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I was thinking about how the publishing industry is the way it is because for one to even be part of that industry, one needs to have a degree from a selective college while only making barely any money living in a high-COL city. So it selects for people that are super passionate about what they do, so they turn to “uplifting diverse voices” to give their lives a higher purpose. It’s like being a religious zealot: the only purpose in life is to save souls. And by souls, they mean BIPOCs, who can’t exist without benevolent white benefactors.

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Aug 9, 2023·edited Aug 9, 2023Liked by Chris Jesu Lee

I can tell you why kids dream of becoming influencers.

1. In today's America, what's left of the middle class is picked clean and left to dust. There are a very few out of sight rich and then there is everyone else, barely getting by. Either you get rich or be resigned to life as a peon, fighting over an ever-shrinking slice of an ever-shrinking pie.

2. Unlike, say, investment banking, sports, medicine or nuclear physics, being an influencer requires no real talent, determination, training, responsibility, or skill, other than shamelessness, self-promotion and gimmickry. Looks help, especially if you are female, but they aren't the sole criterion for influencer success.

There may be other ways to achieve the goals set out in 1., but not many available to the average frustrated chump who knows what he's up against, who knows the score. You don't even need any real start up capital - any toolio can get a camera phone and start YouTubing.

In this, being an influencer is like being a rapper for those who can't even rap.

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Regarding Jenna Bush and Malia Obama, I think the reason they pursued careers on the fringes of American media rather than committing to a life of public service is that George W. Bush or Barack Obama are not born statesmen, much less national leaders. Bush Jr. should have been a cheerleader turned portrait painter, not a warmonger. Barack Obama should have been a lawyer turned popular writer, not a warmonger. (As for Kamala Harris, she should have remained a blood-crazed District Attorney for life, while her daughter-in-law should have her own Etsy store.) Since neither Bush Jr. or Obama have natural leadership abilities beyond charisma and no political ambitions beyond winning re-elections, is it any wonder they charisma-lite children chose to cash their names in for a plush salary and Kmart level fame?

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The cliche is that kids aspire to be the people they 1. see all the time, 2. with the highest status and 3. with a discernible life-path to emulate.

It's no wonder that the social media age has produced the Influencer as the aspirational model for the lowest common denominator. Kids already have parasocial relationships with them, they seem to have everything kids want - money, fame, popularity, super-fun lives doing what they love to do - and they have no extraordinary talent beyond creative self-expression - something most kids would rather being doing than almost anything else.

There's a more complicated reality behind the scenes of any successful public persona, but the audience doesn't see that - they just see the fantasy being sold and it seems like an awesome life - so much better than what boring adults are telling them to prepare for.

Of course it's just an expansion of the time-worn fantasies of being a successful musician or actor or athlete - social media has removed the middle men gatekeepers and completely democratized access to the attention economy.

Having fun with your friends, or just filming yourself doing what you love to do anyway and getting paid for it in huge sums of money and social status - how can other mainstream versions of life compete?

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Great post. I think the lack of spiritual dimension in modern. Culture is primarily to blame. Many children spend a lot of their time online, so they're not seeing garbage collectors and and truck drivers as much as they're seeing other influencers.

This is a great deal of the reason why I write Universal spiritual humor, rather than spirituality geared to people of a particular religion, although of course I'm coming from a Jewish background, because

I think that a sense of spiritual existence is desperately needed in today's world.

I get universalist spiritual you are, even though I write from a Jewish perspective, I write for all humans, because we can all relate to the concept of wanting to feel like something bigger, appreciating the world around us, atonement for sin, These Are Spiritual realities independent of which religion you have. Of course my perspective is jewish, but

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Sep 27, 2023Liked by Chris Jesu Lee

Subscribed to the newsletter, saved the article. It's gonna take me time to process this but thank you

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Sep 7, 2023Liked by Chris Jesu Lee

WOW! That was excellent..."Max and his ilk are willing to destroy birthed beauty in order to avenge abortions." !!!

Your essay reminded me of another essay I read recently by Philip Rieff, "The Impossible Culture: Wilde as a Modern Prophet" (Rieff is up there with Lasch as modern American prophet).

Here is the basic premise:

"For Wilde, the artist is the true revolutionary figure. Only the artist is fit to play the role of guide in the next culture. He is fit because “he expresses everything.” Wilde italicized that sentence. The artist, radically different from any revolutionary figure preceding him, precisely by his special freedom to express everything, plays the prophetic role in Wilde’s entertainments. Indeed, in the artist, revolutionary and entertainer merge."

And then Rieff gets to how this manifests in our culture:

"Young revolutionaries in advanced industrial orders conceive themselves more artists than proletarians: their aim is to express everything. But here the resemblance between Wilde and his epigones begins to fade. These latter-day epigones are, mainly, failed artists, relying on their assertions of freedom to express everything rather than upon the wit, grace and reticence with which Wilde believed everything should be expressed.

The genius of modernity is in Wilde’s cleverness. That genius is only now being caricatured by a culture which produces revolutionaries who are less oppressed proletarians than failed artists."

In our democratic age where everyone who wants to "express something" (or everything) lives high up on Maslow's hierarchy and is both secular and deracinated, it pains the young egalitarian to look out at the world and its history and see 1) that not everyone can be an artist (never mind a "great" one), and 2) that most of Western culture (for various reasons) was almost wholly created by European men, who had the gall to make masterpieces without once considering the feelings of the marginalized!

This stands as an intolerable ego assault and cannot stand. We are once again in a social situation similar to Dostoevsky's Nihilist "Demons": the children who don't "feel seen" by the built world they've inherited are all for burning it down, except this time by shedding tears instead of blood.

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A huge problem within the arts profession, at least within music specifically as that is the industry I’m familiar with - there’s next to no above-ground discussion of the real differences between the business of making artistic products, and artistry for the sake of spiritual expression (in this case I mean expressing ourselves to others through emotional conveyance and communion) and aesthetics.

Kids are enamored and convinced to pursue, either directly in-industry or via academic study, a career in creative arts as a result of how such careers are presented as cultural commodity products in a culture of delusional individualism. Most of these kids are simply not prepared to be cut out for what it takes to be successful in such a career, either artistically or economically, so they either burn out and career pivot or turn to technologies and strategies that lower their bar of access to success (of course someone could always adapt and improve their skills to maintain a balance of artistic quality and financial success, but neither is a guarantee of the other).

A possible consequence of this has been a rise in “creative” industries like influencing. As cultural production has overtaken traditional industry in a job market that mostly outsources formerly well-unionized blue-collar jobs, and within a culture that has oversaturated white-collar job positions (PMC notwithstanding) built on the distorted notion of social mobility through academic study, impressionable kids who feel alienated yet animated by individualism may feel compelled to take advantage of these “PMC creative positions”.

The secret that no one in artistic industries discusses openly is that producing financially successful cultural commodities requires a completely different skillset than producing artistic works of merit. In fields like music, you generally still need a high level of artistic competency and proficiency to even hope to be a successful working musician (although as genres become both popular and oversaturated, artistic skill as a requirement diminishes as technological access increases - you don’t have to be the best to secure the job if you know how to vibe and network/market yourself). Skillset distinction between financial success and artistic merit is exacerbated and amplified by PMC creatives who realize that careers in influencing don’t necessarily require any artistic merits at all to be warranted as “creative”. Creativity can be sublimated into commodity at the expense of actually sublime spiritual work in the culture industry.

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Would you be willing to trade free subscriptions?

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