Now before you start hating me by the very title, I request you to read the entire post till the end. This is a critique essay, consider it constructive or destructive – it’s upto you. Also, I will not name anything in specific, here, so generalization immediately becomes a necessity.
Now again, criticism is one thing which a lot of people avoid both giving and receiving, because even though it’s like a medicine, it’s bitter. I know I am going to receive a lot of uninvited hatred for this one, too, but you should know that it takes a lot of courage to stand out of the bigger lot of nodding heads and present your utmost sincere & honest views about something which is liked greatly by the masses, without worrying about the hatred you might receive in return. I have been called ‘brutally honest’ by a lot of people, a lot of times. But I think it’s in the way we present our thoughts which makes our stance clear, subconsciously. Afterall, what would you call better – a sweet poison or a bitter medicine?
I am no representative to the world of literature and certainly no one to show my concerns on where contemporary literature is headed, but for the past few months, something has been bugging my mind – Flash Fiction. Now, I understand most of you who are reading this already know what Flash Fiction is, but if you don’t, then let me roughly sum it up for you. Flash Fiction is, as the name suggests, a piece of fictional writing contained within a sentence limited to 100-200 characters, the standard format being 140 characters, more or less like a tweet. It began only recently on social media platforms like Facebook and gathered a lot of attention and fan-following in the last couple of years. My analysis of the birth of flash fiction tells me that it was originally meant to present the strength of literature hidden in those hard-hitting quotes by world-famous writers and philosophers. Hard-hitting because, well, what can you possibly say in just 140 characters? Not an entire story, I suppose. So you go on writing a quote, a snippet or poetry, something abstract to have enough depth without having to provide specific details.
A lot of Flash Fiction pages on Facebook having millions of followers, initially used to have great content and absolutely brilliant ways of presenting it – with a digital image quoting the piece – because the best reach on content on internet is through images, more than words poured simply. So words accompanied by images began flooding our newsfeeds and quickly received a lot of viral popularity. The way of presentation still remains the same, but over time, simple observation tells that quantity has clearly taken over quality. To maintain ‘reach’ (because that’s how social media websites work, too) a lot of pages opened doors for fan posts because the handful of writers on the admin panel of those pages were wearing themselves out. Now let me take a pause, here and describe something else, first.
“A lot of Flash Fiction pages on Facebook having millions of followers, initially used to have great content and absolutely brilliant ways of presenting it.”
Human beings are very intelligent and interesting creatures. They have three main stages of ‘needs’. The first stage is of the basic physical/physiological needs – food, water, shelter, sex, friendship, love, sense of security and other related things. The secondary stage of needs is where the majority of the world population remains stuck – esteem and validation. Huge house, expensive cars, branded clothes, bank balance and the likes (including popularity and fame). These things come for greater prices and are termed ‘desires’ because unlike the first stage, you don’t need them to survive, but you spend the bigger part of your life craving them and running to acquire them. The third and the last stage, however – the one of the philosophical needs and of self-actualization – is what makes you great or ‘authentic’ as a person. It helps you evolve manifold as a human being, helps you stimulate your mind, increases your understanding of life and helps you to understand what the world truly is. It is the hidden chest where the real treasure of the most wonderful literature lies. But because the majority of people remain caught in the glittering webs of the secondary needs, they fail to reach the third stage in their entire lifetime. Thus philosophy only remains ‘great talks’ or ‘big words’ for them.
A lot of renowned historical figures have categorized the post-industrialization world population in very simple ways, and I will try to further simplify it, here – 90% as sheep, 4% as black sheep, 4% as the shepherd dogs and the remaining 2% as a void which is, from time to time, filled by what we can call as the deadliest predators. The sheep are basically those who are intellectually lazy; they believe anything they see on TV, pursue the most ‘practical’ and easiest professional lines, buy products to constantly match the social status of their peers, help form and dissolve governments, make up the popular culture, keep slaughtering each other over their differences and follow the herd as they cease to think for themselves the moment they are born. The black sheep are no different from the original sheep and although they refuse to follow societal trends and norms, their non-conformity doesn’t bring about any change because they spend their entire lives thinking they are different, while what they are actually doing is just following another herd, only smaller and moving in another direction. Both kind of sheep follow the shepherd dogs, the influential people – artists, actors, sportspeople, businessmen, politicians etc. The fourth category, the 2 percent, the deadliest predators are those who incite wars or events which violate human rights and cause violence and suffering in the world.
“These things come for greater prices and are termed ‘desires’ because unlike the first stage, you don’t need them to survive, but you spend the bigger part of your life craving them and running to acquire them.”
The 90% of the sheep and the 4% of the black sheep spend their lives thinking they could become the shepherd dogs, someday, and get to enjoy the perks the shepherd dogs do, which is the secondary stage of human needs mixed with greed in greater degrees. While the shepherd dogs are the people who have achieved success in terms of the world, either by simply making the sheep follow them by selling their products and services, or by getting over the second stage of needs and pursuing the third stage properly to become authentic enough (or mastering their mind) for the sheep to follow them without even asking. All this may sound a little harsh, but it is the truth and nobody can change it, not even me because maybe even I am just another black sheep.
Now, coming back to where I left off, as the Flash Fiction pages on Facebook opened their doors to fan posts (which was actually a great opportunity for budding writers to showcase their talent to a bigger audience) we got to see a lot of amazing new material and a lot of favorite new names. It also helped to lift up the creative block the original group of official writers for those pages were witnessing quite frequently because of the constantly increasing need to serve content. The Flash Fiction market was booming and new pages were emerging everyday, endorsing and sponsoring game was going strong and the young teenagers and college graduates who were managing the pages were appearing on newspapers. Flash Fiction was no more just a virtual reality; it was as real as you and me.
“The black sheep are no different from the original sheep and although they refuse to follow societal trends and norms, their non-conformity doesn’t bring about any change because they spend their entire lives thinking they are different, while what they are actually doing is just following another herd, only smaller and moving in another direction.”
So much popularity in one go, like hitting a jackpot. But jackpots are pure luck, while this was the result of hard work and developed skills over time. Then came a time when the quality of content began degrading and the quantity multiplied. The original board of writers were changed, new writers were brought in, fan posts began appearing more often. Let’s take a pause again, here, and try to connect everything, shall we?
As the demand increased, the supply increased further. The market, whose returns were more in terms of validation and fame, the secondary need (rather than actual capital), kept on growing. The fan posts flooded our feeds and the waters reached our necks. And as it happened, Flash Fiction wasn’t about literature, poetry or art anymore – it was only about knowing a writer from the admin panel, asking them to publish one’s content and receiving external validation in truckloads, because, as you might have noticed, there are seldom any ‘negative’ comments on any such posts, despite internet being the most volatile of places. All that we saw were hundreds, probably thousands of likes and several comments, all stating how well the people are able to connect with what the writer has written. It was very similar to moulding art and serving it according to the fan’s demands rather than letting it flow involuntarily, which is one of the ugly faces of commercialization.
Flash Fiction wasn’t about literature, poetry or art, anymore. It was like singing only one stanza and hearing the loud cheer & applause for the entire song.
“It was very similar to moulding art and serving it according to the fan’s demands rather than letting it flow involuntarily, which is one of the ugly faces of commercialization.”
This rush for quantity over quality to maintain presence kept on degrading the level of choice and intellect of the average upcoming literature enthusiast. Now most of them, a greater lot of them didn’t want to write a book or a play or a full-fledged poem, anymore, because they were getting more than enough validation writing about their last night WhatsApp chat with their crush in 140 characters or less. And as far as the effort is concerned, I don’t even need to bet that it takes far less effort to write a flash story, than it takes to write a novel, the effort it takes to build a character, a set of characters, getting into their skin and imagining a life from their perspective, to develop the story bit by bit, word by word. There is no longer any race to be meritorious, while we all believe that literature is something we pick up voluntarily, unlike school. The upcoming generation of writers and literature lovers is lazy and shallow, all thanks to the ease of access they have to millions of readers, all thanks to the ever-increasing hunger of Flash Fiction pages.
“Flash Fiction wasn’t about literature, poetry or art, anymore. It was like singing only one stanza and hearing the loud cheer & applause for the entire song.”
A lot of people, some like me, others much more arrogant and stern, have expressed their thoughts in their own ways on the degrading quality of content on these pages. The talk ultimately boils down to the issue of not ‘robbing a budding writer of their dreams’ and so, the criticism is either forcefully shut down or met with greater counter-criticism. Now, it is one thing to point out a flaw or lack of ‘element’ in someone’s writing and another thing to be a narcissistic asshole and considering everyone else as a mere pawn. I condemn the latter, myself, because it takes you to the same down-graded level of intellect as the one I am talking about (just as both the extreme ends of the political spectrum mean slavery. Hah!) .
It depends on individual choices, abilities and hardwork that one remains a sheep, becomes a black sheep or the shepherd dog, however, but you can’t really ‘rob’ someone off their dreams, unless you are affecting them physically. As far as the psychological effects are concerned, and I won’t talk about anyone else here but myself, I will never, NEVER give up on my dream of becoming a writer just because a bunch of people didn’t like my previous write-up and they used harsh words to register their opinions about it and made me sad and depressed. So unless you are emotionally weak or your dreams aren’t strong enough, you can never give up on them. Doesn’t literature already tell us how the world works? How people get up from dirt and become successful? You have to face hatred, criticism, rejection, denial, strong opposing winds, thunderstorms and a lot of ugly and frightening things to reach the goal you’ve set for yourself. Your fight must be stronger than the idiot who tells you in the comment section that you are no good, and your will to become better should be stronger than your fear of failure. One can’t simply get away by blaming criticism as the reason they gave up on their dreams.
“Now most of them, a greater lot of them didn’t want to write a book or a play or a full-fledged poem, anymore, because they were getting more than enough validation writing about their last night WhatsApp chat with their crush in 140 characters or less.”
So, as my observations suggested, the original official writers (the Shepherd dogs) of a lot of Flash Fiction pages suffered through a creative block, and a lot of budding writers (or fans; the sheep and the black sheep) tried to imitate their ideal writers from the admin panel in order to ‘become like them someday to enjoy the perks of the secondary stage of material needs’, suffocating originality to near-death. This, combined with the total absence of criticism, resulted in the degradation of the overall quality of Flash Fiction to a great extent, and a very innovative amalgamation of technology and literature, which could have been otherwise very fruitful to readers and writers, became a fish market, giving birth to big mouths but small hands.
This is my personal opinion based on the observation and assessment of a lot of pages which got me into Flash Fiction and short stories, because it hurts me to see them becoming monotonous, repetitive, repugnant, clichéd and hypocritical by the day. I am one of those people who want to restore the quality of content on these pages, so I am making an effort by writing this post, but I am not sure if it will make any difference. It can, however, if enough people get to read it, take it on a positive note and decide to raise the merit bar a bit higher, so that in order to get published, a writer must really have the ‘depth’ and ‘element’ in their writings, and not simply because the followers of the page can relate to the write-ups. Let’s not distribute chocolates to anyone who simply asks for it, because it will only make them lazier and they will begin to take us for granted. Let them compete and strive for betterment, if not perfection. And just like a very controversial recent statement goes, ‘let us make Flash Fiction great, again’.
“This, combined with the total absence of criticism, resulted in the degradation of the overall quality of Flash Fiction to a great extent, and a very innovative amalgamation of technology and literature, which could have been otherwise very fruitful to readers and writers, became a fish market, giving birth to big mouths but small hands.”
As for me, a lot of people might call me an elitist, a conversative and several other things, because I am being naive and not accepting change which is going to happen, anyway. But yes, things aren’t ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in this world, they just are, and there is perspective. So whatever the future may hold, we should try to accept all kinds of change or get up and take a stand for what we believe in.