Call Me Mr. Brightside
As some of y’all may have noticed, I’ve been going through a bit go a tough time as of late. A few weeks ago Rotten Tomatoes cancelled my Sub-Cult column after what I like to think was a pretty robust three year run. It was the latest in a series of outside columns that were retired by the websites that originally commissioned them.
What’s made this experience jarring is that the cancelled columns include the most popular, high profile and seemingly successful features of my career, starting with My Year/World of Flops, which lasted a decade as an online feature, spawned a book published by Scribner and introduced a phrase and archetype into the public consciousness with “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”, which I coined in the feature’s very first entry, on Elizabethtown, and which made me an answer on Jeopardy, or rather a question was nixed by The A.V Club just before this site launched.
Then my Pod-Canon column at Splitsider on the best individual podcast episodes of all time was deemed redundant when the site became part of new owner Vulture, which purchased them since Vulture had a similar column with the advantage off multiple authors, not just one weird dude.
The Simpsons Decade, my overly academic, overly difficult to explain column on post-modernism, the Death of History and the internet eclipsing television in 1990s comedy was next to be gifted to Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place after failing to find an audience. Sub-Cult was next although it felt like that had at least a modest following in its three years of existence on Rotten Tomatoes.
Looking back, it’s pretty easy to see why I might be feeling a bit bummed, particularly as the birth of my second son a month and a half ago has increased my expenses the way babies do. I’m not gonna lie. I’ve been in a bit of a funk. At this point, I’m never surprised when a column is cancelled but I am invariably disappointed. I’ve taken some of these rejections harder than others. Sub-Cult was particularly tough, because I really liked writing it, it felt like it had an audience, the filmmakers I paid tribute to often tweeted their appreciation for my pieces, the column wasn’t too esoteric (unlike Simpsons Decade) and had a nice little history going. And it paid well and consistently.
It’s hard not to take these cancellations personally on some level. They activate my lingering fear that as the pop culture media world continues to change aggressively (I’m encouraged by the recent rise of unions for pop culture sites, as I’m not in a position to benefit from them and the protection and solidarity provide) the space for me in professional pop culture media outside my safe haven here at Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place is small and getting smaller.
I like to think I’m a fundamentally positive, optimistic person, in no small part because I have to be just to get through a gig and a world that can really get you down if you let it, but when your ego takes enough hits it can be hard to muster up the Boy Scout energy to be optimistic.
My confidence is a little shook and when you’re trying to toughen up your skin in anticipation of having to pitch more regularly that can be a problem. It’s hard not to let outside judgment affect the way you see the value of your own work. The Simpsons Decade, for example, has died a series of deaths. First it failed to sell as a book proposal. Then it failed to find an audience at Rotten Tomatoes and was transferred over to the Happy Place but I’ve got to admit I’ve had a hard time mustering up the energy and enthusiasm to write new entries, let alone see the project through to completion by writing between 20 to 26 entries on seminal comedy from the 1990s, from The Simpsons to Action to the “Rock, Rot & Rule” episode of The Best Show.
When an idea that once radiated all the potential and hope in the world (to me at least) like the Simpsons Decade is rejected in multiple forms, first as a potential book and then as a poorly read column it’s hard not to see it as a failure.
Waking up one morning, however, I suddenly saw things in a new light. I was suddenly overcome with excitement over the fact that I now had ownership of three of the best, most popular, commercial and easy to understand columns.
Yes, getting cancelled at Rotten Tomatoes has affected the way I see the column. For example, I no longer see it as a column I am getting paid to write (at least directly) and that sucks. But it’s still a column that I like writing extraordinarily and that I think still has a whole lot of life left in. And I’m excited that it lives on and that since I have total control of my website it can be whatever I want it to be. I know the guy who runs the website and if I wanna do A Serious Man or Compliance or Black Dynamite I can do so.
The same goes with My World of Flops, which I need to revisit because I just plain love that column. And I look forward to getting into a rhythm where I can do justice to those three winners. Because, when you look at it from a place of optimism and positivity, those aren’t three failed columns that got killed due to lack of popularity. No they’re three thoroughbreds, three superstars, three columns that I love writing and that people seem at least moderately enjoy reading.
The changes in the media are terrifying. But in this chaos there are opportunities and one of the big ones for me right now is that three of the best things I’ve ever done are in my control on a website I similarly have complete control over and represents my personality and aesthetic in its purest form. It may not be big or super-lucrative but it's all me (with an assist from Clint of course), and that matters for a whole lot, these days and always.
From that perspective things look a little less apocalyptic, although some days it’s easier to be hopeful than other.
I make my living primarily through Patreon so if you would be kind enough to consider pledging as little as one dollar over at http://patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace it’d be