Trey Parker, Life Lessons, and the Mac Community

May 11th, 2008

While watching the first season South Park DVDs Friday night, I found that — to my delight — Trey Parker and Matt Stone offered mock introductions to each episode. Sitting before a fire with their dog “Scratch” (the type of dog changed throughout each introduction — one second it’d be a small dog, and the next there would be a golden retriever in its place), or as cowboys around a farm with their friend Indian Companion. Each episode, apparently, was their favorite, and answered some great questions, like Are you two, you know, a couple? (Parker explained that they’re all a little gay. Even Scratch.)

The intros are priceless. If you haven’t seen them, I suggest you correct that as soon as humanely possible.

Before “Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo,” Parker explains why it is their favorite episode:

The reason this episode is our favorite is it was the first one to introduce the school counselor, Mr. Mackey. He is based on an actual counselor I had in junior high school. I used to run around the hallways getting in trouble, and he’d say, “Trey, you need to calm down and get back to your school work, mmmk?”

Now I’m making a million dollars off him! (kids cheer)

I thought that was pretty goddamned funny. And not just because Mr. Mackey’s voice is hilarious, which it is. And not just because Trey Parker and Matt Stone are brilliant, which they are. I thought it was funny because it was a nice, big fuck you to anyone who’s ever told him to buckle down and get serious with your life.


Not that you shouldn’t at some point get “serious” with your life and become an adult. You should.

That statement, however, tends to have an implicit message beyond its denotative meaning. When someone says that you need to get serious, stop acting like a child, and do something with your life, the assumed meaning is that whatever you are doing now, it is meaningless. It holds no real value, and thus you need to get a real job, where “real job” means doing something you really don’t have much passion for, but you do it for a paycheck or salary.

And my point isn’t that whatever you are currently doing is meaningful. If you are 25, living with your parents, and spend your time skating and that is it, than I would say you are wasting your time and you should probably be trying to figure out what you are doing with your life.

But if skating is your passion, if it is really what you love, then you should be doing something related to the skateboard industry. You could do any number of things. You could create and build your own decks. You could combine your filmmaking and skating interests and make skating videos. Or you could combine those two interests with your love of writing, and build a web site for great skating content and videos.1

In The Fountainhead,2 the protagonist, Howard Roark, has an overwhelming desire to design buildings whose form follow their function, and which owe nothing to past architectural dogma.

There are many aspects of The Fountainhead worth discussing, but I want to focus on a small part. Roark is expelled from the architectural college he is attending because his designs, which were supposed to mimic the classics of architectural design, look nothing at all like anyone has seen. His roommate, Peter Keating, however, graduates at the top of his class and takes a job at the top architectural firm in the nation. Roark barely survives.

Keating effectively took Mr. Mackey’s advice: he took a “serious” job, and he ostensibly did it well. He did what everyone expected of him. His designs were not really his; they were either the work of others with his name tagged on, or merely carbon copies of past designers’ work. What he did was easy.3

Roark, of course, eventually gains clients and becomes successful, before being persecuted by society and then ultimately prevailing (this is a heroic story, after all), and Keating fails miserably because of his parasitic nature. Keating was willing to do anything it took to “succeed” — or be viewed as successful — while Roark refused to compromise his design ethos.

True success, when you are successful on your own terms and for your own goals and desires, is difficult. Monumentally difficult.

That is why most businesses fail, why most drawings, paintings, sculptures, applications, and books started are never finished.

But it is why I respect those who live for their own beliefs and desires. The people that dare to try to do what they want to do are the only ones who really deserve respect.

Mac Community

I originally bought my first Mac4 because I believed Macs were inherently better computers than PCs, both the hardware and software. I bought it for very tangible reasons.

I have found since then, though, that although those reasons are still just as convincing today as they were then, there is another reason, too, one a little harder to quantify.

That reason is this: the Mac community really loves what they are doing. They love using their Macs, they love creating great applications, and they love interacting with other similar-minded people. I can assure you that Cabel Sasser and Panic are not creating apps like Coda because it pays the bills. They do it because that is exactly what they want to be doing, and if they did not, Coda would not be near as incredible as it is.

Even people within the community who do not create desktop apps have this same love. 37Signals is a platform-agnostic company: they create web applications. But it is also clear they love Macs, even if they are not designing for the Mac community. When you use Basecamp, read their blog, Signal vs. Noise or their book Getting Real, it becomes obvious they are not working at 37Signals to put dinner on their family.5 They work there because they love creating intuitive and thus truly useful web applications. They are living their design philosophy:

Throw in every decent idea that comes along and you’ll just wind up with a half-assed version of your product. What you really want to do is build half a product that kicks ass.

Stick to what’s truly essential. Good ideas can be tabled. Take whatever you think your product should be and cut it in half. Pare features down until you’re left with only the most essential ones. Then do it again.

Source: Getting Real: Half, not Half-Assed

John Gruber began writing for Daring Fireball full-time since April 2006, and when he announced that he quit his job to write Daring Fireball full-time, he said this:

But there’s a reason why you can’t say, “Wow, look at all those people supporting their families with their weblogs devoted to deeply intricate Mac and web nerdery,” or, really, why there aren’t that many people supporting themselves full-time from their weblogs, period. That reason is because it isn’t easy.

There’s nothing I want to do more than this. But even so, it has been an extraordinarily difficult decision to make, partly because I’m so prone to over-thinking that I sometimes have trouble deciding what to have for lunch, but mainly because there exists the very real possibility of failing in an excruciatingly public way.

This advice isn’t anything you can’t hear from a high school guidance counselor, but somehow there’s a difference. I don’t think many high school guidance counselors actually love what it is that they’re doing; Jobs actually means it. Some words sound like tripe because they’re overused by people who don’t actually mean them.

Daring Fireball is what I love to do.

Source: Daring Fireball: Initiative

There are no illusions about what Gruber did: he ran a great risk in quitting his regular job and writing Daring Fireball full-time. If he loses his readership, he also loses a part of his family’s income. I can’t think of a bigger risk.

And that shows just how much he really does want to do what he is doing. He cannot bullshit you, or himself, in saying what he really loves doing is writing Daring Fireball, not with that much on the line. Creating your own business, which is what he’s done, is no-shit hard, and building a successful weblog is up there on the spectrum of difficult things to do.

There are many more cases within the Mac community just like Panic, 37Signals, and Daring Fireball; some that you have heard of, and many that you probably have not. And that’s what is wonderful about the Mac community. It is almost an unwritten rule that whatever you are doing, whether it is creating applications, writing, or anything else, you should be doing it because you really love to.

Anyone who is willing to take that much of a risk to do what they want deserves my respect, perhaps in a different sense than most use it. I mean it like this: they are my idea of a successful person, something to aspire to. I hope that I can achieve that same level of success.


I have never seen such a concentrated group of people who are willing to risk it to do what they truly want to do, and that’s what I really love about the Mac community. The people within it have never lost their child-like wonder and desire to do precisely what they want to do, and nothing else.

Not many people are getting rich making applications or writing for their weblog. But they do not need to. Getting rich is not something to aspire to. Doing what you love doing, and making a living out of it — that’s success. And more than any other community I have ever seen, this philosophy underlies the Mac community.

  1. Forgive me if these examples are a cliché and outdated. []
  2. I’m Objectivist-inspired, if you couldn’t tell. []
  3. And, appropriately, he was an abject failure in the end. But he was also a failure from the very first page he appeared on. []
  4. A last revision 15″ Powerbook with 1GB of RAM and a 7,200 RPM hard drive, which I got in December 2005. I loved it, but I made a mistake in buying it: it was only a month before Apple announced Intel-based Macbook Pros at MWSF ’06. []
  5. Gratuitous Bush misspeak reference—check. []