I spent last Friday ripping all the videos at Harlan Ellison’s YouTube Channel. Because I expect all of them to disappear at some point. Ellison had publicly stated — probably more than once — that he had a burn notice to take effect upon his death. All unfinished works were to be burned. He never wanted to wind up like other famous writers who had mediocrities “finish” their incomplete works.
So, the YouTube Channel, while probably near the bottom of the list, I expect will eventually be a casualty.
In the video after the break, Harlan Ellison’s Watching #55 from the original SciFi Channel in which he talks about a forgotten writer who was once very popular, the dumbth of the generations after Ellison, and whether he, Ellison, will be remembered.
I have to admit that I’d never heard of Clarence Budington Kelland before seeing this video. I can’t speak on the subject beyond that.
Another writer I hadn’t heard of before Ellison is Gerald Kersh. Who was one hell of a writer and it’s tantamount to a cultural crime that all of his works aren’t available even as eBooks.
However, something to consider is that during his time, the writer Raymond Chandler was dismissed and ignored and accolades went to other writers. Most of those other writers are today forgotten, while Chandler isn’t. Chandler, the ignored, his works are immortal.
The immortality of a writer is a strange thing. Writers, like anything, can fall into and out of fashion. It’s often up to writers to release other writers — dead and alive — from the prison of popular ignorance. Hell, it’s practically a duty.
But even immortality is no guarantee of what a writer desires: Being read.
Many Classics remain in print after a hundred years — Hugo, Balzac, Hawthorne, Poe, etc — yet what are their yearly sales? How many would have ever been read — how many would have even been kept in print — without the guarantee of a minimum number of sales per year from schools assigning them as mandatory reading?
What disturbs me is that Harlan Ellison’s YouTube Channel never seemed to reflect the number of readers he had over the course of his lifetime. As of last Friday, there were only 8,000 Subscribers. Since his death, it has increased to ~8,200. His most popular video, at post time, is Harlan Ellison on Saving Mr. Banks, with 76,279 views. The video embedded here, Harlan Ellison’s Watching 55, has only 6,560 views. So many people have seen his video, Harlan Ellison – Pay the Writer, but on his Channel it has only 11,517 views. How can that be? It’s because someone else posted that clip first — Nov 7, 2007 versus May 16, 2013 on Ellison’s Channel — and for that other Channel it has garnered 1,146,638 views. Ellison, in that Pay the Writer video, had it right: No one seeing his video essay would have ever bothered to see if he had any books they could buy. Because just look at the YouTube imbalance! Pay the Writer with over a million views — yet Ellison’s Channel had less than one percent of that number as Subscribers! No one watching that video even bothered to see if he had a YouTube Channel! How much less friction for discovery is even possible beyond that?
A side effect of the Internet I never foresaw was how it tends to put everything into a juicer and transform it into a bland purée of trivia (the cherry on top is just try to actually find something — links die, Google has turned to utter suck). Nothing becomes important or lasting. Everything is the blip of the day. Even thoughtful opinion pieces are dismissed as “rants” by the ignoranti. And go on, tell me, did you really need that Grumpy Cat book? Did it enhance your life? This is Neil Postman’s nightmare of Amusing Ourselves to Death at light speed. This is the world a generation has been raised in. We’ve gone from The Greatest Generation to The Generation of Zeroes. Harlan Ellison, competing for shelf and mind space with Grumpy Cat! I must stop here because I’m on the edge of inveighing with language I now try to avoid.
Will the work of Harlan Ellison be remembered?
I don’t know.
In the most bleak of my moods, I think every writer of value should be forgotten. Because no one in The Generation of Zeroes and beyond is worthy of their works.