The Column: It Used To Be Funny
14 Mar 2024

You go to the doctor. He examines you. You tell him your symptoms. He draws on his many years of classroom teaching, experience as an intern, decades in the field. He tells you: you have pneumonia. He lists some tablets – then hands you the prescription. You take it, look at it…Then you say : “You know what, I don’t like pneumonia. Can we make it scurvy instead? My wife likes scurvy. In fact, we took a vote on it… business and I… and we decided it might be scurvy. Or maybe, we don’t know, something. But definitely not pneumonia.”

You sit with your defence lawyer. You are on trial for murder. The judge is known as Put-em-away Pete and has eyebrows that transmit pure unadulterated white male fragile rage. The evidence against you is as long as Tolstoy’s classic. The cops all stare at you like you ate the world’s last doughnut. The lawyer is a thousand dollar an hour, high octane, high protein rottweiler so mean that herbs wilt whenever he enters their biosphere. “Be quiet,” he tells you, having prepared a battle plan worthy of D-Day and the 16,783 arguments and counterarguments to save your ass from the inevitabilities of prison. He gets up, clears his throat and is about to make his argument… when you get up and say “You know what, I feel I’ve been quiet long enough. In fact, I’ve prepared an aria.”

You can smirk all you want, but it happens every day.

Creative workers will tell you all about being second guessed by people without the skills, the experience, the talent, all the time. But creatives – being sensitive souls – do so with a kind of long-suffering, smiley masochism. Yup, clients do that. Yup, that’s just the way it is. Yup, that’s just how business works.

But I’m not ‘a creative’. I’m Peter Fucking Van Der Walt. And I tell you it isn’t a cutesy little harmless frustration.

I will tell you that it is a form of psychopathy – to shit over someone’s work like that when you think you can do better because your inflated salary gives you an inaccurate self-esteem. You do not know better, in fact, and you very much can do damage to your own outcomes. Fuck up results. Destroy any semblance of authenticity or truth because of tinkering, incessant micromanagement.

Now creatives – well – they take it.

Thank you so much for your feedback.

Oh, your wife doesn’t like green? I guess we can re-arrange all the principles of design and the universe itself can reconstitute itself around what your missus likes.

Sure we can change that word because you have some irrational personal association that the rest of humanity is expected to coddle.

It’s a way of keeping you down. Kicking you into place. Telling you, you will suck and never amount to anything – the constant, gnawing subversive subsconscious fear hardwired into every artistic soul. That’s how they keep the pecking order in tact.

That’s how accountants get to run companies, despite not being the smartest people in any room, ever, and practicing a discipline that hasn’t changed since the 1100s and despite giving a AAA rating to Enron and CDOs right up until they fucked us all without any lube back in 2008.

 Now I’ve done my time, served out my sentence as a commercial hack. I have done things that I knew were wrong because committees decided on it. I had to adjust exceptionally powerful creative into substandard crap to get it across the line, many, many times.

But the question is: how long do you put up with it?

Now, of course, you can just man up and take it. That is an option – but then – you might man up to the point where you don’t feel a thing, and you can survive provided you kill the artist in you. You can’t keep kicking a puppy and think it’s going to grow up to be an adorable family friendly charmer. At some point its either going to bite someone or you’re going to have to do the responsible thing and put it to sleep.

But understand that your critics – not one of them who could write a song, a novel, a screenplay, a poem, a short story – not one of them who had a bestseller or two – not one of them who won film industry awards, advertising awards – not one of them who can write a letter to their wives without paying you – don’t care.

For them it is important to look like they had something to contribute.

To speak up in the meeting, and say something, so they can be seen to earn their cushy, easy, slow-going, quiet-quitting paychecks. While entrepreneurs and artists get cactus fucked by people without a conscience and a world that does not give, despite its pretences at, say, the Oscars, one iota of a fuck.  

Perhaps I am getting old.

Or perhaps I have ‘’mental health issues’’ (it’s about time I have the luxury of having anything except a pile of deadlines and no choice to deliver, regardless of what goes down in my mind, heart and soul).

Or perhaps I’ve just finally begun to see people for what they are (spoiler alert – get ready for perpetual and ubiquitous disappointment).

At some point you have to decide whether the beatings are worth it.

You can’t treat creatives as such that prostitutes have more room not to compromise and then wonder why they don’t feel like kissing you once you’re done with them.

The amount of times in my career that really good stuff, valuable art – was put away or on hold because the bandwidth had to be preserved for petty games by committees in exchange for a few meagre bucks – means I am a whore, and a cheap one at that.

I first saw it when I was a waiter. It is amazing how much power you can buy for a night for the price of a meal. You can treat that kid serving you like a schoolyard bully, like a sexual predator, like a sleazy old man, like an abusive daddy, like an angry spouse, like an unimpressed judge. And that’s just the Friday shift.

Back then I was young so I told myself the assholes were in the minority.

Now, I gotta tell you, I’m not so sure.

Those guys at the restaurant? They don’t just go to restaurants. They are middle managers in businesses. Their behaviour doesn’t stop to suck when they grab the doggie bag of half masticated cow and chips. They live out their superiority like it’s a calling, to anyone unlucky enough to be, in their estimation, below them.

Am I a misanthrope?

At this point, fucking probably, and all yawl can stop acting surprised about it.

What to do?

Well. Maybe its time for the old ho to retire herself before some pimp or john does it for her.

Just go live happily ever after on the farm, like my puppy from childhood reportedly did.

It’s all good, I’ll have a decision soon enough.  

If you don’t like the column, maybe change it to green. Or better yet – write you own if you’re that perplexed.