Pulling Back on Pushing the Envelope

I have written some posts here and other places that have gotten a lot of readers and comments. Pushed a lot of buttons and pissed people off. (At least based on said comments.)

And I have written a lot of posts that hardly get read at all. Posts that illicit zero comments. I won’t pretend it doesn’t bother me sometimes to be a part of the conversation for a while, and then suddenly to no longer be a part of it, as seems to have happened during the course of Too XYZ. But I have a feeling I know why it may happen like that.

Because it seems to me there are two types of blogs (or websites or podcasts, or Tweets) that get the most consistent attention. The Envelope Pushers and the Pollyannas. I am neither.

Pollyannas you know. Those who always write about how wonderful it is to be alive, and that all we need to succeed is a positive attitude, a willingness to learn and a dream. And those that have not succeeded just don’t know how to dream. If you read this blog, you know my general response to that sort of cotton candy already. So I’ll move on to the problem with envelope pushing.

I don’t believe in it. To some it is the very foundation on which they build their whole presence. They follow people who push envelopes and lament any given blog, movie, TV show, or song that doesn’t push an envelope. (As though pushing an envelope is synonymous with quality.) As a result, you have entire personalities based solely on the idea of pushing the envelope. It doesn’t matter to where the envelope is pushed, as long as it is making somebody uncomfortable or at least confused. Lady Gaga comes to mind. (Arriving in an egg. That’s so edgy.) So does that Ricky Gervais character at the Golden Globes.

Both are examples of people that have been made into heroes because they push envelopes and test the limits of propriety. But it seems to me they do it only for the purpose of doing so. Actions of people like that practically scream, “This will be seen as unacceptable to a whole bunch of people!” And in the end, that is a pyramid scheme waiting to collapse.

When you push an envelope just because it is there to be pushed, you actually become just as predictable as those who do not push the envelope. That’s right, you become just as common as those whom you think you are skewering. Because past a certain point being unpredictable is predictable.

Gervais and Lady Gaga are popular game changers in a way for the moment, because a large portion of the population believes that the very act of pushing an envelop in and of itself is a noble practice. That no matter how many people are offended, and no matter how low quality the result is, pushing the envelope is an end unto itself that you can only reject if you are unhip, old, or afraid.

But being an envelope-pusher doesn’t keep you at the top forever. And there is the problem with it. When your whole goal is merely to push, that becomes your focus. Not how good, clever, well written, well presented or valuable your product is in its own right. You become instead the producers of the cultural equivalent of the disposable razor. Gets the job done once, and maybe twice. But fundamentally it is a poorly made temporary piece of dump filling, environment strangling trash.

That’s not saying people won’t buy disposable razors. Look at South Park, the cartoon on Comedy Central. It’s still on, and is still one of the biggest money makers for that network. You can’t deny its popularity within a certain demographic. But when is the last time anybody had anything at all significant to say about its impact? Does anybody really care what Parker and Stone are thinking these days? Are they “game changers” now? No.

That is because they painted themselves, quite voluntarily into a corner of “envelope pushing”. They became known as those who would push the envelope and challenge what we call “decent”. And after about three years, instead of creating a good product they believed in and found clever while ignoring certain boundaries, they made their stated goal to push that envelope. So they dedicate entire episodes to menstruating statues. Funny for a lot of people, but how ground breaking is it? It’s just trash to which most people have become numb to it by now.

Same could be said for people like Howard Stern. Still popular, but his whole shtick is to piss people off and push whatever envelope is left to be pushed. And millions of fans, (the same people who have always followed him) don’t change his overall staleness.

I don’t do this when I blog, or Tweet. What I do is say what I feel needs to be said. I talk about the things in which I am interested. I share that about which I am passionate at any given time. Put more simply, I write as me all the time. And like many people, some of the things I believe are not going to go over well with the establishment. Other things I believe are not going to spark a lot of interest either way. Some things I believe are so mundane I guess people don’t feel they need to comment. Different responses for different posts.

Which is why many marketing geniuses would say I don’t get the traffic I could get here. Or on Twitter. Because I don’t work double time to piss people off like some of my more popular posts have. I don’t seek out the chink in the armor of everyone everywhere and jab my sword into it. I may at first attract attention with a controversial post, but lose readers very quickly once it becomes clear I’m no longer writing the stuff that eviscerates.

But I don’t keep this blog in order to eviscerate. Or to anger. Or to push that envelope. Yes, those things often happen in the course of me expressing what is within me that needs expressed. But I write this blog in order to present my interpretations and perceptions on common (and some not so common) situations in which we find ourselves as people. My life has informed said perceptions, and I want my voice heard.

But there is a difference between making my voice heard and making my noise heard. If I have to go out of my way to find something controversial to say in order to keep people reading, than I am just making my noise heard, and am not much of a writer. My writings serve the authentic me, and that is why my writings are my voice as opposed to my noise. Authenticity.

Now, I am still Too XYZ for this world. I will piss people off again. It is bound to happen. That is because while I will not go out of my way to piss people off, I am not going to go out of my way to avoid it either. I express through writing that which I am moved to express. And my readers will respond accordingly. Sometimes they won’t respond at all. But if I keep using my voice to serve the authentic me, someone will notice, as they have noticed before.

To hell with the envelope.


  1. I confess, the Polyannas and the “game changers” usually just irritate me.

    “…a large portion of the population believes that the very act of pushing an envelop in and of itself is a noble practice.” Very insightful comment. I believe this is definitely true in the U.S. and it is the primary reason the political “conversation” has become so vitriolic.

  2. I had not made the political connection to the pushing the envelope concept, but now that you mention it I can see that as at least playing a part. While I think power is the main focus of the political world, certainly some can view “pushing the envelope” as a way to increase their chances of obtaining same.

    Thanks for stopping by. Come back again!

  3. ML

    The comparison of an entire culture or value system based on “pushing the envelope” to a pyramid scheme is a powerful and ingenious point! The foundation of such a value system is both as high and as flimsy as a house of cards, built on layer after layer of partially formed ideas whose owners failed to fully develop them – or discard them – because they were too eager to make noise.

  4. Thanks, Maggie, for pointing out the “partially formed” ideas. While I didn't cover that aspect specifically you certainly bring up a very consistent trait among the envelope pushers. That being that whatever ideas they are using to push the envelope are usually rush delivered to that effect and hence lacking in as much substance as they otherwise might.

    Thanks for reading!

  5. Great article. The most original people I've met are ones who care more about being themselves and don't worry what people think – good, bad or neutral.

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