I live in Birmingham, Alabama. It’s what I like to call a “city in training.” When thinking of destinations for travel or relocation in the South, Birmingham is often overlooked in favor of cities like Atlanta, Nashville, or Charlotte. But lately the city has been seeing a huge and sudden improvement in it’s marketability.
One thing that has rubbed off on Birmingham, perhaps in part due to its proximity to musically inclined cities like New Orleans and Memphis, is a very active and thriving scene of lovers of music and musicians themselves. So I have lots of friends who are musicians, many of whom have been playing music their whole lives. In fact I probably know more people who are or were musically active to some degree than people who aren’t.
As a YouTuber, I also get to interact with a lot of people who are otherwise artistically motivated. YouTube is home to writers, actors, musicians, comedians, animators and virtually anything else you can think of. I was basically in a building full of artists and entertainers this past weekend when I went to Vidcon.
I’ve noticed over the years that artists and performers are often accused of being self-important and pretentious. The idea is that artists think they’re so special and the work they make is so important to the world and that we should all thank them for existing because how else would this amazing, enlightening art be made?
I think this is why the general public loves famous people who seem “down-to-earth” or “real;” people like Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone who seem like they could be your friends, rather than these larger than life, “serious” performers that you’re used to seeing.
Some performers have to seem down-to-earth as part of the credibility of their act. This is especially the case for stand-up comedians, and I would argue that it applies to YouTube as well. However, if you get comedians or YouTubers in a room together and listen to them talk about their craft, I wouldn’t be surprised if you left that meeting thinking that all these guys were full of themselves.
I’m sure that many of these artists and performers are in fact pretentious and conceited, but here’s the issue: being passionate can sometimes be confused with being pretentious. This is what I’ve learned after having the opportunity to meet so many people who are entertainers and artists. They don’t think themselves to be more important or more clever than others, they just really care a whole lot about what they do. Artists and performers generally put their work before an audience, so it’s easy to see them and react to them. But find anyone who’s passionate about anything, and you’ll probably find a lot of the same trends. I used to play Super Smash Bros. Melee competitively, and if you ever heard some of the conversations that community has, you’d probably wonder, “Why do they care so much about this silly children’s video game?” My guess is that this applies to anything. It could stamp collecting, competitive eating, architecture, or anything else you can think of. When people are passionate about what they do, they take it seriously and they put their hearts and souls into it. To someone who doesn’t quite care as much, this may seem like conceit or pretension.
Of course it’s important to stay humble and understand the complexity and nuance that exists in the world and in other people, but being passionate and serious about what you do is not pretentious–even if what you do is ultimately non-consequential. And I hesitate to even say that, because I believe that making connections with yourself and your community while also expressing yourself in a new way when spoken language doesn’t suffice is perhaps the most consequential thing of all.