A man is lying on his deathbed. His wife sits at his bedside holding his hand and praying silently. He opens his eyes and says weakly, “I have something I must confess.”
“There’s no need to,” she assures him.
“No,” he insists, “I want to die in peace. I slept with your sister, your best friend, her best friend, and your mother.”
“I know,” she replies. “Now just be still and let the poison work.”
His wife poisoned him. Of course I know you know that––I’m guessing you’re smart enough to close the circle. It’s what separates a good idea from a bad one. It’s the New Yorker cartoon that credits us with sufficient intelligence to allow us the intellectual conceit, “Well, I get the joke, but I’m not sure everyone else will.” By demanding participation we enjoy the joke that much more.
Good ideas let us close the circle. Bad ideas close it for us: the ad that requires no involvement from the reader; the movie that spoon-feeds us the plot and arrives at the whodunit forty minutes after we do; the stand-up who telegraphs the punch line.
Indeed, great comedians try to stretch their audience. They know the wider the gap, the more the enjoyment. He delivers his punch line and the quick-witted get it immediately, then a ripple of laughter rolls through the crowd as the rest of the audience closes the circle.
Marcel Duchamp, too, believed the viewer was an essential part of the creative process. "The artist initiates the creative act," he said, "but it's up to the viewer to complete it."
Ideas fail to connect when they give us the egg and tell us how to suck it. Today’s sophisticated audiences know the marketing game and need to be treated as equals.
Modern consumers aren’t buying a product they’re buying an experience, and they’d rather be seduced than conquered.