Frankie Boyle made an interesting point about the nature of media on a recent chain reaction interview on Radio 4.
When he started stand up he’d tell a joke to a room of people, who would or wouldn’t like it. No matter. He was in charge of both the material and the intended audience.
As he became better known, his control over the intended audience disappeared – by merit of sharing online and journalists phoning the butt of a gag for a reaction and some cheap copy. In his own words:
“…there’s a concept that is called ‘author by relocation’, right. Now the idea is that if I screened a porn movie onto the wall of a local primary school they wouldn’t go and arrest Ron Jeremy for it….”
In short: spreaders become authors. If you take a message and change the audience or context, the responsibility lies with you.
Taking a step back from Frankie and the rights and wrongs of a comedian’s material, the notion of author by relocation is a profound idea with many implications.
There’s the point that Frankie is making – the responsibility inherent in sharing an idea.
There’s also a point about originality. A good proportion of social media – twitter, blogs, video – is merely a collection others’ work. Synthesis, rather than thesis.
Sharing is all well and good, but I wonder if some people unconsciously conflate sharing with creating, content to bask in the reflected glory of their source material, not considering how much of their time is spent consuming things other people have made as opposed to making their own.
Extending the notion further, there’s also a point about credit. Ideas entrepreneurs like Malcolm Gladwell essentially collate, simplify and profit. Taking obscure academic research to a wider audience and generating enthusiasm is hard to criticise, wilfully misrepresenting another’s work and making a far better living out of it than the originator perhaps less so. In his own words:
“If you’re in the business of translating ideas in the academic realm to a general audience, you have to simplify … If my books appear to a reader to be oversimplified, then you shouldn’t read them: you’re not the audience!”