For indie artists, the Emmy Awards herald opportunity

Mt. St. Helens erupted
Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980. Feelings in the country now are similar to political upheavals then.

Did you watch the Emmy Awards? I didn’t, but I read a lot of post-show coverage, enough to learn the show billed as entertainment was extremely political.

Regardless of your political leanings, the awards show indicates an abundance of opportunity in store for indie artists. Nothing illustrates my conclusion better than the symbolism of three ageing stars who appeared together on stage for the first time in many years. 

Receiving a great deal of coverage were remarks by Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, with country music legend Dolly Parton appearing uncomfortable and sandwiched between the two. The remarks aren’t of interest to me as a subject in this essay. This is America, where for now, you can say pretty much what you please about politics and culture.

I read enough coverage of the Emmy Awards to realize Tomlin and Fonda’s remarks may well have pleased their own political party’s base but for roughly 63 million Americans, more than likely did not please. Parton drew criticism for being on stage with them. After all, her fan base, the base that gave rise to Parton’s success, is the target of disdain by the other two women. Toss in Fonda’s controversial past related to the Vietnam War, and all I could wonder was why on Earth Parton would even be on the stage with Fonda in a political display.

What’s important here is the disconnect between many in the massive consumer sector in the US and whatever was said on the stage. There is no doubt in my mind that ultimately, if your politics become personal attacks, you will pay a price in your artistic endeavors. On the one hand, it’s understandable that creative people want to speak their minds about different issues. On the other, it’s ill-advised that you do that by condemning those who disagree with you.

I believe technology will continue to provide opportunities to indie artists who don’t have the backing of Tinseltown’s one-percenter financiers, especially since a number of those financing current entertainment and media products are from other countries. As I looked at photos of Tomlin, Parton, and Fonda on the stage, I couldn’t help noting the sum total of their dresses and accessories would likely equal a total year’s income for many American families.

As a creative, I learned early on about people receptive to my poems and articles and books. I did so many readings and signings in an effort to make good my commitment to my publisher who’d invested his money that I could walk into a room and feel whether they’d be automatically receptive or tune me out.

I recall one large association gathering at a very tony resort where several hundred women watched as I took the stage. I asked how many liked poetry. Very few hands went up. So I literally jumped off the stage and told them by the time they left that room, they were going to by God love poetry. I signed more books at that event than at any other I did. I carefully culled listener friendly poems and focused on sonnets during my reading. A sonnet is a little song in words—almost anyone can enjoy it regardless of the content. I had a very good time with those ladies.

Months later, at a book festival in Texas, I signed alongside an academic who happened to be a poet. I signed far more books than she did. Personally I found her work very obscure. She wasn’t very talkative, but I could tell she was puzzled about why I did well with my own. I signed a lot of books that day. She didn’t.

Early on at the initial reception for the festival, I found out a lot about my audience by asking questions and talking to people. They were a diverse lot, but most were pretty educated. I learned they wanted to be entertained. And I proceeded to select works I thought might entertain them. One poem—I called it a bastardized sonnet—was about a man who’d broken my heart when I was young. I celebrated that heartbreak in a poem because had it not happened, I’d never have met the love of my life. Those women loved that poem.

When I was young, the poetry market was pretty much confined to top glossy magazines like The Atlantic and university periodicals. Over time, that chokehold deteriorated, with the Internet providing non-academic poets an opportunity to connect with readers. Academic poetry became a cloistered art pretty much confined to university and reliant on grants. Spoken word began to take hold and ultimately became the foremost form when it came to the general public. Somewhere in between all that, different forms of poetry, including formal poetry, began to build communities and audiences. And amid all that, poet Billy Collins pretty much blew the lid off some of those dull academic regimes long in control of what I guess you’d call professional poetry.

Tomlin, Parton, and Fonda were all in the 1980 film 9-5. The film revolved around three office workers’ revenge against an oppressive male boss. It was ribald and funny. That year was much like the current times, when I think about it. Social unrest. Natural disasters, including the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. The wreckage of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa, leading to deaths after a freighter collided with the bridge. And 1980, a year of recession, was also a year of a critical US presidential election as Americans expressed frustration with high prices for necessities, gas lines, the Iran hostage scandal, and concerns about national defense.

The hipster era had pretty much expanded itself to a point where it could no longer grow. It had become a caricature of itself. The year 1980 was the precursor for major new changes in methods of delivery for entertainment and news. By 1990, so much had changed we forgot how things used to be.

That is pretty much where we are now. As I read coverage of the Emmy Awards, I noticed there wasn’t a lot of interest in them. Tomlin, Parton, and Fonda were superstars of their day. Now, there are probably a good number of young people who have little interest in them.

I believe in years to come, the way we define superstars will change. I don’t believe there will be as many as there were in the past simply because the marketplace has become more segmented. I also believe we are on the cusp of an artistic renaissance enabled by technology and communication. Whereas in years past, an artist in any genre had to make it past a gatekeeper before presenting his or her work to a potential fan base, that is no longer the case. At least for now.

Regardless of political leanings, those three women on that stage, in my opinion, marked the end of an era. I believe art will become more regional, even local, in scope simply because content being produced by establishment powers has little to say to average Americans regardless of color, income, or creed. The entertainment world as we have known it in the US is poised on the cusp of tremendous change.

That is an opportunity for indie artists who listen carefully to the heartbeat of a nation, its people, and its culture.

(Kay B. Day/Sept. 19, 2017)

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