What have Bob Dylan got to do with dynamite? I don’t know, more than that he’s known for having a short fuse. However, on October 13th, his name blew up the whole industry of critics and writers in the novel industry, with some help from the money of the inventor of dynamite, of course.
The Nobel Prize award announcement resulted an explosion of heated discussions and vicious take-down-pieces trying to explain why Bob Dylan shouldn’t get the prize. One of the most amusing dramatical exaggerations was “A culture that gives Bob Dylan a literature prize is a culture that nominates Donald Trump for president” – written in The Telegraph by Tim Stanley, apparently unaware of that he is stating his cause by arguing the same way as … that’s right, Donald Trump.
But what really happened that day in Stockholm was that the art industry got disrupted, and the people inside it are terrified, maybe not that much for losing their jobs as for losing their power. Cause this is what happens when you get disrupted – you suddenly realize someone else is providing your customers or in this case, audience something better than the old stuff you’ve been doing building up a name and a career through the years. And that hurts. But the only thing you can do is to find new ways of living – did I hear someone say “You better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone”?
Still, the change is going to hurt, but you’ll come over it faster if you try than if you do what you instinctively would like to do: Blame someone. Or make someone else hurt too. Following your instinct will not only hurt because of the change, it will probably hurt even more if you make a scene by dramatically struggling for your survival in the industry. What’s sure though, is that you are going to lose. The only comfort is that people probably wouldn’t remember that too long.
When disruption happens, it often seems to be out of the blue. There’s often a preface when new technologies and inventions are predicted to make a huge impact to the industry. And then nothing happens, or it happens slow enough that you don’t reckon the change. And then, all of a sudden, when most people have stopped believing it was anything than a buzz, it hits you. And later when you look at it, you wonder why no one did anything.
It seems like the only thing to do to avoid it is to find new ways of doing business before the old ones get useless – to disrupt yourself before someone else gets to eat your lunch.
And as far as I can see, that’s just what the Swedish Academy has done, when widening the meaning of the literature concept to also include other formats than printed text. Anyone who remembers the similar but slightly smaller shit-storm in 1997, when the prize was given to playwright Dario Fo (who coincidently died the same day as Bob Dylan was awarded)? The prize committee disrupted themselves, they just realized they have to take new formats like sound and acting into count, even if it will make deciding much more difficult. And I think it’s well done for being a really conservative institution in one of the most conservative industry there is. Then you can always discuss wether a 75 years old folk singer could be a symbol for the paradigm shift we’re facing, but in the novel industry this is so totally radical that I’m really impressed by the choice. After all, this is the man who predicted the times to be a changing for all writers and critics through out the land. And he did it some 50 years ago. And since it was so long ago, no one seemed to believe it should actually happen…
And, talking about a well orchestrated media buzz – Bob Dylan’s lack of response to the prize committee seems to be leaving the confused mob of critics in a vacuum of desperation. The subject is slowly dying, and I’m sure people will soon believe he won’t bother to answer at all. And whatever respons he will give, if any, he is so in charge of the scenery. The answer’s imploding in the wind, so to say.