Thanksgiving 2014

Jean Honore Fragonard. "Aurora" 1755.

Jean Honore Fragonard.
“Aurora” 1755.

“A logic of displacement (or obsolescence) is conjoined with a broadening and diversifying of the processes and flows to which an individual becomes effectively linked. Any apparent technological novelty is also a qualitative dilation of one’s accommodation to and dependence on 24/7 routines; it is also part of an expansion in the number of points at which an individual is made into an application of new control systems and enterprises.”
Jonathan Crary

“Very early in my advertising career, it became clear to me that I was being paid to stop you from doing or thinking whatever else you might want to do or think, and instead get you to focus on the piece of information that was of interest to my client. All advertising is an attempt by one party to dominate the other.”
Jerry Mander

“Blondel describes cases of insanity where the patients seem incomprehensible to others as well as to themselves., where the doctor really has the impression of dealing with another mental structure.; he seeks the explanation for this in the impossible situation where these patients translate the data of their cenesthesia into the concepts of normal language. It is impossible for the physician, starting from the accounts of sick men, to understand the experience lived by the sick man, for what sick men express in ordinary concepts is not directly their experience by the interpretation of an experience for which they have been deprived of adequate concepts.”
Georges Canguilhem

I am more and more aware of just how manipulative American culture has become. Europe, the U.K. in particular, share some similarities, but it pales, really, in comparison with the U.S. Manipulation is a lie, and it is domination by means of that lie.

Today, 60 percent of Americans think Lee Harvey Oswald killed John Kennedy. Thirty percent of that sixty percent think others were involved. The leading guess (13%) was the Mafia, and right behind that was an unspecified part of the U.S. government. Forty percent of Americans dont think Oswald killed the President. These are curious numbers in a way, but what is more interesting in all this is that today more Americans (albeit a small number more) believe Oswald acted alone in the assassination than fifty years ago. In 1963 there was more skepticism. I think what is happening today is that the simple mechanism of ridicule, the uses of terms like conspiracy theory, and decades of TV propaganda has more shaped how people think than ever before. But its more than that, it is also the increased weight that shaming takes on in white middle class (sic) society today. Even in polls, notoriously unreliable in certain areas, this effect is probably significant. Cass Sunstein, the husband of Obama U.N. ghoul Samantha Power, is a good example of an architect of public trolling, tainting oppositional voices and dissent with calculated knee jerk smears. He oversaw regulation at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, and wrote the book “Conspiracy Theories”.. Its interesting that Lance DeHaven Smith, in his book on the CIA, claims the term “conspiracy theory” was minted by Langley to shame and embarrass and discredit those who saw something wrong with the Book Depository story, circa 1963. Sunstein is a leading candidate for the Supreme Court, but also wrote a paper worth noting, in which he advocated *cognitive infiltration* of all potentially subversive groups in the U.S. Never mind this is illegal, firstly, but it is also rather Orwellian in construction. This is the sort of thinking that goes on in the corridors of power these days.

Elger Esser, photography. "Egypt 2011".

Elger Esser, photography.
“Egypt 2011”.

Now, my point here is that propaganda is effective. From the Kennedy assassination (by the way almost certainly some branch of the CIA in conjunction with various other off campus influences) to 9/11, there has been a creeping fear in many Americans to openly express doubt. I’m not sure which is more absurd by the way, Lee Harvey making that shot(s) or Saudis with box cutters, and the plane that disappeared as it supposedly hit the Pentagon. But even many leftists try to avoid what might potentially be labled “conspiracy theory”. Certainly 9/11 has cast a long shadow, but even in analysing that shadow, I hear surprisingly few voices taking note of the absurdity of the cover story. Same with the recent Boston Marathon (and leave it to Aaron Sorkin to come down favorable to the police on his staggeringly reactionary new show The Newsroom…but I digress). The Boston Marathon bombing narrative is full of anomalies. So much so, that it’s a bit like trying to piece together a really incoherent plot on a bad TV show. If reading it, one has to stop and just reach for the popcorn, and move on. It does not add up. But the propaganda machine (and Sorkin is part of that) is already shaping the story that people are meant to internalize on some level. But the key here is the shaming and ridicule. Calling people conspiracy theorist is akin to calling them genocide denier. That is the other smear du jour these days. Of course the fact that there are screeching nut cases like Alex Jones out there doesnt help in engaging with this master narrative. Nobody, and I mean nobody, wants to be associated with Jones — which leads me to suspect he’s actually a CIA plant (get Cass Sunstein on the phone….).

James Earl Ray, circa 1969

James Earl Ray, circa 1969

I happen to believe that actually a fair number of people in the U.S. today know full well that Oswald didn’t kill Kennedy. They know well that 9/11 as a narrative told by media makes no sense, and that things like building 7 or the plane & Pentagon story don’t hold up. They know that COINTELPRO was real, they know Gary Webb was right and they know Michael Hastings was almost certainly murdered. But they don’t say this stuff aloud very often. They know, often, of Freeway Rick Ross, they know Martin Luther King was assassinated, and not by James Earl Ray. They know that Iran Contra was hardly an isolated incident, and that in those corridors of power weasily little men like Cass Sunstein, and his wife Samantha Power, and Alberto Gonzalez and John Yoo, and Dave Addington, and Monica Goodling, and Eric Holder, and Victoria Nuland, and on and on keep each other’s company. They attend fundraisers for the museum or the new wing of the hospital or countless charities together. They summer (and usually use *summer* as a verb) in mostly the same places, and they know the same realtors, the same fund managers, they all come from about five different Universities. So, running through all this is an expensive education and connections. There is nothing special in any of these people. None of them. They are not the best and brightest. They are not the embodiment of some cosmic meritocracy; they are connected, schmooz skilled, and they are amendable to being bought, that is all. There is not an iota of moral integrity in that entire list, and I could expand that list considerably. They see the world, their social arena of the world, in terms of success and failure. Success is having a good paying job, a stock portfolio, a house in an accepted zip code, and eventually a wife or husband and children. And those children will be groomed for success in exactly the same way. Success is luxury amenities, vacations, but more than that it is a social ease that allows social climbing, it is influence. More than anything, in whatever way, it is influence. They believe they should, even if in small ways, shape the world. Big ways to shape the world is of course better.

But I want to link this sense of hyper manipulation with the state of the arts, and with culture. The structure of mass culture is predicated upon the same class divisions as Washington D.C., and Hollywood and New York are not greatly different from each other. It is important to look at the fact the what is often referred to as the *culture industry* (per Horkheimer and Adorno) was firstly a condemnation of the intellectual gatekeepers of society. Today, there has been a sort of shift that suggests an elitism in Adorno, and this is wrong. But its likely the result of defensiveness on the part of the very gatekeepers he was examining and criticizing. The mass entertainment industry likes to have audiences stupid, uneducated, and conformist. It is more profitable to make North Woods Law, or Judge Judy, than it is to make The Divide. Hence, perhaps the one actually non reactionary drama on TV last year was cancelled. The cheap easy to make reality based court shows have metastasized. If cultural production is aimed at furthering rote identification with products, with established values (authoritarianism), then demanding and difficult art is going to be banished.

Michael Hasting's car burning after crash.

Michael Hasting’s car burning after crash.

Today’s response, among University educated MFA students, when the culture industry is brought up, or any cultural criticism, is to retreat (without their even knowing it, I find) into realms of technological mystification. Art is spoken of, usually, as a sub heading. But more often its about the inward looking narcissism of the various subject positions and how they relate to a very narrow sort of oppression, or stigmatizing, or often, there is a sense of art as a self help tool in realizing *agency* (which I take to be synonymous with self determination). But the very last thing ever discussed is the spiritual, and the political. And of course these are the FIRST two things that *should* be discussed. Subjective confessional faux-critiques end up almost by their nature, being reactionary and supportive of this same idea of success. I read a good deal about young artists kept from *success* by this or that problem. The truth for young artists is that of creating an effective brand. Creating work that reproduces well in a glossy format, and most of all, knowing the right professors who can introduce you to the right galleries. But there is a paradox in this confessional or hyper subjective critical writing for at the same time this is a culture in which people are increasingly atomized and isolated. In which their very attention is a commodity, and in which social intercourse is becoming something experienced as menacing. The discomfort is adjusted, though, through identifications with group, and with a sort of new cyber-shopper tribalism.

Sergej Jensen

Sergej Jensen

Janet Malcolm wrote of psychoanalysis that is was like water poured through a sieve; “The moisture that remains on the surface of the mesh is the benefit of the analysis.” It is no accident that psychoanalysis, especially Freudian, is under siege these days. Part of the problem is what happened to the discipline when it arrived on North American shores. Its co-opting as a self help ego based adjustment procedure. But more than that, it is simply part of the whittling away of all things demanding. In psychoanalysis, one must be able to talk.

I bring this up because the power of stories is undiminished, only the number of real stories has shrunk.

Conrad Marca-Relli

Conrad Marca-Relli

The role of art is, in a sense, the opposite of manipulation. Its de-manipulating, and trying to heal the effects of manipulation. And the fact that many today would argue this, speaks to just how synonymous art and advertising have become.

“The whole notion of sanity may be an attempt to medicalize morality…Modern Western childhood has never recovered from, or been recovered from, the redemptive myths of Christianity. To be sane is to be saved.”
Adam Phillips

Today, children are targeted as soon as they can sit and stare at a screen. They are cued by advertisers in how to desire. After that they are manipulated about what to desire. But first they must learn *how* to want something. This is obviously too complex to really address properly in an abridged form; but the fact that primary narcissism being what it is, the child, the infant and toddler, certainly have a sensual relationship to the body of the mother. I think that what happens when childhood’s natural maturation (which is fucked up enough, frankly) gets interrupted by advertising, is that desire, that which is so directly joined with the breast, with food, and the touch of the mother, becomes deformed — and a new gap appears between the self and the process and expression of desiring. The filter is an ‘other’ who inserts advertising, coaching the child toward one or another satisfaction-giving commodity. Deep down I don’t doubt that the child senses this other, the new screen presence, the sound of stranger’s voices, as an intruder. Advertising as intruder.

Adrian Johnson quotes Alan Vanier (on Lacan):
“…’a third party is needed to name the image and thereby confer it on the subject… there has to be symbolic mediation if the subject is to assume this identification’. In other words, without some version of the Symbolic big Other—the example always given is the mother standing behind the young child, perhaps holding it up to the mirror, while saying ‘That’s you there!'”

Krass Clement, photography.

Krass Clement, photography.

However much wants to buy into Lacanian psychoanalysis, it is very interesting to read the mirror-phase, and then read Lacan on psychotics. For whatever happens when children begin to learn language, something of a rupture occurs between this new symbolic order and the child’s relationship to this new identity. Lacan (I paraphrase) said the psychotic is a prisoner to the literal. I suspect the culture of mass media, of the bombardment of information and data on people unprecedented in history, has severed the remaining links to nature and the physical world. At least those links that guided the imagination. In other words, the fact that people sleep less, and that life carries on twenty four hours a day, and often people never leave their screens to check on the weather or the stars (those places where one can even see the stars anymore) has meant that early childhood development occurs, in the advanced West, at least the more affluent classes, in ways that intensify that primary rupture; the rules of language and the symbolic are more fragile and the symbolic is mediated by technology — probably accounting for a culture without affect. The indifference to depictions of violence, the loss of compassion, all of this it would seem can be traced back to a society in which productive labor is less rational, more oppressed, and workers more anxious and insecure. The child is born into a society, now, where their parents are a generation already formed by screen image and narrative.

Jerry Mander wrote, in 2012, in Monthly Review:

“Ours is the first generation in history to have essentially moved its consciousness inside media, to have increasingly replaced direct contact with other people, other communities, other sources of knowledge, and the natural world —which is anyway getting harder and harder to find —with simulated, re-created, or edited versions of events and experiences.”

and then adds: “In many ways, television has become the culture, and by this, I do not mean so-called “popular culture,” which sounds somehow democratic. Television is not democratic. Viewers at home do not make television; they receive it. Television does not express culture; it expresses corporate culture.”

Ulrich Lamsfuss

Ulrich Lamsfuss

It expresses, additionally, the values of the white ruling class, and this is important to remember. And children sit in front of the TV, listening, not speaking, almost twice as much as they sit in conversation with their parents or friends.

Part of the role of irritating jingles is to stick in your brain so that a subconscious recognition occurs when you hear it again. Oh, there is that irritating chewing gum jingle again. Today, narratives, in comedy or drama, operate increasingly like commercials. Narratives don’t raise questions, because questions are not good for business. They are the wrong kind of disruptive. Narratives promote agreement by recycling the most basic group think bromides. But that’s not right, either. Its not really agreement, it doesn’t even reach the that cognitive level. They promote a kind of acceptance. And I suspect that that particular form of acceptance is far more reactive when challenged than is disagreeing with an argument. And this is, I think anyway, because it’s all operating on a semi-conscious level. It’s a deep sense of identification with the provider of the *acceptance*.

Those deep reservoirs of resentment and anger; some learned, some just the residue of our psychic development in this unequal and punitive Puritan society, all of that is coming to the surface now. With the Ferguson police execution of Michael Brown, with Trayvon Martin before him, with Kimani Grey and Oscar Grant, with increased home foreclosures, there is now a backdrop of social trauma domestically, as there had been during Viet Nam, and it is of course part of the larger U.S. footprint, Imperialist footprint, globally. So, things are going to come up. Memories, long buried, feelings long buried, and more than either, a long suppressed panic. The panic of abandonment, of being un-moored, un-tethered, of that childhood emotional catastrophe that everyone experiences in some way, and such panic as this leaves, or really, it causes an emotional hole in people. Being wrenched from primary narcissism and into a world with *others*. A world without community, without those just basic protections against this gnawing sense of being alone. That is why this is a society of morbid obesity, of anti depressants and mood elevators, and of an increasingly strident racism and bigotry. People shop for frozen micro-wave fish and chips, and corn syrup sodas and tainted factory farmed beef or chicken.

Brian Ulrich, photography.

Brian Ulrich, photography.

They shop for toxic carcinogenic plastic toys made by slaves in faraway lands, with darker skins or funny customs, and these toys are given to these prematurally overweight children to throw away and further pollute the planet. Then they gorge on white sugar and corn syrup and play surrogate war games with each other. Normal sexuality is repressed and adults usually beat it out their children because of their own fears of sexual desire. Pornography remains the second largest industry in the world behind defense. The largest consumers, statistically speaking, of pornography are conservative white men.

My son has two daughters. My grandaughters. They attend a progressive (sic) school in an upmarket very gentrified neighborhood of Los Angeles. The youngest is in pre-school. And when my son, her father, went to the Thanksgiving party he was shocked to see the kids in sort of arts & crafts “Indian” costumes as part of the ‘Pilgrims and Indians’ narrative in this celebration about Thanksgiving. When he sent an email to the school, suggesting some workshops about racism and tolerance (which is part of the work he does, in addition to anti death penalty lobbying), it was met with dismissive hostility. A subsequent meeting went even worse. The reason I mention this is because this is a rich white kids school, a liberal school. These are people who vote Democrat. They support same sex marriage, and think of themselves as progressive and very far from racist. Why this gigantic blind spot then? The entire selling of this holiday didnt happen until after WW1 really. And more, like many things, until after WW2. The original idea for this holiday belongs to Sara Josepha Hale (author, oddly, or not, of Mary Had a Little Lamb) who sold the idea to President Lincoln. Lincoln signed the Thanksgiving proclamation the same year the Civil War ended, and right before the mass hanging of 38 Dakota Indians for murder, in an uprising in Mankato, Minnesota. The starving tribe had attacked white settlers the summer before in the Santee Sioux uprising. Lincoln never executed a single confederate soldier. Not for anything. But then they were white. This was the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

I digress…slightly.

Viet Cong . 1973. Photographer unknown.

Viet Cong . 1973. Photographer unknown.

The infiltration of mass culture means the infiltration of the ownership class, the values of white wealth. What is becoming interesting is the growth of this new service class, a specific service to the wealthy class, and with it, the internalizing of the values of the wealthy and an identification with the rich, a sense that the unattainable lifestyles of the rich and famous (sic) can at least be shared via mass media and culture, or by serving them. Reality shows with the not really wealthy celebrities of music and film is a sort of threadbare approximation of this longing, and it probably speaks to the success of shows like Downton Abby, a sort of valentine to the dignity of being a fucking servant. Its an odious program, actually, for there is never a hint that this idea of waiting hand and foot on the master might actually have pissed off the help a bit. Such shows might ask how revolutions take place exactly? If the Romanovs were so much fun, and the Bourbons and Ortenburgs and Spencers and Furstenbergs and the rest of the hereditary Royal Houses of Europe, one might wonder at why they aren’t still running things. The answer is of course, that in a sense they are, except for those inconvenient uprisings; but its almost like a counter transference at the level of peerage or something. The new rulers of the deep state are bankers and defense contractors but then, that old money and structure is still there, and still has extraordinary influence and power. I often wonder why in the world ‘Royal’ families still exist. Why do people go around calling themselves Baron or Marquis or Duchess, or Sir…and while Sir Paul McCartney and the like are parodies of this, something clearly stimulates an archaic node in the reptilian brain, in which trace memory currents are triggered. This is the ambivalence of hierarchical social formations.

Pan African Congress, 1919, Paris.

Pan African Congress, 1919, Paris.

The United States is the sole remaining Imperialist power. With that comes, trailing behind the flagrant militarism, a surplus of psychic wounds and pain and resentment. I doubt there has ever been a society so steeped in resentment as the U.S. If language is what keeps humans from the resentment free world of animals, then perhaps this is the tragic destiny of mankind. And the final reckoning is to be the forgetting of language, the forgetting of that which in a sense has been the origin of trauma. This is not to say I don’t believe people can live in joy and wonder, but that for that to happen one must remember and not forget. For one cannot forget the anxiety of death anyway. Freud saw renunciation of instinct as the basic sublimation of humans, and Lacan saw that renunciation as built into language itself. The repression of the death drive, for Freud, was the basis of civilization, but that repression returns, again and again. And it returns as aggression. Maybe all those nods to Royalty are, in fact, the submission to the father, and the father is in some way the gatekeeper of the symbolic. That is the Lacanian model, and it is interesting to look at Benjamin’s ideas on language, on the language that speaks itself (in a sense). For this is no doubt linked to all aesthetic production. However one modifies Freud, one is always going to be left with some sense of gap, of a distance we pursue, and that feels like the Ouroboros, for in a way we consume ourselves in this chase. The pursuit of something that we cant remember properly, which feels as if it has just left. Narrative I think works that way. Theatre is basically the chasing of what has just this instant left. The BBC has a very good mini series on right now, The Missing. Written by brothers Harry and Jack Williams (previously comedy writers, quite oddly) and directed by Tom Shankland (with John Nesbitt and Tchéky Karyo) it is the story of an unsolved child abduction. There is almost no violence depicted (well, very little) and no guns whatsoever. It is a disturbing narrative because it is about the chase after an absence. The son who has gone missing has left only a drawing on a wall. The French policeman (Karyo, who is just superb) says in an offhanded way, on the father’s return six years later, to the site of the abduction, “My wife told me to take up a hobby when I retired. I took up beekeeping. It has, perhaps, become something more”. No elaboration. The obvious damage to this provincial policeman is clear, and now he pursues something else. The mystery of the bees. Such narratives touch on the basic impossibility of existence. We cannot find what we search for, so why do we search?
The Missing (2014) BBC 1, Ted Shankland dr.

The Missing (2014), BBC 1, Ted Shankland dr.

There is nothing in this show that creates false tension. The narrative is told in flashback and flashforward, and in that space of the missing six years is the enigmatic hollow feeling of loss. It is a singularly haunting bit of television. But this is a hopeful sign I suppose, amid the general sadism of Empire, the constant sound of guns and screams. Here the pain is from characters who cannot fully articulate what they feel, for they cannot really understand their own motivations.

Thanksgiving is now simply another national day of shopping, the one that precedes Black Friday. There is a kind of stark visible insanity running through American society, now. Plenty of people scoff with snark at the lumpen masses storming the doors of Wal-Mart or Circuit City, but really, they have only switched to *hipper* versions of the same thing. Under the surface is desperation, and guilt and fear. And children now approach the holidays with acute anxiety. They sense the parental panic, the lack of money, they know, too, the fetishized class markers in all this gift giving. The holidays are now brutal ruthless national days of amnesia and denial. Even the rich are disfigured psychically by their money. Even when they have no anxiety about lack of money, they feel anxiety.

“Here, too, I saw a nation of lost souls,
far more than were above: they strained their
chests against enormous weights, and with mad howls
rolled them at one another. Then in haste
they rolled them back, one party shouting out:
“Why do you hoard?” and the other: “Why do you waste?”
“Hoarding and squandering wasted all their light
and brought them screaming to this brawl of wraiths.
You need no words of mine to grasp their plight.”

Dante (Ciardi trans.)

Nicolas Poussin, "Echo and Narcissus". 1629

Nicolas Poussin, “Echo and Narcissus”. 1629

One of the first things I noticed about ex-cons was that they almost all kept their shoes clean and polished. The rich don’t polish their shoes. They have a casual contempt for their expensive possessions. The rich have, what today might be *diagnosed* as Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It’s really the flip side of the traditional anti-social personality. The true narcissist is, I find, one born into privilege. I have found, consistently, a higher self esteem among convicts than among the very rich. There are a host of contradictions in all this; those who inherit their money tend to be the most obsessive about keeping it, and, feel the most inadequate. This anxiety is compensated for by witholding of emotions, especially compassion. The rich show contempt for the poor, but this hatred is born of envy. I have never met a rich man (this is gendered to be sure) who didn’t feel anxiety about his masculinity. Being rich, contrary to Hollywood, is not sexy. Well, in fact, the truth of this does sneak into Hollywood film, but it’s usually sub-textual. The need for Hollywood stars to play *authentic* lower working class characters. The guy who is part of the kitchen staff, washing dishes is almost always sexier than the guy with the Gold Visa card. The dishwasher organizing secret union meetings is sexier, still. The very rich do not experience intimacy. They posses people. And they fear those they possess.

The white patriarchy shapes narratives, including Thanksgiving. The head of the family carving the Turkey. Wielding the symbolic knife. The sacrifice to the Gods, appeasement. But this is another empty anxiety filled ritual. The steroid filled monstrosity that is today’s industrial raised Turkey is fake. It’s not hunted. The sacrifice is hollow, for the only real sacrifice is human. Part of the transhistorical sense of war is that of sacrifice; but today the leaders do not engage in battle. Often the soldiers don’t either. The sacrifice has no signifier. It is the end game for planned industrial death, that which began in that form in WW1. Anonymous death. Factory raised chickens, millions, the unwanted ground into mush for dog food. The human version is napalmed, struck with depleted uranium, or just vaporized.

Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and the Tsesarevich.  Saloon car of Imperial train. Apprx. 1903.

Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and the Tsesarevich.
Saloon car of Imperial train. Apprx. 1903.

The Pilgrims stole and murdered the indigenous peoples of New England. They didn’t share, or see them as friends. They came to create wealth. They came to horde and dominate, accumulate property, and to rule. The shell of human society that is the United States today is the logical outcome of a system based on profit. Marx said Capital Accumulation was the generation of wealth in the form of *capital*; meaning capital was used to create profit and not for social uses; it was the further expansion of capital, and meant exchange value, not use value. Lenin saw the logic of this leading to rivalry between capitalist/Imperialist powers over the control of the periphery. The commodity form, in both use and exchange value is expressed by money. The capitalist is a sick man. The bourgeoisie are sick. It cannot be otherwise. Freud saw hoarding as a fixation at the anal stage. Money is shit.

Norman O. Brown said: “All currency is neurotic currency.”

Advertisement, American Apparel, 2013.

Advertisement, American Apparel, 2013.

That Thanksgiving turkey that the patriarch will carve is the carving of a mask. The mask never changes. The mask of the patriarch is his curse, his fixed destiny. Wealth is sickness. It is shit. In mass culture today, the constant creation of artificial tension, of suspense, is just the masochist’s excitement and anticipation. The manipulations of mass culture, of advertising, are and have interrupted the dreams of childhood. They have created a psychic prison that is attached at the linguistic level. The child is born into language, but its a language that has lost meaning. The history of police abuse goes as far back as the founding of the Nation. Whether it’s Pinkerton cops, or private security today, or just city police ruthlessly controlling and murdering the poor, especially the black poor, the story has remained largely unchanged. The turkey is fat, deformed by genetically modified breeding, it has no taste, it is as useless as the Father who is clumsily carving it up. On TV is football, in which the healthiest young men of the poor collide in a physics of brain trauma, but which represents symbolic battle and war, a drama of, again, the rich sacrificing the poor. It is a surrogate heroism, and those tackles and cornerbacks will end up much like the holiday turkey. It is the Roman circus. Money is anality, filthy lucre, it is holding onto your own excrement. Royalty, Ceasars, Emporers, Generals and CEOs; the sacrifice is always based on hatred. Hatred for not finding others that desire you. Its possible to look at the practice of pre-nuptial agreements as a sort of epitaph for the toxicity of the ruling class. The lynching in Ferguson is the stain that marks the Holidays of 2014. It will not be the last stain.
Yves Klein. "Gold".

Yves Klein. “Gold”.


  1. Joanna Folino says:

    Actually John I think many people either intuit or are conscious of the fact we are at the end of empire now. Everywhere I visit in the US, I hear grumblings of this, of something’s got to change, where are we headed, what can we do. Maybe because I grew up in a small town with localized govt that relied on town meetings, I don’t see it as inevitable that a democratic society in some form is impossible to rebuild. There are pockets of humanity in the states reclaiming the land, developing healthy food sources and rebuilding small communities and those pockets seem to be expanding. Many people are actually eager for the end of empire so that en mass rebuilding and rebirth will take place. Everything you say in this essay is irrefutable. This is just an opinion but I think once society entirely collapses, something else will eventually arise, is arising right now, that will not perhaps be solely chaos and cataclysm. There are enormous forces of greed wanting us all to become serfs no doubt. And there are forces of intelligence, compassion and hard work that still believe something decent can be salvaged. I see it everywhere every day. I guess we will just see how it plays out if we are, any of us, still around.

  2. Don Harrington says:

    Not sure about the details of the Kennedy conspiracy but I do know that Oswald was an accomplished sharpshooter trained in the Marines, and that other sharpshooters used Oswald’s gun who were also able to use it as proficiently as Oswald.

  3. john steppling says:

    @Joanna………sure, look….nothing is impossible, and there are a great many very radical intelligent people working to find solutions to allow for change. On the other hand, its hard to see the system in place not just start killing people. They are already of course. The surpluse population. There is a limit to how many people can be in prison and that limit has probably been met. So…social unrest is no doubt coming. How much? I dont know.

    @don……thats sort of irrelevant , finally. (though your statement is actually incorrect….. If you listen to the volumes of interviews, the volumes of stuff written on the assassination, its very hard to think Oswald played any part in it. Jim Garrison alone is enough to cast serious doubt on this. Its hardly my desire to get into one of those long discussions because its pointless. Nothing can be proven. But given the sensibility of those in power, of the ruling elite, and at that time of the rich texas oilmen, the anti communist cubans, that were around — its a bit absurd to think this patsy was the sole assassin.

  4. Truly great distillation… I’ve been trying to express some of these cultural observations in a clear true way & so it’s thrilling to see some of these sentences.

    If a bit of snark is permissible:

    One thing that jumped out was the opposition between sexy dishwasher and Gold Visa cardholder. In some circles that’s of course so very common. I’m surprised you didn’t use Amex black / Centurion to set up that point… I’ve been in situations were I’ve observed someone (retail worker) who has never heard of or seen an Amex black and to hold that heavy “anodized titanium” in hand and be … Wowed ! But now of course that’s so very “common”….

    The last part also struck me as I have one newish acquaintance (who is not white and holds an exotic citizenship) who reads good books and listens to good music but of course grew up privileged and made his own dough doing the things that privileged white Americans do… I’ve had several conversations with him where his thoughts on money have come up… Though he starts off acknowledging his privilege and that his problems are just “white people problems”… Push him too far and he’ll retreat like a reptile… Or lash out at those who don’t own 9 homes in fashionable/sexy locales. But always a sucker for making a splashy charity auction bid to help underprivileged black or brown kids get on the “right path…”

  5. Jonathan Crary says:

    Thanks John for these penetrating and uncompromising reflections. Totally agree on the cowardice of the “public intellectuals” who slavishly remain silent on topics that are officially designated as off-limits.

  6. “the dignity of being a FUCKING SERVANT.”
    I agree with what you say about the creepy Downton Abbey–point is well taken and yes of course the show is all about a fantasy of happy serving people and peaceable, slow and kindly social change. Still, language that disparages people who work in the service sector, whether they are cleaning homes, ringing up cash registers at Walmart, or doing laundry undercuts your argument and perpetuates the problem. There is nothing shameful, at least intrinsically, about any honest work. The shame is only in the minds of people who disparage it, usually of the ruling class, or those of the working classes who aspire to be part of this ruling class–and have been manipulated by mass media to feel this way. That is what makes Downton Abbey such a dishonest show: yes we know the showrunners would be ashamed of being servants or having their children be servants (although they are servants in a way to the real ruling class), but they pretend otherwise to assuage the guilt of their audience at being people who depend upon servants and actually despise them and to present a fantasy of compassionate relations that rarely existed. But that doesn’t alter the reality that the shame is not the kind of work itself. There are plenty of shameful jobs that pay well (financial sector) and pay poorly (slaughterhouses). The real shame is the fact that there is no dignity afforded working class people on a pragmatic or a ideological level: no living wage in this country that makes it possible to support a family with a simple job, no social safety net, no upward social mobility, rampant racism, and all the other ills and injustices you mention in your commentary.

  7. john steppling says:

    You miss the point. Who is disparaging workers and servants? Not me. But its shit work, and its not work that makes anyone happy. And its horridly dishonest to suggest servants are happy and fulfilled in their menial labor. There is a strange conflating of topics here. The very exact point is that being a *fucking* servant is nothing anyone WANTS to do. People do it, and make the best of it, and often even take pride in it……….but ask anyone in minimum wage jobs if they would rather be CEO of whatever company employs them. See what they say. The show’s dishonesty is to repeatedly impart a message that some are destined for leadership and some are born to serve. Ive worked those jobs. Ive worked all sorts of minimum wage jobs. And each was as awful as the next. Each was degrading and humiliating. There is nothing in the least disparaging about pointing out the obvious fact that crap menial low paying jobs are crappy menial and low paying.

    The dignity of work is an interesting topic. And it is separated at the exactly place where compensation intersects, and more, where autonomy intersects. I clean my own house, and I painted it this year, and did an astounding amount of tiresome repetitious and exahausting labor. But it was on terms that I created. I had the freedom to be creative and choose and in the end, I have some pride in how well it was done. It was my small cabin. If someone hires me at minimum wage to paint HIS or HER house, with no control and no creativity and with a clear set of parameters about when its done, etc. I would be paid any number of ways…but I was would answer to my employer. And that wage is exploitive……..that is capitalism. I dont own the house. My labor is bought….and I end with nothing but that wage. And it is by the nature of this system, bound to be the lowest wage possible. It seems to me that lots of liberals want to believe in Downton Abby………it allows them to feel ok about employing people. And look, even if someone is paid well to be janitor or maid or cook……..its the stigma of service work that taints the contract. There is no way around that. The topic here is not that working class people dont deserve respect….of course they do. But its not to confuse that respect with respect for the relationship between employer and employee. Because that relationship is exploitive. Again, popular culture has repeated this lie for decades. The happy caring janitor helping kids out. It erases the fact that the janitor makes a wage that allows for bare subsistence, usually. And rarely do they ‘help kids’… and if they do, these days, they likely get fired. And even when it isnt a subsistence wage, there remains a stigmatizing aspect to it. What Downton Abby and so many like it manage to do is to make invisible the terms of the contract. Coal miners, for example, are famously proud of their courage and proud of the craft and knowledge…… they should be. But they die at hideously high rates because owners wont pay for basic safety features, and they also die young from lung illnesses. I could go on. Are they wrong to feel pride? No and yes. Often I think workers watch the same narratives as the bourgeoisie………and want to invest their toil with something suggestive of heroism……and now this is also different from, say, craftsmen……..who usually are self employed…or used to be. Where a shoemaker could feel pride in his small boutique craft. And he could even sell the product of his labor at a reasonably fair price. But for the most part….servants…ala Downton Abby, which is what we’re talking about here….are not happy. Workers who are exploited are not happy;. Why should they be happy. Revolutions take place when it becomes literally unbearable.

    I will add that personally I dont like work. Id rather not ever have had to work. Life is short. I dont like bosses calling out “hey you”…..i dont like wearing uniforms, i dont like the entire sense of class oppression. If I have to work, i want everyone to work. I want everyone to share, to own what they work at, and nobody own the work. I dont accept hierarchies in any context. None. Respect is respect and that is, finally, independent of monetary relations, and is born in a context of autonomy and equality. Without that, you are a fucking servant. I dont disparage servants, but I want a world in which nobody has to SERVE anybody else.

  8. Not to particularly disagree… but I am totally getting your point, and in an article that is addressing rhetoric and subtext, it is perfectly relevant to point out how referring to the work of servants in a disparaging way disparages them, discounts their potential and their intrinsic dignity and does not support any improvement in their condition. Yes a person can take pride in how well they shine a shoe or organize their bosses’ closet, as menial and servile as that may be. They can take pride in caring for a “powerful” person, and cleaning that person’s fine carpet. If you call such a person a “fucking” servant, it serves no purpose and is mean-spirited.
    A boss says “hey you”: s/he callously adopts and grasps onto her position of very tenuous and temporary power as being real. S/he becomes a sadistic and heartless tool of a system of capital, and will always have to be watching her back and will never have enough.
    This being the case, the worker has his/her own work to do in responding…negatively or positively…all with consequences that can either create more or less misery. These are problematic choices that are difficult, given the circumstances of social injustice and economic inequality..not to mention mass ignorance. Of the choices, there are NONE that will bring ultimate freedom which is elusive and only attainable through various levels of renunciation and its concomitant personal and spiritual development. It is the boss who believes in the lies about his/her own power and social position as being real who is the ultimate loser on a deeper personal level.
    This kind of decadence will exist as long as we don’t realize that there are more transcendent mental constructs that need to be dismantled within the limited conceptual frames of social and political change: the construct of the boss being the first perhaps, the notion of the servant as well. Going back to Marx for insights, yes, but also going to ancient thinkers like Nagarjuna.
    I agree with you in that personally I don’t care for work and despise even the more jobs I have been “privileged” and or forced to hold, for reasons of survival and supporting a family. I find the ethos that calls for constant busy-ness and the way that most of my friends working in Hollywood complain/brag about how many hours a week they work–60-80 no less, for no extra compensation, of course, because they are “managers”–to be deeply stupid and servile, and reflective of neurotic guilt rather than any kind of pride or joy that comes from real al commitment. There are many kinds of losers in this system of late capitalism, and just as many ways to exploit what humans take for an identity.

  9. john steppling says:

    Well, Im going to disagree right back. I think you are being curiously tone deaf here, firstly. Secondly, lets dissect the sentence that seems to confuse you ….(in my opinion).,

    ” and it probably speaks to the success of shows like Downton Abby, a sort of valentine to the dignity of being a fucking servant. Its an odious program, actually, for there is never a hint that this idea of waiting hand and foot on the master might actually have pissed off the help a bit. Such shows might ask how revolutions take place exactly? ”

    now, this was in the context of speaking about the television industry, mass media, etc. The fucking servant line is speaking of the show, the dishonesty of the show. Im not saying — “oh, those fucking servants”…..and really, this should be clear. Im saying that this show is pretending that there are people for whom being a servile attendant to the master is what they born for. So, the point is, rather OBVIOUSLY I have to say….that being a servant is not something anyone is born for, its not a decent job for anyone. Not for anyone. Not in any context. For being a servant, fucking or otherwise, is degrading and humiliating. Full stop. Degrading and humiliating.

    So, no, pointing out the disparaging work is not to disparage the people doing it. The slaves in the tin mines in africa are not dignified. They are fucking slaves. The adjective describes the job, not the person. By your logic, you would not be able to say ” the show is a valentine to the idea of being a fucking slave”. Would you suggest, wait, you are dispareging slaves? No, (I hope) because nobody wants to be a slave. Thats universally understood as a dehumanizing, oppressive, and immoral. But yet, being a servant is ok….we have to respect the idea of being a servant? They have no inherent dignity in that job. They have inherent dignity as humans. And hence should not have to serve others. Goya’s great series of etching…includes one, “some ride on the backs of others”// showing a man carrying the huge fat priest on his back. So, there is nothing inherently good in any way about serving others because that is your class lot, that is what your class offered up as possible. I would think its been made clear ….in this post …that the idea of wage labor is inherently exploitive. That is what is inherent ……wage labor tends toward varying degrees of exploitation. The owners of the means of production….those who own the house the servants toil in…..they have the power. They can hire and fire. The servant has no power.

    As for taking pride in shoe shines. Sure. But….but… you think anywhere in the world there is a single shoe shine boy who doesnt dream of the day he can quite his FUCKING shoe shine job? If he good at it, great. I respect that. Hugely. I do not respect the *idea* of shoe shine boys. Walk down the street in the french quarter..the old one…in new orleans and young black boys are tap dancing for nickles and dimes. Are they talented and creative and are they expressing something of a cultural tradition and heritage? Yes ….yes yes. Do I respect the idea of the poor tap dancing for the rich? No. Fuck no.

    Now as for who is most delusional….rich or servants…thats a big question. But no, the servant has very few choices. Whatever time he has is spent recovering from being overworked. I mean investing some imaginary spiritual side to what is servitiude is highly suspect I think.

    Now I also went on to talk a good deal about the moral sickness of the wealthy. That is certainly germane. But, there is nothing good in being at the bottom. That is, by definition, a lack of choice. And to try to erase that in any way by spiritual potential is problematic and this is why I have problems with Buddhism and caste systems , or hierarchies of any kind. One must be respected for what one does and knows and teaches and gives. Sharing earns respect. Not by being born into anything. The entire idea of bowing for example I find offensive.

    So, no, its not mean spirited to point out that someone is abused. Is suffering injustice. Its a call for such ill treatment to end. For a system that is built on such relations to end. Again….you really need to recognize that there is a personal level…..and a class dynamic. A fucking servant is not personalized. I dont go to the manor and say, hey, where are the fucking servants? I need my laundry done. I am pointing out that Hollywood wants to glamorize a job with no glamour. Wants to reinforce the belief that such class structure is ok, even good, even natural. Its not. And there is nothing dignified in the job. There are individually dignified servants….but there is nothing dignified in the idea of *servant*. Adjective is general, not personal. Adjective is for the job, not the person having to do that job.

  10. john steppling says:

    there is a good discussion to be had on servants vis a vis Jacob Von Gunten. Which I know you know, Rita. Great book.

  11. Joanna Folino says:

    The word servant implies master. It does not for most people imply service. Service of one’s own choice as in being of service to others because you choose to be is positive. Being a servant seems to go more with servile. Less than, not as good. I am a servant of god, for example, while it may be doing good in the world implies a hierarchy. Hierarchies are never positive for humanity because they are established by and through a system of power and always systems of power evolve into abuse. “I serve no one but myself” may sound narcissistic but in fact, if you are being true to your most human instincts, you are also being true to life itself.

  12. I have never ever met anyone who has taken pride in being a servant, a maid, a janitor… Perhaps there are some repressed homosexuals who find some type of ecstatic release in being a servant, but even then, that is a misplaced desire and has nothing to do with changing your master’s sheets. There has to be also some kind of sadistic pleasure that comes with HAVING servants.

    I live in Hancock Park, which is full of wealthy people who hire Latina nannies for their kids, and even then, I’m shocked that these women would outsource being a mother to another human being, and then treating that person as the help. These nannies, usually always Latina women, neglect their own children to raise white children for 10 hours a day, usually in addition to cleaning and cooking. I’m told these women make about $500 a week – which is absolutely ridiculous.

    For a brief period of time, my boyfriend and I brought on a cleaning woman to help/teach us clean the apartment. I couldn’t stomach the idea of paying her to clean my toilet, wash my dishes, change my sheets. It was all so personal and I felt that I had no right to employ this woman to do these tasks. After about 4 months, we finally let her go.

    And John, I’m practically laughing at the way you broke down your comments for Rita, they’re that good.

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