Louis CK on Riding the ‘Social Media Content Cycle’ and the Death of Creativity
By Ben Bartee - February 21, 2023

“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”
-Rudyard Kipling

“What would be your advice to any young filmmakers or comics who have to deal with the social media content cycle?” an audience member asked of standup legend Louis CK at a public event.

Louis’ response on the issue of playing the algorithm for views and social praise: “I think it hurts comedy. I know it does… I see it… I’ve seen people that I saw getting funnier stop getting funnier. And I’ve seen some of the newer comedians, they just become more interested in [social media numbers].”

Louis’ whole thoughtful answer to the question is worth eight minutes of your time. “You’re trying to get the attention of an artificial brain,” Louis adds.

Anyone who produces anything creative which is then exhibited on the internet understands the algorithm hustle. Some lose themselves in it. Not getting lost takes mental fortitude and intentionality.

All of the incentives, on the surface, point to “winning the algorithm” by maximizing views. The numbers, numbers, numbers. Those become all that matter, followed secondly by affirmative comments celebrating your brilliant work.

Each of those metrics comes to measure your worth as a human and an artist. They replace the subjective appreciation of another living human – anyone, just one – who has glimpsed something worthwhile about the human condition, the only enduring and worthy aim of art.

Will AI ever be able to replicate the kind of human transcendence that great artwork provides? Time will tell, but for now computers haven’t penetrated and reverse-engineered the human soul, in however it is conceptualized. Consciousness, for instance, is still a mystery to science. No viable mechanical explanation suffices.

Regardless of the form, stuff is just not as good when it’s formulaic and stale. Music works by this principle just as any art form does. Genres become played out until they harden around an identity. Then a period of stagnation ensues until a new innovation comes along to push the scene forward.

A band gets famous for playing awesome music. They build a following, sometimes over years, often while starving. Then they get picked up, signed to a major label, and they can suddenly eat food. They listen to themselves on the radio, and bask in the warm praise of adoring fans, and have orgies with groupies.

They made it to Valhalla.

Having found through trial and error a winning formula, the band then reproduces derivatives of it that get progressively less impressive over time, until they are shallow imitations of their former selves.

“I stick my head outside the window once again
This time I see a thousand faces all too clear
They wear the same expression, I’ve seen in my face
So many times, I know exactly how they feel
I know exactly how they feel
I know just what they think about
They’ve got soul doubt”
-NOFX, Soul Doubt

This entire melodrama was played masterfully by Green Day, having gone from their 1994s pop-punk classic Dookie to their 2005 ultra-trash mediocre generica album, American Idiot.

“Turn, tune the knob K-go
Some alterna radio
Strategic marketing hype, media, stereotype
Has our music been castrated? Yes
To you it may sound good
To me it sounds so wrong
The notes and chords sound similar
The same forbidden beat, but
The desperation’s gone (the song’s the same)
But the desperation’s gone”
-NOFX, ‘The Desperation’s Gone’

The same essential process is seen in Star Wars’ sad decline from the legendary 70s/80s Han Solo and Luke Skywalker to the woke, forced-diverse dumpster fire it became in the 2010s. In the pointless sequel, beloved characters’ epic storylines were mauled. An aged Princess Leia suddenly goes LGBTQ+™ and floats through space like a real slay queen even though no character, including Leia, ever flew in Star Wars in dozens of hours of runtime.

All in the service of disseminating absurd Social Justice™ ideology surreptitiously through pop culture and cashing out on arguably the most famous trilogy of all time – in that order.

There is no scenario in which art that is produced primarily for the sake of money or social status doesn’t suck, which seems to be Louis’ point in a nutshell.

Ben Bartee is an independent Bangkok-based American journalist with opposable thumbs. Follow his stuff via Armageddon Prose and/or Substack, Locals, Gab, and Twitter.

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