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Hunting The Scapegoat

I am sick and tired of hearing about Russia. Yes, it’s probable that Russia tried to influence US voters in 2016; but it isn’t like the United States has no history in similar misdeeds. Yes, Trump and his cronies probably made tons of deals with various businessmen and politicians in and around the Kremlin. Imagine that: capitalists are corrupt.

What disturbs me is how obsessive the media—outside of Fox News—is about the whole thing. Even The New Yorker, usually not one to embrace the hype, is fully on-board with this horseshit.1

The thing is, Russia provides an out for these institutions. If Russia is somehow to blame for Hillary Clinton’s loss, the narrative will support that as history. Without Russia as a scapegoat, all of these institutions might have to look elsewhere—say, the global capitalism that Clinton’s neoliberal agenda perpetuates and massive media conglomorates both believe in and need—to see why so many felt disenfranchised with the empty promises of the Democratic Party.

      Notes
  • Granted, The New Yorker isn’t as obsessive, and their output is generally more on-point with what really matters. But it kills me to think Fox News is being in any sort responsible by not going all-in on this charade.

11:00 / 15 January 2019
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Hell Freezing Over
(Will Be Televised)

Throughout the 2016 election, whenever it came up in discussion, I would say Don’t sleep on Trump. Once the primaries had been decided, I was the only person I knew who would claim Trump would win. After all, it’s the economy, stupid.

It isn’t that all Trump voters were racist: it’s that they care about racists less than they care about financial difficulty. Match up people that voted for Trump with people who had difficulty after the 2008 crash and you’re going to get a pretty big overlap.1 Yes, sure, some were racist shitheads and some were susceptible to fear, but those people are always going to vote Republican.

The thing about capitalism is that it doesn’t give a shit who you voted for or why. It’ll eat you and yours alive just the same. Neither of the parties want to admit this because the Republicans rely on it as an excuse for war (“freedom“) and the Democrats for globalization (“business“). So it was pretty shocking to see Tucker Carlson—known up until now for getting schooled by Jon Stewart and Crossfire subsequently going off-air—come out swinging against it.2

Anti-capitalism isn’t a left-versus-right position in the modern world. The political landscape is a sphere, not a circle.3 Though it wouldn’t make much sense, I suppose one could be anti-gay-rights and still believe in socialism as an economic standard for the well-being of the country. But economics and governance are not the same thing, even though they do tend to walk hand-in-hand.

It’s good to see Carlson taking this stand, because so much of the narrative on the left is anti-socialist4 that I can’t imagine the last time a mainstream figure on the right would have pushed back in the slightest against capitalism. This is a surreal thing to say, but we live in surreal times: Kudos to Tucker Carlson.

      Notes
  • Another reason to hate the Democratic Party: Bernie would have won. His message just needed a proper PR campaign at a national level to translate to the needs of lower-to-middle-class suburban whites.
  • “You need to go to one,” Stewart saying of Carlson and journalism school, is still one of my favorite owns ever said on television.
  • Much like time. #truedetectiveseason3
  • —fuck the democrats fuck the democrats fuck the democrats fuck the democrats—

09:00 / 11 January 2019
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Tragic Spectacle

I find myself reading and re-reading texts that foresaw the age of the internet but were still published in the pre-digital era—McLuhan, Debord, Baudrillard—and can’t help but wonder what they would write in 2019 were any still alive to see how prophetic their texts truly were;

The alienation of the spectator, which reinforces the contemplated objects that result from his own unconscious activity, works like this: The more he contemplates, the less he lives; the more he identifies with the dominant images of need, the less he understands his own life and his own desires. The spectacle’s estrangement from the acting subject is expressed by the fact that the individual’s gestures are no longer his own; they are the gestures of someone else who represents them to him. The spectator does not feel at home anywhere, because the spectacle is everywhere.

—Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle

Each day offers new opportunity to observe how unable America is to comprehend the shift we are experiencing. Yesterday’s Oval Office address was met with liberal demands for fact-checking, as if proving Donald Trump a liar would somehow this time make a difference.

Obscene is an accurate definition for what Americans seem ready to give up in exchange for ‘normalcy’—seemingly unwilling or unable to realize that what we experience now is the new normal. There is no going back in time, there will be no re-setting of the rules of politics come the next election cycle. Late capitalism and its effects on the body politic is an exercise in existential natural selection: adapt or die.

They tell us, “everyone must do their part,” if we want to save our beautiful model of civilization. We have to consume a little less to be able to keep consuming. We have to produce organically to keep producing. We have to control ourselves to go on controlling. This is the logic of a world straining to maintain itself while giving itself an air of historical rupture. This is how they would like to convince us to participate in the great industrial challenges of this century. And in our bewilderment we’re ready to leap into the arms of the very same ones who presided over the devastation, in the hope that they will get us out of it.

—The Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection

The warnings that these philosophers voiced before the internet era regarding the overwhelming power of the information economy fell on the deaf ears of a generation that largely—and ignorantly—enjoyed its profits; one to which that very economy has since allowed for any individual to completely disassociate reason from society.1 From here on out we will endure the whims of those who control the tightening noose of capital, and until that issue is reconciled there will be no avoiding its representatives.2

      Notes
  • Not to mention the fuckers are profiting wildly from it all.
  • With the flaunted riches of unearned wealth and a strict belief in nothing but the market, Donald Trump is the ultimate capitalist; Hillary Clinton would be something like second place there, too. Delusion is the belief that these people will go away—or even remotely represent the true needs of people at large.

18:00 / 9 January 2019
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Negative Space (Antigram)

Presentation has always been an important cornerstone of anything related to media. Slick production is what separates mainstream music from basement recordings. Photoshop takes already-attractive people and makes them marketable. Any ad agency will have a web site as overindulgent as their content.1

By now, virtually all media, architecture, product and graphic design have been freed from ideas, individual passion, and have been relegated to a role of corporate servitude, carrying out corporate strategies and increasing stock prices. Creative people are now working for the bottom line.

Corporations have become the sole arbiters of cultural ideas and taste in America.

Our culture is corporate culture.

—Tibor Kalman, “Fuck Committees (I Believe In Lunatics), Looking Closer 4: Critical Writings on Graphic Design

First Friday

First Friday

This self-regulated importance of presentation has always been an annoyance to me.2 This has been central to the art shows I’ve been a part of, and certainly the ones I’ve helped build.

One of my favorite things about our First Friday shows is how difficult they are to photograph. The Warehouse is an awkward, shifting space with what little lighting we have focused on the walls; too cramped to get anything but wide-angle shots and too divided to ever show the extent of work & workers in attendance. Like most good things, you have to be there to experience its truth.

First Friday
First Friday

First Friday

In a world increasingly designed for vanity, one would hope that art would provide refuge from such a superficial dystopia. But as fashionable galas for the entertainment elite flourish, the general obsession with wealth and status seem to parallel the art world’s increased submission into the palm of capitalist pride.

Vision and representation are significant aspects of art and culture alike, yet mainstream influence maintains dominance of these concepts with capital by way of sterilization and homogeneous production.3 Our mainstream culture can’t even eat noodles without some grotesque influence and associated commentary; it seems we’ve sacrificed asking the question But What Does It Mean? with the resignation that none of this means anything unless somebody is getting rich.

      Notes
  • This extends past social organization and into the realm of the individual as well: what a person wears is substantial in their perceived place in society at all levels. Nobody in business will take someone in a track suit seriously, while the punks will be skeptical of anyone not dressed in black. The only thing I’ve ever liked about Mark Zuckerberg is that he probably has attended board meetings in a hoodie.
  • In my undergraduate intermediate photography class—exclusively shooting medium format film on a Holga—for my final project I put my portfolio of prints in a shoe box and sat the box in the corner of the gallery, where all the other students had arranged their framed prints on the walls. I wanted my photos to be held, looked at up close, appreciated. The teacher did not take kindly to this sentiment and nearly failed me. Fuck ’em.
  • For how brand-obsessed millennials seem to be, it always shocks me how vastly unoriginal most are in their design efforts.

11:30 / 9 January 2019
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NCAA: “Fuck The Kids,” Literally

Like most American institutions, NCAA football is a pretty good showcase for how the influence of capital will always supersede any notion of human decency. Shit, this is an organization that has big-name teams pay out for wins. Which, in and of itself, is dumb for the sake of the game; but at least it isn’t anything serious. You know, like raping kids.

As the hoopla on any and all sports-related programming across any and all media outlets takes place for the College Football Championship, let’s all take a moment to remember how the NCAA rescinded all sanctions against Penn State for knowingly operating and supporting a program run by a child rapist.1 This was one year after the scandal—just long enough for public outrage to have run its course and the news to focus on the rapist running for President.

Every now and again I get shocked at things like the extent to which Americans will support sweatshop labor and gulags for kids but then I realize none of these children likely have a shot at a Nike endorsement and so of course the powers that be would consider them worthless.

      Notes
  • That’s like a ten-page Wiki article that gets one paragraph about how the NCAA basically decided none of it matters. The lunacy in all this makes me sick.

18:00 / 7 January 2019
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The Other Half

The Saturday morning cartoons that began the weekends for kids in the early 90s may have aged only to create modern memes, but I distinctly remember the source of this was all well-intended: an affirmation that knowledge is power. Knowing, as GI Joe put it, was half the battle.

Nowadays I wonder exactly what the other half is. Though I doubt anyone writing up these cartoons imagined the ascent and implications of the internet, but these days knowing something isn’t too difficult.1 In fact, the juxtaposition of a wealth of information with such ineffectual leaders necessitates the question Why bother with any of it?

For the children

If the republic system was run to an ideal, an informed public would be able to vote representatives in to office who would then facilitate a state of governance as near as possible to the demands of the people. But in this day and age that sentence is so far-fetched that it almost makes one wonder what the definition of our modern state truly is.2 The influence of money cannot be understated: between American children being slaughtered and immigrant children left for dead, the cruelty of capitalism has shown neither of the major American parties will cater to overwhelming populist demand.

It’s no wonder why people get outraged at the news; the world keeps spinning—seemingly out of control—and all that grows among the people is a sense of powerlessness in averting disaster. The political systems seem to operate in a one-step-forward, eight-steps-back loop. And the more you know, the more hopeless the situation seems.

I guess John Prine was right all along.

      Notes
  • Not that it ever really was; it was simply less convenient to go to a library and find a specific page in a book or load up a microfiche than use Google.
  • Kudos to some of the new leftists in the House looking to fuck with the standard liberal agenda, though. (That being said, nobody seems to think a second term by Trump is possible, but if the moderate left doesn’t adopt some of the demands of the activist left and the party splits, there could be a free-for-all in 2020.)

12:15 / 6 January 2019
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XX

By crossing into a space whose curvature is no longer that of the real, nor that of truth, the era of simulation is inaugurated by a liquidation of all referentials—worse: with their artificial resurrection in the systems of signs, a material more malleable than meaning, in that it lends itself to all systems of equivalences, to all binary oppositions, to all combinationary algebra. It is no longer a question of imitation, nor duplication, nor even parody. It is a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real, that is to say of an operation of deterring every real process via its operational double, a programmatic, metastable, perfectly descriptive machine that offers all the signs of the real and short circuits all its vicissitudes. Never again will the real have the chance to produce itself—such is the vital function of the model in a system of death, or rather of anticipated resurrection, that no longer even gives the event of death a chance. A hyperreal henceforth sheltered from the imaginary, and from any distinction between the real and the imaginary, leaving room only for the orbital recurrence of models and for the simulated generation of differences.

—Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation

Twenty years. Some people spend that time raising children; I’ve spent it using the various incarnations of this web site in an attempt to better understand both myself and the shifting scope of the world as it has occurred over the past two decades. I wonder now, what, truly, have I learned?

What Baudrillard spoke of, or perhaps threatened, in Simulacra and Simulation, was almost the current state of social media. That all of the opinions, in their state of memes and the aggregate superiority complexes of strictly defined opposing sides, take themselves so seriously that it becomes a massive detriment to the reality of our social fabric. That, though everything is political at some level, the mistrust of some forms of information give way for all to claim a distrust in anything that does not serve their individual narrative.

Fake News

Haters gonna hate

—Taylor Swift

If there has been one consistency on the internet over the twenty years I’ve been observing it through this lens, it is the vicious nature of comments. Our society has shifted into one of a nature of self-definition by attacking any idea that doesn’t align with an individual narrative—and the market has profited massively from reinforcing that very belief.

The idea that any concept counter to the opinion of an individual, whoever that may be, should be outright ignored is the basis for two of the most popular phrases of the defensive over the past five years: Haters gonna hate and Fake news. Like all great lies of propaganda, they each begin with a seed of truth. Yet their utility is predominantly to reinforce a will of ignorance beyond apathy—an actual desire to not acknowledge a point of opposition to the extreme that it has no basis in reality. This is incredibly dangerous to any free society.

It isn’t the fault of any singular entity: Fox News, Taylor Swift, Facebook, Donald Trump, Amazon.com, Hillary Clinton, et cetera. It’s all of them and more—combined with the willful ignorance of a mass amount of humans invested more in their immediate presence in the digital space. Over the past decades the internet has shifted from a place of relatively anarchic conversation spaces to a bottleneck of controlled avenues for discourse.

What This World Needs

Whereas once humans had to farm for the harvest, suddenly a business came along with a store to provide the convenience of food for a price. The irony of the internet is that the ‘convenience’ of our social networks for communication—unlike, say, grocery stores for food—is not a necessity. Using Facebook instead of literally almost anything else to communicate with people is, at best, a ridiculous luxury.

And so to keep the market for this unnecessary harvest of information alive, those who control it must misdirect attention. Public distrust of one another stops any given momentum for actual populist cohesion. Facebook doesn’t change for the better user experience because if it did, it puts its very nature at risk.

The corporate nature of the modern internet was an inevitable result of western capitalism, however the dissatisfaction among many—online and off—about our current state of these realities should showcase the need for change. That the internet at one point was beloved, the way that at one point more people felt free, should be sufficient evidence that the powers that be have overplayed their hand and overstayed their welcome.

In twenty years I’ve watched this digital world shift from one extreme to another; hopefully in the next twenty this pendulum swings back the other way.

15:30 / 5 January 2019
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Once and Future Monopolies

Archimedes once said, “Give me a place to stand and I will move the world.” Today he would have pointed to our electric media and said, “I will stand on your eyes, your ears, your nerves, and your brain, and the world will move in any tempo or pattern I choose.” We have leased these “places to stand” to private corporations.

—Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media

It seems a week doesn’t pass without some nostalgic write-up about the ‘original’ internet—loosely defined as the pre-Facebook era, when the closest things to social networking were AIM away messages and WebRings.

I miss this time as well; I was an artist in one of the first online comic book publishers and reveled in early phpBB forums for art and design, found new music on Scour and Napster. The possibilities seemed endless—and though my teenage mind wasn’t necessarily parsing the idea of who owned what, in retrospect it’s incredible how much was DIY.1

Though many of us curse the internet of today, where it feels like the intangible version of the Mall of America, I wonder if it really could have been any other way. I look at our real world and see that even with the behemoth box stores, overpriced boutiques and farcical advertising agencies, the good stuff still exists. Kids still haul amps into basements, artists still hang saran wrap from ceilings, we’re still carving out a minor refuge of truth in the shadow of glistening skyscrapers full of horseshit.

Yet the majority of people do not seem to want that truth. It’s no secret that global-fortune technology brands like Apple and Amazon all have atrocious labor practices. Facebook seems to constantly apologize for one fuck-up or another. Similarly in the physical mall, sweatshops couldn’t stop the popularity of The Gap (or Nike).

Like our current reality, though full of corporate control and political hell, the internet still offers incredible things run by independent people or groups. Plenty of artists, galleries and venues have domains outside of the grasp of Facebook, Tumblr or Squarespace.2 But like the real world, it takes the action of people to visit the local market—the action of people to delete Facebook, to not choose corporate convenience over local support—to maintain this movement. And it’s more important now than ever before, as these choices are setting up the foundation of the world to come.

      Notes
  • Of course, it had to be. Online access, the ability to code and make graphics, the time to burn … all of the early internet had certain links to both opportunity and dedication. Markets always play catch-up to a good idea.
  • a.) Granted, the former content streams tend to steal from these to fill their feeds, but b.) I would be a fan of this being the root of a WebRing revival—sort of how small businesses band together, small websites ought to as well.

19:30 / 2 January 2019
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Late Expectations

I don’t remember many of the conversations I had on election night of 2016; on one hand I was drinking pretty heavily and on the other I was resisting the urge to text everyone in my contact list and say I told you so. I do remember getting more than a few messages saying something along the lines of Well at least this will be good for your art. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

A 2018 anti-Trump protest in Portland

Since November 2016 it seems people have still not adjusted to—and perhaps still cannot comprehend—the new normal our society has been born in to. Children are dying in detention centers. Outside of a mildly successful summer blockade in Portland, ICE and the Trump administration have had little problem in executing this horrific agenda.

Throughout the 2016 election, Trump was constantly pushing the boundaries of how a candidate can run for office in America. While some might say the disgusting fashion to which he accomplished such a feat should be the focus, I disagree. With his campaign and subsequent victory, Trump didn’t just adjust the borders on the field of America’s institutions: he changed the game completely.

The fact that this ‘wasn’t supposed to happen‘ is now why the absurd and grotesque is met with ambivalence and inaction. American society for so long has been regulated by the standards of traditional power that it is now subscribing to the whims of an unregulated force. Protests against all administrations since Vietnam have been students parading in the street on police-approved routes: while this administration is different, the dissent remains the same.

A 2007 anti-war protest in Portland

As Trump disregarded the traditions of the institutions facing him down, so must those who would fight against his agenda. (Of course, he had the benefit of finance and power to provide a safety net with the prospect of failure while any subversive practices would surely be met with imprisonment.)

And so with the world of art, it is unsurprising that most news caters to multi-million dollar pranks and record prices at auction as opposed to anything significantly pushing back against the global spread of nationalism. Perhaps it is because Trump, Brexit and the like represent the same level of absurdity as Duchamp. Perhaps it is because even in the face of social justice-related work on a massive scale, all that results is jail time. Perhaps it is because our ‘good’ leaders still respond to nonviolent movements with the opposite.

Or maybe everyone just got too self-obsessed, sacrificing any notion of true social fabric for the facade of social networks.

Whatever the reason, whatever the response, the fact is that the norms of American society and its adjacent institutions are irrelevant. The psychic death of neo-modern marketing, the plague of individualism and disregard of corporate power all tie back to that which allowed for a man like Trump to be elected in the first place: a society unable to control the beast of capitalism it has unleashed into the world without any sign of art to save it.

16:30 / 30 December 2018
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