The Thankless Life


A harsh truth of reality: not every movie gets a sequel, and this isn’t a bad thing. Only one thing grants a movie a sequel; money.

Money and passion are often confused by consumers. They feel the same, in many ways, and they produce similar results. But for creative people, money and passion are completely different creatures. The latter is fuel, and the former is a means to an end. You can possess a passion; money, you can only hold.

Let’s take a little test. Think of a website that makes you laugh on a regular basis.

  1. What does the face of the person who made you laugh look like?
  2. What is their name?
  3. How many advertisements do you see for products/services separate from the website?

Ten years ago, I could kill an entire day surfing the Internet. Five years ago, a few hours. Now I get bored within minutes. What was once a grass-roots extravaganza is now a wasteland of click-through lists glutted with ads. Systematically, “dark humor” has been scrubbed from the web, little by little, supplanted by lip-sync contests and blank-faced YouTubers gawping into their webcams. Like the Last Man on Earth, I get to watch the stars that once sustained my soul wink out and die, one by one.

I brought online in 1999, when the internet was akin to the Wild West. With no sponsor, I animated four “John’s Arm” shorts from 2001 to 2004. The fourth brought my site over a quarter of a million hits in one month. By 2005 I had been approached by three different networks. If being a small part of a successful project is empowering, how do you think it feels when you’re the sole producer?

I had no plan when I started the site. It was just the dumping ground for my cartoons and music. It didn’t even function properly for the first few months. But nobody ever complained that it didn’t make sense; on the wild frontier of the Net, its obtuse oddness fit right in. These were the Consumption Junction days, when viral was viral; honest, and not co-opted by social networking apps. You started flames with proper flint and kindling, rather than taking the easy route with the noxious lighter fluid of Facebook.

Two years ago I brought online, with a fairly clear plan of action (for me anyway). Without corporate sponsorship or advertising, I have worked my way up to the following regimen:

  • Fifteen updates a month on average, about one every other day.
  • One BIUL strip a month, when contracted.
  • One full-color Ceaseless Fables of Beyonding page every Sunday.

Aside from the BIUL strip, that list does not include paying work, which is the newspaper cartoons and commissions I do bi-weekly. I spent three years destroying my personal life by producing a feature-length animation, and it’s never grossed me a dime. If you’re about to laugh at my folly, let me remind you of one thing.

Vincent Van Gogh sold one painting in his life.

But you know his name. You know his face. You know about his ear.

That’s immortality.

One of my largest motives in establishing this site is reminding people of great things that have been lost. It’s not a lofty goal; I’m embracing the ultimate throwaway nature of the web by commemorating the things you’ve thrown away. I told you I was hardcore meta.

But I have to say, take a moment to appreciate the stewards of faded culture. Not a single popular movie isn’t recycled from bygone times. Young folks aren’t merely dismissive of music from previous eras, they’re willfully ignorant of it. Everything in entertainment is a second-hand experience, created by human parrots. The directors of Star Wars movies grew up watching Star Wars, and the artists of Marvel comics grew up reading Marvel comics. Something must eventually give, and when it does, you’re going to be grateful for websites that went against the grain.

I’m not talking about my site, for god’s sake. I only read my site to see where I’m repeating myself. I’m talking about the precious few sites out there like The Betamax Rundown, which I have mined for inspiration for ten years.

Ten. Fucking. Years.


That’s where I discovered Cat Murkil & The Silks, and Electra Glide In Blue. That’s where I first heard of the awe that results while viewing The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, which I’ve since viewed countless times. That’s the only place that scratched my terrible “Safe Kids” tape itch, with Gary Coleman, and the girl’s immortal line “he’s trying to get in my back door!” I could go on and on. It’s an invaluable and utterly hilarious reference resource.

It’s also a miserable dude in his basement with a thousand Betamax tapes. And let me tell you something different about 2006 and now.

In 2006, you could write about old cultural detritus and get enough reaction to justify the effort. Now it feels like a governor’s on the engine. In ’06 things you posted on the Internet spread based upon their own merits. In 2016 you stare at single-digits on a Facebook icon, and think to yourself, “how much more haranguing will my friends take?”

I have seen the top of the mountain: I was interviewed by Stuff magazine about Bumfights, in an issue with Mila Kunis on the cover. I was called a "film critic" because of my review of Indecline Vol. 1, which I still think is great.

I have seen the top of the mountain: I was interviewed by Stuff magazine about Bumfights, in an issue with Mila Kunis on the cover. I was called a “film critic” because of my review of Indecline Vol. 1, which I still think is great.

Every so often, it really galls me. I feel like I’m screaming at the walls. It’s a far cry from making someone laugh, you know what I’m saying? It’s deadly for the motivation, particularly when most people seem content to promote faceless corporate output. The only way I’ve been able to deal with it is to remind myself of why things I love from the past have endured.

I wasn’t kidding about the throwaway nature of the Internet; humans simply can’t equate it with physical matter, and it cannot nourish you in any way. You can eat paper, and even roaches will consume ink. I came into the position of “blogger” unwittingly, and I’ve always had a negative attitude about it. I think this is more palatable to readers than a self-important, aggrandizing blogger would be. I know I’m writing letters in the sand here, and the beach is only accessible to people with computers in the first place. Let’s not mention the ever-narrowing path called “F___b___”.

My general tone in articles is of a man who is constantly battling extinction. This is a direct result of being a webmaster since last century. The sharing algorithms of social networks make you feel excluded and compartmentalized. And for a lot of us, this is the final gasp. Eventually straddling the schism will be too much strain. You can only have so much passion about things that don’t really belong to you, and that’s when reality flicks your nutsac. Plus people are dicks, and as soon as they see you stumble, they tell you to give up. There’s no money in it.

So it is that The Betamax Rundown’s most recent post claims to be its last. Like myself, the Rundown guy plays his mental divergences, career failures and substance abuse for laughs, and I tell you from a life of experience: that’s exactly how you deal with it. It’s called taking life’s shitty lemons and making hilariously shitty lemonade. It’s a fucking art, and like all forms of true art, it goes unnoticed by the general population, until the artist is dead. Like Vincent Van Gogh. That’s the way it is. You have to die to prove you weren’t just fucking around. They don’t even care if you cut your ear off.

That’s why I’m reminding you to appreciate not just the things you enjoy, but the stewards of bygone culture who made you aware of them. It isn’t that we all die. It’s that for the first time in history, we’re focused on digital dust, instead of passing on histories orally and in literature. On the Internet, no one is immortal; you can digitize a mind, but not a soul. Eventually we all go off-line.

The less-dark version: take note if something you like is the product of a single person, for no money. A lot of the time they get fed up and quit.

reuben reuben

From one reluctant blogger to another, I hope it doesn’t take.

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Filed under Bad Influences, Faint Signals, Late To The Party, Movies You Missed, Nostalgic Obsessions, Saturday Movie Matinee