What do they think of me?
I read a couple of phrases that got me thinking. I paraphrase but they boiled down to ‘He wanted to swank a bit in his new clothes, so everyone could see how well he was doing’ And ‘he picked a fight with the stranger so everyone could see how tough he was.’
Neither character was particularly interested in merely knowing they had done well, or were tough. They wanted OTHER people to see it, to admire it, to respect it, or even to fear it. We’re social animals and, to varying degrees, the regard of other – especially others you do not know and who do know you, is important. It varies from individual to individual, society to society, culture to culture and in how it is expressed.
Now it is fair to say I’ve always struggled with this. There are a handful of people I would be seriously upset if I lost their respect. I know them well. There are likewise a handful of people who have my deepest respect… and I know them well. I’ve been known to dress well (this may surprise you. It surprises me) not because I give a damn what strangers think of me, but because I care that others of their set might think less of someone I respect and am fond of, because their friend is such a scruffy shagrag. I’ve been known to get into fight because that meant standing next to someone I did respect, and they expected it of me.
But, yes, I accept I’m not typical. If you feel that makes me a lesser human being, and not worthy of your notice let alone respect… shrug. So be it. I am what I am, and I’m getting to old to teach new tricks.
It does make me look at much of the virtue-signaling in my industry with a knowing and jaundiced eye. It’s not what they are – or even the characters they write are (which is why they often read so false, and cardboard). It’s what they want others to see, to respect, to approve of – particularly those who they feel are important. Logically this often determined by 1)who is winning (or they believe is winning right then, be that Chairman Mao or Greta Whatersename) 2)how effectively they are signaling that status. To be nasty, you have fakes faithfully faking it for fakes who are faking it. It’s all very human, and as old as humanity itself, and possibly older. Once upon a time there was serious benefit, in survival terms, in pretending that nothing was more attractive than how the biggest monkey in the troop groomed himself or wanted to go looking for tasty scorpions under the rocks.
It’ll change to follow the next ‘winner’s’ style. By pure accident that could as easily be mine as the something else. As the old man said, ‘I’ve worn the same style clothes for 70 years. And I’ve been in fashion twice in that time. Once when I was first buying them and once fifty years later.’
The point of this, is that, yes, there is a market that cares deeply what others think of them. They have the ‘right’, (un-read but ‘right’) books on their coffee-table. They care deeply what the store clerk sees them buy at the book-store (they care a lot less about what they buy on line, anonymously), they fill the auditorium to be seen (by people they don’t know, and often wouldn’t want to) of the strident feminist author’s reading (and said author later comments if only she could sell as much as one copy to each of them. But she can’t, because no one can see that). That market exists and best sold to, by making that sale an open and public display of virtue-value to the customer, so they can be seen to do it, and gain that approval or acceptance they so desire.
It is also worth remembering – if this is your target – that this market is only interested in the current ‘winning team’. Ask any high-fashion retailer how well last year’s styles sell.
On the other hand you could just try writing books that appeal to you. Who knows, they might come into fashion, and you might be in the right place at the right time. Or there always some customers like me, who care what they read, not what others think of them for reading it.