Sunday, August 21, 2011
By Nicholas Allanach
“Wild, dark times are rumbling toward us...” - Heinrich Heine
At a bar in the East Village, we were sipping and sulking over the woes of yet another wicked work week. Of course, it wasn’t all that bad. Was it? Thankfully, it never is, nor was. So, not all of our conversation was kvetching and complaints. I was actually enthusiastic about the upcoming academic year and opportunities for more art and creative communication. My friend was also inspired, but by the possibilities of creatively organizing politically. Perhaps we were widely optimistic? (I can assure you we're not. In fact, we’re too of the most pessimistic and cynical bastards you'll meet. No, it would be an injustice for loathsome materialists like us to be held up to such ideal modicums.) But, I guess, we do still believe, and on some level we hold onto a fantastic hope that something NEW can and will happen NOW.
But it doesn’t... So, we’re still stuck in the same ol’ cycle. “Eat, shit, kill - do it again!”
Despite the good company, positive conversation, and cool brews on this humid night, we couldn’t ignore the lurking realities looming-up all around us. As usual, I only had $20 in my pocket and my friend was putting our drinks on his credit card. Of course, considering these drawbacks alongside the greater economic woes: what was an inconvenience for me, was a meal or even shelter for others. I have no right to bitch.
Sure, earlier this week, we had a rather grim meeting about “declining enrollment numbers.” (The elephant in the room was, of course, when might we be having a conversation about "how this can be resolved?") But, I will not let any of this get me down. Even if the “worst” happens, another world is possible. ...or maybe not?
Maybe I’m tired of the optimistic bullshit? I suppose, it's difficult to remain positive with all of this old baggage and clutter still hanging around. And by “old” I mean, the same old way of imagining how to live in this world. I admit, “change will not come over night.” But that shouldn’t mean we should settle for less than what we initially wanted. Why have we allowed our political discourse to spin plates? We're so used to kicking the problems down the road for the next generation. We're so accustomed to “making a better tomorrow, tomorrow...” (that we missed the joke!) But why? Let us make tomorrow NOW!
Today, the economic and representational system is not viable. It must change. There needs to be a massive re-tooling and redesigning of our social economic system; especially, before any possible digital shifts.
Whether we’ll admit it or not, we have all played a pivotal role in making this weird and wicked world into the mess it is. (One of the few collective narratives that is shared worldwide, and cross culturally, is "we’re fucked.") Admittedly, some have pillaged and produced much much MUCH more than the impoverished "others." Frequently, those who have pillaged the most, have a remarkably optimistic view of the future. There is not an equal distribution of autonomy and power. And there never has been. It's always about who gets to decide how this world is to be plundered and prodded more.
Make no mistake, the corporations control this world. And I hate to admit it, but I too am “a little Eichmann.” My hands are stained with the same blood of Empire. Perhaps I’ve not played a direct role in this project, but I am a part of it and will be until I ultimately decide to step outside of this system. I suppose, I’ve tried - but this is not enough... “There is no try, only do.”
* * * *
While getting lost in the daydreams of my own privileged guilt, a young, super skinny girl, with a strong southern accent approaches us at the end of the bar. “Ya‘ all having a good night? Ya’ all smoke?...”
She was going from bar-to-bar with a hand-held computer distributing cigarette coupons to drunks like us. She said she “had been doing this for three years.” Like many, she had originally come to New York “to be a dancer.” Although she “still danced,” it appeared as though the cigarette promoting gig was paying the rent. Feeling sympathetic, my friend and I let her take a picture of our driver’s licenses with her hand-held computer. She then entered two faux e-mail addresses into the hand-held computer so as “to meet [her] quota.”
Before she left, she thanked us for being “so cooperative and understanding. Most people are real assholes!” After she left, I couldn’t help but think that this one girl pushing cigarette promotions in the East village was in some ways synonymous to our larger economic hypocrisies. Admittedly, a stretch, but one’s mind tends to reach out to such far flung possibilities when drunk at a bar. (Of course, my paranoia also kept reeling-back to the sheer methodical nature of our exchange with the cigarette promoter; after all, would my associate, or I, so willingly have given up our information to two cops if they had asked us for the same thing? I’m confident we’d have been a lot more guarded.)
Needless to say, after she left, I began seeing examples of these larger economic hypocrisies all around us: the bootleggers pushing DVDs, the pot dealers, the bartenders, the cigarette promoters, the beggars on the train, the yuppie to my left, and clown to the right, etc. It was all “part of the game.” Ultimately, we're all far more interested in maintaining our addictions than challenging any aspects of the larger industry. There’s big money in this, "Buy the ticket, take the ride!"
Admittedly, addiction is a big word and it's one that will never be adequately defined in this blogosphere. Regardless, there is little doubt that so much of our lives; especially, under capitalism are addictive acts - and nothing less. Why can’t we imagine (and then build...) a new world? (I’m not saying get rid of tobacco, bootleg movies, bars, whatever; I’m not even suggesting it will be easy to “start over,” in fact it’s an impossibility. When I say “new,” I mean a new understanding and new respect for the significance of being human.)
I hope, we do learn from our past to make a better future. But the jury is still out...
As the election year gears-up we should remember those like the scrawny cigarette girl working in dead end jobs. She is like thousands of others (many even worse off than her.) Many will no longer be rewarded Pell Grants for graduate school, federal aid is drying up. There are no signs of job growth for those students currently in school and, most importantly, there are no new jobs for after graduation. She is not alone in being desperate to find work. Why should (cigarette/advertising/etc.) companies continue getting away with the big breaks? Why shouldn’t girls like this girl have more money for student aid? Shouldn’t young minds be more appropriately used intellectually and creatively than advantageously by the corporations of the world?
I guess, there are "no fair fights."