14 February, 2017

Letter from Trumplandia 3: art as memory/ memory as subversion

 Life is subversive. - Ernesto Cardenal

When you are forced by circumstance to focus on survival, it can be difficult to remember that it's as important to nourish your soul as it is to feed your stomach.  Arts-based organizations are poised for a fight that they may very well lose simply because the numbers are against them. Grant money is already being squeezed and if the past budgetary actions of the Republican Party are any indication, the arts will have to find other revenue streams in order to survive.

The squeeze has already been felt here in Kentucky, where our tin pot little fascista Governor Matt Bevin cut money to the Kentucky Arts Council (and everything else) in his first budget. Granted, he did not, as was widely feared, eliminate funding for the KAC entirely... for which they puckered up and kissed his New England ass. There will most likely be another budget cut next year, too. Bevin, like every fascista before him, refers to the arts and things like it* as "nonessential services."

And most likely, when he does, the folks still remaining at the KAC will again express gratitude for Herr Governor's

As Trump's overblown inauguration began to loom as an inevitable reality, The Hill reported that undisclosed sources within his transition team said some of his budget cuts included privatizing NPR and eliminating funding for the National Endowment for the Arts .Naturally, that would be catastrophic for many arts organizations, including educational arts organizations.

Though really, part of me suspects that the announcement was leaked, not so much as a statement of
intention but as a misdirection. 45 has time and time again proven to be a master at misdirection. His entire professional life up to and including his 2016 POTUS election win has been nothing more than an extended game of 3 Card Monte.

The biggest danger to the arts, though, really isn't coming from Trump (yet) or Bevin (yet.) The biggest danger to the arts comes from inside an arts community that has gotten so comfortable that it has forgotten how to innovate.

Without the arts, there is no such thing as civilization. I've said before that society rests not on laws, but on the arts and simple etiquette. In these, the rising days of the new wave, this is especially true. Art is more than entertainment. The arts are our collective memory. And it's been nice to have a government that acknowledges -- albeit grudgingly and not without malice** -- the arts.

It's been nice. But we need to start deciding what to do if it ends.

Over the weekend I listened to David Marcus -- Sr. Contributor to The Federalist and Artistic Director of Blue Box World in Brooklyn -- on NPR's Saturday morning journal show talk about why the death of the NEA would be good for art in America.

His essential argument is that the arts existed before government and don't really need the government, and that the arts need to be competitive in a free market. I'll deconstruct the problem of commodifying art and how free markets are a myth in another post.***

Part of what feeds his argument and gives it validity is the strain of elitism in the arts and how arts organizations go about doing what they do. There was a time when you preserved the arts by opening a gallery, or a theater, or creating a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving a particular art form. These organizations operate on membership dues, donations, patronage, partnerships, and grant money. In the absence of grant money, non-profits have a really difficult time sustaining themselves -- or, if they don't have trouble sustaining, no one knows they exist, their membership stagnates, and eventually the organization disappears because most of the membership dies.

In order to survive, artists and arts organizations have to reinvent themselves, not to try and break into or maintain a market, but to remain the living memory of a civilization at risk. There's more at stake than ticket sales. Democracy is at stake. In addition to the obligation to speak out against the tyrannical new wave, artists are obliged to be the memory of what is happening. We record. We remember. We are the storytellers, the bards, the players. The job is ours, because if we leave it to the historians, the narrative will be an extension of the same manifest destiny bullshit they still teach kids.

In order to survive, artists have to understand that even they haven't declared war, even if they don't like the language of war, even if they believe it has nothing to do with them, that war has been declared on them. In order to survive arts organizations have stop thinking like bureaucratic machines and start being strategizing like a guerrilla army.

In other words, start thinking like a tagger and not the cops who arrest taggers.

If you like what you're reading here, I have work for sale on my amazon author page:

* literature, foreign languages, health care, social services, public education, roads, bridges, and clean rivers.
**GOP deity Ronald Reagan wanted to start phasing out the NEA in 1981, but he was advised by no less than gun and 'MURICA lover Charlton Heston that it would be a really bad idea
*** To prepare, if you haven't already, bone up on Karl Marx. 

09 February, 2017

Letters from Trumplandia, 2: march on, cult/ure war!

...there can be no advancement of learning. Truth has been already spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message. - Umberto Eco, "Ur-Fascism"

Nevertheless, she persisted. - Mitch McConnell


I really don't blame people who insist that the media is to blame for how fractured the American landscape looks these days. There is a long and labored tradition of blaming the messenger for the message. There was a time when writers used pen names to protect themselves from retribution from the powerful for something they wrote. There's a reason for the existence of the phrase "Don't shoot the messenger."

The reason is this: most people like to shoot the messenger because they can't lay their hands who they are really upset at.

When people claim that the media is manipulating public opinion and manipulating "facts", what they don't want to face and what they don't want to accept is that it's not the media manipulating anything. Journalists are sharks. They go where the blood is. Corporations aren't and can't be ideological -- either liberal or conservative -- and continue to be corporations. Their first (and really only) prerogative is to make a profit. Ideology creates dogma. Dogma -- even a capitalist one -- eventually gets in the way of making a profit because you end up sacrificing profit for an idea. When you commit--  or refuse to commit to -- a story as a journalist you are making an ideological choice.

A good friend of mine recently defended her position that the media is manipulating cultural chaos by claiming that every story is opinion-based. To a point, I agree. All stories are told from the journalist's point of view; so, yes, in a sense, the news you watch, read, or scroll by is opinion. A good journalist understands his or her fallibility, though, and also understands that the purpose of media is not simply just to inform the public. With the fast flow of information in a digital age, simply communicating facts isn't enough. A journalist is a kind of storyteller, providing context that gives facts meaning.

But before you start complaining about the current state of media as if once upon a time our national media was objective and non-narrative, please do some research into the newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst.

If you appreciate a good movie, then please find Orson Welles' Citizen Kane -- a send up about a
Hearst-like character that so bothered the prototype that Hearst used his considerable influence to keep it from being played in movie theaters.

Scrubbed, sanitized history books and that sleepy mass communication course you may have taken in college will tell you we escaped the age of so-called "yellow journalism."

But anyone with a lick of common sense and an understanding of 21st century corporate media gets it.

If it bleeds, it leads. If it bleeds enough, news bleeds cash

It's not ideological. It's just business. And journalists, like teachers, garbage men, and ditch diggers, are exploited, abused, and spit out, too.

When 45 first announced his plan to run for President, I warned my colleagues and co-workers to take him seriously. He made his fortune -- real or on paper -- selling, first real estate and then himself. Someone with a more paranoid turn of mind might even look at the trajectory of his life and say that he had been preparing for it all along.

But I'll leave that bit of terror here and move on.

I'd read the reports of events at  rallies and seen that seething and misplaced anger being focused on reporters, on social justice activists, and on anyone who doesn't fit the mold the mid-20th century white male.

When I went the rally here in Louisville and witnessed the brazen threatening of journalists and their families, when I watched 45's supporters -- cheered on by a known white nationalist -- manhandle and abuse protesters, I knew I was watching more than politics run amok or some unwanted bastard mutation of the GOP.

I knew then I was seeing the beginning of the next wave.

The Nazis who did this added a racial slur that got the second picture banned from FB.
The wave of crimes against people of color and other minorities tied to post-election mania on the part of the Alt-Reich and its supporters was, for me, another indication of the next wave. That these crimes go more or less unanswered by the authorities is nothing short of criminal.

Convincing reasonable Americans that the media can't be trusted and that only the regime's sanctioned and vetted voiced can be trusted is a strategy straight out of the fascist playbook. The new wave's embrace of traditionalism at the expense of everything is another such strategy, which is best exemplified by his campaign slogan:

For my very well intended liberal friends who are hoping for a swing in the mid-term election or looking for hope in the 2020 presidential campaign, please keep in mind that not only has the new wave emboldened bigots and budding fascists, but has also gotten a foothold in the future of our educational system with the confirmation of anti-public education advocate Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary. 

In other words, the very institutions we have counted on to perpetuate and grow democracy in the minds of future generations are at risk... perhaps at the greatest risk since the concept of public education for all took hold.*

Moreover, even the pretense of rational conversation has been sucked out of the governing process, with Kentucky's own Mitch McConnell (R-KY) silencing Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) during Jeff Sessions'  confirmation hearing to be Attorney General when she tried to read aloud a letter written by Coretta Scott King criticizing Sessions' civil rights record.

This is the new wave. And since the GOP hasn't been able to silence or chastise the bastard Nazis the have given life and breath to, they are simply embracing it... because, down deep, the modern GOP has the same hate-filled, power hungry heart that the Alt-Reich does. As we decide how to move forward, please take heed and remember the lessons of our elders:

Concentrated power can be always wielded in the interest of the few and at the expense of the many. -- Lucy Parsons

Yours in the struggle, 

Bro. Mick
If you like what you're reading here, I have work for sale on my amazon author page:

*You can trace the spread of democracy, the increasing size and economic power of the middle class, and the rise of labor unions to the spread of literacy via accessible public education. Limit people's education and you limit their horizons.  

03 February, 2017

Day 13 into the Burning of Rome (poem)

We are digging around for answers.
smoke and ash make it difficult to read the etchings.

Somewhere over the ridge
a child is drinking dirty water.

Pale hate marketeers are pedaling contaminated snake oil
to combat the accompanying stomach illness.

Only the preachers and paleontologists know
the answer is in the dirt.

The Sisters of Perpetual Consummation are in the temple taking on new parishioners
for less than the usual market value of pearl-esque flesh.

Corporate Grand Wizards whisper their secrets into the ears
of corrupt mistresses who, for a few strips of half-rotted meat
and a few sips of stale beer
will sell your soul to the highest bidder
and auction off your testicles
for mothballs and a mouthful of pre-apocalypse scotch.

Teflon-suited oligarchs march forward
carrying on their war against the unsightly poor:
they declare new operations against Appalachia

while self-appointed store-front charlatans
(posing as holy men) proclaim their gospel
for a perpetual tithe of ten percent
and the choice of congregants' virgin daughters to bed.

The preachers and paleontologists make some progress.
They've called in a small group of esoteric linguists
and neo-formalist poets to aid in some of the translations.

But the work is slow and filled with delays.
The road between the dig and the camp is littered with shrapnel
and the giant rusted bones of all our fallen deities.
And every few miles there is a new toll to pay.

There is talk of moving the camp
but all the translators have gone on a hunger strike
and no one can establish a quorum.

And no one has the audacity to simply stay.
(They exchanged their backbones for exit visas.)

The truth is in the dirt.
Every morning is spent removing the mud
from the previous night's damage
and tracking the inevitable erosion.

If you like what you're reading here, I have work for sale on my amazon author page: