‘The enthusiast’: A surprisingly interesting reflection on commerce and ethics

I have several reviews that I want to put up soon, including notes from some conversations between the girlfriend and I as we read through To Kill a Mockingbird.

But first, I wanted to put up some notes on The Enthusiast, a novel I’ve been reading over the last few days.

I first came across the Kickstarter campaign for The Enthusiast in 2012, from the blog that Josh Fruhlinger runs (you can also see him doing some standup here).

The novel is (finally) out, (a little) behind schedule. It’s a fun read. The central premise is that Kate works at an advertising agency that specialises in indirect marketing – generating excitement in fan communities, and using that to push enthusiasm into the broader community.

So the story centres for the most part around Kate’s struggle on to campaigns she is working on. First, encouraging enthusiasm among trainspotters, to influence a municipal decision as to which train to buy. Later, she’s assigned to encourage a web community, generating enthusiasm about a potential movie.

A few things bubble through there. It gives Fruhlinger a chance to reflect on fan enthusiasm, online communities, and comics. He’s well placed to share some of the passion and enthusiasm that people for all of those – he curates an online community that’s built around enjoying, mockingly, the kind of comics most people stopped reading when they were about ten. Seriously, check out his site – Fruhlinger seems to have a genuine fascination with comic strips, and it’s a passion that carries through to the reader. It’s fun to read.

My favourite part, though, is that there’s something a little richer built into the novel. Inherently, the company Kate works for needs to sometimes use deception, generating enthusiasm as authentically as possible, even when they’re doing it simply because they’re paid. That means lying to people – treating them as systems, rather than agents. It’s a conflict that initially is only implicit, barely registering consciously – it’s in the language that’s used, and isn’t used. But it bubbles up in the final pages – a little suddenly, but in a way that doesn’t feel forced, and it’s a genuine change for Kate.

It’s interesting too, to reflect on the kind of work that Fruhlinger describes, and how it plays out in the real world. Russia and China are both reported to have state-sponsored trolls; that ‘first kiss’ video that went viral earlier this year (and spawned several hilarious parodies) was actually an attempt at marketing.

There’s more out there, I’m sure.  It’s a scary world. But The Enthusiast is a fun read – I’d recommend it.

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