We’re truckin’ along. It’s weird, I struggle constantly with the pressures of capitalism and my loathing of it, and that gets tangled up with questions of artistic quality. But… it shouldn’t, right? In the privacy of my own head, why should “whether or not a given individual wishes to purchase your thing” relate in any way to “whether or not your thing was a worthy artistic idea to pursue”? We’re well aware that artistic value doesn’t dictate capitalist success; we bemoan that so constantly that it’s a cliche.
I suspect this comes out of a neurosis I share with American culture: a baseline acknowledgement of institutional authority and unspoken belief that serving the authority structure will preserve one’s security and comfort.
I don’t want to believe that; I was raised to challenge authority wherever it presented itself, but here’s the thing - I was raised with a lack of consistency between words and actions, between messaging and reality, on par with “the American dream.” When an authority figure switches rapidly between abuse and kindness, uses third parties to triangulate and enhance this dynamic, and convinces the victim that their only hope of safety comes from their abuser… that’s a technique used in counter-intelligence work and interrogation. It psychologically devastates the victim to the point that they will often cling to and even defend their captor.
Y'know… kind of like how we defend corporations and the capitalist structure, insisting that the existing paradigm is worth the abuses because it preserves our comfort and any change would create damaging chaos. Kind of like how an abused spouse defends their partner to their friends. I mean, we could break up with Amazon… but like, all our stuff is at their house. And they gave us a discount that one time! They’re not all bad; surely if we just work a little harder at it, at understanding Amazon’s perspective and meeting Amazon’s needs, we consumers could fix this relationship.
It’s the same, guys. The same trick abusers ALWAYS pull - they create danger only they can see, threaten and shame you with it every time you question any part of the structure, and position themselves as your only hope for salvation. It’s a protection racket.
I’m constantly campaigning for your attention because I have to, because my Owners (you have Owners too! Wanna think about who owns you? Aww, why not?) assert that their standard of value is the only one, and in order to survive day-to-day, I must sometimes pretend that they’re correct. I may know that money isn’t real, that it’s a comfortable fiction only seen as solidly fixed and impartial at the lowest level, manipulated freely and continuously at the highest levels for the benefit of our Owners… but saying that to the cashier at Wal-mart won’t get me out of paying for my peanut butter, and it’ll probably ruin her day. So I don’t. I pretend that money is real and important for long enough to finish our transaction. I spare her my angst, because she doesn’t need it and can’t solve it.
So why the hell can’t I spare you, or those few longsuffering masochists still willing to call themselves my friends, from my constant cynical mumbling? Why must everything come back to capitalism? Can we not, even one time, talk about something else?
Ehh… not really, I’m sorry. Each time I sit down to share what I’ve been working on with you, I have to think about the fact that this art, the hours I spent on it this week, the things I learned from it, are meaningless and worthless in terms of their effect on my life and that of my loved ones unless I show them to you, unless my showing them to you leads you to consume more of my content in the future, unless that consumption eventually leads you to a purchasing decision. And I fucking hate that. I crave your interest and attention, yes, because I’m a needy little artist, but I don’t WANT your money, okay? It doesn’t make me feel good to ask for it or to take it, and the time I spend thinking about it detracts from my work.
But I have to pay rent. Without the rent, I won’t have a nice warm room to do art in anymore, and so I’ll be able to do a lot less. So every time I come in here, wanting to talk to you about the fun art I’ve done and what I learned, I remember that if rent weren’t a factor, I would still be in the other room painting. If I didn’t have to pay rent, that conversation about art would be more fun, because I wouldn’t be selling you something, and my perspectives on art, philosophy, and societal issues would be more meaningful, because I wouldn’t be actively supporting the systems and perspectives I criticize. I can’t forget that, not for a second, not for a single word I type.
I just want to love you. I don’t want our interactions to be motivated by greed or desperation. But the fact is that I am desperate, and they are greedy, and not mentioning that will not protect us from it. We only blame the person pointing out the problem when we are ashamed of ourselves for not fixing it.