He has real talent, this artist/scholar guy. He possesses some deep poetical insights and writes some great poems himself. Then one day he posted a video in which he analyzed a vapid science fiction movie. To his astonishment, the application of the ideas he had expressed in his earlier Shakespearean and poetry videos proved to be quite popular when grafted onto the sci-fi blockbuster. His sci-fi interpretation earned ten times as many views as his earlier videos. His following on social media increased significantly and his reach expanded markedly. Once again, this is a good thing.
However, our artist/scholar sensed an opportunity after his sci-fi video and quickly made a few more videos focusing on pop culture movies. Unsurprisingly, the Shakespearean side of his analyses began to fade and grow fainter with each pop culture video he made. I imagine the Shakespeare stuff will likely be eclipsed by whatever popular movie he happens to examine in the near future. I may be proven wrong, but I predict he will do fewer Shakespearean and Elizabethan videos in the future until, one day, he will abandon them altogether for the simple fact that they do not garner nearly as much interest as his Hollywood film interpretations do. (Nor do they, hypothetically, garner as many Patreon dollars, etc.) A few of his original followers have voiced mild objections about the Hollywood stuff. The artist/scholar responded by stating that he is planning to alternate between his original material and his newfound pop culture interpretations. To me it sounds a little like he plans to serve two masters.
So what? An individual can choose to do what they want, and besides aren’t modern Hollywood movies just an extension of Shakespearean drama which itself is merely an extension of older narratives? There is no harm in trying to hook an audience that may not have had exposure to these earlier narratives, right?
Yes, yes, of course.
So, what is the big deal then?
Well, nothing . . . and everything.
You see, I fear the poetry guy is falling into a trap. He is turning away from what truly made him great and has started pandering. He is indulging the baser tastes of the masses. The question is - to what end? Is he truly trying to enlighten the broader public whose conception of culture rarely rises above Hollywood schlock or is he merely working on building a larger audience base from which he hopes to extract a greater amount of fame and money? Is he remaining true to his roots, or is he selling out? I cannot answer that question, but I have my suspicions. I imagine the artist/scholar justifies his current course of action by telling himself that his real goal is to use his Hollywood movie interpretations to expose his new viewers and followers to Shakespeare and Elizabethan poetry, which, he will argue, they never would have even considered had they not stumbled across his pop culture videos. Maybe a few of these new viewers will even become Shakespearean scholars themselves, thus fortifying the field and spreading the glory of the immortal bard to an ever wider group of people.
Yeah, okay. Except that probably will not happen. The twin lure of money and fame can lead many astray, and the stench of potential money and fame is overpoweringly potent the closer one gets to the formless, faceless masses. The more attention he gains from the mainstream mob, the more inspired he might become to please their whims and fancies until, one fine day, he will find himself doing nothing but yielding to the fickle demands of the vulgar crowd. Rather than wooing people to discover the refined elegance of Elizabethan poetry, he may become the one who is wooed away from the refined elegance of Elizabethan poetry.
Our poetry scholar may thus end up very much like Pandarus, the mythical/fictional figure from which the modern word pander draws its source. Pandarus first appears in Homer's The Illiad as a bold and fierce Trojan aristocratic warrior. He is a noble character - strong and worthy of respect. Yet centuries later in the play Troillus and Cressida, Shakespeare depicts Pandarus as a degenerated, aged lecher and coward who caters to male desires by serving to arrange access to female sexual favors. In short, Pandarus is reduced to the stature of a pimp.
Though the underlying sexual conotation of the word pander has faded, this latter depiction of Pandarus is where our contemporary definition of the verb comes from. People who choose to pander are essentially pimps - they sell out the thing they should respect and cherish to quench the vulgar and base desire of others all in the hope that the transaction will yield immense personal benefits.
Once again, I can sympathize with those who might object to my criticisms concerning pandering. After all, all artists and thinkers engaged in building larger audiences for themselves are pandering in some manner or other, are they not?
Well, it depends. Ask yourself this: Does the artist's promotion involve some kind of betrayal, however small?
I approach the topic with a rather straightforward line of thinking . . .
Artists and thinkers of integrity do not pander; those who pander cease to be artists and thinkers of integrity.
Therefore, one of the unwritten ten commandments artists and thinkers must follow if they desire to be taken seriously in all things aesthetic or intellectual is:
Thou shalt not pander.
It really is that simple.
I wish the poetry guy a lot of luck. I sincerely do. Perhaps my criticism of him is off the mark. Perhaps I am being too cynical. Regardless, I hope the audience he is currently chasing supplies him with all he desires. He should be careful though - there is a price to be paid for seeking the favor of men; it often requires placing that above or at the expense of something much higher and far more significant.
Note: My Elizabethan scholar above is a fictional representation of a real artist and thinker who focuses on other matters and who, in my humble opinion, has fallen to the sin of pandering. He recently asked his followers if they would like to hear him interpret the new superhero film, Black Panther. (Hey, why not? It is really popular and controversial, you know.) Perhaps he should call the video, "My Take on Black Pander" or something like that. Just an idea.