Birdman as Independent Artist

I was quite happy that the film, Birdman (or, the unexpected virtue of ignorance), won the Best Picture Award. The idea that Man is a creature attempting to fly beyond his own ego is quite ancient. Of course, the Greeks played around with it in the little story about Daedalus and his spunky son, Icarus. The spiritual types like Gautama Buddha found their resting spot, as did Riggan Thomson when he flew out the hospital window, but one expects he may end up flying too close to the sun and burn up.

Like his name, the “game” he’s playing is “rigged” (Riggan) by the Mike Shiners of the world (he only feels magical when he’s on stage). I submit that publishing is like this “game” right now. The Shiners of the world have taken over. Ever heard the expression “shining you on”? It means, I am playing you just to use your own emotions against you for my benefit. This is the “ego” speaking. Big publishing, for the most part, has become a stage whereupon egos are placed in order be taken advantage of for commercial ends. We all know about the one percent. There are authors in that group also. And actors. And politicians, ad infinitum, down to the everyday business person.

The beauty of Birdman is what he “doesn’t know.” This is the “unexpected ignorance” that becomes virtuous. Another aphorism that serves as an artistic leveler in this great film: “to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face” is what Riggan literally does to escape his ego and allow him to soar freely with his family’s love. To live with one’s own imperfections intact (what Shiner cannot do, and what big publishing and big studios increasingly have a difficult time doing) is the meaning behind this great film. Once Riggan shoots himself in the face (the actor’s hallowed ground), he becomes his true self as soaring artist.

I believe the indie artistic movement, which my business at EMRE Publishing represents, by the way, is a bit like Riggan Thomson. We need to get our noses blasted off a few times in order to appreciate the value (virtue) of our own artistic talents. The nose, of course, is the symbol of the frail ego. Did you ever notice that you can always see your nose? When one meditates or gets stoned, the nose becomes a focus of attention. Why? Because it points you to the reality of the present moment. Like jazz, it’s a free expression of one’s inner freedom that cannot be destroyed unless we blast it off. It seems some of the “religionists” in the world want to blast the independent spirit right off the map! For our own “good,” mind you.

The beginning of Birdman is like the beginning of any artistic movement. A person takes a chance with an idea (adapting a Raymond Carver story–huh?), while, all along, one’s true identity is supposedly lurking beneath like some Superhero trying to “save the day.” This superhero is big publishing, big studios, big business, you know, the one percent. They know what makes money, and they stick with it, riding it until it fades away, as all lousy commercial art ultimately does. Comic book heroes? Aren’t these the supermen of our religions? We want them to make everything right and restore us to sanity. Oh, but when we try to fly off on our own, we’d better watch out! You dare to crawl down off the butterfly exhibit we have you pasted into? You ungrateful wretch! The Riggan Thomsons of the world are the independent artists who make it on their own as individual artists. Sure, they get their noses shot off a time or two, but then they can still soar like eagles.

I want to give independent artists a chance to soar. No rigged game. No shining you on. Just a little multimedia studio to combine your talent with tools to exercise your wings. Of course, if your experiment gets too popular, you just might attract the studios. But hey, we all knew what they were about anyway, right? The one percent still have to look at their own noses once in a while too. The talent is being able to smell your own shit and know it’s just shit and not art. Riggan Thomson’s “ignorance” was in not knowing he already had superpowers—literally—thanks to magical realism and the magic of the movie screen’s expression of an artistic story.