Positivity Unchecked: A day at RE:MAKE

First, I have to tell you that I am scared. I’m sticking my neck out there. I feel like I’m Shelly Miscavige, turning on Scientology; Congressman Ryan flying out to Jonestown; a Whovian questioning Moffat’s storylines.

I attended Brit + Co’s Re: Make summit yesterday. And I found it a bit deplorable. (Just a brit… no, sorry. Just a bit.)

First, the good. I absolutely adore Brit + Co’s mission. Inspiring creativity is a fantastic and important goal, and the signal boost they give to some awesome non-profits and inspiring businesses is tremendous. It was lovely to see ConfiDance close out the show (not without technical difficulties, but we’ll get to that in a bit).

And Brené Brown… Divinity. Pure inspiration.

The rest of the day left me with an ever-expanding sense of unease. A feeling that I finally nailed down, after listening to the closing keynote, the glorious and glowing goddess herself, the reason for my attendance, TYRA (squeee!!!!)… who pitched her MLM scheme to the crowd.

At first I thought it was that, aside from Brown, every single speaker was selling us something. But it was more subtle than that. The conference itself was selling us something, something that, actually, you can’t buy: creativity. The speakers petted and stroked our egos, telling us how awesome and creative we all were, all with ulterior motives.

This is the MLM of the future. It’s not explicit — there’s not a single company benefitting from you convincing your friends to buy BrandXshit and then sell that same BrandXshit — but the framework is very familiar.

Someone succeeds. That someone realizes there’s more profit in selling their PATH than selling their PRODUCT. They recruit friends — they create a movement — they hold conferences and summits. These friends are the shiny-perfect examples, and they all make $ off of exploiting the starry-eyed noobs in the crowd. The noobs might even understand what’s happening, but they’re cool with it, because if they’re awesome enough, if they can learn enough, they just might rise through the ranks and be on that stage themselves next year.

Add a charismatic leader at the top, and you’ll understand why I was humming Helter Skelter all day.

It was the near-constant refrain against critique that raised my hackles. Yes, encouragement is a good thing, positivity is a good thing. In a society where women are still secondary citizens and face far too much unfair critique and commentary, there needs to be a place where women can be encouraged and supported.

But you know what? When you pair YOU’RE PERFECT with BUY THIS, your words ring hollow. I recognize that it was an entrepreneur’s convention, and you can’t invite speakers for something like that and not expect them to Always Be Closing, but still… It felt icky.

The positive, unquestioning atmosphere even sapped some of the energy from the fantastic speakers, many of whom were interviewed in conversations as opposed to providing presentations. When your hard-hitting questions are “What’s the secret to your success?” and “Flats or heels? Cassettes or vinyl?” and when one of the three questions solicited from the audience is actually a plant, you’re not providing a conference. You’re providing a stage for folks to pitch from.

This was not a creativity conference, it was a creative entrepreneurship conference, but it ignored the fact that critique is absolutely necessary to succeed in any marketplace. Without critique, you create a product that is substandard. (Like, say, a conference with endless sound issues and a playback glitch that resulted in seven middle school students attempting to raise their confidence through the ultimate vulnerability of dancing in public all stuck with one foot on the stage for 10 minutes while the sound techs shook their heads.) Even the VC panel they put together to evaluate two new robotic products was unfailingly kind. One of the bots didn’t work. Flat-out didn’t work, at least for those five vital minutes on stage. Their question: “So if it was working right now, what would we be seeing?” My question: “Why are you being so damn nice?”

We definitely need spaces where creativity is encouraged without critique. I just don’t think that pairs well with capitalism. (Try a nice cabernet instead.)

Because charismatic leader + intangible concept + follow my path + unquestioning followers = CULT. If I didn’t make that connection obvious already.

(And because my pet-peeve-ridden, copy-editor soul can’t let this go: they used creative as a noun in their copy. As in “hear from leading creatives.” And they spelled Dr. Brown’s name wrong in the online schedule.

FLAMES… FLAMES, ON THE SIDE OF MY FACE… )