The price of success is censorship. We bring it on ourselves, and we enforce it on others with this giant pyramid scheme which we call “life”.
So says John O’ Nolan, the man who founded the Ghost blogging platform. How can anyone with any measure of success not feel the same way he does? I’m not even a celebrity and it strikes a chord with me. As Nolan explains, the little guy, the underdog, can get away with being themselves, speaking their mind, with little to fear. The more success and fame you achieve, the more aware you have to be of what you say, act, and do. You end up having to structure your life in a way that doesn’t piss anyone off. God forbid if you do something in your personal time and or space that reflects poorly on your employer.
Five to six years ago, I was the little guy, the underdog speaking his mind about all things WordPress. I didn’t care about traffic, I cared about what people thought. The Tavern was a place for not only myself to voice opinions, criticisms, and just report on things I found cool or interesting in the community, but it was a soapbox via the comments and forums for everyone else to chime in. The bigger I could make the Tavern, the louder the voice I gave to those who didn’t have one. During the past few weeks, I’ve struggled to figure out why the job I was a natural at is now so fucking difficult. I question how I put myself in this position.
Now that the Tavern is owned by Matt Mullenweg and I’m an employee of Audrey Human Capital, everything I say, do, or act out is magnified and representative of my employer. I’m not the little guy anymore, I’m the big fish in the pond. Now there are huge responsibilities that I’ve struggled to carry on my shoulders. Even if no one tells me to watch what I say or censors me, it’s a natural occurrence because of fear. All it takes is for the fear to be present to alter behaviour. Fear of losing my job for saying the wrong thing. Fear of upsetting everyone for being wrong in a story. Fear of making my boss look like an idiot for employing me. Fear of not being able to be myself because being myself is offensive to people.
Yet, not once has any of those fears been realized. But then again, I’ve never been close enough to determine whether those fears are justified. Those fears are the electric fences that Nolan mentions, I’ve put up around me.
When you have nothing, you don’t fear being torn to shreds by the mob. You stand up and you call bullshit when you see it. But then when you start to do well… when you start to make a name for yourself… when you start to make money or have a certain number of Twitter followers, the spotlight turns to you.
You start to be more diplomatic and politically correct. You start to mould yourself into the shape of what everyone else expects you to be, because if you aren’t that, then the mob is waiting like it’s Lord of The fucking Flies.
Electric fences start to pop up all around you. Issues which you don’t even go near because touching them, in any way, is fatal. You can’t talk about sexism any more, because one wrong move there is career-ending. You don’t call out the bullshit industry awards, because you’re nominated to win some of them. You fail to draw attention to the morally bankrupt venture capitalists and journalists, because then they might not write about you or give you money any more.
So you mellow. And slowly but surely you turn into the very thing that you once rebelled against so strongly in your first album. When you had a voice. When you actually fucking stood for something.
And then you can’t talk about anything any more. The fear has taken over. All hope of the change that you once so strongly believed in has now been lost.
So the advice I get is to let loose, be myself, that’s the Jeff they want to see come through in what I write. But how the hell can I be that Jeff if I’m subjecting myself to so many fears, pressures, and all sorts of other bullshit. Why is writing about WordPress the way I want to write about it so god damn hard for me? What happened over the past year or so to take that Jeff away.
It’s so ridiculous that people can’t be themselves as they acquire more fame and success because of fear. It’s bullshit but that’s the way it is.
3 thoughts on “Censorship At The Price Of Success and Fame”
You were hired because of your past. Don’t change.
Damn, what a way to be succinct and to the point but wow, that sums things up nicely. I’ll have to keep that in mind.
Growing the voice of a platform (the Tavern) also builds up your voice (or at least the perception of your voice) in the same community. Increased visibility will always come with increased criticism. The only way to fight back is to, sadly, grow a thicker skin.
When I started blogging I was a nobody. The first time I hit 10 unique visits in a week I threw a party. Not kidding. Now I average several hundred a day – on a particularly good day several thousand. The relative success hasn’t been all good, though. When I had little traffic, I could say what I want and no one cared if they disagree. Now … I’ve actually gotten death threats over some of my code tutorials.
Still, I started blogging to accomplish something very specific – to build a platform on which my voice and other voices can be heard by many. I don’t censor myself at all, and that’s dangerous and sometimes painful. Still I know any repercussions of my honest voice will be because I was honest.
One of my favorite Jack London quotes sums it up quite well:
“I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”
I’ve always respected you for your openness and honest and, since I’m being completely honest with you, your attitude was actually one of the inspirations for my getting started as well. Don’t quit. Don’t censor yourself. Trust you guy and keep plugging along – I know it’s frightening, and it might get rocky, but when you look back from the future I’m sure you’ll be happier with a history of being honest and being “Jeff” than one of being safe.