Friday Archive Dive: Cargo Cults
Today’s Archive Dive is from 2010 when guest columnist Scott Kurtz wrote a “Webcomics Intervention.” In it, he describes a fascinating human phenomenon called a cargo cult. It’s a thought-provoking concept, and it’s something I always keep in the back of my mind when I’m making decisions on my webcomic: “Am I doing this because it’s right for my business… or am I doing it merely because I see other people doing it.” It’s more complicated than simple peer pressure, of course. It’s trying to succeed my mimicking the actions of successful people instead of understanding the thinking behind those actions. Scott sets up the discussion pretty well:
I was talking to Kris Straub about this and expressing frustration in the response we often get during the Q&A portions of our frequent comicon panels. No matter how long we discuss the importance of putting the work first during the panel, one of the first questions asked is always about some specific form of monetization. “How many T-shirts do I make?”
Kris asked me if I ever heard about cargo cults. And I hadn’t so I looked it up.
Cargo cults sprang up after World War II along islands in the South Pacific. Japanese and American soldiers invaded these islands, set up bases and soon after, all these amazing material goods and technology started falling out of the sky on a regular basis. Goods that the indigenous tribes shared in from time to time. After the war, the soldiers packed up and left and the air drops stopped. So the tribesmen started emulating the soldiers, assuming that if they acted the way they did, the goods would start falling from the sky again.
So you have these military bases made out of straw and wood popping up on these islands, with natives making uniforms and wooden guns and marching in formation looking up and waiting for more stuff to fall out of the sky.
And that’s what’s happening to a group of people in Webcomics. There are a lot of people emulating all the wrong things in the hopes that in doing so, they’ll bring themselves success. And to make matters worse, discouraging these people only seems to make their resolve stronger.
Like I said… fascinating stuff. And definitely worth further discussion. Read the entire piece and continue the conversation there.