Although I have a vague feeling that I might have written about this subject ages ago, I thought that I’d revisit it since it’s a really interesting topic. I am, of course,talking about rarity (with regard to art, writing, comics etc…) and the internet. But, I’m going to have to talk about music briefly first. Don’t worry, there’s a point to this…
This article was mostly prompted by a random memory of a few bizarre bootleg CDs that I saw in a market stall about a decade ago. Basically, some random person had cobbled together CDs of “rare” songs by various bands (eg: obscure songs only available on vinyl, bonus tracks from Japan etc..). At the time, this seemed like a really fascinating thing and then I remembered that, these days, there’s no such thing as a “rare” song any more.
After all, if you want to hear a super-obscure song by your favourite band, there’s a good chance that an obsessive fan has posted it on Youtube. Or, more likely, at least three of them have. One of the videos probably has “BEST VERSION” written beside it in all-caps too.
In the age of the internet, there’s literally no such thing as rarity any more when it comes to creative works. I mean, the Mona Lisa is an extremely rare painting (there’s only one of it!) – but you can see it right now just by clicking here. So, rarity is something that only seems to reside within physical objects. The Mona Lisa itself is extremely rare, but the actual image of it is extremely common.
In a lot of ways, this is probably a good thing. After all, it ensures that things that would have faded into obscurity have a new and current audience. It still allows collectors to treasure rare physical objects whilst ensuring that the actual creativity itself is still available to everyone. Even media companies are starting to realise this – which is why you occasionally see things like out-of-print books being republished as e-books, obscure “abandonware” games getting a proper commercial re-release on game sites etc..
But, that said, there’s a certain something about rarity. A certain thrill that comes from seeing something that not that many people have seen. And, as silly as it sounds, it can somehow make otherwise mediocre things seem considerably better. I mean, I’ve found one or two out-of-print novels in charity shops over the years and – well- many of them went out of print for a reason.
Yes, having something slightly rare and obscure is really cool, but the actual thing itself is often slightly mediocre when seen on it’s own merits. Often, the “wow” factor comes from the fact that you’ve got something from one of your favourite writers that you wouldn’t normally have read if it wasn’t for sheer luck. It’s like bonus content of some kind or another.
Even so, the idea of “rare works” seems to be a relic of a bygone age. I mean, if I’d somehow travelled back in time and written this collection of cyberpunk-themed Christmas stories in 1986 rather than 2016, then they might have ended up being published as a chapbook or in some magazine or anthology somewhere instead of being posted on this site for everyone to read. Yes, I love the fact that I can post stories online just like that. But, on the other hand, I kind of miss the romanticised idea of it eventually becoming some kind of hyper-obscure rare work.
The closest thing that any modern creative person has to “rare” works are unpublished works. And, these aren’t really the same thing. They’re usually unfinished, low-quality etc.. things that were never really meant for public consumption.
So – as ironic as it sounds – in the age of the internet, rarity is the only rare thing when it comes to creativity. And this is probably a good thing, even if it means that both creative people and their audiences miss out on the cachet of knowing about something that very few people do.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂