Wednesday , January 26 2022

Playing For a Living

Elliptical has a live performance coming up in Cleveland in a couple of weeks. I love to perform before a live crowd. I also see blogging as a performance, although it is not “live” in the same sense: I can’t sneeze on you from here.

Performers “play” when they work. “Where are you playing tonight?” “What song are you playing next?” Use of the word “play” to describe certain kinds of work is indicative of how we think of that work. Ball players play baseball. A musician plays trombone. A DJ plays the turntables.

Actors “play to the crowd” when they “play” in a play. Actors “play” in a movie. However, for many actors, nothing is more important than the “work.” Dancers “appear” in a ballet; this is either due to the dignity required of their art, the amount of effort required to perform it, or the fact that they are not allowed to smile. Or could it be that ballet isn’t “fun”? “Play” is associated with jobs that generate fun as a consequence of doing them well. The stakes are high; there is no middle ground. A player either plays well and has fun or he plays poorly and “dies.” Nothing is more fun than hitting a game winning home run, but if you strike out with the bases loaded, you have “choked.” For the performer, “fun” is a job well done.

It is unfortunate that these rules do not apply to people who “work for a living.” In fact, on most jobs, fun is regarded as subversive. “What do you think this is? A playground? We’re not here to have fun. We’re here to work.” Having fun is viewed as a symptom of a lack of seriousness. When I tried my hand at corporate life, my manager told me that I “laugh too much.” Not that he minded, of course. The manager just didn’t want “other people to get the wrong impression.” Most jobs require that you be taken seriously. The only “playboy” taken seriously is Hugh Hefner.

Artists fall on the “work” side of the play/work dichotomy. “How are you coming with your latest work?” “What is the impact of Van Gogh’s work?” As soon as a “musician” becomes an “artist,” he transmogrifies from player into worker. Creativity is a muy serioso affair. No “artist” wants to be considered a mere “entertainer.” Even within professions there are substrata. A comic “plays.” A comedian “plays,” but may also have a “body of work.” A humorist probably doesn’t “play” much, but he’s happy to be working.

A DJ works very hard: humping equipment to remote party locations (split-level back yards, third floor walk-ups, horse pastures, labrythine hotels, and boats: boats are a whole new level of hell), dealing with unreasonable customers, equipment problems, unruly crowds, unstable floors (try playing a record or CD on a wooden floor with 100 people jumping up and down), musical programming, mixing well, etc. But a DJ also plays. He plays songs. He plays to the crowd. He plays requests. He has fun. The highest compliment that a DJ can receive is that he appeared to have “more fun than anyone else.” If a DJ has fun he will do a “good job.” A good job comes from “playing well.”

Another connotation of “play” is that of manipulation: to play something is to manipulate it. A baseball player manipulates a bat, a ball, a glove. A musician manipulates his instrument. A DJ manipulates his records. A comedian manipulates his mouth and the crowd. An actor does the same. We speak of an audience “being moved” by a performance. This is considered a good thing. But we don’t want a salesman to manipulate us. We don’t want to be played by him.

A certain effortlessness is also expected of those who play for a living. We don’t want to see the effort. If an actor overacts or a baseball pitcher struggles with his control, they are said to “labor.” Those workers who we want to have manipulate us get to “play.” If we can see the workings of their manipulation, then the “player” slips down the food chain and becomes a “worker.” “Workman like” is not a compliment for a ballplayer, a musician or a DJ, although a “work ethic” is a good thing to exhibit in any field.

I think this work/play dichotomy is at the very heart of what direction blogging will go. Is it work or play? Money is a factor here: if people were forced to pay money to read your blog, it would undoubtedly become work; if they voluntarily give money as a “tip,” then it remains play. The only problem with this appraoch is that very few people are in the habit of tipping blogs as of yet, at least in my experience.

My father accused me of “playing” at this when we were arguing about something a few weeks ago. That hit me hard because I certainly think of blogging as work, although it is also a lot of fun. But then he’s an old corporate guy: 99% of the money he has ever made came in the form of a paycheck. Other than radio – which I have never viewed as a “job” – I haven’t received a corporate “paycheck” in 20 years: money from corporations, sure, but not in the form of a paycheck. I haven’t been an employee.

Many want the spirit of blogging to remain that of play. That’s fine, but I see it as playing in the form of performance, and I love to be paid to perform. I see no contradiction there: those who “play” for a living are often the best paid of all.

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About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected],, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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