A Moment for the Arts

Years ago, I attended a panel of folks, including Steve Martin, Nora Ephron, and Dave Foley. The topic was “The Internet and the Future of Comedy.” Martin’s take was essentially this: While he wasn’t all that Internet-savvy, he saw the potential for DIY careers, and he recognized that success would come from a new breed of artists and their success would change the expectations of future generations. Dave Foley totally got it: He knew that the future of comedy (and music, art, etc.) was online, and that this new breed of artists were going into it knowing that they would have smaller audiences and make less money than most of their idols had. Ms. Ephron, however, forever lost any respect I may have had for her; she casually dismissed the Internet as a medium for the arts, claiming that since it couldn’t give her the audience and profits that the Hollywood system did, it wasn’t worth the effort.

You’ve Got &*$%# Mail

Nora Ephron’s attitude that day, about profit and progress are at the heart of why our economy is so messed up. Generation after generation of Americans grew up believing that the American dream was to be wealthy: 40 acres, a Maserati, and a mansion. We not only believed that wealth was attainable, we believed that it was somehow our right–that if we didn’t get rich, then we had failed to properly exercise that right. That, or our country had failed us.
Kids these days

The generation that is growing up now know what Dave Foley was talking about. Like a small percentage of their predecessors, a large percentage of them live by the DIY ethos, and more often than not, the Y stands for “yourselves.” The absence (or at least the curbing) of greed and the joy of collaboration go hand in hand. As the scale of their expectations for money & fame shrinks, their motivation to create art that improves the world around them grows.

It took me most of my life to learn this lesson, and I’m certain that I would not have ever gotten it had I not become a parent; I have much respeck for those of y’all who got it before you had kids, and for those of y’all who don’t have any. At least my kids get this wisdom early on, and with so many of their peers getting it as well, I can rest easy knowing that their little brains will join together to change the world for the better.
There was a party the night of the panel. I bellied up to the bar and found myself standing on line next to Steve Martin. I thanked him for his contribution to the panel and bought his drink. He thanked me with a genuine smile, which totally made my day. I got my drink and as I turned to find a place to enjoy it, I found myself face to face with Dave Foley. We talked for over 20 minutes, during which time I thanked him at least five times for dropping some serious wisdom to a packed audience. He’ll never read this, I’m sure, but his words have stuck with me for over a decade, and they continue to encourage me to hold to the idea that the best dreams are ones that affect us and the people we touch in positive ways, and that the dreams in which we gain everything at any cost are toxic to all forms of life.
I. Me. Mine. Ours.
A little selfishness is great, and the satisfaction is a thousand times greater when our needs and expectations are reasonable and our rewards surpass them by even a small amount. When that little nugget of profit is shared with our collaborators, it’s a million times sweeter. 

I have confidence that enough of the CEOs of tomorrow will bring this sentiment with them; they will gladly pay more taxes to help those less fortunate than them, they will make certain that all their employees are insured, and they will generously support artists of all kinds because they know that those are the people who will provide inspiration for generations to come.

Hit me. I can take it.

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