On moral philosophy and moral comedy: a reminiscence

I don’t normally do anything in the way of personal writing for my real job, which is in scholarly publishing, but this week had the opportunity to pen this little reminiscence about taking one of my most memorable authors, the moral philosopher Harry Frankfurt, to his appearance on The Daily Show. I was a new publicist then, and the highly unusual campaign served as a whirlwind introduction to a career I still get a kick out of ten years in. Thought I’d share the start of the post here:

As Jon Stewart wraps up his 16 year stint on The Daily Show this week, I can’t help recalling fondly the time I escorted one of his unlikelier guests—the moral philosopher Harry Frankfurt—to an appearance. It was 2005, and Harry, an emeritus professor at Princeton, and I, a brand new publicist, had been caught off guard by early interest in his philosophical treatise, On Bullshit. The book, apparently unencumbered by its unprintable title, would go on to become an international phenomenon, spending 26 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, where it would peak at number one. The Daily Show was one of the first major venues to take interest in the book, which started its meteoric rise as a quirky, unassuming title from our mid-list. We’d expected it might raise a few academic eyebrows, but were unprepared for the journalistic outpourings from all corners. “This book will change your life”, wrote Leopold Froehlich in Playboy, seeming to mean it. Bullshit’s time had come.

On BSComedy Central’s invitation was met with equal parts excitement and trepidation. It was one thing to watch, baffled, as the book reviews piled up, quite another to send Harry into the glare of the mainstream media. Jon was, after all, formidable in his way, and Harry, for all his facility with the ironic and profound, was not particularly well-versed in comedic pop culture. His inquiry was as serious as it was sincere, and he was reluctant to “bullshit” about the topic he had so carefully treated. Our visit to The Daily Show marked my first time in a green room of any sort, and I spent most of it holding my breath. Harry was wonderfully refreshing to work with—thoughtful, modest, and genuinely surprised, at 76, that his work had generated interest outside of philosophy journals. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting him into.

Read the rest on the PUP blog.

What’s better for you: personal or public creativity?

This post also appears on my blog at Psychology Today
Special thanks to Gabriel Roth for his insights

It’s easy to equate creative endeavors with narcissism when they’re not your own. Who hasn’t eye-rolled past their share of “shameless” self-promotion? While it isn’t always the most instructive or enjoyable pastime to read about someone else making themselves more famous, a lot of that broadcasting likely involves plenty of shame, or at least reticence, realism, and other nuanced feelings that are somehow less satisfying to imagine than delusional love-me ones. An affinity for creative expression doesn’t foretell an affinity for self-promotion—the former is, after all, often deeply personal, solitary work—but for those bent on a career tied to their creative enterprises, that aspect is a real after-the-fact requirement to be wrestled with.

Some do it more gracefully than others: The writer Gabriel Roth has a separate Twitter account called Gabriel Roth’s Ego, where he retweets praise for his recent book, “The Unknowns”, an account he keeps separate from his personal one (@gabrielroth, to date, has  over 1,700 followers to his ego’s 37).  “It totally fails as a promotional strategy,” he says. “But that’s the point: no one wants to read all the nice things people say to you.” Continue reading