Do you have a list of people whom you are fairly certain would turn you into a puddle of mush if you ever met them? C’mon, be honest now.
Well, I have a LONG list, which is one of the reasons I don’t venture anywhere near Los Angeles. Being in the same building as Johnny Depp, for example, would probably cause me to spontaneously combust. It might interest you to hear that I am pretty sure that the same end result would occur were I ever to meet the Coen brothers.
A lot of things have been going through my mind about blogging lately, and I realized that a lot of the answers resided in just thinking about the Coen brothers a bit, which I am always happy to do. With that, here are some insights into blogging that you can gain by studying Ethan and Joel Coen.
It would have been pretty easy for the Coen brothers to stop after any of their movies and say, “OK, this is our most successful flavor. Let’s stay here.” After Raising Arizona, you wouldn’t have been surprised if their next movie also occurred in Arizona, for example. After creating an incredible character like Jeff Lebowski, you’d have forgiven them if they had created more “dudes.” But they didn’t do any of that. They’ve jumped from Arizona to Fargo, North Dakota to Mississippi to Texas, and places in between, too. They’ve created the Dude, but they’ve also created Anton Chigurh, Javier Bardem’s ultra-creepy assassin from No Country for Old Men.
Are you looking for a bloggy magic bullet? Are you trying to find the secret formula behind one great post and repeat it over and over again? Maybe it’s time to pop in something your readers will never see coming.
The value of ambiguity
One of the great gifts the Coen brothers have is the capacity to create morally ambiguous characters. This is most obvious in The Man Who Wasn’t There, but it is a trait they weave through almost all of their films, going back to Raising Arizona. You find yourself sympathizing with people who have kidnapped a child. You find yourself wondering who the worst character really is in Fargo. You find yourself falling in love with Walter from Big Lebowski even though all he does is shoot his mouth off. And of course, you can’t forget little Delmar from O Brother, who is just the cutest little guy. And yet – he did knock over that Piggly Wiggly. The Coen brothers give their audience credit for taking the story into all kinds of places.
Are you telling your readers what to think, or are you letting them bring their own values, baggage, opinions, and perspectives to what you write?
Don’t take it all too seriously
The Coen brothers, truth be told, deal with some pretty serious issues in their movies. In Barton Fink, for example, you see them treating the pressures inherent in trying to make it big in Hollywood. In Fargo – well, there’s a lot that’s pretty serious in that movie. Wood chippers come to mind. In No Country, the drug wars in Mexico are dealt with, as is the strain around the border between the US and Mexico. And yet, none of the Coen brothers movies really take themselves too seriously. Sure, you see the KKK in O Brother, but they are dancing around and singing. Yeah, someone gets kicked out of a Woolworths, where a lot of the sit-ins happened during the Civil Rights movement, but it’s George Clooney, not an African American. And yes, there are a lot of representations of selling your soul to the devil (who often is played by John Goodman), but it’s treated so lightly you only realize it hours later. The movies do not aim to make fun of important issues, per se, but they don’t agonize over these issues either.
Are you really hammering certain ideas in your blog posts? Are you spelling out your views and feeling upset when someone disagrees with you? Maybe it’s time to take a step back, take a deep breath, and get a different perspective on it all.
Each creation has a life of its own
Even though you know a Coen movie when you see one, each one offers something special that separates it from the rest of the family. Fargo, of course, has those crazy North Dakota accents and a female police officer who is also about 8 months pregnant. No Country has the slow Southern drawl of Tommy Lee Jones, the deep baritone of Javier Bardem, and the moral confusion of Josh Brolin’s character. Barton Fink offers a spooky, surreal hotel as the setting, while O Brother gives the viewer the inscrutable Everett McGill. Maybe other unique characteristics of each movie speak out to you. Certainly Julianne Moore’s Maude from Big Lebowski is an attention-grabber!
Do you add something special into each and every blog post? Do you offer something new to your regular readers that will also be enticing to first-time readers?
Don’t take the easy way out
One thing you can bank on in Hollywood these days is sequels. LOTS of sequels. How many Fast and Furious movies are there now? Like, 17? Or is that Halloween? It feels like a lot of folks in Hollywood are resting on their laurels. “Well, this movie made us some money, so naturally, if we do a continuation of that movie, we’ll get MORE money.” Sadly, it seems to work, but the products that result are not too impressive (at least in my opinion). The Coen brothers, one might note, have never done a sequel. They had opportunities. Doing a sequel to Raising Arizona would have been easy enough. Continuing to follow Jeff Lebowski would have been enchanting. But instead, they hold themselves to the four other codes of conduct we’ve already talked about.
This is not to say that doing a series is a bad idea, but challenge yourself in that series to make each post capable of standing out on its own.
Write about something new. Keep raising the bar on your own expectations.
Now it’s your turn
What lessons do you draw from these two talented siblings? Let’s talk about it in the comments, or heck, write a post based around your favorite Coen brother films!