I have a thesis that really cool art happens when you bring together a medium in which is it possible for one person to create the thing entirely on their own, and a distribution channel which is new or at least not dominated by large companies or censorship and regulation.
I’m reading a book about the history of the personal computer revolution and I’m struck by the story of (Sierra) Online’s early adventure games for the Apple II. They were small enough that one person could construct the game on their own (or maybe one person writing the game and a second person doing the techie bits). That was the medium, simple enough for one person to hold the whole thing in their head and produce a unique and personal work without a committee.
The distribution channel was computer software on cassette tape and floppy. It was cheap enough that one person could get started, there was a sudden influx of people looking to buy games for their new Apple II, and all you needed to do was visit all your local computer shops with a box of tapes and you could be in business.
It strikes me that I’ve seen multiple waves of this throughout my lifetime. Indie and punk music, and many waves thereafter. Low budget video “nasties”. Computer software. Usenet newsgroups. Music videos. Websites. Phone Apps. EBooks. Online viral videos. I’ve probably missed a dozen more.
Each seems to have what Ariel calls its “Wild West” phase, when innovation and originality are fizzing at a furious rate and the scene is thrilling to be a part of. Genuinely new stuff gets created and shared, fast. In this early stage it is possible to build a business stratospherically high dangerously fast, almost by accident. (I know, it happened to me. Maybe not stratospheric, but I never imagined my silly little website would become a business of ANY sort).
Then there’s a period of consolidation, marketing takes over, the companies get winnowed down to a few big players and (usually) the damned government sticks its nose in to “protect the children” and censor everything, too.
And at that point the innovation and excitement moves on, replaced by polish and production values. Which is fine too- by any rational measure, Dragon Age: Inquisition is an astonishing achievement, much more so than Haunted House or SoftPorn or Zork.
But I think we lose the energy when creating something requires big money, lots of time and a group effort by hundreds or thousands of people instead of a burst of creative energy by just one or two people. There’s a meme which sums it up:
Clearly, websites are moving out of the one-person-band phase. Governments are coming in and regulating, even in niche markets like BDSM the market is dominated by a few big players, a lot of producers are giving up because it is just too much work and they can’t compete. What’s left is still pretty cool- and I’m certainly doing my best to make sure Restrained Elegance, Silk Soles and Elegance Studios stay as a cottage industry production house at least.
But what is already happening is the loss of the feeling of “scene”. Of people being brave or motivated to create their thing, and the hell with anyone else. Of watching what other people are doing and applauding it for its coolness and being competitive in a “well you think that’s good, but look at THIS” sort of spurring each other on way that scenes have. Rather than the “I see what you did there, I’m going to launch something in competition with you, market the hell out of it and see if I can drive you out of business” way that more marture markets have.
If I’m honest the British Fetish Film Festival started as a way of me trying to stimulate more of a scene for fetish film production in the UK. There were lots of us making little intensely personal films in isolation and I thought we could really get something exciting going. Lots of scenes have been jump started by community events or venues (think CBGB’s or the Homebrew computer club).
I’m not going to say it is too late, but the imposition of heavy censorship in the UK is certainly a handicap. With luck we might get spurred into action, fighting back the way that gay communities in the UK had to for clause 28.
But I also wonder… where might the next solo artist medium, new market opportunity lie? Somewhere as-yet unregulated, which people are just starting to discover?