There are days when the sickness of capitalism is put into stark relief. The day to day soul sucking mental torture and emotional starvation of modern life in the West. In particular, however, in the United States.
Today, for the working class in the U.S. daily life is simply endless frustration of one kind or another. The grind of low wage slavary, the fatigue that comes from longer hours and less pay, and less job security is linked to spikes in various illnesses, but also it is etched in the faces and bodies of the working poor. Layered over this is a general corporate de-humanizing of existence. It takes many forms. Try to buy an item on-line. Try to fill out forms on-line. Try to book a ticket somewhere…the demands for conformity are extreme. If you don’t have a cell phone number, you are often not allowed to register many places, including government agencies. If you have no cell phone you sometimes can’t pay bills. Literally. I know. If you have lived out of the country for a few years, try to return to prove you exist. Try to get a cell phone. Try to do anything without a credit card or cell phone. The poor know this. What if you have a police record? Forgetaboutit.
Education once promised upward mobility, and the chance for a “better life”. Going to school meant that potential jobs opened up for you, and salary would increase. Not so, today. Institutional education is moribund. It’s also expensive. Tens of thousands of students are crippled each year with new student loan debt.
Oh, want to become a teacher? Starting salary for secondary school teachers in most of the country is barely above the poverty line.
Education itself is a huge topic. Today, unless one can get into an elite University, the system is there to churn out complient workers for mostly non-existent jobs. Far more money and effort is put into the prison system than the education system. Automation has done away with most of what was once thought of as factory jobs. Additionally, unions have been crushed, and the U.S. is how essentially a nation of guest workers in their country. Service sector jobs or communication — and communication is itself a complex topic that the likes of Jonathan Beller have tried to analyse. The attention economy. And here we arrive at part of the post modern de-humanizing of society.
Upward mobility has reversed itself. The dream of each generation bettering itself was always something of an illusion, but today there is no there there. What does betterment look like in 2012?
In a society built upon notions of goal attainment, the mirage of success has become ever harder to define. What is education for? What are we working for? To ask these questions positions one as a radical or malcontent. On a daily basis, most people don’t have the time or energy to ask such questions. Life is increasingly led via image and electronic communication. Billions of dollars are made in creating distractions so that questions are not asked. The Spectacle provides endless distractions…all of which are predicated on passivity. On passive consumption.
However, it is the daily struggle to just live that is forcing a tipping point for consciousness. No matter the degree of psychic numbness, people have started to resist. Some of course simply break. The “going postal” meme is now commen cultural currency. The steady diet of violence and death, the endless narratives where off hand killing is met with indifference has reached a mental fail safe. You almost cannot kill anymore in corporate product in a way that registers. Maximum death has been reached. The message of this narrative –or rather one of the messages — is that the public is not worth anything. It’s disposable. It’s trash.
There is a paradox within this. For much of the worship of hi-tech crime fighting (either military or police level) is presented via the CSI frame. The perfect crime fighters. The other end of that spectrum is the nonchalant killing. Bodies pile up and hardly an eyebrow is raised. These two threads come together, finally, in a simple formula of mass sadism. A sub topic here would be is it even possible to render the true horror of violence in a narrative today? At least on film or in TV.
The recent murder/suicide of an NFL player, in the training facility, didn’t stop the game from taking place. American football is now the repository for a lot of cultural waste product. It embodies the worst in this culture’s definitions of masculinity.
Dave Zirin wrote a terrific piece on this topic:
That many players now suffer long term brain damage is well known, but in the reproducing of denial, is astoundingly ignored. The players are just more disposable trash. How is this level of denial possible? Well, only in a society as pathologized as this one could it happen on this sort of scale. That brings us back to daily life again as it’s experienced by the working poor. And most Americans are part of this demographic. The distancing of human contact takes place in more insidious ways than just social media. That people are rendered non-people by not being sufficiently plugged-into the system is intensifying the sense of self aliention. Who are you? If the backdrop is this goal oriented fantasy of attainment, then who you are, how you see yourself, is linked to the inevitable feelings of failure 99% of the population feels. I think that one is inculcated with an ideology that suggests its a meritocracy out there. That somehow, almost alchemically, you do good work — whatever that work may be — that somehow you will be recognized. For it’s not simply a matter of economic reward, its more an issue of recognition. For daily life has all but done away with face to face forms of basic recognition. People, even when you do face them in the flesh, often don’t see you. We as a people don’t see each other. We have stopped looking and maybe more significantly, stopped listening. This is reflected in the ersatz quality of so much corporate film and TV. Everything has become a second or third generation dupe. Despite lip service being paid to orginality, the truth is that almost nothing in daily life is not a dupe. Is not a simulacra or just an electronic validation.
Capitalism in its final phase is there to wring the last drops of blood and humanity from the worker. Humiliation is the default setting. Authority insists it be not just respected, but idolized. The increasing trend toward obsessive adulation is now, more than ever before, reflected in cultural product. Patrice Greenville’s excellent piece on Kathryn Bigelow’s latest is good summation.
There is a whole topic I want to write about vis a vis feminism in filmmakers like Bigelow, and in public figures such as Hillary or Susan Rice. Revisiting Leni Riefenstahl is probably a good thing right now.
So, there is this point that clearly has been reached. Life lived without reflection, without questions, and without human recognition is pathological.
Education, real education, is a good starting place for resistence. You can finance a house for 3% but student loans run around 8%. Mass incarceration suggests resistance is growing, too. Yes, economic forces drive the engine of the private prison complex, but so does a collective sense of anger. One in five students today are defined as “downwardly mobile”…meaning they wont graduate but their parents did. The sense that studying the classics, or philosophy, or art is futile registers with a sort of cognitive dissonance. Somewhere in the soul of every human there is a knowledge that this is not so. It’s NOT futile. The system had done its best to squash curiosity, but it has not totally succeeded. The *sound* of wisdom registers even if you’ve not ever heard it. Amid the horror shows of corporate TV, and the blood fantasies and jingoism of today’s studio film, a tiny distant voice is heard. It is heard when, by accident, usually, one looks up at the night sky and sees stars. Or looks into the face of a child. Or when one has that rare moment to walk your dog…and you suddenly communicate, on an ancesteral level, with that part of our collective brain that still retains traces of imagination.
The desire for cleansing of the capitalist nightmare is seen in the endless reconstruction/post apocolypse films that have been turned out over the last twenty years. No cell phones, no electricity even (NBC’s Revolution is a perfect example, where the electricity of the world just “stopped”). That the system is broken is clear. What is less clear is the way in which this is being processed by the public. Denial is clearly dominant, yet people still dream. They may even dream in mostly film loops, but not totally. Dreams are subversive in the world of Corporate hegemony. Sell the very idea of “dreaming” but constantly work to eradicate it. Murder suicide? No problem, kick off is at one. Profit profit profit. The reality that the system views the worker as no more inherently valuable than a cockroach is starting to lodge itself in that lizard part of our brain.
Institional education, institutional art, the corporate model for anything has hit a wall. You cant charge eight percent interest on a loan to get nothing. How many shootings can be filmed before blindness sets in? Treating people are refuse, as that which needs to be stuffed into plastic garbage bags, will eventually cause madness. Madness and rage. The rage is now turned upon itself as often as not. But it is slowly working out who “should” be the target. The target should not be “me”, or “you”.
The nickle and diming of already desperate people has reached a place where going postal will become every more prevalent. It is a prison we live in when not owning a cell phone means you cannot conduct basic transactions that will help feed your children. Freedom is an abstraction, but one thing it’s not is being able to choose which of ten brands of toothpaste to buy.