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Issue 11: The ‘Comfort Zone’ – Is it There for a Reason?
 
 
 
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There are some who do attempt new genres on a constant basis, often leading to maddening results for their longtime fans. Elvis Costello started off his career by releasing three punk/new wave albums that sounded fairly similar to each other. Since then, he’s spent his career jumping from experiments in chamber pop, Americana, country, New Orleans-style R&B, jazz and more. Some of these ventures yielded great results, some did not. While it’s impossible to accuse him of resting on his laurels, the majority of his longtime fans feel those early albums still represent his peak period.
 
A film director who has followed this approach
is Steven Soderbergh. His career has included low-budget indie cult hits like
Sex, Lies and Videotape and Schizopolis; star-heavy popcorn films like the Ocean’s Eleven movies; Oscar winners like Traffic and Erin Brockovich; and even male-stripper movies (Magic Mike). If Soderbergh has a “comfort zone”, so to speak, it’s difficult to figure out what
it is.          
 
This comfort-zone philosophy is something we have all heard over and over again since we were young. On one hand, it certainly makes sense to broaden your horizons and attempt things you would usually avoid on the off chance you have a skill you weren’t aware of. On the other hand, some “lifestyle coaches” believe in the exact opposite – that you are better off figuring out what you are naturally good at in life and work on perfecting those skills.
 
This suggests that if you have a natural knack for writing, the time you spend learning how to knit, for example, is just taking time away from developing a skill that you are more likely to succeed in. Or if you have always been good at fixing cars, maybe you shouldn’t worry too much about becoming an excellent basketball player.
 
While it’s ridiculous to suggest that everyone limit themselves to one hobby or line of work, this second theory makes sense. Though your mom and first-grade teacher might disagree, as a realist, I tend to think you can’t accomplish everything you want in life – that there are many skills you simply don’t have and never will.
 
This perhaps is disheartening, but it doesn’t mean you have to avoid the areas where your interest far outweighs your ability. You don’t have to be a master vintner to be a wine aficionado. The key
is to figure out what your skills are and not overstretch yourself.
 
So in Madonna’s case, I certainly won’t fault her for attempts at directing or acting in movies. But just think about all the people who are rocking out to Like a Prayer in their car the moment you are reading this. Maybe she should just appreciate the fact that she can make a catchy dance track like few in music history and leave the King Edward VIII movies to someone else.  

 
 
This article can be found in Vhcle Issue 11

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Marc Ingber is a communications specialist and writer for a nonprofit based in Minneapolis, MN. He was born and raised in the Twin Cities and attended journalism school at the University of Kansas. His primary interests include rock n' roll, movies, food and drink, the Minnesota Vikings and the Minnesota Twins - probably in that order.
Read other articles by Marc Ingber
 
THOUGH SHE MAY not be the cultural force she once was, Madonna probably won’t be in a bread line anytime soon. Her 2012 tour, the “MDNA Tour”, earned a little more than $300 million, making it the highest grossing tour of the year.

In what seems like a parallel universe (but one that actually exists), Madonna directed a movie in 2011. It was called
W.E. and IMDB describes its plot as “the affair between King Edward VIII and American divorcee Wallis Simpson, and a contemporary romance between a married woman and Russian security guard”. The film grossed approximately $582,000 on an estimated $15 million budget. It wasn’t a critical hit either. On Rotten Tomatoes,
it earned a 13 percent positive rating, signifying it
as “rotten”.
I bring up this second topic not to make Madonna feel bad, but rather to illustrate that it’s fair to say the general public is more interested in paying to watch her sing and dance than direct a movie. This is not necessarily news. In spite of a massively successful singer career, Madonna’s movie career stretching back three decades has yielded mixed results at best. The high points haven’t been all that high and the low points have been really low. But she keeps plugging away.
 
It’s a strange phenomenon – a singer who makes millions touring the world who is intent on continuing to work in a medium where people generally avoid her work in droves. While she is far from the only singer to have an underwhelming film career, it’s safe to say most either give up after a while or don’t have the opportunity to keep trying.
 
Naturally I don’t know Madonna personally, so I can’t tell you first-hand why she continues to work in film. Maybe she is holding out for a critical and commercial smash to prove all her “haters” wrong. Maybe she genuinely enjoys the creative challenge, regardless of the results. Or maybe she’s just bored.    
 
In some ways, she deserves props for continuing to attempt film despite decades of underwhelming response. It’s easy to continue doing something that brings you accolades and financial reward. It’s much harder to continually follow your muse into an area that rarely brings anything but ridicule. It’s the ultimate version of “stepping out of your comfort zone”, as so many self-help books encourage.
 
It’s interesting how artists in various mediums do, or ultimately don’t, stray too from their comfort zone. Most musicians, actors, writers, etc. who take their craft seriously suggest they avoid repeating themselves and continually try to flex their artistic muscle. A handful of them actually do, but most don’t stray too far from the type of work that originally brought them success.
 
Johnny Depp has spent his career generally avoiding the romantic leading man roles his frighteningly natural good looks would likely point him toward. If I had to guess, I would say he didn’t want to get typecast in this sort of role early on in his career. The irony is that he has played so many quirky oddballs in Tim Burton movies over the years that his career trajectory has probably been as predictable as it would have been if he stuck to the good-looking, leading man roles. You can more or less guess his next role will be a socially-challenged eccentric with a weird haircut. (No offense Johnny, I still think you’re a good actor.)
 
Musicians of all genres often have a relatively narrow sonic window in which they operate. Despite some nuances, their new music ends up sounding very similar to what they have released prior. As shocking as it would be to hear Bruno Mars release a song that sounded like Radiohead, it would be just as shocking to hear Radiohead record a song that sounds like Bruno Mars. “Arty” bands usually sound as much like themselves as Top 40 artists do.
 
 
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2013
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The ‘Comfort Zone’ – Is it
There for a Reason?
 
 
 
 
WRITER
MARC INGBER
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March 2013 Vhcle Magazine Issue 11, Life
 
 
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