Seth Godin and the Politics of Creative Work . . .

For my blog posting today, I want to consider Seth Godin’s own posting, from February 18 (2015). It raises the crucial issue of politics in marketing and communications or in any kind of cultural work.

My comments will follow this long citation, after the crosses, below:

Kicking and screaming (vs. singing and dancing)

Unfair things happen. You might be . . . demoted for a mistake you didn’t make, convicted of a crime you didn’t commit. The ref might make a bad call, an agreement might be abrogated, a partner might let you down.

Our instinct is to fight these unfairnesses, to succumb if there’s no choice, but to go down kicking and screaming. We want to make it clear that we won’t accept injustice easily, we want to teach the system a lesson, we want them to know that we’re not a pushover.

But will it change the situation? Will the diagnosis be changed, the outcome of the call be any different?

What if, instead, we went at it singing and dancing? What if we walked into our four-year prison sentence determined to learn more, do more and contribute more than anyone had ever dreamed? What if we saw the derailment of one path as the opportunity to grow or to invent or to find another path?

This is incredibly difficult work, but it seems far better than the alternative (Godin, February 18, 2015).


If you read my e-newsletter, or even my blog, you’ll know that I regularly find food for thought in American marketer Seth Godin’s books, articles and blogs. He writes provocatively about such issues as the psychology of marketing and communications. He has much to say about contemporary culture and not only marketing. For instance, in my mid-February issue of my newsletter (, I wrote a précis of his new book, What To Do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn) (2014). There I focused on his arguments on creativity, fear, failure and risk.

In that issue, the only criticism I make (and it wouldn’t surprise Godin) is that he tends to bracket off political realities (tragedies such as untimely death, extreme poverty and the like). These realities would challenge his arguments for how to create culturally in the world’s new (21st century, high-tech) economy.

So in the blog that I cite in full above, I find it crucial that he does acknowledge fully the “unfairnesses” that life in this new economy often brings (see his first paragraph, above).

Godin polemically sides in such cases with the attitude and action of “singing and dancing” (more than “kicking and screaming”) our way through life’s intractable difficulties. His doing so emphasizes the importance of new creative cultural work. And he acknowledges that doing such innovative work in context of the tragedies and losses of contemporary life is “incredibly difficult.”

I want to suggest something that is not radical, but that nonetheless bears mentioning.  The binary between the “kicking and screaming” and the “singing and dancing,” is, as Derrida has said for generations, is a false one. The two polarized concepts do bear some relation to each other. No, they are emphatically not identical and their differences must not be ignored. But the terms do bear relation: if we are in fact to go on creating great art through periods of great personal or cultural struggle, we have to do both the “kicking” and the “singing.” (We need what post-modernists and post-structuralists in the 90’s called a “both-and,” not an “either/or”)

Yes, eventually survivors of devastation or tragedy may recover. And, in time, they may find the space to “sing and dance” again. But not before they deal with their realities, which require us first to “go down kicking and screaming.” We must oppose the injustices that are inflicted on us (or that fall to us, randomly). We do first need to show that we’re “not  pushovers.” We cannot afford to be passive or learned helpless.

But the “diagnosis” and “outcome” will never be stopped if we give in to thinking, as Godin says, that the “diagnosis” won’t be any different. This thinking veers into political quietism that Godin is vulnerable to.

What he refers to as “incredibly difficult” work is to live through the injustices, protest loudly, advocate powerfully against those who value money more than human life (or whatever the issues are). AND then move on to creating and working again, with energy renewed.

What I’m saying here, of course, isn’t new. Betty Friedan famously said in the 1960s that “the personal is political.” Godin knows this. But he understates it and even obscures it, as in his blog posting above. He leaves it for lesser writers and readers like us to fill in the gaps. But it’s a gap that is too easily drowned out in the noise of contemporary (high-tech, mobile-friendly) culture. I fear and dread quietism (and if you don’t, you should, too).

So my call-to-action in this blog is to be vigilant about what gurus like Godin often bracket off.  Don’t forget about the world’s injustices, so that unethical companies, organizations and people can perpetrate them. Don’t give in to thinking opposition is futile. If we don’t protest tyranny and genocide, there will be no one left to do it.

In opposition and creativity, we will find that the very forces we must protest may furnish the creativity and ideas that we ultimately need to make art (to “sing and dance”).

We cannot afford to separate these values.

Both we (our collective cultures) and our art will be the better for it.

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