Tag Archive for 'love'

An Ode to the Super Genius of Pixar

In case you’re wondering, the title was inspired by a comment that Andrew Stanton made on the DVD extras for Pixar’s A Bug’s Life. He was explaining that their movie involved so many technological marvels that it should be released as the super-genius edition.  I hope Mr. Stanton won’t mind too much that I borrowed his phrase to celebrate his company.

If the title did not already make this point abundantly clear, I have no intention whatsoever of writing an unbiased, scientific-sounding piece on Pixar. You see,  I am very much biased in favor of the company. Pixar was one big reason why I dedicated a few years of my life to the study of computer animation.  (There was also a fairytale and a girl, but that’s a whole other story.)   I don’t have a successful career in that field as of yet, and even if I never do, I’m certain that when it ends for me here on this earth,  Pixar will be one of very few companies that had a defining impact on my life.  That’s worth writing about, don’t you think?

Photo credit: flickr.com/thomashawk


You know what else is worth writing about?  Going 10 for 10 in box office hits. Every single movie that Pixar has made achieved enormous financial success.  Name another company, whether film or otherwise, with that kind of track record.   I can’t think of any.

If a company can produce one hit after another in a competitive industry where failure is, according to the statistics, the expected outcome, then there must be some magic in the web of it, as our friend Shakespeare might say.  I wanted to learn about that magic, and so I began to study the company.

I’ll mention a few references at the end that go over the history of Pixar and some of their interesting business practices, but I’m not going to rehash all that here.  I’m more interested in trying to get to the soul of Pixar by looking at the work they’ve produced.  After all, you can know the history of a person without really knowing who he or she is.  Companies are no different.

To prepare for this admittedly daunting task, I re-watched every single Pixar DVD, including the shorts, commentaries, documentaries and all the extra features.  I have also read and listened to books about the company as well as technical discussions that Pixar employees have given at places like Siggraph, Computer Graphics World, fxguide, and so on.

The movies, though, are the essence of what Pixar does, and that’s where I’ll concentrate.   With that said, let’s dive in!

It’s Not (Just) About the Benjamins

“If we had approached this only from the standpoint of marketing, maybe this movie would not have been made. But that’s not what interests anybody at Pixar. What interests us is, Does this sound like a great story?”  That’s Brad Bird, the director of Ratatouille, talking about his movie with Entertainment Weekly.  Now that he mentions it, I guess rats handling human food is not the most obvious concept for a blockbuster.

That’s not the only time that Pixar avoided the obvious route.  Wall Street analysts predicted that Up would hurt Disney’s profits because it did not have any compelling characters that make for good action figures.

Not enough people would pay money to go see an action-adventure cartoon about an old man in a house, they snidely insinuated.  Pixar won the argument by creating a crowd-pleasing, Academy-Award-winning film that made us care about a type of character who is normally ignored in  cinema.

Even though kids make up a significant part of Pixar’s audience, the filmmakers behind Up resisted the temptation to over-explain.  Instead, they tell the story of Elie’s death almost entirely in montage, and it’s one of the best montages in recent film history.

Sure, that took longer  to do and cost more money, and you don’t have to work that hard to keep most kids engaged.  Still, Pixar goes the extra mile.  They budget trips for their production people in the name of inspiration:  For Cars it was a roadtrip across the country.  For Finding Nemo it was scuba-diving in the ocean.   On Up, they flew in their artists to a remote location in Venezuela by helicopter.

Every Pixar movie comes with at least one short and a few documentaries.  When the company is feeling particularly generous, you also get games, short-stories, Easter eggs, and fun character-gag reels.

These extras take months of time to produce, and yet most people would still buy the Pixar movies without them.  With all the added value that they offer in their productions, you would think that Pixar would charge more for their movies, but they don‘t.

Photo credit: flickr.com/adrianhon

As it turns out, 4 of the 10 Pixar films have plots that question the pursuit of profit for merely the sake of profit. In Cars, the driving motivation for Lightning McQueen is getting the Dineco sponsorship.  He literally drives across the country to get it, but when he learns to care about others he realizes there are more important things in life than getting the right sponsor.

In WALL-E, the humans have devolved into consumer blobs in part because the company Buy N Large encourages them to buy lots of things as often as possible.  If you’ve ever had to work with just-make-the-bar-graph-go-up types, check out the Buy N Large featurette on the WALL-E disc.  It might make you laugh or cry, depending on how close it is to your experience.

Remember Monsters Inc? That’s about a company struggling to make bank by scaring kids.   The owner Mr. Waternoose complains that it’s getting harder and harder to scare kids, so he partners with the bad guy to make a more sinister scare extractor.

When Sully and Mike Wazowski realize that laughter is more powerful, more profitable, than screams, they transform the entire company’s business practices.  The workplace appears drab and lifeless  when scaring is the goal; when laughter reigns, the environment becomes one of celebration.

A company that makes money by scaring people: what might that represent? I don’t know.  Hmm.  Could that be … Hollywood?  There are definitely  movie companies who are ready to do anything to make a quick buck, even if that means debasing human dignity and pandering to people’s basest instincts.

Pixar, though, has had enormous financial success without resorting to the use of strippers, gruesome mutilations, and f-bombs.  They’re such capable storytellers that they don’t need those things to keep an audience engaged.  Do you know who isn’t that versatile?  David Mamet!

(Yeah I said it.  Mr. Mamet does write interesting plays, but it would be nice to see him expand his vocabulary beyond the f-word, the beloved colloquial variations of a man’s reproductive organ, the thesaurus entries for  ‘scheme,’ and the cosmopolitan variations of ‘money.’ Hey, Shakespeare didn’t have resort to swear words every 12 seconds to sustain dramatic tension, so it is theoretically possible to do even when writing a play.)

There is value in exploring the darker sides of human life, but dramatically that’s sometimes the easy way out. Besides, what if that exploration encourages corruption in others and makes society worse as a result?  Is it worth it? I don’t know.  I wrestle with that question as a writer, as a moviegoer, and as an imperfect person who aims, but doesn’t always succeed, at living a good life.  But just because a question is difficult to answer, doesn’t mean it is not worth asking.

Anyway, back to Pixar.  One of my favorite scenes in Monsters Inc comes when Sulley sees the devastation that his scare tactics have caused his now cherished little Boo.  He tries to explain that he is just doing his job,  but Boo doesn’t understand that.  All she knows is that someone she once trusted caused her pain.

In that moment, you can tell that Sulley is starting to question the things he does just to turn a profit.  If only more people in this world would do that.

Photo credit: flickr.com/sutekidane

Let’s go back to Ratatouille.  One of the bad guys in that movie is Skinner.  He’s taken over Gusteau’s once great restaurant and is trying to squeeze every dollar out of the brand by coming up with derivative products like frozen, microwavable burritos.  Yeah, that’s kind  of like … what was it again?  Oh yeah: Disney, when they were looting their own classic film library and cranking out direct-to-video sequels that suffered in quality.

Supposedly that’s what Disney tried to do to Pixar when profiteer-in-chief Michael Eisner was running the Mouse House, and if my history is correct, the Pixar-Disney dispute was happening around the time that Ratatouille was being developed.  Coincidence?

A Family that Plays Together

Another thing about Pixar that’s hard to avoid noticing is how comfortable the employees are around each other.  In one DVD after another, the directors are seen joking around with the writers, producers, and animators.

Think that’s no big deal?  When was the last time you shared a laugh with Jim in accounting?  If you are Jim from accounting, when was the last time you had a bonding moment with Steve from IT?

Most of the time, big companies are broken up into separate departments and those departments rarely interact with each other, at least not in any meaningful way.  “Did you get the memo?” does not count.

Photo credit: flickr.com/oldpatterns


Not so at Pixar. For one thing, their building was specifically designed by Steve Jobs to encourage random interactions as people walk to their desks.  Also, let’s consider Pixar’s operating principles.  Two out of three  involve collaboration.  Here they are:

1. Everyone must have the freedom to communicate with anyone.

2. It must be safe for everyone to offer ideas.

3. We must stay close to innovations happening in the academic community.

Isn’t it interesting  that a company so dependent on bleeding-edge technology doesn’t list technology first?  That’s because Pixar puts more emphasis on finding the right people than on finding the right ideas, as Ed Catmull re-iterates in one interview after another.   (Of the original Pixar founders, Mr. Catmull is the technical genius.  Steve Jobs is the business wizard, and John Lasseter is the chief creative.)

It’s not just about finding the right people. It’s also about making sure that they work well together as Pixar’s HR executive Randy Nelson explains.  Adding the right person to the team should be like adding 1 + 1 to get 10.

If all this talk about the value of people was just standard HR corporatespeak, then there’s no way that you would see the casual spontaneity between the artists in the documentaries.

Being in a stressful environment with a very talented, but very opinionated, group of artists is not a surefire way to attain happy-go-lucky bliss.  Just ask anyone who’s ever worked on a film or a play.  Yet somehow Pixar has woven a sense of camaraderie into their culture that overcomes the strain of production.

The culture of playfulness is key. At Pixar, there are games and dress-up days.   The animators elaborately decorate their cubicles in whimsical styles, and even the boss gets in on the action.  Although John Lasseter is one of the most powerful men at Pixar, he has no qualms about conducting interviews in his toy-covered office.   You can see pictures of the fabled office at imagineeringdisney.com and julesbianchi.com/blog.

I don’t remember when I first saw footage of John Lasseter’s office, but it made quite an impression.  It’s the reason why my cubicle looks like this:

I figured if it’s OK for Mr. Lasseter to surround himself with child-like things that inspire him and make him smile, why should I worry if people think my desk is a bit different from that of the typical employee at Canon?  Seeing little reminders of things that matter to me is sometimes enough to get me through a long day.  As an added bonus, management avoids my desk when giving bar-graph powered tours of the building.

Speaking of management, the Pixar guys bring their playfulness even to the meetings they have with their bosses.  In particular, I’m thinking about the Fleabie bit they did to show the Disney people what they were doing, at a time when a lot of the executives didn’t understand the computer animation process.

Instead of doing a PowerPoint presentation, they partnered a flea puppet with John Lasseter, who does an impression of a Japanese actor dubbed in broken English.  Oh that Lasseter, such a ham, but who wouldn’t want to have him for a boss?


Not Too Big to Fail

Failure is not an enjoyable topic to discuss.  Most folks  prefer to talk about how unconditionally awesome they are.  Pixar is 10 for 10, so if anyone has earned bragging rights, it’s Pixar.  Yet, that’s not what Pixar does.  They make it sound like catastrophic failure is just around the corner, and they have to do everything conceivable to avoid it.

“Every Pixar movie at one time was the worst motion picture ever made” John Lasseter explains to Entertainment Weekly.  What a humble thing to say for a company that repeatedly does 100 million dollar business.  Note too that fresh off of their triumphs with Toy Story 2 and Monsters Inc, they brought in Brad Bird, a Pixar outsider, to direct The Incredibles. They explained that decision as a way of avoiding complacency.

When speaking with Variety, Mr. Lasseter even suggests that making it safe to fail is a critical reason why the company prevails.  Doing a speech at Stanford’s business school, Mr. Catmull reiterates that success hides potential problems that need to unearthed.   On the WALL-E extra features, Andrew Stanton explains that only if Pixar management doesn’t” see you fall off your bike, then they get nervous.”

Do you get it?  This is idea is so hard-wired into the company that it surfaces everywhere you look.

Photo credit: flickr.com/tim_norris

To give a sense of how far this kind of thinking goes, consider the Incredibles DVD.  They show you their hair and cloth tests that went badly, and they do it with a laugh track.  My computer animation capabilities are nowhere close to those of Pixar animators, but I can tell you that when you are up late for several nights in a row working on a shot that doesn’t come out right when rendered, laughing about the situation is not the default response.

Instead, violence against the treacherous machine starts to seem very appealing.  No, I’m not a domestic computer beater, but I have called it some vicious names, for which my computer might require long-term counseling.  (See, I did learn something from David Mamet’s plays!)

When Pixar can laugh while showing us mistakes that probably cost them weeks of time and thousands of dollars, we can conclude that failure is a familiar enough concept that the company is entirely comfortable with it.

If They Only Had a Heart

All of these things are incredible qualities, but if Pixar didn’t consistently use technology to touch our hearts, I wouldn’t care.  Yet I do end up caring, about toys, and monsters, and robots, and grumpy old men.

When you’re dealing with something so technical, you have to pour a lot of love into it, otherwise the sentiment gets lost in translation.  To paraphrase the Apostle Paul, if you show all kinds of marvels on screen, but have not love, your film is just clanging sounds and flickering celluloid.

I’m convinced that the core Pixar creatives are not just extremely talented artists but also people with extremely big hearts. You see it in the way Andrew Stanton discusses his film WALL-E, how it’s really about the way love conquers our rational programming, or when he explains that the idea for Finding Nemo came from a moment with his son:  Mr. Stanton was so busy trying to protect and educate his son that he missed the chance to just enjoy his company.

Photo credit: flickr.com/seandreilinger

Or consider John Lasseter.  As he was reaching the height of his career, he took a year off and spent the time traveling with his family.  He did that after his wife warned him that if he didn’t slow down, he might wake up and discover that his kids had grown up without him.  From that experience, he developed Cars.

If you want to make something that isn’t a soulless product, you have to put a bit of yourself into it, sometimes even the parts that hurt. That’s not easy to do, but the Pixar guys aren’t afraid of doing that very thing.

I work hard at what I do.  Sometimes it means I get very little sleep, but so far, I haven’t made the progress I’d liked to have made made.  That kind of thing can sting if you let it get to you.  That’s another reason why I’m grateful for the Pixar films.  They remind me that there is more to life than getting the stats or being the top toy, that being excellent at what you do is important, but it’s not nearly as important as caring about the people in your life, and that the seemingly mundane moments of life can be just as meaningful as the fantastic ones, if your heart is in the right place.

In the Toy Story 2 featurette, John Lasseter tells a story that almost brings him to tears.  He’s at the airport, and he sees a kid waiting for his dad.  The boy has a Woody figurine that he’s proudly holding, waiting with anticipation for the chance to share something special with a father that he hasn’t seen for a while.  To John Lasseter that’s proof that the characters don’t belong to him anymore, and that’s reason enough for him to keep making great Pixar films.  You don’t react like that if you don’t care about your audience.

It’s that kind of affection that makes me go and watch every single Pixar film that comes out.  I can’t say that about any other film studio.   Like the kid on the tricycle in The Incredibles, I’m waiting around for the next Pixar movie, because I want to see something amazing once again.  To infinity and beyond, Pixar!

Pixar resources:

How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity (a feature in Harvard Business Review written by Ed Catmull)

splinedoctors.com (animation tips and podcasts from Pixar animators)

To Infinity and Beyond (my favorite of the Pixar books)

The Pixar Touch (a more business-oriented take on the company’s history)

Upcoming Pixar (a fairly comprehensive blog about Pixar developments)

Feel free to add to the list.

 

It takes me a little longer to write the kinds of posts I prefer to write, and sometimes my schedule gets complicated, so I can’t promise to have new posts available on a consistent schedule . That’s why I encourage you to sign up by email. You can do that by clicking here.

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As always, thanks for reading and God bless.

Peculiarly Uncommon Thoughts on Twitter and Celebrities

I once assured myself that I would never write about Twitter.  Everyone these days has already written about the subject, especially all the social-media marketers out there, and I’m not a jump-on-the-bandwagon kind of guy.  Still, I spend a bit of time thinking about authenticity, transparency, and celebrity so this post was bound to happen.  
Before commenting on how celebrities use Twitter, I want to explain how I use it, and why I have a love-hate relationship with celebrities.  (It relates, I promise.)  For one thing, Twitter offers a chance to share my thoughts and feelings with the world and to meet interesting people from different backgrounds, and by different backgrounds I mean more than just different types of social-media marketers.  Those folks are useful in some cases, but I follow enough of them already.  I’m more interested in meeting honest and talented people who do unique things and have captivating ways of seeing the world.  I don’t care so much about people trying to sell me things, but I do care about people, when I’m not fighting off my own inner demons, and I am curious to learn how my fellow humans navigate through this strange, but miraculous, journey of life.  
At its best, I also see Twitter as a way of counter-acting a profit-worshipping, depersonalized culture of buracracy and venality.  The casual nature of this simple-to-use online service encourages honest disclosure.  Go ahead and criticize Twitter for encouraging an ethos of oversharing, but at least people on Twitter are less likely to proclaim that everything about themselves and their world is great.  In real world conversations, people are tragically far less honest.  Don’t believe me?  Go ask a few random strangers on the street or even acquaintences how they’re doing.  Did any of them, perchance, mention that they were doing fine or doing great?  What a surprise that is, right? 
(I despise the kind of self-congralatory marketing that some individuals and companies use in a delusional attempt to persuade the world that everything really is great all the time.  It goes something like this, "I’m unconditionally awesome right now just like I’ve always been, and I’m going to continue to be more and more awesome each year."  Not to rain on your parade, but your ability to produce profits that just go up and up into infinity is somewhat impeded by the reality of your eventual death.  Sorry.)  
To continue with our experiment, go find a few random people on Twitter and pay attention to how they answer the previously mentioned, now implied, question.  I would be willing to bet good money that there are more compelling, more transparent responses from the Twitter crowd. There’s something special, almost magical, about being part of a community that is fueled by honest discourse.  To benefit from that transparency while withholding it from the group is a form of resistance, a selfish action that makes it a little harder for the community’s ideals to prevail.  
I embrace that sense of transparency that comes with Twitter while recognizing the risk it brings.  If I am too honest, I might convince some people that I’m an idiot or a jerk.  Maybe they won’t hire me or maybe they’ll use my words against me as a result.  But, I’m willing to face those risks because being transparent forces me to live a life worth sharing.  I acknowledge dark spots in my life on Twitter to be honest about who I am and to bring those dark spots into the light.  You see, I care more about becoming whole than about gaining market share, although there is nothing wrong with gaining market share if done in an honest and excellent way.  If you think that’s a foolish outlook, then by all means avoid doing business with me.  I don’t sell to everyone, and we’ll both be happier if you take your business elsewhere.
I’ve said my share of dumb things on Twitter, but I’ve made a point of not deleting those tweets.  (I have deleted one or two of the more impulsive and grammatically incorrect ones, but I haven’t done that for a few weeks.) I’d rather let you get a glimpse of what I’m really like than to make you think that I’m more noble than I am.  Again, at stake is the correcting influence of transparency, and if I’m going to embrace that idea then I should walk the walk.
Onward we go to discuss celebrities. I know, I buried the lead.  It was on purpose: honesty not fame is the foundation from which I hope to build the ideas that follow.  
Like almost everyone else, I admire people who are excellent at what they do.  I’m astonished by George Lucas’s cinematic wizardry, Tiger Wood’s concentration, Nicole Kidman’s elegance, Michael Phelp’s dedication, Oprah’s graciousness, Steve Job’s vision, Tom Wolfe’s depth, Tim Burton’s style, Brittany Snow’s sincerity and so on.  Even the celebrities who are famous for being famous tend to have some enigmatic quality tat captivates our collective attention, and yet the selfishness and baseness of some celebrities does much to screw up the world.  
(The next paragraph that follows may seem abrasive, but please trust me through it.  I need to make an important point, and I don’t know how else to do it.)  Have you ever reduced, in your mind, a celebrity to the status of a stupid skank who exists only to corrupt and to earn more money for powerful, amoral mult-national corporations?  I have … but, when I remember that we are created in the image of God, I can’t continue to maintain that thought.  Even the celebrities I am tempted to despise are loved b God, even they have something special to contribute.  
Now that I think about it, I’ve done my sare of thoughtless and skank-like things, and usually it was because I was hurting and I didn’t know how to better resolve the pain.  Maybe then I shouldn’t be so quick to judge, right? Same goes for you too.
From that perspective, it’s harder to see even the seemingly shallow celebrities as completely useless human beings.  They may be tragic examples of spoiled potential, but they are still children of God, and so they still matter by definition.  
I suspect that the angels and demons fight harder for the souls of celebrities since they are blessed with their awe-inspiring gifts.  
I suspect that the angels and demons fight harder for celebrities since they are blessed with the awe-inspiring gifts that they have. 
  

 

I once assured myself that I would never write about Twitter.  Everyone these days has already written about the subject, especially all the social-media marketers out there, and I’m not a jump-on-the-bandwagon kind of guy.  Still, I spend a bit of time thinking about authenticity, transparency, and celebrity so this post was bound to happen.  

"Illusion" from flickr.com/demisone

"Illusion" from flickr.com/demisone

 

Before commenting on how celebrities use Twitter, I want to explain how I use it, and why I have a love-hate relationship with celebrities.  (It relates, I promise.)  

On Twitter, I’m interested in meeting honest and talented people who do unique things and have captivating ways of seeing the world.   When I’m not fighting off my own inner demons, I do care more about people than about selling stuff, and I am curious to learn how my fellow humans navigate through this strange, but miraculous, journey of life.  

At its best, I also see Twitter as a way of counteracting a depersonalized culture of profit-worshipping and dishonesty.  The casual nature of Twitter’s simple-to-use online service encourages honest disclosure.  Go ahead and criticize Twitter for encouraging an ethos of oversharing, but at least people on Twitter are less likely to proclaim that everything about themselves and their world is great.  

In real world conversations, people are tragically less honest.  Don’t believe me?  Go ask a few random strangers on the street or even a few acquaintances how they’re doing.  Did any of them, perchance, mention that they were doing fine or doing great?  What a surprise that is, right? 

In case you didn’t realize it by now, I despise the kind of self-congratulatory marketing that others use to persuade the world that everything really is great all the time.  It goes something like this, “I’m unconditionally awesome right now just like I’ve always been, and I’m going to continue to be more and more awesome each year.”  Not to rain on your parade, but your ability to produce profit that goes to infinity and beyond is somewhat impeded by the reality of your eventual death.  Sorry.

"nopants spectrum" from flickr.com/kenyee

"nopants spectrum" from flickr.com/kenyee

 

To continue with our experiment, go find a few random people on Twitter and pay attention to how they answer the previously mentioned, now implied, question.  I would be willing to bet good money that there are more compelling, more transparent responses from the Twitter crowd.

There’s something almost magical about being part of a community that is fueled by honest discourse.   That’s why I’m compelling to protest against the people who use Twitter only to sell things.  To benefit from that transparency while withholding it from the group is a form of resistance, a selfish action that makes it a little harder for the community’s ideals to prevail.  

I embrace that sense of transparency that comes with Twitter while recognizing the risk it brings.  If I am too honest, I might convince some people that I’m an idiot or a jerk.  Maybe they won’t hire me or maybe they’ll use my words against me as a result.  But, I’m willing to face those risks because being transparent forces me to live a life worth sharing.  

I acknowledge dark spots in my life on Twitter to be honest about who I am and to bring those dark spots into the light.  In addition to that, I’ve made a choice not to delete tweets just because I regret writing them.  That way it is easier for you to see what I’m really like. 

You see, I care more about becoming whole than about gaining market share, although there is nothing wrong with gaining market share if done in an honest and excellent way.  If you think that’s a foolish outlook, then by all means avoid doing business with me.  I don’t sell to everyone, and we’ll both be happier if you take your money elsewhere.

Onward we go to discuss celebrities. I know, I buried the lead.  It was on purpose: honesty, not fame, is the foundation from which I hope to build the ideas that follow.  

Like almost everyone else, I admire people who are excellent at what they do. I’m astonished by George Lucas’s cinematic wizardry, Tiger Wood’s concentration, Nicole Kidman’s elegance, Michael Phelp’s dedication, Oprah’s graciousness, Steve Job’s vision, Tom Wolfe’s depth, Tim Burton’s style, Brittany Snow’s sincerity and so on.  Even the celebrities who are famous for being famous tend to have some enigmatic quality that captivates our collective attention, and yet the selfishness and dishonesty of some celebrities does much to screw up the world.  

"Tiki Alien from flickr.com/pete4ducks

"Tiki Alien" from flickr.com/pete4ducks

 

(This paragraph may seem abrasive, but please trust me through it.  I need to make an important point, and I don’t know how else to do it.)  Have you ever reduced, in your mind, a celebrity to the status of a stupid skank who exists only to corrupt and to earn more money for powerful, amoral multi-national corporations?  I have … but, when I remember that we are all created in the image of God, I can’t continue to maintain that thought.  Even the celebrities I am tempted to despise are loved by God, even they have something special to contribute.  

Now that I think about it, I’ve done my share of thoughtless and skank-like things, and usually that was when I was hurting and didn’t know how to better resolve the pain.  Maybe then I shouldn’t be so quick to judge, right? Same goes for you too. 

From that perspective, it’s harder to see even the seemingly shallow celebrities as completely useless human beings.  They may be tragic examples of spoiled potential, but they are still children of God, and so they still matter by definition.  Besides, I suspect that the angels and demons fight harder for celebrities since they are blessed with the awe-inspiring gifts that they have.  

Let me give an example to explain what I mean: I know that I’m ultimately responsible for the decisions I make, but films with strong moral centers have influenced me to do good after I saw them.  On the other hand, I’ve done reprehensible things while under the influence of values-deficient films.  I know I’m not the only one who has even been influenced by what he’s seen, heard or read, because if that were true, companies wouldn’t spend millions of dollars on advertising.  

The shiny, illustrious people we call celebrities have a similar influence, for good or evil, since they are similarly larger than life and also have access to our collective attention.   They can use that attention for good–to inspire us, address problems and point us toward the light–or they can demoralize us and lead us towards decadence and decay.  I talk about this more in my post entitled, How to Avoid Being a Corporate Artist.

I know it’s hard to believe, but celebrities are people too, and being a celebrity is not as easy as it looks.  They have to deal with thousands of people who want their limited attention, time, and money.  Some folks out there want to exploit or humiliate them while others try to seduce them with drugs or sex.  This is why I pray for celebrities on occasion.  (To be fair though, I’ve also thrown curses at some of them.  I do let my anger get the best of me sometimes, but I’m trying to get that right.) 

In any case, our collective future depends in part on the choices that celebrities make.  Their choices matter as much, if not more, than the choices that ordinary folks make, so it’s not a bad idea to care about the celebrities we admire and maybe even for those we don’t.  

With that said, it would be nice if celebrities would also care about their fans, and Twitter is a good way to do that.  Some already do, at least to some extent.  

Hugh McCloud, a cartoonist with wry and insightful observations who writes gapingvoid, follows me on Twitter.  He’s got a new book about creativity coming out in June.  It’s called Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity and it’s already selling well through pre-orders on Amazon.  

Jeff Heusser also follows me on Twitter.  He’s one of the founders of fxphd, one of the preeminent online training programs for visual effects in the world.  

Paul Coelho is the internationally renowned writer who wrote the best seller, The Alchemist.   He’s another guy who is following me on Twitter.  He’s currently promoting his new book about the excesses of celebrity called The Winner Stands Alone, a digression from his more fable-like tales, but a book that I’d still like to read.

I mentioned the products above because they seem interesting and because they are from people who matter to me.  Whose stuff didn’t I promote?  The stuff from people who aren’t following me back on Twitter.  The Gospel of John reminds us that we love God because he first loved us.  In Twitterland that translates into this: I care about you because you first followed me. 

"Man in the mask" from flickr.com/68137880@N00

"Man in the mask"ot; from [email protected]

 

I don’t expect every celebrity to follow me back.  They often have more important things to do, and if they follow everyone they will get flooded by tweets they don’t value.  Fair enough, a celebrity who doesn’t follow me back had better add value with interesting, thoughtful, or amusing commentary.  If the celebrity in question or his staff writers tweets dozens of times a day, my patience for self-indulgent commentary greatly diminishes.  (I tolerate more self-promotion and self-indulgence from those who follow me back, because they can’t be so bad if they are smart, sophisticated, and decent enough to be following me.)  

Speaking of staff writers, it is dishonest to have someone else write tweets on a celebrity’s behalf without disclosing as much. It’s 140 characters or less, people.  How hard is it to write your own 140 characters for your fans?  Why not care enough about the people who help you enjoy the lifestyle that you do by  sharing things to delight them and show your appreciation.  

If you must use assistants to write your posts, then why not disclose as much?  Much as it pains me to admit this, Britney Spears sets a good example in this arena.  On her Twitter page, her tweets are distinguished from those of her managers by attribution lines.  It’s a sad state of affairs when Britney Spears takes the moral high ground that you avoid.  

Since there are a growing number of fake accounts, it is hard to tell the difference between what is a real account and what isn’t.  Sometimes these fake accounts are created by over-zealous fans who should have better things to do.  Other times, I suspect the devils who try to control celebrities perpetuate lies so that their celebrities can be everything to everyone.  For example, you could have one celebrity account geared to the Goths and one to the soccer moms.  By keeping the accounts ambiguous in nature, you can encourage others to believe that the fake niche account they found is really the celebrity in question.  And market share goes up and up!

"Budwing Feeds" from flickr.com/destinysagent/

"Budwing Feeds" from flickr.com/destinysagent/

 

 

Yet the more market share you gain in this dishonest way, the greater the risk that you turn yourself into a soulless product.  Sounds great, except people don’t care about products; people care about people.  Consumers will devour a product until it is licked dry.  Fans, on the other hand, will go out of their way to help the people they cherish.  Wouldn’t you rather have long-term fans than short-term consumers? Then my dear celebrities, offer honesty and affection to the people who support what you do.  

Fans and celebrities both have a responsibility to treat each other as people, not as products to consume or as numbers to hoard for ego-purposes.  (Yes, Aston Kutcher I’m talking to you.)  To do otherwise is to perpetuate foul one-sided relationships that lead only in death.  There are bigger things in this world than just your ego, your lust, or your profit-margins, so don’t be the jackass who ruins them with your selfishness.  

"String of hearts" from flickr.com/aussiegall

"String of hearts" from flickr.com/aussiegall

 

 

I close with a hypothetical.  What if certain people really are meant for each other, meant to collaborate, support or love each other, and together they could go on to do greater things than they could apart?  Wouldn’t that make life a little more magical?  But what if corporate, build-up-the-numbers thinking distorted the truth and prevented these destined pairs from harmonizing?  Wouldn’t that be a lamentable if these people never go on to fulfill their grander purposes together?  It could come in the form of celebrities who never inspire and get inspired by their fans, friends who never meet, or star-crossed lovers whose love never takes root.  

Whatever the case may be, it’s a tragedy, but it is a tragedy we can avoid if we aim for excellence with the honesty and love that heaven puts in our hearts.  That’s not a bad way to make the world less corporate, don’t you think?