02 March 2005

ex-lefties and suicide site guide to the city.

i don't quite get this blogging thing. i mean, there's no index, no table of contents, no page numbers....so the other night, in a fit of distraction and lethargy to the tasks at hand, i Finally clicked on this"next blog" phenomenon in the upper right, to at last discover its purpose: the portal to a vast and random gagillion of other forrays into online-journaldom.

found a bunch that verified my niggling doubts about the habit, "what i had for breakfast and the state of my underwear" type stuff (oops that must have been mine) and one posting that stuck in my mind.
i of course clicked onward without the necessary bookmarking, and now couldn't find it again if i tried.

it was by a person of left leaning politics gone rightist. the only thing i remember which grabbed me was his observation that for all the leftist-qvetching, we ignore the glory of free speech, social assistance, feminism etc that has come in part with the predominant structure of our western world.

i'm NOT saying i agree with this co-relation.
but i find it thought provoking.
we've been doing something right. to some extent. i don't know what it is, but i can't deny some of the developments of this part of the world that i profit from as a human, that keep me relatively safe.
i definitely Know that i can't be content with an "us vs. them" set of conclusions on the whole thing.

saw "suicide site guide to the city" tonight.
parts were great, parts were not. i'm definitely not convinced maintaining this elitist circle of artists and corraling them together against the "opposition" is the answer

the problem is this Creating of the opposition in the first place, instead of trying to understand them, how they work.

this one idea did stick with me; that all us artists might be under some group delusion, fed social capital since we don't seem to be worth any of the money from the ones that have an abundance of it.
we keep on chasing down the attention and waiting for our resultant riches, but in the end just get creatively milked dry.

the old "dance,monkey,dance" scenario.
yes.

41 comments:

Michael Barker said...

Yes, blogging - what's it all about? And is it benign? Or a not so subtle device for ego-gratification and miscommunication? A desperate electronic beacon pleading for rescue in a lonely world? Electronic love letters (or complaints) to god? In any case, I don't want to speak to that - I want to comment on artists and 'charismatic capital' (warning, a half-baked,embittered rant is about to transpire). To a large degree, as much as it is a 'strange commodity', art of all stripes deals in 'charismatic capital' - something in the manner of what we like to call 'the cult of personality' - this capital of recognition and peer promotion is potentially redeemable for grants, teaching positions, wine and cheese, trysts etc. - this seems to inspire a fairly socially ambitious artistic culture, that carries with it the attendant interpersonal potential for harm and suffering - all under the umbrella of some kind of mass delusion that because artists have aestheticized layout of the board, they have changed the game - they have not of course done so, but rather have made a playground of neurosis, ambition and self-absorption in a new guise - and there is nothing noble or elite about that. Can art transcend is murky milieu? Of course. But can the murky milieu transcend itself? Perhaps not in the social field of artistic endeavor.

steflenk said...

blogging benign? no, i don't think so. the only things that are benign are the things one refuses to engage with. which of course calls to mind the question as to whether Refusal is benign, which i think it most certainly is not.
ego-gratification...yeah, kind of. electronic beacon for rescue? Absolutely.
mostly i think it's acting as a form of safe exorcism for me, with the option of the occasional judicious edit in favour of potential readers, which is helpful in its own unexpected ways.
i used to be scathing, but blogging is better than crack...

now. charismatic capital. sigh. i finally had the opportunity, as you already know, dear barker, to interview for what was ostensibly a "creative" job in an office that felt like a coma or near-death experience. this was followed a day later by a talk in class by a cultural worker of a Distinctly opposite and apposite nature, which was Utterly gratifying.

i'm starting to understand at last, Little by precious little, what it is to be one of those odd animals whose interests lie outside the well-trained synaptic grooves of our western world. do i need grants, teaching positions? not necessarily.
do i need wine and cheese? well, yes, i must confess i do.but there are other ways to come by that. strategic dating, petty thievery, barter.
all of which i fully endorse.
in the imortal words of seth (i think) it's a good life if you don't weaken. if you do, well, you might as well sit back and enjoy the day off. 'coz the teachers and the grant writers Don't get one. Ever.

Darren O'Donnell said...

i'm certainly not interested in corraling elite artists and getting them to do anything against their will.

this notion of elite artist is interesting. i'm not sure i understand what you mean. do you consider me an elite artist? i made 19 grand last year - my rent is almost 10. i don't think i qualify as elite.

what i'm suggesting in the show is that there are many people who are working in so-called creative sectors and this - so many people are saying right now - is the sector that's going to keep the economy of cities strong. (this in the context of the threat to the cities and to a more progressive way of live that is a sort of republican/conservative mean-spirirtedness and willingness to accept an escalating police state.) so, if it's true that the "creatives" - as florida loves to call them - are so important to the economy then we must have some power to shape the world. in the show i ask - what kind of world are we going to create? a nice liveable place or a happening hotspot - like manhattten - a playground for the wealthy and tourists.

if we have power, then what are we going to do with this power?

good book: the expediency of culture by george yudice.

steflenk said...

elite isn't just financial. you said something akin to it yourself; there does exist a "social elite" in this city (well, those receiving "social capital") some people are being wine and cheesed, some are not. and Alot of people are making art.
That in itself is some sort of elitism. or at best a sturdy wall of nepotism.

re: artists keeping the city strong....

but strong in what way? if we look south at the end of the day, their faith is in bombs, not brushes. maybe the harvard sorts are writing books about the "creatives", but government funds are still plundered mercilessly by the military.
and dare i point out that there's some amount of elitism in publishing too... to make it even more difficult, people Publishing those books aren't making any money either, no matter what they are saying about the "creatives".

re: a playground for the wealthy and tourists. ..

if we're just talking toronto, they're already building the playground, look at the distillery, look at the condos...(shrug).

re: if we have power, then what are we going to do with this power?

it Is a good question.

Darren O'Donnell said...

ps:

i think barkers comments on charismatic capital are right on. too often being an art-maker is considered activism enough, that artists work by different, transcendent rules but, really, we haven't transcended anything instead "we have made a playground of neurosis, ambition and self-absorption." so true. and we're willing to do this for so little - for charisma capital - which is nice to a degree but, really, when you need a root canal, you'll find that charisma capital is not a currency readily recognized by your dentist.

Darren O'Donnell said...

i still take issue with this notion of elite especially when consider a wider focus - a global focus, say. most of the toronto literati could hardly be called elite. maybe micheal o and margaret a and a small handful of others. the rest are hardworking people who may have a bit of social capital but if you look at the whole spectrum of experience, who gives a shit if someone has access to a few more pieces of stilton than you. most of us are still mice running around a maze. i'm trying to identify a class of people who - one piece of cheese more or less - have common interests. and i would say the artist at the cheese table and the artist stocking the cheese table have much more in common with each other than with the guy who runs the company that makes the cheese. i think the distinction you're making between the two artists is petty.

i don't know that artist keep the city strong. that's just what all this creative cities rhetoric is saying. and i'm just trying to take their logic to its conclusion: if we do make it strong then we have power. what are we going to do with that. industry and manufacturing have shifted to the 3rd world, and, instead (so the talk goes), we have an information economy that requires - as its product - content. creative people create content. so we are the "workers" in this formula. and, as such, may or may not have the power to shut things down. but how are we going to shut anything down when everybody is pretty much happy to create content in exchange for their 10 minutes of time on the stage at the drake or article in the local weekly, or the distant promise of the six figure book deal?

playground for tourists - exactly. we had some footage of the distillery district we cut because we were spending too much time on the subject already.

Darren O'Donnell said...

sorry, so many afterthoughts.

the point i'm making in the show is that artists are being bought off with social/charisma capital - they are being duped into thinking it has significant value - that to be an "elite" artist hanging at the cheese table is a desireable place to be. and, while it may have its perks, it certainly can't even begin to be compared to having any real socio-political power.

but... if we are so important to the economy (like all the creative cities rhetoric says) then we should demand some poltical power. all of us - the elites eating cheese and those serving cheese. and we should do this TOGETHER. and, then, maybe we can get some more cheese for everybody.

Darren O'Donnell said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
steflenk said...

well, here's something.
surrounding oneself with a bunch of people who are Not artists by trade for a change is an interesting experiment in understanding how human group structure is built on both sides of the fence.

in order to make art, certain things have to be in place: skill, ideas, discipline, and hopefully public venues to incite dialogue.

in order to run a business certain things have to be in place as well:
skill (that ethereal chutzpah or business acumen or whatever it is that prompts a successful business infrastructure)
ideas (creative aspect, most often- Outsourced, almost always)
discipline, an easy one to come by in business 'coz business sorts aren't looking for anything different (discipline=safety),
and public venues, well, those skyscrapers on bay street will do just fine for most.

you'd be surprised how similiar both sides work.

no one's immune to elitism.
having a bunch of people who share the same ideas, tastes, fondue bowls, leads to a critical mass that incites action. that mass can choose to stand alone or accept members, but those members need to share the same ideas (fondue bowl) to keep the momentum of the project going. this is a reality.

i'm not making a distinction between the artist in front of the cheese table and the one behind it, (hmm, maybe i am, i wrote it) but i've all too often seen the ones grabbing from the plates as they are being filled, assuming that distinction themselves. (shrug) that's my experience of it.

the problem is, Everyone wants to be at the proverbial cheese table, whether its artists or "artists by proxy". the Non-artists want to be there too. guilt by association. that's the power dynamic, and that's where the potential for change lies. when artist and non-artist are talking.

artists talking amongst themselves are just that.

as for stilton, well, i love stilton. that's a tough one.

all hail cheese for everybody.

Darren O'Donnell said...

also want to mention that here and in the show i am actually talking about "cultural workers" a term that applies to people working in a lot of different fields - to artists, to administrators, to animation workers, to grips, to boom operators, to front of house etc. people who work in the cultural industries - industries that are becoming more important to the economy.

and, yeah, most people want to be at the cheese table and often those who are there display very bad manners but, and THIS is the point i'm trying to make, the cheese table is not all that. the cheese table will not get your rent or your root canal paid for and, at the end of the day, it will come down to that.

i'm identifying cultural workers as a class with shared interests because (if all this creativity hype is to be believed) we have access to a lot of platforms from which to speak and many of us believe in the power of sharing (formerly known as "lefties") and we could, if we could figure out what to say, make a powerful difference. but the left doesn't have much of a program right now, we're in retreat and because of this, we have been abandoned by many people working in the cultural sectors - mostly cause the culture types just don't know what the hell we can do to deal with corporate capital. nobody seems to. they're just too powerful - they will kill you.

i'm not talking about a bunch of artists sitting around doing there thing together but people who work in culture realizing that they, as a group, possess power and could potentially make a difference for EVERYBODY. Because we're the people who control where the culture's cameras point. i'm not suggesting that these people should do this autonomously, they need to link up with other people who understand the virtue of sharing.

i'm saying that cultural workers could be one wing of a multiwinged movement, a wing with a lot of power. you seem to be thinkking that i'm suggesting we need a little coterie of revolutionary art stars sitting around and trying to change the world by themselves. nothing could be further from the truth. i'm suggesting that artists/cultural workers need to recognize themselves as just that: WORKERS who are, even the ones at the cheese table, for the most part being exploited - just like most of the rest of the world and that, upon gaining this consciousness, should stop fucking around and start actually doing something about it.

in your talk about business being so similar to the arts - for sure. and it's filled with mostly frustrated people who are being, by and large, exploited too - working all the freaking time, often without pay, putting in extra hours etc. the fence you talk about does not cut the population in half by any means - the people who are on the other side of the fence that i'm talking about are not mr and mrs joe business guy but the captains of the industry, the few hundred billionares on the planet and their politically powerful lackies who steal from the public(poor) to give to the private (rich).


i also wanted to comment about the former lefty you referred to who thinks we should be thankful about all the western world has given us. and, while to a degree, that's true, the west can only do this by ripping off most of the world and dealing with it's own populations in ways that some argue are simply new forms of totalitarianism. check foucault's concept of biopower or hardt and negri's empire. the US is jailing more people per capita than any society in the known history of the world... more than the ussr at its worst, more than china, more than all the totalitarian regimes ever. so.. free world? i'm not so sure.

okay, that's all. i have to go rehearse now. i was supposed to spend my morning chilling and here i've been writing feverishly. thanks for the opportunity to write about all this. i'll check in later today.

d

steflenk said...

the left may be in retreat, but the strategy has to start being amalgamation.
somehow.
i'm not sure how. but i'm not talking passively here.

the us vs. them scenario is getting us nowhere.

we're all human. that might be a good place to start looking. the fundamentals.
and that doesn't mean pointing a finger at our weaknesses (say, our insecurities as audience, or our tendencies towards greed and defensiveness. those are human survival instincts, however iniquitous).
what i mean is, point the finger, but quit laughing so derisively. accomodate people's defenses, work with them, don't repel them by pushing Too hard.

re: the former lefty (who, i repeat, i Don't agree with...) here's a thought: all us poor people out there shopping at dollar stores ('coz they accomodate our budgets) are doing more to increase the sweatshop third world exploitation problem than one rich person buying useless furniture at some custom designer's shop on queen west. Terrifying, but true.

re: america as land with highest per capita jailed: daily New York Times crosswords (i think it's the NYT, it's one of the biggies) are in fact put together by american prisoners. (fact)

also interesting, though perhaps unrelated: the Oxford English Dictionary was in fact first compiled by a man incarcerated in an institution for lunatics. (fact.)

i think the phrase is "subvert from within"?

whoosh. blogging might be better than crack, but it sure as hell takes more time. (chuckle)

Darren O'Donnell said...

you: the us vs. them scenario is getting us nowhere.

okay, well, i'll tell you what. if you can arrange it so i can spend some quality time with one of the worlds 300 billionares so i can really understand where they're at then i will consider changing my position. if you can get me into one of their gated communities so we can have a heart-to-heart then i will really open myself to this person. let me know. i'm busy until the 20th but after that i'm free.

you:and that doesn't mean pointing a finger at our weaknesses (say, our insecurities as audience, or our tendencies towards greed and defensiveness. those are human survival instincts, however iniquitous).
what i mean is, point the finger, but quit laughing so derisively. accomodate people's defenses, work with them, don't repel them by pushing Too hard.

i'm not sure what you're talking about here. do you think i'm laughing derisively at someone? in the show? who? i certainly don't mean to.

you:all us poor people out there shopping at dollar stores ('coz they accomodate our budgets) are doing more to increase the sweatshop third world exploitation problem than one rich person buying useless furniture at some custom designer's shop on queen west.

but it's not the poor shoppers who are getting rich from the surplus value that all the third world labour creates - it's the capitalists. and, sure, people buy the stuff because it's cheap but the people who own those factories could easily pay their workers more without rising the price of the goods. or not much, anyway. i don't believe the onus is on the poor shoppers but, rather, the wealthy people who own the factories who are skimming all the surplus value.

steflenk said...

(chuckle) relax cheeky. no need to get hostile. i'm on your side here, believe it or not.
right.

what i'm saying is there are alot (ALOT) of wealthy people beyond the 300 or so billionaires of the world, and Those are the gatekeepers. if you take the number of car owners to bike commuters on toronto streets for even the most piteous example of the ratio, my statement might make more sense.

I've had the (debatable) experience in the past of sitting at a Tanenbaum table discussing fundraisers for housing coalitions, and, honest to Gods, if you speak the right language you walk away with some Serious funding. But it takes tolerance, however nauseating. (and it IS nauseating.) They are diffferent animals with different needs, that they've manufactured for themselves because, Believe it or not, rich people Do Not Know What to do with their money. Frequently. I am being slightly (actually, Exceedingly) presumptuous, because I only know a handful of them. but I Have seen it, and it's a Complete trip. Watching rich people being sold on something they had no intention of buying/funding before someone clever and knowledgeable impressed some well-manipulated logic into their heads.

That well manipulated logic, well, that's art. That's what needs doing.

re: derisive laughter.
no, i wouldn't say you're laughing derisively at your audiences' hesitation to engage, but i would say some of your material is confrontational to the point where some people might shut off.

and people shutting off closes the door on dialogue, wouldn't you agree?

purely subjective opinion: the kissing thing (in suicide specifically) just diminishes the credence factor. it looks funny. what can i say. and as a result you lose a bit of political momentum, coz people are too busy feeling odd watching you tongue the air.
it was great for comic relief though.

re: dollar stores, poor shoppers and profiteering:

i agree with you completely. No argument at all. i was trying to point out the bigger picture; the effect of our actions on the greater global village, so to speak.
i'm a HUGE believer in voting with dollars. it's pretty grassroots, but it makes more sense to me than getting mired down in too much dogma. and even i am Far far Far from expert at it. i have been a guilty shopper at many a dollarstore.

so there. sorry i don't have a line on the worlds 300 billionaires. but at least it means you can relax after the 20th. :)

Darren O'Donnell said...

you: (chuckle) relax cheeky. no need to get hostile. i'm on your side here, believe it or not.
right.

me: i was trying to be funny. it also occured (after i had posted that) to say that if you set it up with the billionare, we could make it a potluck, so i wouldn't inconvenience them too much. and then i was going to ask if they had any food restrictions. don't you think that's funny?

you: what i'm saying is there are alot (ALOT) of wealthy people beyond the 300 or so billionaires of the world, and Those are the gatekeepers. if you take the number of car owners to bike commuters on toronto streets for even the most piteous example of the ratio, my statement might make more sense.

me: but the us vs them thing i'm talking is about the those of us who don't have billions and the very few who do. i don't know what you mean about gatekeepers. how are the yuppies with lots of cash gatekeepers?

YOU: I've had the (debatable) experience in the past of sitting at a Tanenbaum table discussing fundraisers for housing coalitions, and, honest to Gods, if you speak the right language you walk away with some Serious funding. But it takes tolerance, however nauseating. (and it IS nauseating.) They are diffferent animals with different needs, that they've manufactured for themselves because, Believe it or not, rich people Do Not Know What to do with their money. Frequently. I am being slightly (actually, Exceedingly) presumptuous, because I only know a handful of them. but I Have seen it, and it's a Complete trip. Watching rich people being sold on something they had no intention of buying/funding before someone clever and knowledgeable impressed some well-manipulated logic into their heads. That well manipulated logic, well, that's art. That's what needs doing.

ME: i'm not interested in sitting around and charming a bunch of rich people. i want them to pay thier fucking taxes, i want exorbitant wealth to be outlawed (it's morally wrong for someone to have many times more money than they can possibly use) and i want a very strict and low cap placed on inheritance. i don't feel like manipulated them. i feel like compelling them to behave in a way that is fair. and dodging taxes is wrong, superwealth is wrong, and inheriting money that you did nothing for is wrong.



YOU: re: derisive laughter.
no, i wouldn't say you're laughing derisively at your audiences' hesitation to engage, but i would say some of your material is confrontational to the point where some people might shut off.

ME: my work is not for everyone. i'm not trying to convince people who are not interested. i'm calling out to people of like-minds - calling into the darkness to see who is out there and who can go with me. and i'm also trying to make sure that some people can't get into the work, will feel alienated. it's impossible to talk to everyone - some people must be shut out. i make stuff that would delight myself, looking to develop contacts with those capable of opening their minds to my ideas.

YOU: and people shutting off closes the door on dialogue, wouldn't you agree?

ME: like i said, i don't want to talk to everyone. some people are not worth the time and effort.

YOU: purely subjective opinion: the kissing thing (in suicide specifically) just diminishes the credence factor. it looks funny. what can i say. and as a result you lose a bit of political momentum, coz people are too busy feeling odd watching you tongue the air.
it was great for comic relief though.

ME: when it works - and it usually works - it's really beautiful. when someone comes out of the audience to kiss me, it's really electric and it concludes the through-line about me feeling dead, leaden and wanting to want to make out but not being able to. even when i kiss the audience like i did in the show you saw, i think, for the most part, it's so vulnerably ridiculous and bizarre that it makes connections with enough people. if some think i'm a nutbar and feel odd about it, that's not so bad. it's important that i continually try to sabotage my own credibility - that's why i talk about fingering farheen. i don't want to be trusted by people who look for flawless people to trust. i want to be the loser i am up there.

YOU: i'm a HUGE believer in voting with dollars. it's pretty grassroots, but it makes more sense to me than getting mired down in too much dogma.

ME: i'm a HUGE nonbeliever in consumer activism. i think it's a placebo and doesn't really do much of anything except make a few people feel they're doing something when really they're not. it's not the indivdual's consumption patterns that will affect change but, rather, the production patterns of the people who create consumer goods and who also create the demand for consumer goods. we need more regulation around that stuff, more responsible production, more responsible advertising (i've read interesting cases for banning advertisig). unless that happens, buying green is only going to make the most superficial difference. 'the rebel sell' is a good book about this topic. it challenges some favourites of the 90's leftism - stuff like culture jamming, consumer activism, anarcho-individualism. it's disconcerting book but well worth reading.

YOU: so there. sorry i don't have a line on the worlds 300 billionaires. but at least it means you can relax after the 20th. :)

ME: well, i would settle for some of these millionares you know. or even some people who are clearing 6 figures. can you introduce me to those so i can get over my us and themness. i'm serious. i want to meet some rich people and see what they are like. you talked about this tanenbaum table - what's that? how can i access these wealthy people? i really have no clue so it's hard for me not to feel they are a them. if i could meet some i might feel different. but they never seem to be around. i suspect they are all hanging around with other rich people but i'm open to be proved wrong.

John said...

Hi Stef--

That old cliche of the leftist going right happens all the time, especially when people forget where all those good things like freedom of speech and suffrage and a living wage came from, i.e. people struggling and fighting for justice, equality, freedom and so on. They weren't handed to us on a plate.

There's still plenty wrong with the world, which is why we still need a left. But being a leftie doesn't mean you can't stop to smell the flowers now and again or even appreciate the complexity of life and some of the ironies that mean we sometimes end up on the same side of the barricades as people we wouldn't expect to.

steflenk said...

thanks, john, for the moment of levity. i am a very firm believer in stopping to smell the flowers, even perhaps picking the occasional one when no one is looking. (shrug) i do my best to leave them unharmed, but i'm as human as the next lover of botany.
arguing with someone on the same side of the barricade is indeed an irony, albeit a fascinating one.

right. ok, darren.

D: but the us vs them thing i'm talking is about the those of us who don't have billions and the very few who do. i don't know what you mean about gatekeepers. how are the yuppies with lots of cash gatekeepers?

me: the same way most of us artists and people with limited income tend to cluster together ourselves.
Great book: Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton.

D: i'm not interested in sitting around and charming a bunch of rich people. i want them to pay thier fucking taxes, i want exorbitant wealth to be outlawed (it's morally wrong for someone to have many times more money than they can possibly use) and i want a very strict and low cap placed on inheritance. i don't feel like manipulated them. i feel like compelling them to behave in a way that is fair. and dodging taxes is wrong, superwealth is wrong, and inheriting money that you did nothing for is wrong.

me: i Agree with all of the above, but there must be a course of action that is more realistic, because rich people hold onto their money like Armageddon is around the corner and planning a personal onslaught. Probably because they know they are no more deserving of it than the next person. Personally, i think dialogue is more productive than building a wall and then screaming out from behind it. (shrug)

D: my work is not for everyone. i'm not trying to convince people who are not interested. i'm calling out to people of like-minds - calling into the darkness to see who is out there and who can go with me. and i'm also trying to make sure that some people can't get into the work, will feel alienated. it's impossible to talk to everyone - some people must be shut out. i make stuff that would delight myself, looking to develop contacts with those capable of opening their minds to my ideas.

me: and you succeed. admirably.
but global change and stuff that would delight yourself are two different agendas, non?

D: like i said, i don't want to talk to everyone. some people are not worth the time and effort.

me: drag. those are probably the ones who would pay for your root canal.
For The Record, i'm not talking about sucking up to rich people. i find that repellant and nauseating as well. i Don't Know the answer. i'm not proclaiming otherwise. if i thought i could, i would be writing plays myself, and i'm not.

D: when it works - and it usually works - it's really beautiful. when someone comes out of the audience to kiss me, it's really electric and it concludes the through-line about me feeling dead, leaden and wanting to want to make out but not being able to. even when i kiss the audience like i did in the show you saw, i think, for the most part, it's so vulnerably ridiculous and bizarre that it makes connections with enough people. if some think i'm a nutbar and feel odd about it, that's not so bad. it's important that i continually try to sabotage my own credibility - that's why i talk about fingering farheen. i don't want to be trusted by people who look for flawless people to trust. i want to be the loser i am up there.

me: now That i hadn't considered, and that's rock solid. i agree.

D: i'm a HUGE nonbeliever in consumer activism. i think it's a placebo and doesn't really do much of anything except make a few people feel they're doing something when really they're not. it's not the indivdual's consumption patterns that will affect change but, rather, the production patterns of the people who create consumer goods and who also create the demand for consumer goods. we need more regulation around that stuff, more responsible production, more responsible advertising (i've read interesting cases for banning advertisig). unless that happens, buying green is only going to make the most superficial difference. 'the rebel sell' is a good book about this topic. it challenges some favourites of the 90's leftism - stuff like culture jamming, consumer activism, anarcho-individualism. it's disconcerting book but well worth reading.

me: (shrug) agree to disagree. books duly noted though.

D: well, i would settle for some of these millionares you know. or even some people who are clearing 6 figures. can you introduce me to those so i can get over my us and themness. i'm serious. i want to meet some rich people and see what they are like. you talked about this tanenbaum table - what's that? how can i access these wealthy people? i really have no clue so it's hard for me not to feel they are a them. if i could meet some i might feel different. but they never seem to be around. i suspect they are all hanging around with other rich people but i'm open to be proved wrong.

me: truce, darren. i'm just a person standing behind the cheese table (and stealing the occasional piece of stilton) and trying to work out my own answers, according to what i've seen work and what i haven't. i went to see your play 'coz you do Good work, you challenged my opinion of it and so i responded. it's not my intent to discredit what you're saying; i wouldn't have the political acuity to do so even if i wanted to. (chuckle) this debate is a bit like hulk hogan stepping into the ring with holly hobby.

here's an art project though. take the instant coffee gang to bay street and have a make out party. That's where you'll find the millionaires and the gatekeepers, not the streets of kensington and queen west. now there is something.

Darren O'Donnell said...

you: Personally, i think dialogue is more productive than building a wall and then screaming out from behind it. (shrug)

me: hopefully, that's not what i'm doing. i'm trying to put some questions and observations our there and dialogue with my comrades to come up with a plan of action.

you:but global change and stuff that would delight yourself are two different agendas, non

me: no, global change is my delightful agenda and my strategy, like i said, is to foment dialogue with "comrades", to come up with a course of action. there are enough people onside, we just don't know what the hell to do. the show is directed at these people so we can talking about how we can stop being in retreat. we have a critical mass of bodies but lack a viable alternative way to organize the economy.

you: drag. those are probably the ones who would pay for your root canal.

me: but, stef, i don't want them to pay for my root canal. i want them to pay their taxes, forfeit thier immoral wealth and work for their damn money like the rest of us. and i want cultural workers to be paid according to the worth they contribute to the economy/society. if that happens i'll pay for my own root canal. but, again, it comes down to a difference between our strategies - you seem to want to talk to the rich people (a small percentage of the population) to convince them to give us some money while i want to talk to all my poor friends (a huge percentage of the population) so we can agree on a plan of action to change some fundamental structures so there is no longer any ridiculously rich people. i know my goal is "unrealistic" but why not think big?

you: you challenged my opinion of it and so i responded. it's not my intent to discredit what you're saying; i wouldn't have the political acuity to do so even if i wanted to. (chuckle) this debate is a bit like hulk hogan stepping into the ring with holly hobby.

me: i don't think you're trying to discredit me. i just wanted to challenge what you had said. this is why i wrote the show - so people would respond, we would talk and see what came out. i'll check out that book you mentioned. i'm also serious about this tanenbaum thingy you referred to. i want to know more about wealtheir people.

YOU: take the instant coffee gang to bay street and have a make out party. That's where you'll find the millionaires and the gatekeepers, not the streets of kensington and queen west. now there is something

me: like i said, my priorities are with building the bonds and strength within my community. we're divided and conquered right now. my first goal is to participate in discussions between cultural workers about our situation and start to figure out how to get through this. i want political power for us and, when we have it, then we can go down to bay street and negotiate with them.

Michael Barker said...

Whoa, so much has transpired since last I wrote - and there are so many threads to pick-up, re-weave or untangle. I'm just gonna jump in with the 'start anywhere' strategy, so forgive me if my post is non-linear!

Darren, I think you expect too much of the 'cultural sector', a nebulous term at best - any time you try to define a community, or class, it tends to be bit wiggly under scrutiny - and a definition of 'cultural worker' that extends from 'boom operators' to 'performance artists' (for example) seems a bit broad. The different currents and camps of the 'arts' draw their water from different wells, ride different economical waves, and have different ideological outlooks - one only has to rub a film crew against a street theatre ensemble to see that. Not everyone under the 'arts umbrella' is at the cheese table, some of them are at the trough. I don't expect that a focus-puller has much trouble paying for their root canal. As for the expectation, or revolutionary-conceit that the coffers of the privileged few will be overturned by smock-wearing, beret-bedecked revolutionaries, well, I lack faith in that scenario - not because the coffers are well guarded, but because I don't think the dynamic for that outcome is there. There is no doubt that art is potentially a powerful force, in that it has the power to incite dialogue, scrutinize or question - or if we broaden the definition of art - sell cellphones - or that art can't serve the agenda of very different masters. I always liked Laurie Anderson's definition of her role of artist as one of being a 'spy' - a spy in the service I would assume, of the greater good (to use a dangerous phrase). And I think that art has at least three great things to teach - self-expression/realization, relational dialogue and imagination. Through art we can claim a voice in the important dialogues of our times, through dialogue we can find new answers to difficult problems of existence and relationship, and by exercising our imagination, we resist the nihilism of despair and the status-quo. But these things are potentialities in art, not sure-things. Self-absorbed, ungenerous, nihilistic art abounds - and I'm sure Darren that you are aware of the troubles we 'cause ourselves in our unskillfullness on our side of the barricades. So your strategy of theatre, that promotes dialogue and exercises that strange space that theatre still allows between audience and performers, is right-headed I think - but the usual pitfalls of that dynamic are still there - someone is playing conduit or vanguard, a bunch of people are facing the stage - we can play with this dynamic of course - I've seen it done - but it is a forum, not a solution in and of itself - and no one is going to leave the theatre and storm Bay Street - at least not immediately after the performance - they're more likely to retire to a bar for a drink and a bit of post-performance processing. We've been doing this for a longtime. And it's worthwhile - if something of the favourite leisure activity of the self-styled boho downtowner. And I admit, I have lost faith in the 'art scene', the one that is over on the 'fringe' (you know, the 'poverty jetset'), perhaps because I have lived too much in its green room, I know the petty jealousies, self-centredness, and delusional thinking that prospers there - there are good things too of course, but I think the struggle has to be to get are act together as people first, and not attach so strongly to these identities that divide us - it's on the basis of our common humanity that we will have meaningful dialogue and growth - not by holding onto some desire for validation and reward from some imagined other. As for wealthy people, I have had the somewhat ironic experience of being in contact (in a somewhat servile dynamic) for ages, and behind the Prada and nose-jobs, I seem the same grasping, just on a grander material scale. I'm not looking to increase my resources to fund my irresponsibility - I am trying to learn to take responsibility for myself. This seems to be the task at hand. OK, I'm leaving it a little open, but I have to get back to my arts administration day job! I'm enjoying this exchange! I wish there was a larger audience. Carry on!

steflenk said...

(chuckle) ok, my turn.
Barker, you're a master of the written word as always. Your distinction between film crew "cultural workers" and street theatre ensemble is Spot on.
the fact is, in this "huge percentage of the population" you want to talk to, Darren (artists/cultural workers) there already exists a feudal structure, and it's only difference from the rich/poor divide is the value gauge (which is, as you've rightly observed, the assertion of social capital instead of economic).
Barker points out rightly that not everyone is at the cheese table (blessed cheese table), and might i add to that that many who are... are Very happy to gorge themselves and chortle derisively (or uncomfortably?) at all the art workers who aren't there, thinking somehow they are better than those absent. why should they share cheese or the ticket that got them to the table, since it was so hard come by in the first place?
and, just for perspectives' sake, perhaps they have a point. the ticket is hard-won. i know i'm hesitant to extoll the same praises on a weekend hobbyist painting northern toronto autumn landscapes than i am to someone who toils in poverty and hammers away at their art andthe arts system to make a decent living at it 24/7.
and one last thing, before leaving the proverbial cheese table, while many of the art community's lower-downs (as it were) are scrounging to make rent doing arts admin jobs at our city's cultural centres, the higher-ups (ie. those working in the film industry, animation, the more lucrative "cultural" niche) are suffering from a similiar anxiety trying to maintain their hard-won financial security, by being utter workaholics and slaves to their respective industries. and so it goes on up the line.
Barker's idea that the Prada nose-jobs (Prada nose jobs :) ) are suffering from this same human failing, that is, grasping at status and superiority, i agree. the problem is less the means with which they do battle (money, fraud, etc) and more that they feel the need to do battle at all. That's what i'm concerned with when i speak of "talking to rich people".

Status Anxiety. Alain de Botton. Bloody Fantastic book.

now, just a point of interest here, i notice that the things we managed to agree on, Darren, have disappeared from this subsequent volley. namely the part about your making yourself vulnerable on stage (kissing scene) so as to remind people to quit searching for flawless teachers, accept peoples' humanity,(i'm paraphrasing here, correct me if i'm wrong.)
what's significant about this ommission is that for dialogue to occur, attention has to be paid to what people agree on just as much as that which they find conflict in. if it just falls by the wayside, there's nothing to build on and it all just becomes one of kalle lasn's infamous pessimistic rants about how terrible the world is that have made adbusters so tedious.

D: no, global change is my delightful agenda and my strategy, like i said, is to foment dialogue with "comrades", to come up with a course of action. there are enough people onside, we just don't know what the hell to do. the show is directed at these people so we can talking about how we can stop being in retreat. we have a critical mass of bodies but lack a viable alternative way to organize the economy.

this is great and should make it into your play somehow, or at least into the program notes. it's very lucid.

Darren O'Donnell said...

i do want to emphasize that the focus of this analysis is not artists but this vague term "cultural workers" and that i'm trying to take all this creative cities rhetoric to its conclusion.

stef you make a good point, while the focus puller may be able to afford the root canal, he will have a hard time finding time to get it done. this, i think, is another form of poverty.

i talk to people who work in the cultural sector and ask them this loaded question: are you privileged? and most people respond with "yes, definately" as if the confession lets them off some global hook. and i know the notion of privilege is always relative, but i do believe that these people are actually deluding themselves. they are not particular privileged - they work all the fucking time, often for free, putting in outrageous hours at work, turning their free time into constant networking opportunities. with the creative cities rhetoric this is taken a step further - people working in these sectors will "save" the western economy or "save" the cities. so if all these people who feel so grateful and privileged to be doing their noble cultural work are actually sustaining a large degree of the economy with their sweat and their time then aren't they/we owed something? aren't we in a powerful postion to make some demands.

these are rhetorical questions. meant to foment discussions like this, not meant as a serious call to arms or anything like that.

my most immediate and tangible goal is to see if it's true that cultural workers are as important as so many people say we are and if this is the case, raise the awareness of our situation. i want those people who feel they are so privileged to realize that they are, in fact, not particulary so. i watch naomi campbell, the producer i work with have to put in 16 hr days to get done what must get done and wonder how the hell can we collectively put our foot down. it must be possible in some small way.

Anonymous said...

Well, having read all this ongoing O'Donnell banter, I've gotta say that it only makes me dislike "Suicide-Site" all the more. Not that I didn't hold rampant feelings of discontent toward it to begin with.

Darren O'Donnell said...

why so chicken, anonymous?

steflenk said...

um, ok, kids, holly hobby here, play nice or move to another blog.(!)

i Agree completely that lack of time is another form of poverty.
this factor actually bears further scrutiny, 'coz it's the money vs. time factor that both parties so often have to choose between. hence the fast food culture, etc etc.

You pointed something out during the Q and A for Peeaaccce that I thought was very true, this idea that we lower income arts sorts are often encouraged to associate ourselves with the rich (that is, we aren't starving in third world countries, and so therefore we must be on the opposite/privileged end of things, when that is in fact not exactly true.)

re: rhetorical questions: i think asking rhetorical questions is one thing, inciting global change is another. do you want to incite a call to arms or not? i think your messages on this have been mixed. this is a genuine query, not meant as cheek.

Darren O'Donnell said...

hey, the anonymouse started it!!

i just meant that i don't think that a sudden shift in the economic arrangement is going to be happening anytime soon and that the first phase will have to be a bunch of discussion where those who understand the virtue of sharing beging to figure out what exactly to do, how to deploy the power they may have but not know they have, how to access power if there happens to be some avenues for that or whatever. of course i hope that all this discussion will lead to something but i'm going to keep my expectations to a minimum both to avoid disappointment and and to stay humble - the few small discussions the show may instigate may be nice but hardly enough to get anything significant rolling. but i think it's important to keep our eyes on the biggest prize we can imagine.

my most immediate goal is for my immediate circle of friends/peers (i count you, barker and the anonymouse among these) who are cultural workers to begin to view our situation as one of significant poverty and that with all our crazy cultural production - like the poverty of the classical exploited worker - we are actually are producing surplus value. where is this value going? and why isn't it coming to us?

the edinburgh fringe provides a good example. there are thousands and thousands of performers there - 1700 shows - and it's well known that only but the tinest percentage will make money - everybody else pays to play. so who benefits? edinburgh does, the people who rent their flats at incredibly inflated rates for the month do, smirnoff, guiness, the airlines etc etc. and in exchange, a few plays are picked up to be produced in london and a few comedians sign career-solidifying deals with the BBC. the rest of us subsedize the whole thing. and this applies, in a less concentrated way, to all cultural activity. all these people working their asses off and not being compensated - and it's not because they're not generating capital - they are, they're just not positioned in the right place to suck off the value. i mean, as far as i can tell, the only people making any money at most art openings are the folks over there at steam whistle. and, of course, they're intelligent guys and they recognize this and they support the community with those awards and whatever else - but they're not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts but because we buy their beer.

if cultural workers start to understand that all their activity creates wealth for someone other than themselves, then who knows how we as a class might think about all our crazy incessant cultural production/actitivities. i see someone like tyler clark burke - the santa cruz organizer - and wonder sometimes what the hell she's doing. she works like crazy, creating these events and they're fun and all that but they're happening at her expense for the most part. had a conversation with misha glouberman from trampoline hall and he was just coming to the realization that no matter how successful his events would become, his income would be really very small. and, again, the important point, is that all this activity DOES create economic value but never for the people who make the stuff. the value accrues to others. how can we get some of that back?

and also - since it is creating value, we as value creators have power. how do we use this to shape the world?

these are rhetorical questions i guess but ones that i hope will create discussion that will get some change happening. but, like i said, it's best to keep expectations modest.

it's 7 AM and i can't sleep. later.

steflenk said...

some re-evaluation is needed of your immediate circle of peers. how this group itself is organized, feudal structure and all. you want to address all of them, but you're just not going to find them all at the instant coffee make-out parties. (well, i'm not there, i don't think barker attends, and anonymouse, well, your guess is as good as mine)

you will find others at your plays, frequently 'coz of that social capital you possess, frequently 'coz artists outside your immediate circle support each other and are interested in good and/or progressive work. doing this work does accomplish something, it's just not gonna be the "deus ex machina" kind of change you might be hoping for.

the fringe is indeed a humbling experience. i haven't been to Edinburgh, but i've worked the toronto fringe for a couple of years, and seen how difficult it is for those involved. i have Intense respect for all 200 odd companies who undertake it.

here's a fact that can't be ignored about fringe though (since it's not juried). yes, there are a lot of Great artists paying for the few that get recognition, but, sorry to say, there are also ALOT of crap plays that pay and get a chance to practise in a professional environment with their material that Just isn't up to professional standards. i mean, some of that stuff is Painful to sit through. i have no less respect for a company with a shit play (hey man, they're up there, I couldn't do any better), but i won't lie and say any play is great and worthy of notoriety or funding just 'coz it's a little guy putting it on.
I would imagine Edinburgh is not exempt from this crap factor.

so no, the little guys don't get social capital out of it, or financial gain, but, man, the value of practise can't be underestimated.

and, um, i'm afraid the steamwhistle guys aren't the ideal company to point a finger at either...somewhat ironically, i investigated their marketing tactics a few months ago for an article on this whole subject, and they are in fact a pretty cool establishment. They donate to over 122 events in Toronto a year, and there is no feudal scale or evaluation to those events. i'm sorry, i can't at the moment remember the parameters for applying, but their staff are Super accomodating when people call to inquire.
they actually changed the name of their "steamwhistle art awards" to "untitled art awards" for the 2004 chapter. a small step, but a step nonetheless. and since they give their beer for free at openings, us little guys don't pay for it.

sure, it's a marketing strategy, but if i get a free steamwhistle beer at an opening and i think it tastes like shit (which, incidentally, i do), well, (shrug) i don't buy it. i haven't lost anything.
good beer sells, while the shit doesn't. (just like theatre.)

i agree completely that marketing is greasy business, but the reality is, how many people wouldn't rather go to an opening with free booze? (quiet jp, if you're reading this, the same applies for pink lemonade :) ) unfortunately, the presence of beer might well sway my intentions if i don't know an artist's work that well, especially as a devout cyclist throughout the blistery winter months.
perhaps not the ideal prioritizing on my part, but i'm pretty dedicated to not seeming like some flawless icon of pure artistic dedication myself.

Darren O'Donnell said...

i do think you and barker are in my circle. you're certainly more in my circle than most of the cultural workers in the rest of the world. even if you don't/didn't come to the makeout things or even, for that matter, my shows. we're woven into a community with plenty of overlap. this feudal structure you talk about is just weird to me. is this because i am the lord of the manor? like i say before, the differences are, i think, fairly miniscule - i guess from your perspective they seem large. can you elaborate on this? can you tell me how you see this feudal structure organized. who are the power brokers and how do they exercise this power? who are the serfs?

i don't expect a sudden massive shift in conciousness. i just want one. is it wrong to work with that goal in mind?

and with the fringe. my point is that tons of money is being made but very little goes to the people who are making the work whether they suck or not. they are there producing the buzz that gets people to spend their money in that town. practice is good but they derserve some split of the profits. otherwise it's just not fair. and again, it doesn't matter if they suck. the buzz pulls in the crowds and their efforts contribute to that.

i mentioned the steam whistle guys because they are so good. but the bottom line is beer sales. and i disagree that aggressive marketing can't make people drink swill. doesn't it happen all the time with all different sorts of products?

steflenk said...

(chuckle) i don't think you're king of any manor...

the feudal structure i'm talking about is a social capital thing; who the media is talking about and what venues they pay attention to.
there's alot of artwork going up in non-queen west galleries that is being ignored for that reason.
obviously that's loaded for me since i'm one of 'em.
there are also street performers doing great work (case in point Red Pepper Spectacle Arts and other inclusive community theatre endeavours) that nobody really touches upon and are literally starving for funding; but it's not an acknowledged channel of creativity when the weeklies are looking for their commentary material.
Now magazine has called their books section "books and zine reviews" for years (i'm not sure if that's changed recently, i don't check anymore), but at the time i was reading it, they not once reviewed or even mentioned any 'zines. and some of my friends have done some serious "shifting in consciousness" with their DIY stuff (yes that's you, scott.)
i'm sure Now, and Eye, and all the papers, share your "we're all equal as creators" thing, but i don't see any evidence of it.
and last but more Certainly not least, when was the last time we heard any significant buzz about the fantastic grafitti art in grafitti alley? That stuff is changing all the time and it's brilliant, (whether you appreciate the medium or not). and i think the only coverage they get is the yearly festival in September. and that's a crying shame.

so...yes. i do think the differences are there, and large. if social capital is the currency for all us cultural workers, it's not split evenly.

i'm suggesting that those responsible for getting that infamous creative buzz out need to expand where they are looking, if that feudal structure you don't think exists is gonna fade, in my mind anyhow.

Not wrong to work towards a shift in consciousness. not at all.

it would be interesting to get some numbers with regards to the fringe. if a split in the profits is even viable, when all is said and done. at least in the toronto fringe, their admin. department is small and Super hard working, and from what I've heard (i know them) always under a tight budget. i know when i work there every year it's certainly not for any huge paycheque I take home. (not a dis on the fringe)

i don't think it's agressive marketing that makes people drink swill.
i think it's idiots who fall for agressive marketing that drink swill.
and there will always be idiots who fall for agressive marketing and drink swill.
i'd like to propose that very few of them are active and influential members in the arts community. we see to be a pretty informed bunch when it comes to coercive tactics, in toronto at least.
(shrug) in this i could very well be wrong.

Michael Barker said...

So much to respond to, so little time! I'm going to 'start anywhere' again. I think the power we might possess as somewhat disenfranchised 'cultural workers' (i.e. Not Lion King techs or Focus-pullers), rather than stemming from any 'industry' affiliations - marginal or otherwise - is in our sense of the right we have to personal expression, to a dialogue of peers in an unusual language, and our imagination - an imagination we extend, at best, to our entire lives, off canvas and on. Truthfully, rhetoric of the information age aside, the 'city' (I'll define this as the city's financial economy) is not going to miss 'one more painter' or one more 'playwright' - no matter how much Toronto might profess to be a city of the arts - it is not going to see itself as that much poorer if Shag had remained as so much wood pulp, or Instant Coffee folded - it is our little art-aligned community that would feel those gains and losses, and not on a financial level. Any city needs its local heroes - and Toronto, with its pervasive inferiority complex, may need them especially - and we are fortunate in that we do have local heroes of the arts - and they are inspiring and improve the quality of life for some segments of the population - so social cachet they may have, but powerful financial clout, they do not have. I am not trying to diminish the role or power of artists - even marginal ones, there is an enormous potential to have a positive impact on the lives of our community, and our peers (as you identify them) through our artwork, action and example - but it is more the maturity we express as people and citizens, then as artists, that will determine that impact, peer-to-peer. We have some social power, with power comes responsibility, our social power is ours to use or misuse. But artists seem to have a tendency, at least in our subculture, towards self-centredness - perhaps no more, or no less than other kinds of subcultures - but it is the particular ways in which it is expressed in the art scene that makes me a little doubtful of the potential for rallying to goodness around the identification as artists. In any case, I don't have any real disagreement with the opinions expressed here, just a lot of personal frustration with some tendencies in my peer group! I'll freely admit to that!

Sean D. said...

Stef and others,

Well I have finally caught up on my blog reading, and I couldn’t resist posting some sort of response to such a heated discussion.

I should first declare my status as a card carrying member of the tie-wearing middle class. Not yet the Pope Stef (though I certainly would look good in the outfit), I am one of the teeming masses of time-poor, personally unfulfilled, wage slaves who toil for 7 and a half hours a day to make the world safe for modern capitalism.

But I’m OK with it.

Darren said:
“the important point, is that all this activity DOES create economic value but never for the people who make the stuff. the value accrues to others. how can we get some of that back?”

That sort of question needs a good old fashioned capitalist answer - you set up a company that produces creative content and you sell it to the people. If they like what you produce you will get the economic value back into your pocket, which you can distribute as you please. If the public don’t like it then you take a loss. That's how it worked for Shakespeare.

Your social capital is worth what people are prepared to pay for it. And if people do pay for it and more and more people are employed to create more and more content that gets seen by more and more people, then that is how you might change the world.

It would be a lot more effective than holding workshops on how to collect more tax from rich people.

Corrupt and stupid as it is the capitalist system gives you a simple, though difficult, way to cash in your social capital and gain economic power which is what you seem to want.

Am I sounding like a leftie who has turned rightie? Well maybe, I have certainly headed to the middle over the last couple of years. The main reason for this is that I work for the government, and, frankly, I wouldn’t trust myself or any of my colleagues with any more responsibility or money than is absolutely necessary, and I don’t think anyone else should either.

And I think all lefties need a big reality check, and so do the righties. The fact is that the radical left and the radical right have not given society much of value at all, not suffrage, not freedom, not equality. The freedoms won and enjoyed by us in our societies were almost always achieved because of a combination of a free market and a parliamentary democracy, arising from the tensions that such a system creates and resolves. It’s the centrists who progress. But slowly.

Not that I think the left-right distinction is relevant or meaningful anyway. Hitler was a socialist after all. And for that matter he was also a politically minded artist, which makes you think.

I must also point out that artists in Canada are not anything like the “classical exploited worker”. Whatever poverty you may be experiencing in this life, it has been your choice. Saying something like that demeans classically exploited workers. It is good to live in a time and place where you are free to make that choice.

And now I must choose to do some work. I hope that was controversial enough.

steflenk said...

indeed, Barker, indeed.
i think the political becomes the Personal, and vice versa, and not just for artists. i think about this from what you've written here, but also from our discussing it, and it Certainly bears repeating.
Although to your "it is more the maturity we express as people and citizens, then as artists, that will determine that impact..." i do give pause...i think it can be the same thing. That is, i think our impact as people and citizens is also our impact as artists.
once again, the Personal becomes political.
Darren, your work is a Good example of this.

AND TO MISTER DWYER, WELCOME! (small yippee and cartwheels from distant canada)

controversial enough, Indeed!

and, surprisingly, Lefty as i may be, this makes a Whole Lot of sense to me. well most of it. i'm not sure that i agree that the "centrists" have elicited much change. i'm not saying they haven't, i'm just not sure yet. i've been thinking about that alot lately. i guess as a canadian (with our well-rooted patriotic inferiority complex, as Barker duly mentioned) i worry that "centrist" means "fence-sitter", and i'm ill-disposed towards fence-sitters.

to clarify: people attempting to see both sides make sense to me; people attempting to see one or neither are a Worry.

what it comes down to is Working with Human Nature, instead of complaining about how much it sucks. most of us are selfish, fearful, money grubbing creatures. it's naive to think that we can fuck with it.

that being said, (lefties take note) we can fuck with it. not Change it, but fuck with it. so to speak.

i think that's where the tenets of capitalism came from. an organized way to fuck with things. after all, if you can put together a play and get people to pay to see it, and potentially go home and write their own play or what-have-you, then you too are being a capitalist. ayn rand has some significant points to make about this. (sorry, Barker, i can practically see you flinching :) )

it always amazes me...i've had more than one argument with ex-punk rockers and anarchists who feel like they are above and beyond the needs of capitalist society...they don't need rules, they don't need structure, everyone for themselves and all that pap.
and eventually they get tired of being so hateful ('coz being hateful is Exhausting) and that very structure becomes the thing that pays their weekly wage, and keeps them from a world of suburban crack and gunpoint.
but still they go on about how much people suck, and continue to steal from and screw the Very people that are paying their rent.

simply put, i think you gotta take the good with the bad. Not passively, but as a necessity.

Darren O'Donnell said...

all this is interesting but time-consuming.

since there's a new guy on the block, i thought i'd respond to him.

sean says:That sort of question needs a good old fashioned capitalist answer - you set up a company that produces creative content and you sell it to the people. If they like what you produce you will get the economic value back into your pocket, which you can distribute as you please. If the public don’t like it then you take a loss. That's how it worked for Shakespeare.

me: can you explain, then, a situation like the edinburgh fringe festival where the fact that there are 1000s of show is what attracts tourists to the city. and that only, say 10% of those shows make money. if those 10% were extracted and presented at their own special festival it would not attract the throngs of people who come to edinburgh to spend money on beer, hotels, taxi's, haggis etc. it's the fact that there's this massive festival going on that is attracting people. yet 90% of the shows will lose money. those artists - with their presence - are creating a vibrant festival, yet they are not rewarded at all. in fact, they pay to play. it's the beer companies, the hotels, smirnoff etc etc who benefit. is this not a nuance that sort of puts a wrinkle in the classical capitalist analysis.

does capitalism always reward as fairly as you say it does: you make a product, people buy or not. case closed. personally, i don't think so. ones labour may generate profit for others because of how you may be articulated in a particular network. and, maybe, a pint of guiness is more interesting than your boring stupid show, but that guiness drinker is in ediburgh because of your and other boring stupid shows. without your presence there wouldn't be a scene. is it possible to acknowledge this kind of contribution?


sean d: I must also point out that artists in Canada are not anything like the “classical exploited worker”. Whatever poverty you may be experiencing in this life, it has been your choice. Saying something like that demeans classically exploited workers. It is good to live in a time and place where you are free to make that choice.

me: is the choice between a stupid mind-numbing job with no creative autonomy and a stupid career in art with no pay, ridiculous hours and creative autonomy really a choice?

they both suck.

and maybe being a classically exploited worker sucks even more. and maybe it is nice to be able to choose which suck-ass life you will lead but it does nothing to take away from the fact that it still sucks. one or two degrees of suckness in one direction or other shouldn't lull one into accepting a stupid exploitative situation even if there are people who are exploited more.

steflenk said...

dialogue is time consuming.
that's it's nature. but that's what you're looking for, no?

re: both work options suck.that's not really productive thinking.

re: Edinburgh Fringe. i would suggest that people come for the shows and for the beer, the haggis, the hotels, the other people. it's not one show on its very own that would convince one person to spend whatever large amount of money it takes to get to and stay in Edinburgh for the duration of the festival.

Darren O'Donnell said...

stef: re: both work options suck.that's not really productive thinking.

me: you don't find the truth productive? it doesn't do anybody any good to pretend that just because someone had to choose the lesser of two evils, the choice they made is one of their own free will. i don't make the choice i make with any joy, i do it cause all options stink and i take the one that causes the least amount of stress for me. but, in the end, i'm also saying that it's not totally clear that it is the one with the least stress. michael albert in paracon has an interesting solution to the creative
work vs. mind numbing work: we all do a bit of each.

stef: re: Edinburgh Fringe. i would suggest that people come for the shows and for the beer, the haggis, the hotels, the other people.

me: but the festival is why they are there. they drink beer while they are there but they can do that in london. they come for the festival. no festival, no thousands of people. all the other stuff you list are aspects of the festival but it's the shows in the festival that are the hinge-pin for the whole thing.

stef: it's not one show on its very own that would convince one person to spend whatever large amount of money it takes to get to and stay in Edinburgh for the duration of the festival

darren: well, that's exactly my point, it's ALL the shows that make people come and spend their money, yet most of the performers lose money. that's not fair. and it doesn't conform to sean's classical capitalist paradigm. it's not a one-to-one relationship between producer and consumer - this is espcially true when we're talking about cultural products.

Sean d. said...

This certainly is time consuming, and you start trying to say one little thing and you end up writing an essay. Its fun though. I’ll go by subject rather than quoting chunks, hope that’s OK.

Lefty/Righty/Centre

I won’t go into a grand theory of political everything, but basically my point is that the centrists are the ones who mediate between the “Freedom” that the righties want and the “Equality” that the lefties want – speaking in highly oversimplified terms obviously. Of course a leftie perspective would be that centrists put the brakes on progress, but I think it is more correct to say that they make progress work in practice by advancing incrementally, which is much harder than putting together a theory.

Choices

Both bad career choices when you put it that way, I agree, but they also have rewards. Nobody put a gun to your head and said that you couldn’t be a corporate accountant, that you had to be a poor artist. On the one hand you get freedom of expression but little money, and on the other you get plenty of money but little freedom of expression. Obviously you’re someone who values freedom of expression more highly than money, hence your choice.

If being an artist was paid well then everybody would be doing it, and on the other hand if being a corporate accountant was interesting and stimulating work then everybody would be doing that. Everybody can’t be doing either, so they’re both compromises. That’s just the way it is.

Are they both being exploited? Well that’s one way of looking at it, but then on the other hand aren’t they both exploiting the system to get the most of the thing that they value?

And lets remember that neither of them is mining gems under military guard for a bowl of rice a day in a jungle in Burma. That’s not meant as a lecture, I just like to keep that in mind for the bad days.

Capitalism

I should start out by saying that I don’t think capitalism is fair or equitable, far from it, and I think the market for cultural products is especially unfair, as it doesn’t reward quantity or even “quality”. Instead it rewards celebrity and a pandering to public tastes.

I also don’t think that capitalism is how it should be, but I think it is just the way that it is, like it or not. Humans are greedy, it has been hard wired into us as a survival mechanism, so we will always seek to hoard wealth. When Lenin abolished money and private trading in Russia millions died in the resulting famines and uprisings. I think that’s a salutary lesson.

But it is a system that can be used to one’s advantage so my main point is that artists have a lot to learn from business people (and vice versa, but that’s a different essay) so they can attract more money to the arts, in a sustainable way, which would in turn be good for everyone.

As an example, I think the most successful modern artists were/are also great business people. Two classic examples from the 20th century are Picasso and Dali who were both shameless marketeers. Shakespeare as well is a good example, all that violence and sex is in the plays for a reason. But I don’t think that detracts from their art, however tacky it was at the time.

The Fringe

So onto the example of the Edinburgh fringe festival. I think you are right, those 90% of artists are subsidising the festival, a lot more than Smirnoff is. But my classical capitalist paradigm has a very easy answer to that, which is that those 90% of artists need the fringe more than the fringe needs the artists. If those artists pulled out then it would be pretty easy to find a whole other bunch of artists willing to come. It’s a case of too many artists and too little festival.

Now that I have thought a bit harder about it, I see your point that this is like labour in the bad old days, too much labour too few factories. So labour organised into unions, held strikes and blockades and won a lot of rights for workers (after some centrists mediated the disputes). In the process they sent some factories broke and they entrenched unemployment in modern economies.

So could you do the same with artists? (is that the sort of thing that you want to do?)

Its an interesting thought, but I don’t think you could given the nature of the business, as there’s always some belly dancer from Brazil who doesn’t care about your artists union. And worse may be that if you were successful there’s a fair chance that you’d send the Fringe Festival either out of business completely or spinning into the mainstream so that it could turn a big enough profit to pay everyone.

I think that it is more useful to look at it differently. Think of all the artists as a business, and the fringe festival is like a trade fair that invites businesses to come to the one place to show what they have to offer. In a business this would be called ‘advertising’ or ‘goodwill’ or ‘training’, like Stef said. But after the trade fair is over its up to the business to go away and build on that profile and get a return on their investment.

I’m beginning to scare myself with the business talk so I’ll stop.

In Summary

I guess I’m being the cold hard voice of conservatism. I just think that lots of people that I have met who are in the arts, or would like to be, spend a lot of time and energy talking down the system and how hard it is and the nepotism and the unfairness of it all, or thinking up theoretical grand solutions that will never work, when I think there is a lot that can be achieved within the system if one takes the time to understand it and work it.

And that still leaves plenty of scope to push an agenda and challenge people’s assumptions. Mind you I haven’t done much with that knowledge myself, so I can’t really talk.

Here is a link to Adam Smith’s On the Wealth of Nations if you want to see the great-granddaddy of the classical capitalist paradigm, I found it interesting and deceptively simple and a bit of a history lesson to boot.

http://www.online-literature.com/adam_smith/wealth_nations/

Darren O'Donnell said...

YOU: If being an artist was paid well then everybody would be doing it, and on the other hand if being a corporate accountant was interesting and stimulating work then everybody would be doing that. Everybody can’t be doing either, so they’re both compromises. That’s just the way it is.

ME: This may be the way it is but it certainly isn’t the way it has to be. And since this discussion is all about making the world a better place, I feel it’s productive to talk beyond what is and talk about what could be. Again, Michael Albert in Paracon, talks about possible economies where one's labour is divided between different types. I’m not going to explain or defend what he says here – it’s a complicated and detailed book – but I will say that there are possible alternatives. you could probably find reviews online that would give you an idea of what he's talking about.

YOU: Are they both being exploited? Well that’s one way of looking at it, but then on the other hand aren’t they both exploiting the system to get the most of the thing that they value?

ME: No, I don’t think I’m exploiting the system to get what I want cause I’m not getting what i want (how do you exploit a system, anyway? a system is a set of relations not the actors themselves). Add to this the fact that I live in a deteriorating world on the environmental front, with 4.7 billion people living in abject poverty. I value a better world – and I can’t seem to get this going. That I get to prance around on stage is nice but, frankly, it’s simply not enough.

YOU: And lets remember that neither of them is mining gems under military guard for a bowl of rice a day in a jungle in Burma. That’s not meant as a lecture, I just like to keep that in mind for the bad days.

ME: That’s a false dichotomy. I don’t have to accept either. That it would suck hard to mine gems in burma does nothing to ameliorate the fact that my situation is objectionable.

YOU: Humans are greedy, it has been hard wired into us as a survival mechanism, so we will always seek to hoard wealth.

ME: I’ve never been convinced of this. I think sharing is more rational and, for that matter, likely to be something “hard wired” into us. I benefit more from the health of the whole tribe than I do if I’m the only healthy one in the tribe. I just don’t buy the greed thing. I know lots of people who are not greedy. Lots and lots and lots. people who would be more than happy to have a modest place to live, enough money to eat and for emergencies. in fact, that's most of the people i know.

YOU: But it is a system that can be used to one’s advantage so my main point is that artists have a lot to learn from business people (and vice versa, but that’s a different essay) so they can attract more money to the arts, in a sustainable way, which would in turn be good for everyone. As an example, I think the most successful modern artists were/are also great business people. Two classic examples from the 20th century are Picasso and Dali who were both shameless marketeers. Shakespeare as well is a good example, all that violence and sex is in the plays for a reason. But I don’t think that detracts from their art, however tacky it was at the time.

ME: yeah, I have no problem mixing bizniz and art.


YOU: If those artists pulled out then it would be pretty easy to find a whole other bunch of artists willing to come. It’s a case of too many artists and too little festival.

ME: And they’re all being exploited.

YOU: So could you do the same with artists? (is that the sort of thing that you want to do?) Its an interesting thought, but I don’t think you could given the nature of the business, as there’s always some belly dancer from Brazil who doesn’t care about your artists union.

ME: yeah, as was brought up during one of the talkbacks at the show. The idea of organizing artist is far-fetched. I’m just looking for a clearer understanding of the degree to which we’re contributing value to the economy/society and that we should stop feeling gratitude for every opportunity we get to pay-to-play.

YOU: Think of all the artists as a business, and the fringe festival is like a trade fair that invites businesses to come to the one place to show what they have to offer.

ME: yeah, that’s the conclusion we were forced to come to. It’s what it was – a trade fair. But still, it was disturbing to see all the profit being made by so many others while we lost money.

I’ll check that adam smith link. I’ve read a lot of people dissing him – especially his “invisible hand” fantasy but I’ve never read him myself.

steflenk said...

we interrupt this pithy and brilliant discussion to test the commenting option on my blog. testing...blip blip blip...

steflenk said...

alright. i'm back. where are we.

(chuckle) it's so strange to think of mister dwyer (sean) as a member of the tie-wearing race, and to agree at the same time with so much of what he says in his "essay".

first things first:

to Darren: i think it's a bit too simplistic to imagine the entire Edinburgh audience is there strictly for the theatre. some are there 'coz friends are involved, some are there 'coz they already live there and read it in the paper, some are there 'coz it makes a nice change to share a pint of guiness with exotic art-types rather than the same old alcoholic ratbags that warm the barstools the rest of the year.

i have a question to back this up...how many art shows, plays, movies, etc, have you attended out of a sense of obligation to friends, out of a need for escapism, out of a need to get laid? let's face it, our motivations as human beings are not always blameless, and rarely are they pure. i don't exclude myself from this.

Sean's concept of seeing the fringe as a trade show is an accurate one, i think.

I DO find truth to be VERY productive. but "both work options suck" is not as simple a truth as that. I have NO interest in having people pretend ANYTHING, but I also have no interest in sitting around thinking it's all hopeless.
If nothing is sacred, nothing is interesting, and to recognize the sacred one must often see it relative to the profane.

To Sean: I agree with this idea that the centrists put things into progress through acting incrementally. In fact I find that thought very comforting. There is Always merit to seeing (or trying to see) both sides. Not Fencesitting; that is not meritorious at all, but attempting perspective.

To quote Sean (i have nothing to add to this, but it bears repeating) "If being an artist was paid well then everybody would be doing it, and on the other hand if being a corporate accountant was interesting and stimulating work then everybody would be doing that. Everybody can’t be doing either(sic), so they’re both compromises. That’s just the way it is."

I think Dali and Picasso etc. are Ideal figures to turn to in negotiating the necessary compromise between the greasy world of marketing and the world of art. They are success stories and reality checks.

Also to Darren, re: sharing being rational and "hard wired" into us: This is a strange opinion to have when coupled with your intense antagonism towards rich people.
Perhaps some rich people possess this hard-wired benevolence of which you speak?

Review the Reviewer said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
fimblim fan said...

After reading this lot all I can say is I should have jumped at the chance to kiss you at today's show, Darren.

keep kicking the pricks.

x

Darren O'Donnell said...

YOU: i think it's a bit too simplistic to imagine the entire Edinburgh audience is there strictly for the theatre.

ME: the edinburgh festival is a huge huge huge economic boon to the ediburgh economy. millions of dollars are made by so many people except most of the artists who provide content. that's it. people may go to a show to get laid but it still remains that the edinburgh festival is where those shows are happening. i don't want to make that point again. if you don't think it's accurate then please lets move on. i have nothing more to say about it. call up the edinburgh chamber of commerce if you still have doubts about the festivals effects on the city.


YOU (and sean) There is Always merit to seeing (or trying to see) both sides.

ME: maybe if i thought the political options represented by "left" and "right" were actually taking into account the whole spectrum of political options. there are so many options that are not even available to the imagination. to talk about both sides is to think like a computer - there are a multitude of options - most of which are shut down and shut out with force.

YOU (quoting sean): Everybody can’t be doing either(sic), so they’re both compromises. That’s just the way it is."

ME: please reread my response to this. this is NOT the way it has to be. if you would use your imagination for just a second you would be able to picture job complexes that mixed both creative and not-so creative work. such a thing is possible. read parecon by michael albert.

YOU: re: sharing being rational and "hard wired" into us: This is a strange opinion to have when coupled with your intense antagonism towards rich people.
Perhaps some rich people possess this hard-wired benevolence of which you speak?

ME: that's exactly my freaking point!!! rich people are acting immorally. it is WRONG to have grotesque wealth. it's not a biological imperative. it's just BAD MANNERS. I feel antagonism toward them because they CHOOSE to be greedy not because the lordy lord made them that way.

okay, that's it. i'm feel like this discussion is starting to b(l)og down and i'm having to repeat myself. i've said everything i want to say about the topic. i'm out.

if you're absolutely dying to discuss any of this further we can do it one-on-one over coffee. i'm at darren@mammalian.ca

thanks for the debate. later.

steflenk said...

you're right. it's repetitive on both sides.
(sigh.) lends credence to the fact that differences of opinion, even those on the same side of the fence, are still differences of opinion.

how best to reach somewhere in between? not a clue.

well, all strength at your end of the battle, darren, and the same to mine, barker's, sean's, etc etc. as well.

(tip of the hat.)