Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Then he bit the heads off all the Muppets...

...kicked Frank OZ in the groin, burned down the set, and ran over a dog squealing out of the parking lot in Jim Henson's car, which he hotwired.

Buddy Rich was once the greatest drummer in the world. Really. He had the chops to live up to the title. This is how I remember him, banging away in a knock-down, drag-out drum battle with Animal. You'd think somebody who might deign to appear on The Muppet Show would be a nice person in real life. I never knew the man, but some who had said he could be affable and pleasant. Others claimed he was a rotten son of a bitch. I've heard second-hand two stories involving Buddy telling a ten-year-old to f*** off. Beyond harsh. Witness this audio for more love taps (NSFW):

Some will argue, too, that Rich's amazing talent brings his overall personality into balance. Superior drumming technique + incredible douchbag = ordinary average guy? I can't say, but reading the negative press got me thinking about behavioral patterns in public figures - in particular romance authors, since that is something with which I'm familiar.

Buddy Rich died in 1987. He was, in his lifetime, spared the Internet and blogs and Youtube. Only in retrospect with clips like the foul-mouthed one above does his reputation come into risk. Imagine had the twain all met at the peak of Rich's career. How much work might the man have lost were word to have spread as quickly as it does now? How many ten-year-old kids would have looked for a new idol, somebody who, at the very worst, would have politely declined offering a prized drumstick? Compare all of this to Britney Spears' lackluster MTV awards performance last year and recall how quickly the criticism overlapped the planet. Had Britney been a night club singer in 1960s New York and delivered the same gaffs, would her career have been as tainted? If Buddy Rich were alive today, would he been an even greater star given our fascination for faulty heroes and the opportunity to mock them with Photoshop and creatively edited videos?

What does this have to do with being a romance author today? Well, if you are one who relies on the Internet heavily to promote yourself, you realize how much of yourself is out there for readers and critics to inspect. The Internet is a fertile ground for nuturing various levels of celebrity within different cultures and cliques. Celebrity is viral now. If you can get five people to forward a URL of a music video by a female impersonator about shoes, and five more people forward it on, you have created a sensation. Thirty years ago it was damn near possible to become a household name without first appearing on any of JUST THREE networks or in a movie. Not so now.

In the romance world thirty years ago, there were the bookstores and Romantic Times magazine. Today we can add a multitude of book bloggers, gossip boards, cover snarkers to that list. Where the Internet broadens avenues for authors to promote, however, it also allows greater opportunity for exploitation--it can be a huge magnifying glass over your greatest weaknesses if you let it. I've heard recently stories of an author waging a smear campaign against a reader who offered a mediocre review of her book on a popular website. Why one review, positive or negative, could cause such a reaction baffles me.

I'm an author, I've had my share of negative reviews. What can I do about it? If there is something in the review I might find helpful, I store it away for later use and try again with the next book. Otherwise I go on with the rest of my life. Reviews are simply that, what one person thinks. Critics have panned Star Wars and Titanic and Robert James Waller, but they haven't impeded their successes. If negativity can do anything, it helps us to grow. When we fall victim to pride and ego, our growth becomes stunted, and in this age of total disclosure via the Internet, the risk of losing an audience increases.

I am known to some degree. I've been to conferences where people I've not met before have come up and said, "Hi, Kat" or "Hi, Leigh." It's a nice feeling. I don't know that I'll reach the global level of stardom like Britney or Buddy, but I do realize this is the time to decide how I will act regardless of whether or not that time comes.

Do I want to be known/remembered as somebody who was courteous to readers and gracious in the face of criticism?

Do I want my name on profanity-laden message board posts, and associated with something negative?

Do I want to be on The Muppet Show? Hell, yeah.

1 comment:

krispykreme said...

I think you are so right about the effects of new media, fame and the softening of one's image over time. Today you need to use this medium, but once its out there, its out there. I've often bragged that I could find anything about anyone or anything in seconds. I think its important to take what you put out there seriously, but most of all to separate fact from opinion. People are going to write bad reviews, and you just can't please them all. You can just point out other things you've done that might appeal to them. As for Buddy Rich, he's remembered as a great drummer. Only through his talent, was he able to overcome his, er, problem. The rest of us need to continue to be nice. I don't think you have to worry about that!