I Don’t Make ‘Content’

Most days I conscientiously try to avoid being perceived as ‘pretentious’. It’s a pretty nasty marker in many circles. There’s often a social pressure to present oneself on the internet as the ideal over the real, and no one’s ideal has traits that aren’t cool.

But I will be pretentious today, because I’m goddamn sick and tired of the term ‘Content Creator’

The social media evolution in our lifetime has evolved to the point of many people trying (and failing except for probably less than 5%) to establish successful careers based solely on their output from it. You can learn to navigate the TikTok algorithm to reach millions of people in 1-minute snippets and then go meet the President. The world of social media influencers is a billion-dollar industry, and everyone’s looking to get a slice.

In this rapidly expanding industry, it’s only natural that those inside its purview adopt shorthand language to refer to commonly recognized behaviors. Thus the umbrella term ‘content’ was quickly adapted for not just this new form of mass media, but also became a word used to refer to something we all recognized: an established brand using multiple different media channels to garner awareness, build a community, and directly advertise for their product. ‘Content marketing’ and ‘Content creation’ naturally stem from the same root.

I both recognize the simplicity and ubiquitousness of the word ‘content’ and ‘content creation’ while despising it.

Were I to go to someone and say “I’m a content creator,” what am I really communicating? It could run the gamut from “I spent nearly a year of research and time on a video about finding out the truth behind the aborted American adaptation of Sailor Moon” to “I post memes on Twitter through a pseudonym” to “I make text posts on a photo-sharing site”. There’s such a vast swath of different types of art, photography, videography, and writing that people do that to just broadly say ‘content creator’ is to mean nothing, which means the term has begun to outlive its usefulness.

There is a more insidious implication, however, behind using a one-size-fits-all word like ‘content.’ It’s the subtle concession that, ultimately, this is all junk data, information collected and shat out at a rate that is unfathomable to the human mind, never to be examined for more than a brief moment in time before the next piece of content is to be consumed. In this environment that only selectively rewards winners while enticing losers to keep producing content in the hopes of being a winner, the pursuit is all. Daily content is necessary in order to entertain a faceless mass, the majority who likely accidentally subscribed, rarely engages, and merely can’t be inconvenienced to rectify that mistake.

The logic of this is completely coherent – none of this ‘content’ exists in a vacuum, but a market. Everyone’s time is finite, and when you’re posting on websites that have active users in the billions, the competition is incredibly fierce. The same traits that contribute to the seemingly thoughtless nature of lots of ‘content’ are also the key to monetization – daily uploads; use of enticing, possibly misdirecting headlines, thumbnails, and titles; a reaction or commentary on a story making waves on another social media site, no matter how banal or petty. We used to talk about artists ‘selling out’ in order to achieve mass appeal, except now even the sellouts aren’t guaranteed to make a living wage doing so.

My resentment likely stems from the truth that I am just as subject to these forces as anyone. I may see it for what it is and call it out, but I’m appealing to a referee that isn’t there. I’m just as guilty of seeing one thing on Twitter that kind of annoys me and being inspired to write a blog post about it. I’m also very likely to spend two or three days afterwards retweeting my blog or sharing across the various social media platforms I have, extremely eager to see if there is commentary or feedback I can look at. Truthfully I’m sabotaging myself – if I wanted to give myself the best chance at success, I’d only need more inflammatory vocabulary and titles, more aggressive tweets, and a desire to give no quarter to my fellow competitors. But I don’t.

A large part of it is that I’m lucky enough to not only have to rely on the writings on this website to be able to eat and sleep soundly. Were I to be under a deadline, needing to push out something half-baked in order to keep my job, it’d probably be a different story. Another lucky draw is a lack of an addictive or compulsive personality, which most modern websites and video games prey upon with carefully crafted igniters. It would be dishonest to hand wave those factors away, and I won’t do that here.

What I can say with 100% certainty, however, is that I refuse to think of myself as anything less than a writer. I don’t make ‘content,’ I’m not a ‘content creator,’ I’m an artist using my skills to create what I hope is thoughtful, articulate writing that brings out some form of an emotion in the reader.

I don’t care what it is – whether its short blurbs in the attendee program for the Combo Breaker 2022 tournament, whether it’s a YouTube video, or a blog thoroughly investigating cryptocurrency ads, you are going to get the very best of Tanner J. Last Name any time you read something of mine. I won’t settle for anything less, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s paid work or something I did for nothing.

The creative arts have been beating allegations of frivolity since antiquity, and I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon. As a tool, the pen looks pretty meager and unhelpful compared to a hammer, but nevertheless it’s my tool, and I sharpen and refine it every day. Whether it’s looking up words I don’t understand so I can properly use them, or hashing out sentence structure in my head, or saying words out loud to feel for flow and style, I have to work and think hard to keep my instrument in working condition. To degrade myself and downplay that I don’t work hard is unhelpful.

You can never know the amount of blog ideas or writing ideas I’ve had and thrown out because I couldn’t figure out a fully formed opinion that would leave the reader with something to consider. You can never know how many hours I spend rewriting and editing so I don’t put out something that doesn’t feel like it’s shot from the hip. At no point does any of the writing I do come across in my mind as “I have to make content”; I’m telling stories, and I’m trying to engage with the potential audience as a storyteller, not a ‘content creator’.

There are a lot of trite, uninspired works out there that people do put up as quickly as possible in order to mine some sort of social or actual capital from in response to a perceived audience want. The video I covered in my last blog sort of falls along that path! I am not saying that the zombie efforts I would pejoratively refer to as ‘content’ don’t exist, merely that I do not like being lumped in with it under the same umbrella. That feels demeaning, and I’m sure there are lots of creatives who do this kind of work who feel the same.

Like I said in the beginning, these are pretentious thoughts. I have no possible idea whether the things I write will stand the test of time, or that it’s actually much better than the kind of ‘content’ I just railed against. But I know what I feel; that is, I know what I’m not. I am not someone chasing ad dollars by making my work as long as possible to soak up reader time, I am not someone who wants to cite a few random tweets as sources for a whole blog, and I am not someone who wants to have the most controversial take in order to feed performative dunks on Twitter.

I’m a writer, so I write. I have the privilege to choose my own topics and length, to publish when I feel and to feel no pressure from bosses and relationships. The day I become a ‘content creator’ is the day I shut down this blog for good.

I appreciate everyone who engages with my work, whether they agree or disagree or merely consume it and move on. In the parlance of our times I am a ‘brand’ who has his own trademarks to stand out in the market, but I don’t see that solely as my identity, nor do I think that’s something to be cynically exploited for maximum growth. I just gave out about respecting myself, but I respect the audience twice as much, because they could simply choose not to read and share, but they do, for reasons I’d like to assume have to do with quality.

Thanks for letting me winge.

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