In Defense of Content
Reclaiming the "C" word.
“The Revolution introduced me to art, and in turn, art introduced me to the Revolution!” ― Albert Einstein
IDK about you, but for a few years now, I’ve bristled when hearing the term “content” (as in content creator) because it feels like such a corporate way of describing what can often be meaningful art. See- artists wield a power to distill the celestial in a way that corporations could only dream of (if they could dream) and I can’t help but feel like referring to this power as “content creation” is an attempt diminish it. “You are no artist,” these platforms imply, “you just make content. You’re nothing without my network.” Halt right there, sez I! There’s nothing wrong with creating content. In fact, I think it’s past time to reclaim this word! Rise up creators! There is no need to seize the means of production, you are the means!
It’s important to recognize that social media is not an “ad-supported, content delivery business” like magazines or newspapers, it is a content-supported advertising business. They could give two shits about what stuff people upload so long as that stuff is able to generate ad clicks. This flipped incentive structure is the whole reason social media has a widespread disinformation problem in a way that legacy media did not. These companies simply weren’t built to distinguish between types of content, and the only reason they do any kind of moderating at all is the same reason email has spam filters, which is so that people don’t leave.
This is why YouTube views in-depth video essays and “100 hours of a silent pitch black screen” exactly the same. They are both “content”.
Except, well, they’re not. “Content” is what YouTube and everyone calls the stuff people upload, and in many cases that’s what the people uploading the stuff call it too. But that’s not how YouTube sees it. The actual content of the uh, content, is ultimately irrelevant. From YouTube’s perspective, all the stuff people upload is copy.
What’s the difference between content and copy? In simple terms:
Content is created with the objective of connecting with an audience.
Copy is created with the goal of directing attention.
You’ll sometimes hear “all copy is content, but not all content is copy”. Which may confuse you a little. Because if “all copy is content”, then isn’t YouTube correct to call anything uploaded “content”? Yes and no. Let me explain:
“Content tells, copy sells.”
As far as I know- there’s no word for “non-copy content” but that’s where post-impressionist painter and friend of the show Paul Cézanne comes in. There’s a quote of his I reference a lot here which goes like this:
“A work of art that did not begin in emotion is not art”.
The reverse: “Any creation that begins in emotion is art” might feel overly-broad1, but I think it works for this discussion. So if you’re keeping up: within “content” we now have some “art” (stuff that began in emotion) and “copy” (stuff that didn’t):
From the content creator’s perspective, the stuff that gets uploaded is either copy or it’s art. Either you’re creating something with the goal of connecting with an audience, or you’re trying to direct attention/money. I should point out here that it’s entirely possible to monetize/commodify works of art (aka “creating content”), but it is not possible to go the other way and imbue copy with the sublime and transmute it into art somehow. No matter how clever or schmaltzy an ad gets, it can’t not be an ad. To summarize:
All copy is content
Some art is content
Copy cannot become art
With me so far?
As I pointed out before, YouTube and it’s algorithm (I keep picking on YouTube but really it’s any platform that relies on user uploads) doesn’t differentiate between the intent behind the creation of works, only how they can be marketed. In other words, everything that gets uploaded is treated like copy.
It’s not uncommon to hear those in the biz’ conflate art, copy and content. During a recent appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience, YouTuber Mr. Beast explained pretty unequivocally that he considers maximizing views to be the same thing as maximizing quality:
This only confirms something I have suspected for a while which is that a lot of the “top” creators don’t really care what they’re uploading so long as it gets traffic, which idk, kinda sounds like they’re making copy to me?2
Honestly there’s a lot of copy masquerading as genuine content out there and if you ask me, it’s a big part of why everyone online is so cynical and defensive these days. It’s stressful to never be quite sure if someone is being authentic with you or if they just want something3.
When anything can be a potential avenue of trolling for attention, and digital promoters believe that “all news is good news”, why should we trust in the authenticity of anything on social media? The latest dumb drama is over Magic: The Gathering’s “Black Aragorn”. Is it simply one artist’s interpretation of the character? A genuine attempt at race representation? Perhaps a way to save on marketing by utilizing the prolifically loud “anti-woke” crowd? Who knows! But once you spend minutes of your life thinking about it, you’ve already lost (sorry).
Content Creators of the World, Unite!
“Art” is what happens when you create something from emotion and let it loose in the world. When art is shared via someone else’s platform, it becomes “content”. But it’s importantly still art. And I absolutely want to stress that there is nothing to feel bad about making art into content that’s marketable! Yes artists, you have a spiritual duty to be authentic to yourself but also you literally need to pay your bills. Ain’t nobody said it was easy. I’ve talked about this struggle a lot so I won’t get too into it, but here are some related posts:
Anyway, I think creators should take back the word “content”! Be proud to create it! It’s a good word that accurately describes what often is meaningful work stemmed from a genuine desire to connect. Megacorps know that anything they touch becomes painfully uncool and they appropriated “content” because it obfuscates a truth, which is they are only using content insofar as it acts like copy. They really don’t care what you make so long as it can direct attention, and they give the biggest rewards to the most attention-directing stuff. What they want is copy, but calling it “content” legitimizes their presence in the art economy. So rise up, content creators! You have nothing to lose but the shame!
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ps: no shade at copywriters there is absolutely a craft to that job, it’s just not exactly pushing cultural boundaries the same way as someone who makes art for arts sake? pls dont leave mean comments
I would disagree with you though and happily debate the matter over a few beers sometime if you’re game.
Basically what I suspect the experience of being a reasonably attractive woman in society is.