Seth Godin’s Passion/Pop Gulf

Some unfinished thoughts for a Monday.

Ever since Seth Godin wrote about the “Passion Pop Gulf” (almost a year ago!), I’ve not been able to get it out of my head. The Gulf is a no-man’s-land, and I’m obsessed with how to stay out of it. Read the original post (it’ll only take you a minute; it’s short), then look at the graph below (I tried to link to Seth’s original image, but the URL won’t take.)

Working as I do for a marvelously messy and uncategorizable musical organization, I’m well aware of the Pop apex toward the right side of this graph – where the entertainment value and box office numbers are high. In our large amphitheatre, we provide lots of easy, free-wheeling musical fun. Hundreds of thousands of patrons depend on these shows for summer recreation.

I’m also well aware of (and slightly envious of, truth be told) the Passion apex on the left… the box-office-be-damned, bleeding edge, creatively brilliant and unbridled indie work that’s done in almost every genre. At its worst (the extreme left edge), it can be self-indulgent and narrow-minded. But at its best, there are people drawn to it because it’s not pop culture. (I love Seth’s graph, but from a purely mathematical perspective, I think the hump on the left is just a tad optimistic…)

We do seem to be getting to a point in our long-tail age that a place at the very top of the Pop curve seems to guarantee a lack of authenticity. By the time someone gets that popular, that much of a phenom, it’s almost taken for granted that they’re a product of a popular music machine that somehow weeds out the truly creative and reinforces homogeneity.

I’m rambling. The WTOC will never have to content with any of the small liabilities (real or perceived) of climbing to the top of the Pop curve. Opera lives on the passion curve. The point here is that in pursuit of butts in seats, I fear sliding down the passion curve into the dreaded Gulf. Shaving down the rough edges in an attempt to be more palatable to more people, and in the process becoming a sad pale imitation of the folks who successfully ride the popular culture machine.

Yes, let’s rid ourselves of the dysfunctional, old-fashioned, alienating trappings of classical music performances. All that does is clear the path for for anyone who wants to embrace the passion. But if we go too far – trying to be something we’re not, glomming onto pop music trappings that really don’t fit – all we do is dilute.

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