(no way is this another passive-aggressive post to get you to leave comments on my posts. Honest)
Charlie McDonnell recently talked about imagining your audience complexly as a creator of content on the Internet and, while far fewer people know of my existence than of his, I think his idea can be applicable for someone with as ‘selective’ a readership as me; he argued that if viewers are to see creators as more than just faces on a screen or words on a page, and as real people, it’s only fair that those who create stuff accept that their fanbase consists of more types of people than those who link leave comments reading ‘omg lol’.
I feel that there are three levels to imagining one’s audience, that are not mutually exclusive: the first is as a series of numbers, so my audience consisted of 25 viewers yesterday. And as I produce content on the Internet for people to see, not just consume it, I’ve accepted that this mentality is not inherently superficial or impersonal – I write things, so it’s only fair that I want people to read them.
However, sticking exclusively to this mentality can be very dangerous, as one becomes distanced and separate from one’s audience. Historically, this may not have been a problem, as ‘audience feedback’ used to consist of either lobbing rotten fruit at a performer or not, a system both painfully simple (as performances are either ‘good’ or ‘bad’) and near irrelevant, as such responses are (literally) easy to brush off.
But as consumers of content have a greater say in the content they are presented with – YouTube comments, tweets at a show’s director after a character dies, etc. – this impersonal and distant approach means the creators are the only ones not participating in the great discussions surrounding their products. This is both dickish, because no-one likes an aloof arsehole, and counter-productive, as constructive criticism is then missed out on.
So the next level, to imagine one’s audience as a series of individuals, is an improvement in this way, as the creators become increasingly aware of the valid differences of opinion among their audience. Frankly, I didn’t really hit this level until the let-us-never-speak-of-it-again Cup Capitalism post, in which I was shot down in the comments with painfully reasonable points and appropriately abrasive language; until then, I had just imagined all of you loved all of my posts, thought I was the funniest person alive, and would happily pay thirty quid for a hardback collection of all my blog posts, with a foreword by Ben Cook (check your nearest Waterstones – I hear they ship internationally).
But this doesn’t really work for me either; there is one example of a difference of opinion on this blog, and so perhaps one cannot imagine one’s audience as having multiple opinions to consider if there aren’t that many opinions in the first place – for all those 25 viewers I mentioned in one day earlier, just four people have left over five comments across 211 posts. This suggests that those people who do read my stuff aren’t suitably interested or moved by what they read to form opinions towards said stuff.
And so, like Mass Effect 3, Grand Theft Auto V, and Kronos’ annual ‘Favourite Son’ awards, there is a third choice: to imagine your audience as your friends; not in a soppy ‘Isn’t it all peachy over here on the James Patrick Casey blog’ sort of way, but in the sense that people engage with my ideas, largely agree with them, and are prepared to tell mw when I’m talking out of my arse, like real friends do. This blog doesn’t have the thousands of viewers needed to generate a legitimate audience of wildly different individuals, nor does it have the millions of fans that force creators to dismiss their followers as numbers on a screen as opposed to real people.
I suppose this is why I’m always talking about myself then; if we’re all friends here, I’m that one guy who never stops banging on about their own achievements, interests, and hobbies. But it’s my blog, so I can do that, and we’re friends, so you’re happy to put up with that.