I am frequently surprised by how many aspects of writing are hard to talk about. And some topics are outright forbidden.
Of course, that hasn’t stopped me. My blog has covered issues as controversial as censorship, the existence of talent, when an author should give up on writing, and intentionally evoking hate in a reader.
When you think about it, I should have been “disappeared” by the author mafia years ago.
But there remains one sensitive topic I have yet to broach, and it may be the most insidious of all, for the rule against discussing it is neither written nor spoken. This topic is suppressed by the concerted effort of thousands to refrain from acknowledging its existence.
Because, of course, you’re not guilty of it. It’s the world that needs to change. The fact that you benefit from it is completely incidental. And as long as you don’t bring it up, you can keep getting away with it.
But, sooner or later, you will have to embrace, acknowledge, and even employ the Lowest Common Denominator.
The Horrifying LCD
It’s like corn syrup—it’s in everything. And it’s terrible! But what can you possibly do about it?
And, also like corn syrup, it comes in many flavors. Just off the top of my head, there’s…
- Show stopper.
- Fan service.
- Disney ending.
- Toilet humor.
- Sex scene.
- Pop song.
- Cultural reference.
- Broken fourth wall.
- Where did those boobs come from?
- Animal sidekick.
And the one thing they all have in common is that they can be expected, at one time or another. They are the opposite of the Spanish Inquisition.
More specifically, they operate on the principle of “this thing was well received elsewhere, so your project should also have it”. It’s an appeal to the knuckle-dragging masses, begging them to like your thing because it has bright colors or lots of explosions. People already like it, so it doesn’t have to convince them of anything.
So, naturally, it is revolting.
Lowest of the Low
Nobody becomes an artist because they want to regurgitate someone else’s work. We want to realize our own vision. Likely, we feel that it is a viewpoint that has been neglected and believe that it would be embraced if only it could be brought to the surface. Wrapping that vision in the same tinsel that has been reused for 12 Christmases is troubling to the artist.
That artist will then go on to wonder why no one wants to buy their stuff.
Which isn’t to say that Lowest Common Denominators aren’t a problem. Marketers, if they’re any good, know such tactics can blow up in their face. Even the most primitive intellect will eventually get tired of repeated key-jangling. And putting too many of them in one place is a recipe for disaster.
That said, LCDs have been used to great effect by great artists. In the right context, they can even enhance a cerebral idea and make it more accessible to people who would otherwise never consider it.
Case Study: Steven Spielberg
He’s forgotten how to do it. But back when Steven Spielberg remembered how to be Steven Spielberg, the secret of his success was no secret at all. He simply made full use of LCDs.
The cute kid. The animal sidekick. The busy working adult that needs to be reminded of what’s important. Even the doodie humor.
It’s all there.
But what set Spielberg apart was his ability to freshen up his LCDs. Before using each one, he ran it through the dryer with one of those odor-absorbing dryer sheets.
Or, more literally, he always tried to add one drop of genuine feeling to his LCDs. He’d give the cute kid a tragic backstory. He’d make the overworked adult sympathetic in at least one dimension. He put the doodie humor in a professional or scientific context.
And he gave people just enough of an out so that they could appreciate his LCDs without feeling ashamed for liking them. As a result, he got all the benefit of using them with none of the drawbacks.
Of course, he didn’t always succeed.
All popular writers, to one degree or another, use LCDs. You don’t have to be happy about it. But appealing to a broad audience requires the dispensing of comfort food.
I have sadly learned this firsthand through my explorations of social media. On Twitter, people don’t reward you for delivering great moral truths, dispensing golden advice, or composing college-level jokes.
They reward you for picking up that thing they already like and showing it to them.
But just because an LCD doesn’t challenge them doesn’t mean it will automatically resonate with them. Care needs to be taken. You must justify your use of the LCD by giving it legitimate purpose.
If you do that, then people will pay any price just to love you.
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