Howard Bloom is one of my favourite writers. He began as an enormously successful music publicist who launched the careers of Prince, Joan Jett, ZZ Top, John Mellancamp and many others. Bloom even tried to help Michael Jackson when he was already a troubled star. Bloom then spent 13 years confined to his bed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Thankfully he has recovered and is now a best-selling writer about mass behaviour.
Bloom demonstrates that such great thinkers as Plato and Charles Darwin were also great self-publicists. Other ground-breaking thinkers – and here we can think of Friedrich Nietzsche and Charles Peirce – were ineffective at publicising their own work.
Their greatness was a posthumous one – as Nietzsche pointed out of himself, he was ‘one of the untimely ones’. This raises the ‘what if?’ question. What if Nietzsche had engaged a good PR agency? What if Peirce had contracted a good ghost writer? As the great financial success of Gavin Menzies, referred to in my earlier posts, indicates – good public relations and good writing skills are highly effective in spreading new signs through communities.
One of the heroes of Bloom’s book is the great showman and publicist Phineas Taylor Barnum. Reading this led me to a selection of Barnum’s own writings – a rollicking read called The Colossal P. T. Barnum Reader. Read it and you’ll see how much of our 21st century world of celebrity culture was first made by Barnum. You only have to check the sales of magazines such as OK! or Hello! and the thousands of celebrity features on TV, newspapers and the Web to realize the giant world-wide community of devoted fans that Barnum made and which grew after him.
The crucial power of Plato and Darwin and Barnum was to create a community of followers. Their thinking was solitary but their publicity forged huge communities of interest. Devoted communities who will listen to anyone who can publicise their message.