In the Age of Personal Branding
Slideshows of nights out on the town.
The litany of invites to "Come see MY show!"
We are in the All Time Era of Narcissism and Self Aggrandizing. We are living in the Age of the Personal Brand.
About five years ago, I was approached by a performer, new to the scene, who was gaining some popularity. She was looking for some guidance as she was quickly becoming the "Performer Du Jour" in certain circles and she didn't really know who she could or could not trust. We talked about a lot of things - the fleeting nature of fame (it comes and goes like likes on a Facebook status and, ultimately, has the same value), whether or not to believe the hype (don't because as soon as you do, the crowd will turn on you faster than a piranha swimming toward a carcass in the water), and what, if anything, to do with this spotlight (share it with others as quickly as you feel the heat of the bulb on your forehead.)
I also told her that, at some point if she was banking on this being more than a hobby and at least a serious avocation, she would have to decide if it was about the Work or the Self. That when faced with the choice to highlight the art form and the people proliferating it or herself, choose the art. It is, by far, the more difficult path to travel especially considering that most performers perform from a place of low self esteem and the empty hole in the gut that only feels satisfied by the approval of the crowd. It is, however, the better road to travel.
Personal branding has always been around - for so many in the world social capital is the only capital available. If one routinely creates but receives no credit for the creation, taking that credit only seems fair. Of late, however, the tone seems to be shifting. Taking credit for opening a door for someone attempts to eclipse the act of that person walking through it. The teacher who takes credit for the success of the student. The "self made" man who refuses to recognize the helping hands he had along the way. The performer who is supported and lifted up by an organization denying the organization's contribution and smearing it for existing in the first place.
There are examples of personal branding that somehow seem fine but I'd argue that those personal brands are not being built upon the implication that they are the Greatest or Better Than anyone else or any other entity. There is branding and then there is branding at the expense of others. There is also branding that gloms onto a popular movement with no fealty to that movement or cause.
Lots of personal branding going on out there. Some is mostly annoying because we are so constantly being marketed at. Some is from the egomania that requires labels like 'Overlord,' the "Greatest Phucker Alive," and the insult-driven branding of a Donald Trump. This trend isn't going to reverse itself - the internet isn't going away and human beings are all assholes about half of the time. I tend to go back to my advice to the suddenly popular performer. Is it about the work or the self?
You can see the difference.
Stay away from the folks who promote themselves instead of the art.