A borrowed idea fighting for the new

For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with good luck, he will succeed. -Ernest Hemingway, from his Nobel Prize Speech

Ideas. They are what move the world, shape its consequences, and change the face of an era. The power of an idea was best exemplified in Steve Jobs, who took an existing gadget, and redefined its purpose for a lifestyle. In writing, it all begins with a brand spanking-ly new idea–be it an edge-of-your-seat plot, a loveable (or exasperating) character, or a cover story that will leave your title sold out.

Unfortunately very few popular products of writing seem to exemplify the new beginning Ernest Hemingway emphasizes. Theatres will soon suffer the mind numbing “love story” (aka yet another vampire…wait can we even call him that?!) of Twilight with the first part of Breaking Dawn. Other lesser known books followed suit, as my rounds around bookstores have seen stuff like “How to Date a Vampire.” And seriously, another love story? Don’t even get me started on the rom-coms.

In other mediums, Jose Javier Reyes reveals–or rather, emphasizes–in Rogue’s October issue that Filipino TV lacks variety. Night time shows execute similar plots, and there’s no diversity in genre–just teleseryes, telanovelas, and a dubbed Asian-novela. The local movie world has recently seen more of the same with its yet another cheat-on-the-wife plot, care of the movie No Other Woman (more on that in a future post). The print medium is no exception, with just about every magazine having dropped out beauty products features passing off as articles. Oh, and there’s the sexy/hot/beautiful/tacky-yet-scantily-glad girl covers that will surely have the guys buying a copy (yes, we are also guilty. Why? Because it sells.).

Not that reiterating these ideas will make them any newer. Back in the (college) day, I wondered why such bland ideas persisted. Then I started working and the ‘ikot ng pera‘ concept of the economy became a reality I lived with. People need to make money, businesses need to grow, and when you earn, you want stuff. It’s empowering to have stuff. But to keep having the stuff to buy, you have to make sure that business grows. People want stuff, and that’s what is sold in magazines, billboard ads, and TV commercials (among other, ahem, body parts). There is nothing wrong with wanting stuff or the need to innovate basic necessities. To keep selling all this stuff, you have to present it with a story that’s familiar. A familiar story/genre/artista is what keeps people’s attention.

But familiarity breeds mediocrity, as Direk Joey observed in his Rogue self-interview. If people aren’t given something new to read about, when will we get our new beginning? Malcolm Gladwell’s article, The Ketchup Conondrum, takes note of Howard Moskowitz’s analysis: “But Moskowitz does not believe that consumers–even spaghetti lovers–know what they desire if what they desire does not exist. ‘The mind,’ as Moskowitz is fond of saying, ‘knows not what the tongue wants.'” The same could be applied to an audience that seeks familiarity–they want what they want now because they know it. And just like a new Facebook layout, give them something new, they will feel uncomfortable but eventually adapt because they use that medium in their lifestyle.

I remember my boss and I disagreeing over a magazine cover. He’s a businessman, so his priority is to sell what we produce. He complains that I think too much like an artist. I preferred cover X since it was local, and it was a pretty good photo. He preferred cover Y (which won, and can be now seen on stands, haha) because the subject was clear. I got his point that with cover X, “it’s risky, it’s either you love it or hate it.” But what if we did push through with cover X? It would definitely get people’s attention–and if you don’t like it, wouldn’t it at least pique your curiosity?

That’s the thing with new beginnings–they grab attention. They don’t need fancy graphics or strobe light presentations to mask a familiar, used up idea. New beginnings are game changers. They could be a success, like what Steve Jobs did with the tablet (iPad), smart phone (iPhone), and mp3 player (iPod), or a failure, as my boss predicted with cover X. But either way, it can grab a short attention span because it’s fresh or reborn. After all, does the consumer really know what he/she wants, until it’s actually there?