What is your relationship with popularity?
Most people seem to want it and yet it comes with all kinds of negative pressures and scrutiny (mostly from loud people who don’t and don’t want to understand). Would you describe yourself as popular? Does more followers = better? If you have experienced waves of popularity/ eyes/ notoriety, what pratfalls have come with it? What good things come with it? If you are seeking to become more popular, what are you doing to make that happen, and how do you perceive getting more looks/ likes would improve things for you? If you are not interested in being popular, how do you see this as a badge of honor? How does invisibility (or visibility) serve as a protective cloak?
When I was a kid, all I ever dreamed about was being famous, didn’t care what it was for, just wanted to be seen and loved by all. Fantasized about my name being called over the loud speaker, being asked a million questions, women throwing themselves at my feet, men wishing they were me. The DREAM! The only problem with all of this, I was extremely shy. I couldn’t speak around people, especially the ones who are better than me. Better looking, better grades, better parents, better clothes. We were POOR. Everyone was better than me, at everything. Except fighting. Once I figured out I could handle business with my hands, it was handled. I became popular at my school, and then we moved across the nation, and I was back to square one.
Only now I was living in a big city, with way more people, and the same fantasy for fame. Lost in a sea of others just like me I faded in to obscurity. After high school I gave up on fame, doomed to be another ant in the column. Until, I came across mixed martial arts. I was really good at fighting when I was younger, but this wasn’t school yard shenanigans, this was trained hand to hand combat with techniques and tactics, strategic and skillful, graceful and deadly. I was hooked immediately and nothing else mattered to me outside my craft. I put my head down and gave it every ounce of my being, I was good. During this time, I completely forgot about being famous, and I certainly didn’t give a crap who loved me, because I could literally destroy almost any human being with my bare hands. Who needs to be loved, when you can be FEARED.
It was right about this time that fame was looking for me. My friend shared a link to an open try out for a TV show about fighting, and to be honest, I didn’t think I had a chance, but I drove down with a group of friends anyway. At least I would get a trip to Miami with the boys out of it. We got to American Top Team in Coconut Creek and I almost ran and hid. There were TV producers, big stars of MMA (at the time) and 300 other guys trying to get the same deal as me. I was not confident, but I was good. I kept making it through the selection process until I was the only man standing out of all 300. This led to my being picked up and signed by the second largest fight promotion company on Earth. I made it!! Or so I thought. From day one it was do this, do that, don’t cut your hair, don’t trim your beard, stand on the mark, do social media, interact with fans, don’t have an opinion, promote this, deny that. I hated it! I wasn’t ALLOWED to do what I wanted. HA!! I can kick every ass in the building and I have to get permission to use the bathroom.
This is not at all what I imagined getting to the top was like. To be fair, it was a lot of fun when the cameras were off, just hanging out with the production assistants, and other fighters was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I am eternally grateful for the opportunities that were opened up to me because of this experience. But, it got even worse after the filming was over. They started running commercials for the show, and I was one of the first faces they used, and the sh*t hit the fan. People from places you can’t find on any map came out of the wood work. People claiming to be family, long lost class mates, a guy I met at the greyhound station 14 years ago, all sending me messages about how tight we are and how they always knew I was special, and when am I going share some of the warmth of the spotlight with them. I was walking down the street in Seattle Washington, I was there for a UFC event that I was invited to (there’s perks) when two guys run up to me on the street holding signs. Shit I thought, I don’t have any cash, and these bums can move. They weren’t bums, they were fans, they saw me on TV the night before and wanted to take a picture with me. Same thing at the venue, I couldn’t even watch the fights because of fans wanting pictures and autographs. Very specific and weird what fans want you to write and how they want you to pose for pictures. Not fun.
Another down side to all this popularity was that no one, and I mean no one would fight me. All the guys in my weight class were scared because they all just watched my on TV, and for some reason the shittiest fighter in the world is somehow good if he does on screen. Eventually things cooled down and I was able to fight again. Now I enjoy the very limited and controlled popularity that I have. Most people I interact with don’t know about my short time in the spot light, and only find out if I decide to tell them. It has its uses, I can establish credibility pretty quickly with a Google search, but I still have to be careful, some people don’t care about personal space, or etiquette and don’t mind getting too personal, or just flat out want something from you. It’s nice to be recognized by others in the field, but when totally random people act like you owe them something just because they saw you on TV and liked what you did or said, it becomes too much.
I think popularity is just like a chainsaw. It can be a useful tool, or it can get you killed. It’s up to you. You can use it for good, or bad. You can let it consume you, you can lose all sense of self, and become a puppet. It takes a special kind of person with the right mind to be able to use the beast for good. I think that popularity in smaller groups is a good thing, you should be well known amongst your tribe, but outside of the tribe, your just putting a target on your back. — Mike DuBois
Popularity is a construct I struggle with. I care about helping people. I also care about making some sort of an impact on an industry that is focused largely on externally based ideals by exploring all of the benefits of moving that aren’t based on external goals.
Eliciting critical thinking and influencing the narrative about movement, exercise, and all of the ways the physical sense of self can be beneficial requires an audience.
Popularity never made sense to me. I am an observer of function, and it always seemed dysfunctional — the effort, the cost, the downright pretend — I always felt I could use my imagination for better things. Being popular equated to sacrificing the self. Shouldn’t I want to know me before anybody else?
If being popular was correct, wouldn’t society be trending in the right direction? My senses tell me it is spiraling in the opposite. Chasing likes and numbers simply makes you beholden to likes and numbers, and again, that is away from me. I’m not here to follow an algorithm. I am here to see what good is in me and find ways to let it out.
This collective has taught me that you don’t need to be popular to have people. That there are others like me holding space in their own way, in their own worlds, helps me understand that we’re all just mapping out constellations of service and skill sets. A popular person is a busy person, and I want to make sure I have the time and energy to keep investing in (and investigating) myself. I know there is still much within to be nurtured and coaxed out. — Chris Ruffolo