I’ve been saying something for a long time, and I like to think I came up with it myself... even though I know that the world is large and nothing is really original. It’s not like I actually coined a phrase, because it was never published, but I’ve said it for nearly two decades, ever since my eyes were widened by my being immersed in the business of show. I’ve said it in passing, I’ve said it in panels, and I’ve said it far too often:
Not everything good is successful, and not everything successful is good.
Of course, just because I (think I maybe may have) coined this phrase doesn’t mean that the truth of it doesn’t frustrate me. It goes against everything we ever learned growing up: that hard work and fair play will get you far. That the cream always rises to the top. That the quality of what you do and who you are is what matters most, and that success will be sure to follow that quality.
That all turned out to be a giant lie.
But since success -- particularly in creative endeavors -- hinges upon a fair amount of subjectivity from a fickle public, one would think that people would eventually realize that there is no way to truly ensure success... that there is no formula for getting people to automatically like you or your product. If there was, everything would be successful. And as such, one would think that people would then choose to chase the good, the quality, since that is at least something that can be controlled.
However, one look at the current slate of reality television shows and disappointing movies will tell you that quality is not always being chased or championed.
Granted, someone once told me something I have never forgotten: no one ever sets out to make a bad show, or a bad movie. But I have seen firsthand how much everyone tries to second-guess what audiences will like, and how that always comes first. People won’t like that. Kids won’t get that. There are notes, preview screenings, surveys, audience cards, and testing, testing, testing. And all it takes is one lackluster response from the key demographic to tip that first domino over and turn the tower of quality into a giant mess.
And sure, there are many, many cases where true, high quality has been met with utter initial failure. Just ask the fans of Firefly, or Freaks and Geeks. But here’s the thing that no one tells you about success, failure, and quality:
Not a lot of low-quality crap becomes embraced as cult classics with a lasting legacy. Really good stuff does eventually get found, somehow, and when it’s discovered, it’s not just enjoyed, it’s beloved. Usually it’s a few early believers who spread the word, but that process can be slow. And even once word gets out, sometimes it’s too late to do anything about it. The actors and writers and directors move on, films get buried in salt mines, live performances go unarchived. But at the very least, discovering failed brilliance gives you hope that the future will not be completely filled with easy jokes and Snooki.
So while I stand by the truth of not everything good is successful, and not everything successful is good, I hope that, instead of being used as an excuse to try to keep chasing success at any cost, it is an inspiration to chase quality and good-ness first, let the chips fall where they may, and know that someone, somewhere, will appreciate it.
Of course, that only really works if the “someone, somewhere” in question is the money fairy.
And that’s why things are the way they are. The end.
Yes indeed. Welcome to me.