This Week in Advancement: Jack White Puts ‘Whiners’ in Their Place
This week Jason Hartley discusses Jack White calling fans whiners: “He was, as usual, merely following in the footsteps of someone older, blacker, and better at guitar than he is. In this case, Prince.”
In the old days, it really took a lot of work to anger your fans. You’d have to put out a double album of nothing but feedback, follow-up a techno record with a rockabilly record, or put out an LP consisting of nothing but onstage banter and asides.
But it was extremely difficult to insult your fans directly, and it could take years of screwing up to piss off your fans enough for them to stop loving you. Now, with Facebook, Twitter, and online forums, you can tell your fans exactly what you think of them without the intervention of a publicist. In Jack White’s case, he thinks his biggest fans are a bunch of whiners because they’re mad at him because his label, Third Man Records, sold a limited edition of the White Stripes’ debut album on eBay. And he’s right, they are whiners.
White is not truly Advanced because his music falls short of the standard, but selling an album on eBay is a pretty Advanced move: Not only is it a good idea, but it is a sure way to annoy his biggest fans. (One of the rules of Advancement is that you must have alienated your original fans.) It’s a good idea because it kept “flippers”–nonfans who buy underpriced, limited-edition merchandise only to sell them on eBay at a huge profit–out of the auction. And it ensures that Third Man gets the fair market value of the record instead of letting someone else get all the profit.
The biggest fans are annoyed because in their minds the White Stripes belong to them, and White’s selling the record to the highest bidder is a betrayal, motivated by greed. Hardcore fans are wonderful, to a point, but if artists are true to themselves, they will eventually run afoul of the people who love them the most. The more intense the love, the more intense the anger. (Just look at the morons who were disappointed that Steve Martin talked about his new book and the art world rather than what it’s like hosting the Oscars or working with Alec Baldwin.)
White heard the complaints and decided to answer the fans who were critical of the eBay decision, writing:
“[M]ake no mistake, we could make twenty thousand split color whatevers for you, and they’ll be worth 20 bucks, and you’ll pay 20 bucks for them, and you’ll never talk about them, desire them, hunt to find them, etc. Why should ebay flippers, who are not real fans, dictate the price, make all the profit (taken from the artist and the label) and take the records out of the hands of real fans. There’s a guy who waits in a black suv down the block from third man who hires homeless people to go buy him tri colors when they are on sale. Doesn’t even get out of his car. Should he be charged ten bucks or two hundred? Don’t be spoiled, don’t insult people who are trying to give you what you want.”
He went on to list the ways the label has been generous to members of the Vault, Third Man’s subscription series, such as “giveaways, contests, auctions, etc.” then told the negative commenters to “seriously stop all of the whining.” While I approve of everything White did, he was, as usual, merely following in the footsteps of someone older, blacker, and better at guitar than he is. In this case, Prince.
In 2007, Prince threatened to sue YouTube and other sites for unauthorized use of his music. This is normal, non-Advanced behavior. But he took things to the next level by warning fan sites not to display images of him. A bit odd, but a lot of artists try to protect rights to their image. Prince, however, also threatened sites that displayed Prince-inspired tattoos and license plates. Keep in mind that this is a guy who gives away albums for free in newspapers and online. So the tattoo/license-plate interdiction comes off as just Batdance crazy.
But Prince wasn’t done. He then wrote a song called “PFUnk” that appeared to be a reference to Prince Fans United, a group of webmasters who had gotten cease-and-desist letters from the Prince camp. My favorite lyric is “I love all y’all, but don’t you ever mess with me no more.” Never has the relationship between an Advanced Artist and his fans been more clearly articulated. There is love there, but it can’t be at the expense of the art itself. For Prince, having control over everything having to do with his music is obviously important to him (otherwise he might not have characterized himself as a slave because he was expected to fulfill a highly lucrative contract he signed willingly), so he went after those who would seek to take that control from him. Sure, it might seem a crazy move to antagonize your fans, but lesser artists have done crazier things to maintain the integrity of their art.
In Jack White’s case, I don’t think he felt like his art was being threatened. I believe he was sincerely trying to get his music to the people who wanted it the most rather than a homeless person working for a guy in a black SUV. Though his response to fans who thought he was just being greedy might have been insulting, it is no more insulting than the drumming on the disc those fans wanted so desperately to buy.
For more on Advancement, check out Jason’s book, The Advanced Genius Theory.