Scrutinizing Leaders in the "Follower" Era
In this era of "followers" and "tribes" and "likes," it's easy to get attached to a writer or leader through social media and blogs. The individuals who always used to be so distant and inaccessible now make themselves available for online hangouts and are willing to trade quick comments through Twitter. This gives us the opportunity to connect on a more personal level than ever before... which is good and bad.
It's good when we get to know our favorite author's preferences, what her family is like, and why she chose to write her latest post. It's bad (maybe, we'll draw that conclusion more precisely in a bit) when we catch our favorite authors saying or doing something we really wish they wouldn't do. I'm not talking about turning into a serial killer or something, but maybe that leader or author supports a cause that you wouldn't. Maybe it's a religious or political viewpoint that catches you wrong.
At that point, we have to see how deep our interest in this person actually is. Are we really in love with everything about this person (sans the new piece of information)? Or, do we just appreciate the artwork?
Personalities Matter Now More Than Ever
Through the long lens of history, we can separate the artist from the work and to appreciate the works that have now become classics. In the past, artists were hardly worried about appeasing anyone other than their patrons. Now that artists of all types have to appeal to a much larger group of patrons, they have to maintain the image that helps give them the most success (the bad boy, the sexy woman, the intellectual, the funny one, etc.).
Mind you, true appreciators of art are able to separate personality from the artwork, but the popular opinion and the method used to market music, art, movies and more is to create a winning persona that attracts people to the artwork. (Remember how skittish people got with Tom Cruise after the Oprah couch-jumping moment?)
Liking the creator (author, blogger, speaker, artist, filmmaker, whatever else) is now akin to appreciating the artwork. And in many ways I believe this to be a very good thing, but it creates this odd sense of all or nothing. We're either completely on board with an artist and his way of thinking, or we're completely not. Marketing in a long-tail world moves us toward extremes: love or hate, care or apathy.
Is Ignorance Bliss?
This discussion then begs the question, is it better not to know? Would you be better off not knowing that you favorite author is actually a jerk? Would you have more peace not knowing if the person you're modeling part of your lifestyle after is actually in support of a cause you're morally opposed to?
It's certainly easier to be able to focus on the things that you appreciate about that person's work when you're not bogged down in the messiness of reality, but the truth is that we can't get away from these details anymore. I'm not much of a sports fan (though I did win an NCAA bracket through sheer luck - ), but I know it's really difficult to not find out what the score is or who won so that you can catch the game later on DVR.
We're going to learn a lot about the people we admire, whether we do so intentionally or not. And we'll likely find something in there that we're not thrilled about.
A Chance to Grow
I'd like to say I'm mature enough that I wouldn't even be affected by finding out something that I disagreed with, and I can it's true in cases where I find the differences to be petty. I'm a pretty laid back person on the whole, so I'm pretty flexible on a lot of issues. But when it's something that really matters to me, then I have to think about it a lot more.
An amazing benefit of this scenario is that we get the opportunity to think in a new way. After all, if this person that I admire thinks this (whatever contrasting view it may be), then perhaps this point of view isn't all bad.
You may find in the end that you're still not convinced enough to just put behind your opinions or experiences, but now you at least have the opportunity to see the other side of the argument.
Whether or not you continue to read that author's work or purchase her products will be a decision you'll have to make for yourself.
What about You?
Have you been faced with this scenario before? Is there someone that springs to mind when you read this post? Please let us know in the comments below.