is why, ultimately, The Horse’s Mouth fascinates me. This annoying, obsessive man (and a few others as bad as he) is a decent and passionate artist. But people worship him, or want his art, or tolerate him, believing there is something there. But is he worth it?

That’s probably the question, but except for one or two characters, Gully is surrounded by artists who’ve created their own idea of him.

Steven Savage