I listened to a Seth Godin podcast episode in which he answers a listener question on the topic of status. It hit a nerve. I considered transcribing it here, but it’s long. I recommend listening. You can find his answer at the 12:37 mark. Seth, and others, talk about how status works. But I don’t see anyone questioning whether it should exist at all.
So here are my thoughts on status, since no one is asking.
I started my creative career as a small-town nobody. And in most ways I am still a small-town nobody.
I grew up Venice, Florida, a retirement community on the beach. I had no money, no resources, no status. I relied on the generosity of my friends to help me do whatever crazy artistic thing I wanted to do. I had big dreams! I convinced a handful of people to contribute time and money to my multimedia projects. Sometimes they were collaborators and co-creators. They’d let me borrow their acting, painting, writing, instrument playing, programming, or drawing skills. (Or, sometimes all I needed was a ride to Taco Bell.)
I threw everything I had at my creative career. All in an attempt to make it, as they say. All in an attempt to make a LEAP IN STATUS.
I believed all of that frantic activity would pay off, somehow. If I could just make enough noise, someone of high status would notice me and let me join the secret club. It was like I was sending out a beacon, and the ship would return to pick me up. It’s the way it works, right? Maybe Mr. Bungle would let me open for them. Maybe I could be on Alternative Tentacles and be as cool as Victims Family. Maybe I could play bass for Steve Vai. They’d take me back to my home world and we’d live rich and famously ever after. Or at least it would get me out of Venice, Florida.
Eventually I manufactured a hit, a 2005 album called How To Sell The Whole F#@!ing Universe To Everybody… Once And For All! I moved to Los Angeles the next year to capitalize on the attention and get to the next level of fake status.
Soon after arriving, I quit music for a long time due to a car accident. That’s another fucked-up story. But going from a nobody to sort-of-a-somebody and back to a nobody in a short amount of time taught me how stupid it all is.
I didn’t understand it consciously, or at least as well as I do now: I have always been dealing with and battling against this idea of Status. Even while selfishly embracing it, I was challenging it, subverting it.
I hate status. At least, I do now. I hate the idea that one person can be perceived as godlike and another as worthless, simply because of their name or credits.
So much human potential, and so many opportunities are wasted because of this. So many talented people are overlooked, so many creative ideas thrown in the trash. Never heard, never seen.
I am absolutely certain that there is no correlation between credits and talent. I’m talking about the entertainment industry here. Film, music, books, TV. People who don’t know what they’re doing at all can succeed with their social skills alone. I’m talking about charisma, ass-kissing, and plain old dominance. Acting big and important. Hats and sunglasses. Strategically playing the right role at the right time to open doors. Using people. Climbing the ladder. I know people who do this stuff full-time, love it, and are proud of it. They’d never admit it in public, but they will brag about it behind closed doors. By and large, the ability to do creative work is secondary to social skills, like it or not.
Of course, some people are so good we can’t ignore them. We notice outliers like Jim Carrey. An outrageous talent, no question. I don’t think he could have not been successful. Exploding with comedic energy. But for every Jim Carrey there are infinitely more who have stumbled their way into the Friend-ocracy.
That’s right. Sometimes you simply need to stand in the right place and look the part and the rest will take care of itself. (Or be white and male? Although I’m still waiting on my privileged screenwriting career to fall in my lap.)
Because status seems so arbitrary and unfair, my own creative projects have always had this thing going on: giving high status people low status roles, and vice versa.
I want my creative friends to have just as much opportunity as Mr. or Mrs. Famous. I want to show that we’re all valuable, regardless of our names. I always find a way to sneak some of my talented nobodies in. From listening, can you even tell who is who? (Metalocalypse did this with voice actors, although maybe not for the same reasons.)
You could call this Redistribution of Status.
I’ve been on both sides of the status absurdity. People have treated me like I’m famous, and people have shit on me. There’s no sense to it. After all the status flip-flopping in my life, the magical opening and slamming of doors in my face, I feel like I’m living in a Dr. Seuss cartoon. Status is an illusion. A sick game I don’t want to play.
I still fall for it when my guard is down. Oooo, a famous person! It’s gotten me caught up in things I don’t want to be caught up in. It’s made me act in ways I regret. It’s wasted a lot of time and energy. Similarly, I’ve probably overlooked great people because of their perceived low status. It’s so stupid. (And I still can’t figure out how to write a bio without mentioning the high-status people I’ve worked with.)
Can we truly eliminate status from society? Probably not. It’s baked into our evolutionary firmware. Someone I don’t like, Jordan Peterson, calls it The Social Dominance Hierarchy. Horrible. All we can do is consciously choose to fight it. Maybe someday we can evolve past it, if that’s even possible.
If you are high status, mess it up. Give some away.
If you are low status, don’t let people of high status fool you.
It’s all made up.
P.S. The title of this post is based on a brainfart by Chris Higgins, who is a brilliant writer. He’s full of stuff like that.