Last post, I discussed the difference in creative output between an older system of patronage and a modern system governed by the mass market. Older societies could turn out brilliant creative work with far fewer resources and people because a limited number of people called the shots. What’s for everyone is for no one.
A creative work that’s commissioned serves the vision of a patron, a work exposed to the forces of the mass market merely tries to please the most and offend the fewest becoming a grotesque Tower of Babel.
The internet has enabled a phenomenon known as crowdsourcing, a process by which an idea gets funding from just the people who want it.
This process has the potential to create a modern sort of patronage. The idea that gets created exists to serve a limited group rather than the entire aggregate mass of humanity.
I have found an inspiring example in a youtube channel called The Great War. The founder, Indie Neidell covers each week of WW1 as it was happening 100 years ago with lots of special episodes in between.
The show is filmed in a studio with a production crew and gets its funding from a crowdsourcing site called Patreon.
With a fraction the funding of a third rate History Channel special, they have done more than the History Channel could ever have aspired to. The Great War now has many hours of runtime, hosts active discussion on its videos and reddit, and caters only to those who pay for it. So if enough viewers want an episode about Bulgaria in WW1 or French WW1 Uniforms the episode appears.
Even as a kid, I referred to the History Channel as “The Lost Secrets of WWII Channel” or the “The Lost Secrets of Nazi Superweapons Channel.” And this was years before they descended into airing little more than reality shows.
Shackled by the tyrannical mass market, the History Channel was slave to the few events and passions that register on the popular consciousness. They can cover a comic book WW2 endlessly, maybe get away with the American Civil War every once in awhile. Other than that, conspiracy theories about Atlantis, the Bermuda Triangle, the Knights Templar, and lost tribes of Israel sell far better. They no doubt have millions of dollars to spend, but by comparison to The Great War, they’re a joke. We can see how commissioned creative work can be orders of magnitude more efficient with results that can be exponentially better. This gives us a glimpse into how relatively impoverished societies of the past did as well as they did.
While big individual patrons like the Medicis or Carnegie remain in the past, the internet is enabling people who want the same things to get together and create sheltered markets protected from the insipid Many.
Without this protection, people who want a show about Lettow-Vorbeck’s brilliant campaign in German East Africa in WW1 have nowhere to turn, for they are a drop in a great ocean, swallowed up unless they find a way to escape.
Furthermore, The Great War shows us how crowdsource patrons can form a community around the work they sponsor. Those who watch enough episodes see how repeat commenters gain a reputation and begin to notice the recurring in-jokes. It’s an environment where participants feel a sense of ownership and belonging, at least far more than most of us can feel towards impersonal modern institutions. I could see these sorts of affiliations among the possible catalysts for cultural secession and the creation of new tribes within obsolete nation-states.