ILLUMINATIONS: Something for Everyone – Except Me
plus Watching, Reading, Listening...
AS A CULTURAL JOURNALIST, I am often on the receiving end of pitches—attempts to get me to speak or write about something—that boast that the event (or festival or exhibition or concert series) offers “fun for all ages” or that it has “something for everyone.” Rather than serving to entice me and make me want to spread the news, these kinds of expressions set off alarm bells that signify danger, warning, mediocrity ahead. They suggest that little to no thought went into the development or planning of the event, that no one spent any time trying to define what the program is supposed to be and to whom it is supposed to appeal. “Kids of all ages” is not a demographic group; it’s a stupid, meaningless, demeaning cliché.
(And by the way, adults are not kids. Even most kids are not kids.)
Somewhere along the line, these descriptors became lazy go-tos for publicists, programmers, and marketing directors. Underlying these catchphrases is the assumption that a festival or a concert series will be more attractive if their target audience is everyone. But “everyone” is not a target audience. Everyone is everyone. A target has concentric circles, and the winner is the one who comes closest to hitting the clearly defined bullseye.
The whole point of having a target audience is to slice off a segment of the population and appeal to them directly by offering programming to which they are predisposed. You attract roots-music fans with roots music and country-music fans with country music and chamber-music fans with chamber music and families with young children with (annoying) kids’ music. Don’t sell Schubert by teaming him with Billy Ray Cyrus, or James Taylor with a side dish of Metallica. And no one without children should ever have to know about Raffi much less hear him. (Been there, done that.)
It is a stupid assumption that a programmer’s goal is to appeal to the broadest possible base. This is also known as the least common denominator, which usually means it lacks focus or excellence. Virtuosity counts, as does honesty in advertising.
Unless of course you are a circus, in which case by all means you should indeed appeal to “kids of all ages.” Just don’t use that expression; it’s like nails on a chalkboard. Come up with something original to say. Treat your potential audience with respect. Promise them something of value—not something bland and watery and meaningless for everyone, but something for discerning consumers.
Respect your own work enough to differentiate it from the pablum down the road. That’s the place where you can find something for everyone, and nothing of real value for anyone. Respect yourself, and in turn your audience will respect you. And crowds will follow.
Earlier this week I wrote two articles in my ongoing “Secret Jewish History” series for The Forward.
One discussed how reports of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) have a long history going back to the Bible and the Prophets (think Ezekiel’s chariot) and how Jewish sages of the past 500 years have reconciled extraterrestrial life and Jewish beliefs.
The other was a dissection of Sinead O’Connor’s terrific new memoir, “Rememberings,” tracing her lifelong fascination with Judaism, Jewish thought, and Jewish artists. Some of the most surprising reveals include her idol worship of Barbra Streisand and Lou Reed.
Modern Gods by Nick Laird (Viking). My first go-round with a novel by Nick Laird, an inventive family dramedy that literally takes place at opposite ends of the planet—Northern Ireland and Papua New Guinea. He’s a dazzling stylist in the mold of Martin Amis and an acute observer of social ties in the vein of Zadie Smith, to whom he happens to be married. Highly recommended.
Rememberings by Sinead O’Connor (HMH). Aside from my Jewish take on the book in The Forward, O’Connor’s memoir left me with mixed feelings. I learned a lot about her I did not know and gained appreciation, sympathy and respect for her as a person, and I was left curious to go back and listen to more of her music. On the other hand, as is so often the case with rock memoirs, O’Connor reveals almost nothing about her musical process and choices.
Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen (Random House). I only just started this novel a few days ago, my first go-round with Joshua Cohen. I’m digging it deeply so far, and if it keeps up the way it’s going, this may wind up being one of my favorite recent (2015) novels.
The Beatles in Hamburg by Ian Inglis (Reaktion Books). Because one can never read enough about the Beatles. (More on that soon.)
Thom Yorke, The Eraser
Mark Rubin – Jew of Oklahoma, The Triumph of Assimilation (Rubinchik Recordings)
Talk Talk, Spirit of Eden
Krzysztof Penderecki, Symphony No. 3
Mikis Theodorakis, The Ballad of Mauthausen
The Shop on Main Streetby Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos
Marianne and Juliane by Margarethe von Trotta
Girlfriends by Claudia Weill
Minnie and Moskowitzby John Cassavetes
Fish Tank by Andrea Arnold
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
What Happened Was… by Tom Noonan
8½ by Federico Fellini