Our theme for the month of March is “Ask the post calvin.” We’re taking on questions submitted by readers and offering our best advice.

Dear the post calvin,

The other day my sister and I were hanging out, chatting about a manga that she’s reading. She’s a talented artist and storyteller herself, so I asked, “Why don’t you draw your own manga?” She looked at me confused. “Why would I do that,” she asked, “when there are already so many created?”

In this age of heightened consumerism and lowered bars to become a creator, how do I/we encourage others to break out of merely consuming to creating? Should we? What’s the value of creating if it’s only a shout into the void?

Sincerely,
A Conscientious & Concerned Consumer-Creator

Dear C4,

This is kind of a complicated, multi-headed question, so I’m going to break it down into even more little rhetorical questions.

Before I start to answer your question, though, I quibble with something. By saying “in this age of heightened consumerism” and “merely consuming,” you seem to be implying that your sister’s love of manga is a consumerist love. Just because she reads a lot of it? Do you have any hobbies—anything you like watching, reading, listening to, eating, drinking—that you enjoy partaking of without feeling the need to add to it or improve on it? If not, my first piece of advice to you is to find one. Constant creative pressure can be very seriously debilitating, and if, somehow, you’ve made it this far in life with every hobby weighted by it, that’s remarkable, but stop for your own sake. I’m not being hyperbolic; some people, including me, have a hard time allowing themselves to just enjoy something for what it is. I would really, really love someday to produce a play, shoot a short film, design and develop a video game, write a book of essays, write a book of poetry, grow and process my own tea, distill my own spirits, farm my own food, and in some way actualize every hobby of mine that I can think of with the exception of one. I love music, but I am almost certain I will never create it because I’m not good at it. The itch of “why am I not doing this?” does not bother me, and it feels great, and that kind of freedom is necessary. If your sister is able to enjoy something she actually is good at without feeling deficient for not having done it herself, I would not call this merely consuming, and I would not encourage her to break out of it. She has found a peace that I have not.

So my second piece of advice to you is to try not to think of consumption and consumerism as the same thing or even necessarily related. What’s wrong with consuming things? Why is it the consumer’s fault for having hobbies? What if we look at consumerism not as loving to consume a product but loving that a product is being consumed? Forget about people buying x thing they don’t need; what about the producers making 1000000x things that no one needs? If consumerism is heightened in this age, and I’m not refuting that it is, it’s not because people like reading books or watching movies or shopping any more than they used to. It’s because tastemaking has been industrialized. Part of this consumerist narrative is the idea that creating is inherently better than not creating. That a product is better off existing just because it can. Part of this narrative, then, is that hobbies must be productive. No offense to your sister, but if she were to write her own manga just because she can, would the world really be better for it? Would she get any sparks of joy from that?

Of course, this is not to say that all creation is either greedy or futile. What if nothing had ever been created? Sure, the market or the internet or whatever is saturated with content these days, but most people would say up to a certain point that there being something is better than there never having been anything.

But, what then, given how saturated the world is with stuff, is the value of creating if it’s only a shout into the void? Well, “the void” would mean a total lack of other creation, so it might be more accurate to say “drop in a bucket.” But I wouldn’t call it that either—not a very large bucket anyway. Yes, in the age of the internet and social media, there is a lot of stuff out there, but it didn’t all just appear out there at once and out of nowhere. Most earnest creators, creating in good faith, would probably say that they are doing so in some part for themselves but mostly for some community—their hometown, their followers on Twitter, or, maybe someday, a yet unknown yet potential multitude of people across the world who need to hear this thing. Even digital art or an online article, infinitely reproducible and instantly transmissible, is not timeless nor placeless because it comes from a specific person to an audience.

If your sister were to create manga of her own, it would very likely not be swallowed up by a void or an ocean in a bucket because there are people around her and like her to whom it would be very special, or at least worthwhile. Even if they, like her, had other manga they liked. Different books, even manga, can offer different things to a reader, and I don’t think any writer writing in good faith is doing so to make a book better than all the other books. What would that author be without all the other books? What would any creator be without the creation they have consumed? In this age of heightened consumerism and lowered bars, how can we encourage others to just sit and read and listen and know that they still belong in an artistic community?

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