Posts Tagged ‘Spectacle’

Rosencrantz And Guildenstern

January 1, 2012

            They were a husband and wife tag team of studio art faculty. She did cats. If any of your work per chance showed feline, her name would immediately surface. That was her expertise.

            There was a recent art opening of very current work by a local artist. Without being overtly formatted as such, the work chronicled, “journaled” (ours is the culture of predication) the symbiotic creativity of the parent-child relationship, the Pop Culture bedrock of family. Be it baby Louie, Lourdes, or Chaz, that relationship is totally comprehendible within the public imaginary, almost iconic by definition (mother and child). It is currently red hot and circulation is practically guaranteed. You can stake your career on it. And the artist did.

            This week found me reading something I would never have stalked at my favorite book supplier, the library. It was a gifted book, a rather long one (comparable to War and Peace by the looks of it). “The New York Times bestseller COLLAPSE: how societies choose to fail or succeed JARED DIAMOND author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel With A New Afterword” floats in a cloudy sky over a Mayan ruin landscape on the book’s cover- all in black, white, and tones of grey with a few spare horizontal lines of orange. How much of that IS the book cover by design and how much is marketing is totally academic (it is all one and the same, including the academic!). I haven’t completed the book. But this is not about the book. The author includes his anecdotal and personal experience as part of his professional expertise. Sounds only natural for a naturalist who studies nature to rely on his observation. Nothing exceptional about that, is there? But when one starts to do the math, a different image emerges; one of exception that accounts for the book’s cover. Jared Diamond is no Upton Sinclair. It “appears” that the two have a certain affinity. Both seem to be stating that something is rotten in Denmark. Like current news media, Diamond tries to present “both sides”. This is no simple matter he has researched and writes of. His research has taken him all over the globe, as well as to his second home in Montana which is the subject of the first chapter. Folks there have issues (problems) of historic precedence as well as contemporary urgency. Things are unpleasant. According to Jared the citizens of Montana could choose to address these issues through the passage of laws and vigilant enforcement. Diamond himself lives and works in, and is a citizen of Los Angeles, not Montana. Returning to the math, almost a half century has found him at his profession of research, teaching and writing, with accolades aplenty. His second residence in the Bitterroot Valley was the result of an initial professional invitation on the part of a foundation to spend time there. To put it in distinguishing language, how many students lives has he touched? How many have followed in his footsteps to become research and teaching professionals? Now multiply this by how many have done likewise, within the same or affiliated professions without having encountered him. Add to this the professionals who stake their careers on their expertise with regard cats or “family”, and the ranks swell incredibly; a very large contingency of people, “business person[s] without a business” (Our Literal Speed, unless you consider branding a business), who can afford a second home in a desirable location, yet not predicate themselves as part of the problem (or the solution). The tone of Jared Diamond’s discourse does not implicate him as part of the problem or the solution. After all, researching, analyzing, and disclosure of research analysis IS his profession. Laws and their enforcement are what other people, residents (the people he has studied), do to address these matters. His research and writing requires distancing and detachment to maintain professional standards and credibility. And there’s the rub. To paraphrase Eldridge Cleaver, within a democracy there are no spectators.

            Judging a book by its cover, I sense that the primary difference between Sinclair and Diamond is that Diamond’s work is produced and consumed as part of a society of spectacle. It has vast appeal (and is marketed) to intelligent, knowledgeable professionals (like himself) who will “Tsk Tsk” while engaging in quality entertainment worthy of their education and station. Where Sinclair utilized the text to activate change, Diamond simply wants to do his job, report on his correlations, sell books, and retire to his home in Montana.

            Zmijewski is on to something when he urges that “professional” artists implement their professional abilities, utilize their art expertise for social change (Applied Social Arts). Yes, there is the risk of shame, of historically falling on one’s face because of the decision to get involved with a specific social action. But this ostensibly “required” deference and detachment, primarily on the basis of what is expedient for one’s career and profession, reinforces and contributes to the status quo. Clinging to an assumption that being “about” something sets one apart from being the actual something does not contribute to the solution of the problem that “something” may actually be.

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The Don As Art

April 8, 2011

            Part of the noose that is knot this week is the Meredith Vieira/Don Trump extravaganza that took place on The Today  Show, April 7th 2011. Poor Meredith was dumped on for being preoccupied with packing her golden parachute while the Trump grandstanded over a non issue. Hearing that an epitome of the American entrepreneurial spirit, vested casino owner, pillar of skyscraperdom, and presidential wannabe has doubts was like hearing a Catholic priest wannabe question her faith. Although not mentioned, Meredith’s interview hearkened memories of Katie Couric bamboozling Sarah Palin. By those standards, Vieira certainly came off as unprepared and unarmed. But she was none of the above.

            Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern. is an essay by Bruno Latour that appeared in Critical Inquiry 30, no 2 winter of 2005. Reading this in the light of the Vieira/Trump interview makes finding fault with Meredith totally off the mark. As Latour points out, the Don simply employed methodologies and strategies of critique that have been championed for their incisiveness and originality. These methods and strategies were a stable of the pedagogy molding and forming cultural workers for the 21st century, eventually becoming part and parcel of our culture. That we don’t like the message, or the bearer of the message is one thing, but we certainly are enamored with the process by which the message is being delivered. Besides, the message is irrelevant. The Don got media attention, created buzz, acquired political capital, and promoted his “Already A Successful Celebrity” Apprentice show. Recently, after a Charlie Sheen performance, in a “how was the show?” man-on-the-street interview by a Columbus Ohio TV station, the attendee gushed with praise for what a genius of marketing and how brilliant a promoter Mr. Sheen was.

            How many times have you been to a visual art showing where the artist “interrogated” some commonly held cultural notions or practices, “questioned” given interpretations of reality? (The interrogation’s response- “That is for the viewer to imagine.”) How many times have you left such an art show thinking “Anyone can ask the questions. It’s a little more difficult, and requires some commitment, to provide an answer.” How many times have you seen associations made, juxtapositions of total fabrication, inappropriateness and inaccuracy portrayed as Art, justified by their being meant to jar the viewer and startle them into considering alternate realities? How many issue related works of Art have you pondered that righteously “made the point” that something was questionable or wrong with regard the environment, “human rights”, global economics, genocide, etc. but left you totally irritated and frustrated because the artist exerted absolutely no imagination or creativity in seeing through their banal article of faith declaration and dared not present how it could/should/ must be (all the trappings of critique without being critical)?

            C’mon folks, we love this stuff. As Latour pointed out, we’ve embraced this critique so intimately that we’ve lost the ability (or commitment) to imagine otherwise, to articulate a definitive and determinate meaning.

Trending Right Now

February 24, 2011

            Well, as of this week the interest rate on my credit card has gone up 25% and will vary depending on the cost of treasury notes. Did I forget to pay my bill? No. Did I screw up in some way on the ever changing conditions of my card spelled out in fine print on the back of each monthly statement (requiring one of those “as seen on TV” illuminated magnifying glasses to read)? No. The card company simply says they aren’t making enough money off my account. Thus the rate needs to increase to make it worth their while to keep me as a customer. They are being honest and forthright about their need to make more money. This is quite baffling since money is worthless (the Fed is lending it for practically nothing). It’s not like it was wheat or oil and potentially unavailable., And it isn’t as though they are saying that since the price of what is being sold (the money) is so low that we (the sellers) are taking action to get you to buy more. Not that at all. It is more like “we have the market on the product cornered, and now you have no other alternative but to pay us what we decide” (in a sense, through their agency making it potentially unavailable, like wheat or oil).

            Mother Jones came out this week with economic statistics that have been repeatedly available (and touted) since the late 90’s (before the burst of the dot.com bubble). Yes folks, 20% of the citizens of the US of A own 80% of the wealth (leaving the other 80% to scrabble over the remaining 20% of wealth, something they just happen not to mention). And yes, 40% of the people of this same country have no net worth, own nothing (Hey, what do you mean nothing? I just bought the latest iPhone). Even this small blog has repeated various published accounts of these figures since 09. But now they appear in color, with neat little graphics, and have come out in Mother Jones. That should make them really hit home this time.

            Gene Sharp was on NPR being interviewed by Steve Inskeep the other morning. He has written some books that are said to have influenced recent activity in Egypt, Tunisia, etc. I’m dubious about that claim so I thought I’d check my source for slow and poor readers (obvious, at least to my credit provider). Not a copy of From Dictatorship To Democracy to be borrowed within the OhioLink library network. Of 2 copies listed, only 1 is extant. One copy is listed as “Missing” (in action? Is the OWU Library now flying the black POW/MIA flag?). The other copy is out and can’t be requested. Coincidence or conspiracy? (Why is the good stuff always so impossible to get, like it was always for someone else? Separate reality theorists?) Don’t use your democracy and your rights creditors will raise the rates. Where was it written that rights are not given but that they are had (inalienably at that)? Who said liberty is not granted, it is taken?

            All this makes me curious about the math (sort of like Zeno’s racetrack). At which ratio level will the separate reality DeBord theorized crumble and implode? Gadhafi is supposedly worth 38 billion (That makes outsourcing security to guard the gates a prudent business expense). “Is J. Lo too soft for ‘Idol’ eliminations?” When the ratio in the US hits 15% of the population owning 85% of the wealth, will the other 85% sit up and take notice that they are fighting over 15% of the wealth? Or will it need to get to 10%? 5%? (sold American!) Maybe Gadhafi and J. Lo are on to something, only just mismanaging the biopolitics?

            My credit card rate went up because the credit card company said they needed to make more than what they have been making to date. That’s their prerogative. In Wisconsin, as well as other states, folks are being told they will have to give up their rights to negotiate contracts. Rights they “had” previously are to be no more, ostensibly because the state is not making enough money.  It has often been said that a recession is when money goes on strike. The “Economics for Dummies” read is that the paper doesn’t buy enough (the aggregate costs more, no one is buying. They are holding back their money). The exchange centers on something else (gold, oil, wheat, etc.). The exchange is not enough. Money is on strike. But a different read is that capitalism is based on the premise that money (capital) must make money; should “earn” it (I love that word “earn”). Those with the money (remember the 20%?) aren’t “earning” enough, and so insist on making more. Hence, money is on strike (Professor Kanth says it is now homogenous globally). Jeez, I love that word “earn”.

Potpourri Tureen

October 22, 2010

            Juan Williams gets canned by NPR for talking out the side of his head on Fox. Immediately, there becomes the NPR “listeners community” versus the Fox “listeners community”. Not to insult anyone’s intelligence but we all become aware of the oppositional “us/them” competitive dichotomy symptomatic of capitalism. Then again, what else could we expect given that it is the only game in town, the soup that we all swim in? Which brings to mind Debord’s spectacle and its reference by Ranciere, “the spectacle is not the display of images concealing reality. It is the existence of social activity and social wealth as a separate reality” (pg. 44 The Emancipated Spectator). This idea of separation, of “us/them” so important to this current tempest in a media teapot (not to be confused with the “we-really-aren’t-like-that”/ “I am you” tempest in the tea bagger’s teapot) carries over into the operational definition of community in today’s spectacle saturated soup. I mean, “community” is used as much, if not more, as a public justification as “wants to spend more time with his family” is. Identity of community is reliant on the establishment of an Other (an NPR to a Fox). In his in depth consideration of Allora and Calzadilla’s work in October 133, Yates McKee makes explicit that much of their early work was effective precisely because of the pre existing “us/them” dichotomy that established community through an emphasis on the Other. He points out that Allora and Calzadilla themselves became aware of this when they decided to return to Vieques AFTER the Navy had vacated the island. This then became a time when the Other would no longer be there as the working identity of community. McKee’s article itself establishes (and relies on) a community through conscientiously meticulous cross referencing and precise language in order to insure that any “other” interpretation would not be within his preferred consensus. This need for “community” appears to be “natural” until one is jolted by the intense wetness of the soup of spectacle, the only game in town that we all must swim in (whether we ascribe to community or not). This “natural” communal “instinct” then only becomes another manifestation of the methodology of separation, the day to day functional operation of the capitalist soup. Ranciere’s “quality of human beings without qualities” (pg. 49 The Emancipated Spectator) takes on a completely different spin when being “without qualities” means having no need for community (the identity which ascribes/inscribes quality, i.e. recognition). Having the quality of not recognizing an Other, hence not recognizing a community, would certainly open up and enable many capacities that are unimagined within the necessarily oppositional mode of capitalistic functioning.