Tag Archives: the brass ring

Meritocracy: The Way The West is Run & Happiness Won.

So, it’s 4:48am and, per the usual, I’ve barely caught a wink of shut eye.  Slept about the usual 3 1/2 hours.  I know I have to buy sleepy time tea or some other herbal blah blah to help me slumber, but to tell you the truth — I LOVE working on my art stuff from 10 pm – 7am.  The only problem is that I have to stay awake from 7am – 10pm, as well.  If it were up to me, I’d do that every night and then sleep during the day, but alas I’m a mere worker among workers and must live in the light of day if I’m to afford living at all.

I’ve been spending these last few nights contacting awesome blog reviewers from the 50 page list I compiled and pitching them my book for review.  It’s actually been a blast!  I’m 5 pages away from being done.  There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when you’re about to accomplish a goal that will move your artwork deeper into the consciousness of the wide open world.

My artwork (writings & films) are like my children and I only want what’s best for them.  I want them to be whole, healthy, and available for experience.  Yes, it feels great to create art with integrity that I love, that I’m proud of, and make it available to other people who may be moved, provoked, and comforted by it.

As my granuelita always says (in Spanish), “You want to stir someone’s mind, touch their heart.  That’s the pipeline.”

Everyday I kill Tha’ Brass Ring-chase within me — a.k.a. my Ego’s search for validation — a little more, which opens me up to the endless, priceless, fitting possibilities for my works of art.

What I mean by that is: I’m no longer peddling my art toward the general public or the elitist 1%, but toward ITS people … my people.  Queers, Latino-Americans, Artists, Feminists, Eccentrics.  Hey, if others like random republican football players feel for The Voting Booth After Dark: Despicable, Embarrassing, Repulsive (my book) too, well that’s an added bonus.  As Seth Godin states in one of the latest posts from his phenomenal marketing blog:

When was the last time you bought a tie?

“When was the last time you bought a tie?

My guess is not lately.

When you first got a fancy job, you had a tie shortage, and thus attention was paid to ties. You bought “enough for now.” Then you solved the tie problem and moved on.

When you first bought an iPhone, you had an app shortage, so attention was paid to apps. You bought “enough for now.” Then you moved on.

Music might be an exception (buying a new stereo doesn’t often lead to a new music binge). But in general, some external event occurs that creates a fissure, an opportunity, a problem. We search, we buy, we’re done.

The challenge, then, is to develop products that match what the market is looking for, and more important, to overtly and aggressively seek out the people in that situation and ignore the rest. Which is precisely what most marketers large and small are not doing right now.

RELATED: Many marketers I know have a great idea for a product or service that will target a segment of the market that doesn’t know to look for the great idea. For example, you might want to sell a better, easier to use hatchet for women. The problem is that women, long accustomed to never being able to find an axe that they’re comfortable with, have given up looking, perhaps several generations ago.

Alerting a market segment that isn’t looking is a thousand times harder than activating a segment that just can’t wait for your arrival. Since it’s your choice, since the segment is up to you, why not pick one that is itching for you to show up?”

I used to believed that to be truly successful the select 1% — those at “The Top” — had to approve of what I was peddling and be a part of it.  They always made it sound as if promoting my artwork to the niche, minority communities — those the art in actuality represented — was a second grade choice, “settling for scraps.”

The more I take my Ego out of the equation of my career, however, the more I realize what a hilarious falsity “The Top 1%” and their definition of worth/worthwhile proves to be!  I was hustled!

Who cares about Sundance this, Golden Globes that, Grant Recipient of blah, Pulitzer Prize Winner at Age 3, being Anointed “Enough.”  It’s like when People Magazine comes out with their Top 100 lists: 100 best actresses of all time, 100 most beautiful, etc.  These subjective check off lists are perpetuated as objective truths …

In Western society, even in the freest of democracies, citizens become imprisoned by the by-laws of Meritocracy.

In other words, we become slaves to the praise and acceptance of those at “The Top,” often sacrificing love for our nuanced identities, our unaccepted “flaws,” in the process.  Western society is built upon that culture of COMPARISON, where people constantly have to prove their inherent worth by showing it’s greater than someone else’s through merit.  Meritocracy lies at the core of our Capitalistic Society.  Exemplified by our tendency to quantify our personal value in numbers.  For instance, every bloody effing activity we partake in has to have an Award Show and a 1st place, 2nd place, and 3rd place winner.  I mean we even have dog-strutting competitions a.k.a. Dog Shows! Gah!

Consequently, if you’re #1 then I’m automatically #2 or #3 or #30 or #100, which means I’m less than you as a person, artist, success — both numerically and symbolically speaking.  We spend our entire lives trying to prove to society, to our family, to ourselves that we’re #1 and therefore “enough.”

… Even the most liberal of us, equalists at heart — people that believe the worth of everyone is inherently equal.  We who at our core believe there’s no difference between the value of the company janitor and the company CEO because we understand that the only real difference between the two is how much we personally like them. Yes, even we — who comprehend that bureaucracies are founded upon a completely subjective, biased ratings system — become shackled by the ominous system of cultural governance: Meritocracy. According to Merriam-Webster’s online free dictionary Meritocracy is defined as:

1: a system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement.”

And by Wikipedia as:
Meritocracy, in the first, most administrative sense, is a system of government or other administration (such as business administration) wherein appointments are made and responsibilities assigned to individuals based upon their “merits”, namely intelligence, credentials and education,[1] determined through evaluations or examinations.
Meritocracy itself is not a form of government, but rather an ideology. Meritocracy itself is frequently confused as being a type of government, rather than correctly as a methodology or factor used in or for, the appointment of individuals to government. Individuals appointed to a meritocracy are judged based upon certain merits which could range from intelligence to morality to general aptitude to specific knowledge. A criticism of this methodology is that [3] “merit” itself is a highly subjective term, potentially lacking in clarity and therefore open to misuse.
Young’s fictional narrator describes that on one hand, the “stolid mass” or majority is not the greatest contributor to society, but the “creative minority” or “restless elite”.[12] Yet on the other hand, describes that there are casualties of progress whose influence is underestimated and that from such stolid adherence to natural science and intelligence, arises arrogance and complacency.[12] The casualties of this progress described by the phrase “Every selection of one is a rejection of many”.[12]
What I’m trying to get at is that I have blindly suffered from internalized meritocracy since I was 4-years old.  You get the “A” and it means THIS 🙂 about you, you get the “B” and it means THIS :/ about you, you get a “C” and it means THIS 😦 about you — about your “enoughness.”
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I attribute this self-destructive Darwinian attitude to Western culture’s conception of “worth.”  The Western mind often functions under the belief that “worth” isn’t a quality human beings are born with, but EARN over their lifetime through actions considered “worthwhile.”  Individual worth is assessed by a system of qualification founded upon the idea that actions are either “meritorious” or “nothing special.” I can’t speak much on the Eastern way of quantifying individual worth as I didn’t grow up in it, but I know this to be my experience with The West’s definition of life’s winners and losers.  Many people in this society choose, on a daily basis, to be “successful” over “happy,” if it means they’ll be considered worth more by society.  Somehow, success and happiness haven’t become synonymous the way I once thought they would.  I was trained to believe they would by school, parents, religion, and television.
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NPR recently did a fascinating report on “The Secrets of Happiness” in which anthropological researcher Dan Buettner concludes that the happiest communities in the world exist in San Luis Obispo and Denmark because the people there chose careers that moved them a.k.a. made them happy as opposed to raked in the most $$$ …
“Finally, Buettner says that he has learned that people are happiest when they spend their time and money on experiences, as opposed to objects. He advises taking up an interest in sports or the arts, which will provide longer-term satisfaction than any one purchase. ‘The luster of an experience can actually go up with time,’ he says. ‘So learning to play a new instrument, learning a new language — those sorts of things will pay dividends for years or decades to come.’

When asked about his own happiness level, Buettner admitted that he is incredibly content. After all, he has spent his life in the hot pursuit of adventure and helping others discover how to live longer and smile more. ‘I have always followed exactly what interests me and never really worried about the money,’ he says. ‘And when you think about it, to be able to travel the world … on an expense account and do exactly what interests you, it just doesn’t get much better than that.’ “

Hear the fascinating 6 minute podcast here.

I’ve realized in recent days how truly happy I am for the advent of the internet.  The internet has made it so that the everyday woman/man can realize how valuable their nuanced attributes are.  The internet has created an open space where “the little people” can share their bigness with each other without the direct meddling, filtering, and manipulation of elitist opinion.
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We’re realizing how much we all have to teach and offer each other, a lot more than the top 1% would like to have us to believe.  We no longer have to limit ourselves to the criteria devised by the TOP 1% of the population — the meritorious “chosen ones” of our communities — about what and who is valuable, and what and who is not.
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As I stated in the blog post before this one, I recently began reading Conversations before the end of time, which I LOVE.  I’ve compiled a couple of passages from the book that best sum up how Western Meritocracy is crumbling (within our communities anyway, our foreign affairs are a totally other discussion).  These passages, I believe, encapsulate the exciting changes taking place in the macrocosm of the Western World through the microscope of the art world.
“In my conversation with Barbara Kirshtenblatt-Gimblet, she defines meritocracy as a form of gate-keeping: a way to keep some people in and some people out.
the move away from autonomous art — art that is cut off from any social or communal definitions — is happening whether we like it or not, and is bringing about a very different relationship between artists and the public sphere.

Rejecting the isolationist tendencies of modernism, Richard Shusterman questions the whole enterprise of defining art as a specialized category of objects or activities separate from their influential connection with real life.

Aesthetics can no longer protect itself with a thaumaturgy of ‘formal’ and ‘purist’ values, or a notion of art isolated unto itself, separate from the experience of other things.” 



Stabbing “The Brass Ring” in tha’ HEART.

Well, I haven’t written a blog post in almost a week.  Strange feeling since I’ve been blogging almost every day since the year began.  Liberating feeling since I was blogging on a daily basis because I had something — YET AGAIN — to prove to myself.  Oh brotha!

I’m glad 2011 is the year of stabbing The Brass Ring — concept and way of life — in the heart and laying it gently on the ground to die.  Like I mentioned in a previous blog post, I’m dedicating this year to cultivating the 5 primary characteristics that, in my experience, open up the depth and dimensionality of my perception and thus make me feel most wholly fulfilled:

1) Humility 2) Gratitude 3) Compassion 4) Fearlessness 5) Peace

Definition of The Brass Ring according to:

Webster’s Online Dictionary: The Brass Ring: US Informal: A very desirable prize, goal, or opportunity.

Wikipedia: The brass ring as a term also means striving for the highest prize, or living life to the fullest.

TheFreeDictionary.com: n.Slang An opportunity to achieve wealth or success; a prize or reward.

This is how I’ve come to identify and pinpoint The Brass Ring: It pulsates at the center of your Ego — as its primary desire.  Your Ego’s sole purpose in life is to achieve it.  Your drive to get The Brass Ring corrodes the pure joys of your spirit with “alterior motives.”  Let’s take, for example, 2 types of filmmakers:

1) The filmmaker who is one because they like being called “The Filmmaker.”

2) The filmmaker who is one because they really love making movies.

Often times, the filmmaker who likes being called “The Filmmaker” began as a person who loved making movies, but over the years their Ego grew more powerful than their spirit.  Consequently, their quest became being called “The Filmmaker” as opposed to making movies they love a.k.a. their quest became about The Brass Ring.

A book was recently published explaining how to raise Brass Ring-driven children. It’s titled Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and is summarized by NPR (click here to listen to the 11 min podcast) as:

“Strict, uncompromising values and discipline are what makes children raised by Chinese parents successful. That’s the message in a new parenting book by Yale Law Professor Amy Chua. “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” based on Chua’s personal experiences has raised questions about whether the book reinforces stereotypes of the unsparing Asian parent.”

Or read The Onion’s hilariously brilliant summation:

New Parenting Book Sparks Outrage

Last week, Penguin Press published Amy Chua’s book Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother, which criticizes “Western” parenting and advocates an “Asian” approach that includes forbidding playdates and being highly critical of children in order to make them more successful. Here are some other tips from the book:

  • Take your children to Chuck E. Cheese’s and let them play any game they choose, then make them watch as you burn their tickets
  • Ice cream is a great motivator for kids; promise them that if they do everything you ask, they can have some when they turn 18
  • Inform your child that televisions receive all of their power from flawless renditions of Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D
  • Only let your children have a pet dog if they can tame the most rabid dog at the pound
  • Should your child express interest in spending more time with his or her friends, simply pack up and move several hundred miles away
  • To ensure academic excellence, inform your children that there is a mark higher than an A-plus and then shame them for failing to attain it
  • Replace their frail little limbs with less fragile prosthetics
  • Remember, you may have to put up with one or two suicides before you finally craft that perfect child you’ve always wanted

Mind you, I have yet to read the book.  I plan on it.  For now, however, I’m just enjoying reading other people’s outcries about it a.k.a. watching us react in horror toward/abhor a darwinistic way of thinking that we Americans — Chinese, Cuban, Jewish, Indian, Anglo-Saxon Protestant, etc  — have ironically been taught to regard as “ambitious” and “industrious.”   Of course, Americans live the varying degrees between the opposite extremes of The Brass Ring way of life.  Obviously, we’re not known the world over for our overachieving attitudes.  Still, The Brass Ring way of life exists at the core of our national spirit, raging with the ferocity of adolescent hormones: “Compete and win.  Prove you’re the TOP DAWG!”

Even our president Barack Obama, in his recent State of the Union address, declared he’d tenaciously go after The MOTHER of Brass Rings:

“…So, yes, the world has changed. The competition for jobs is real. But this shouldn’t discourage us. It should challenge us. Remember — for all the hits we’ve taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world. (Applause.) No workers — no workers are more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs. We’re the home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any place on Earth.

What’s more, we are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea — the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny. That’s why centuries of pioneers and immigrants have risked everything to come here. It’s why our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like ‘What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?’

The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can’t just stand still. As Robert Kennedy told us, ‘The future is not a gift. It is an achievement.’ Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat. It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.

And now it’s our turn. We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time. We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. (Applause.) We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business. We need to take responsibility for our deficit and reform our government. That’s how our people will prosper. That’s how we’ll win the future. (Applause.) And tonight, I’d like to talk about how we get there…”

I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with striving to realize one’s full potential on an microcosmic individual level and a macrocosmic national level.  I feel that, in fact, it’s the duty of every human being to do their personal best.  I’m questioning the motivations behind the drive.

Do you work hard on bettering your nation so that it’s considered better than all other nations or do you work to better it so that your citizens live a healthy and fulfilling quality of life?  Do you study for countless hours so you can Ace the math exam to prove to yourself and others that you’re an “A” student or do you study to learn the material and take pride in the “A” grade because it ultimately reflects how much — through hard work and dedicated focus — you learned on the subject matter? Do you make a caliber kick-ass film in order to walk down the red carpet, screen at Sundance, and win an Academy Award in a designer dress or do you make a caliber kick-ass film in order to connect with other human beings and hopefully add to their experience by sharing a story that exposes and explores a subculture dear and meaningful to your existence?

I’m truly coming to understand in my old age ( ;p ) that intention decides the consequence of an action because it points that action toward a direction.

For instance, I was researching and compiling a list of bloggists and blogs, which inspire and teach me, where I’d like to submit my book for review, and I came across this fantastic article in The Guardian about a Japanese woman who became a best-selling poet at age 99.  She sold 1.5 million copies of her first book — a self-published collection of poetry — “in a market where 10,000 is seen as a success…”

I immediately clicked on the piece and read it from head to toe.  I was profoundly inspired by it.  I had to ask myself, “Why am I so elated?”  What was it about her story that so inspired me?

Was I inspired because of My Ego’s obsession with The Brass Ring?  In other words, was I inspired by the story because the Tiger Mother inside, that part of me that says “WIN so you’ll KNOW you’re not a failure,” is thrilled at the prospect that I have until age 99 to prove I too can become an overnight-sensation best-selling poet?

Or was I inspired because, according to the article’s description of her, she’s a humble, grateful, compassionate, fearless, and peaceful old woman who brazenly took up the pen as a new way to express the pure passions of her spirit when her body became too old to continue realizing them through dance?

“She was encouraged to write poetry by her son, who is in his mid-60s, after recurring back pain forced her to give up her lifelong hobby of classical Japanese dance.”

Quite honestly, I’m sad to say, that my ego was inspired first.  It became inflated to exaggerated proportions with grandiose visions of receiving public acknowledgment, reverence, and acclaim.  The Brass Ring dangled before my Ego like a Cannabis Card before a stressed out pot-head.

The spirit beneath my ego, however, squirmed … writhed with disapproval.  I can no longer react blindly toward the whims of my ego — I can no longer give into its lazy and polluted cravings.

If I’m ever going to be substantially fulfilled, I must remain aware of my tricky Ego and its Brass-Ring drive.   Consequently, I must think, feel, and act opposite to its inclination.

THUS:

I may never be a best-selling poet or give a presidential speech or have a film premiere at Sundance.  These “nevers” are very real possibilities.  I may, however, create fearless works of art and honest thought, which one day lead me to proudly proclaim, like our 99-year old poet, “Thank you, I am really happy.”  Those, I believe, are very real possibilities too.

Thanks for being an example of humility, gratitude, compassion, fearlessness, and peace, Toyo Shibata.  I can’t wait to order your book.  Big hug your way! 🙂

I really do believe that choosing to be a citizen rather than a simple consumer is an essential, deliberate, and potentially-radical act. – Darren Hughes


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