One of the nice things about this site is knowing that I have as much space as I want to do basically whatever I please. One thing that’s not so nice is the fact that having all that space and all that freedom doesn’t make me the slightest bit more creative:
Vine gives you six seconds, Instagram a square frame, Snapchat a fleeting window to make your point. And who could forget Twitter, a platform built on the idea that 140 characters is enough to say anything?
Every one of these services launched to a chorus of disdain. Famed linguist Noam Chomsky dismissed Twitter by declaring that it’s “not a medium of a serious interchange” (the vital role it played in historic events like the Arab Spring would suggest otherwise).
And I suspect that Chomsky was not pleased with Twitter’s seeming lack of a Formal Grammar.
Instagram was hounded by sneering comments about “showing people what you had for breakfast,” in spite of the proliferation of serious artists using it as a medium. And Snapchat still carries a reputation for being a naked selfie exchange program, despite only 2% of university students using it for sexting.
All of these services are now household names, the catalysts for an unprecedented amount of creativity — and in every case, that creativity is fuelled by the limitation the service imposes. Why?
Because it provides something to push against.
Blank verse seems much more “liberated” than, say, the sonnet, which has a fixed number of lines, a standard meter and a predictable rhyme scheme. Yet the sonnet, now nearly 800 years old, easily adapts to contemporary concerns.
Look at the golden years of Motown. Some of the greatest records of our time were made in an effort to satisfy Berry Gordy’s singular vision of The Sound of Young America, which called for high levels of tunefulness, speedy production, and fitting it into three minutes or less. (For instance: the mono and stereo edits of “Heat Wave” differ markedly, but both run about 2:40; I was startled to find out that the original master take ran to nearly four minutes, which Gordy wasn’t about to permit in those days.)
And truth be told, I’ve flourished on Twitter, if only because I am practiced in the art of the one-liner.