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Midland, Texas, United States
I write. I make stuff.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Artists

Dick the Butcher, in Henry VI, Part II, says that, when the Bad Guys take over, they should kill all the lawyers. People have interpreted this in about a bazillion ways ever since Shakespeare wrote it—of course!—saying all kinds of things about how it’s a positive comment on lawyers, or about how it tells you how reviled they were even back then, or how blah, blah, blah--but what it’s about is getting rid of the people who might stand in your way.

I’m a skeptic through and through, so I don’t much ever buy into other people’s conspiracy theories, no matter how juicy and entertaining they may be. I have no trouble, however, coming up with my own. And one that I really believe completely is that They==that big, scary, monolithic Evil Force of Hate & Greed, the one we usually think of as International Corporations—are trying to get rid of the artists. By “artists,” we here mean creative people of all kinds. Like, you know, you.

I’ve been reading more Noam Chomsky. We’ve watched The US vs. John Lennon, about how Hoover and Nixon tried to quash Lennon’s anti-war activities and This is What Democracy Looks Like, about the 1999 World Trade Organization summit protests in Seattle.

This got me thinking about a lot of things. About artists in society. About creativity and conservatism. About how power deals with independent thinkers.

I thought about all the dozens and dozens of artists I’ve talked to over the years. All kinds of artists with all kinds of ideas about everything from past lives to rocks that speak. Literally:  talking rocks. One thing that’s pretty rare, though, is a conservative artist. Oh, sure:  I did make a few phone calls on behalf of someone who wanted nothing more than to present a piece to Laura Bush, back in the days when Laura lived in the White House with her husband, The Guy We Don’t Miss. Laura  may be a very nice woman, although I kind of doubt we’d have a whole bunch of stuff in common. Like, you know, money and style and politics and religion and the fact that I never got drunk and ran over any of my former boyfriends.

Plus my husband isn’t an asshole.

But never mind that:  I knew someone who knew her, and I tried to help make the connection for this artist. I have no idea what happened. You never do, do you, when Power is involved? It’s like phoning in a tip about the constant traffic at the crack house across the street. You call the cops, tell them you’ve counted 179 cars pulling up in the last 45 minutes, so could they, like, you know, do something? And then you never, ever hear a thing about it. If you call and ask, they tell you it’s none of your business.

The government at all levels is big on telling you things are none of your business. Have you ever noticed? Cops, Animal Control, street crews, the zoning board. And on up from there.

So I have no idea if Art Went to the White House or not. I’m guessing not, as they probably already had a full quota of quaint village scenes by Thomas Kinkade, Master of Light. What more could you need, right?

But for the most part, the artists I’ve talked to (and, yeah, I’m narrowing it down here because someone is sure to point out that creativity is not the special province of radicals and I just haven’t been exposed to the rampant creative souls who make up the core of the right wing of the GOP. So just don’t, OK?) have not been your ultra-conservative flag-waving jingoistic birthers, really.

Why is that? Is it that artists  are born Democrats? Hardly. It’s that artists and creative people, by their very nature, are not conservative, which here means “supporting tradition and the status quo, resistant to change.”

By definition, “conservative and “creative” are antithetical:  conservative: “tending or disposed to maintaining traditional conditions, views or institutions” vs. creative: “resulting from originality of thought.”

OK. If you’re that big Them, the one that needs to maintain global control, the one that owns over 90% of all the wealth and controls pretty much every damn thing that happens in the developed world, what do you most want?

Besides someone to occasionally pull the stick out of your butt so you can sit down?

You want to maintain the status quo. You want things to keep on going the way they’ve kept on going lo! these many years, only with more and more power concentrated in your hot little hands. You want people, also known as Worker Drones, to get up and go to work and do their jobs and then come home at the end of a long day and park themselves in front of the television set, where they’ll spend the next five or six hours being fed mindless crap that passes for entertainment and images of rich, happy, healthy people who own Fabulous Stuff that they, too, can own if only they work extra, extra hard at their mindless, unfulfilling, stifling jobs. You want them to lust after these things—these shoes and this technology and that car that will make desirable sexual partners offer to give them head every time they drive down the street—so that they will continue to work at these jobs, insuring that you continue to grow ever more wealthy and powerful.

You do not want them to do anything else. Ever. You do not want them to meet with other people in groups, because that’s the way ideas are spread. You convince them, instead, that it’s easier to send messages to their friends electronically. You offer them nifty gadgets that make this not only possible but easy. And fun. Yes! It’s marvelous technology! Here’s something that lets you “talk” to your friends and send them photos and music videos, and you never have to leave your couch!

You want to make everyone love this technology and give up everything they had before, cleaving only unto it forever and ever. Fostering total dependency, only that’s not what you call it.

Never mind that it’s also a good way to keep people from sharing ideas. Because while it’s easy to text about what’s on tv or what you had for dinner, it’s much more trouble to text about ideas, things that require, you know, actual words. Lots of them. And thought, as in “something you don’t send off in a nano-second between having a cup of coffee and attending a meeting.” Ideas require time and thought and lots of words, and that’s just a lot of trouble. Ideas can’t always fit into 140 letters, can they? Not the kind of ideas that matter, the kinds of ideas that can change the world.

So.  You want to stifle communication and the spread of ideas. You want to convince people that their lives can be great, that they can sit in their houses and accomplish everything from shopping to keeping in touch with Friends and Family to looking at art to, well, almost anything. What you don’t want is for them to leave their houses and meet with other people who might have ideas about things beyond the NFL and Desperate Housewives and Project Runway. You do not want them to meet with people who are not their friends and family—you want to foster that tribal mentality, that primitive Us vs. Them knee-jerk reaction to strangers. You can do that by giving them glimpses into the lives of Real People on tv. Never mind that those Real People are about as real as a Yeti. Never mind that.

And here’s the thing about TV:  people are alwaysalwaysalways telling me about some show that’s worth watching. And, sure enough, some of them are fabulous, like Da Vinci’s Inquest. But the fact is that it’s not what’s ON tv that worries me so much (although that does, indeed, worry me, just the way it worries me that people in Midland don’t go to the damn library any more). It’s the Fact of TV:  the fact of having this thing that sits in our houses and brings us crap—news that isn’t news, shows that are thinly veiled advertisements for stuff we don’t need, other shows that present our fellow humans in the most unattractive light possible (kind of like, which goes right along with the theme of Aren’t Other People Stupid? And Aren’t You Glad You Don’t Have to Be Near Them?), and, really, just crap. You know, Glenn Beck.  What’s up with a world where this guy has his own tv show? Remember:  every show has a sponsor. Even the shows on public television had to get there somehow.

And if people’s lives aren’t so great? You convince them that, by working just a little harder, they can achieve The American Dream. And what, exactly, is The American Dream? Easy: to own more crap than your neighbors. Better crap. More expensive crap.

And if all this is what you need to do to attain your goal of total control, how do you feel about those few human beings who don’t want to fit in with your plan? The ones who don’t want to work 60 hours a week so maybe someday they can afford a Hummer or a weekend house? The ones who don’t like to spend their evenings sitting in a room with a box that glows and makes them want to go buy French fries? The ones who wonder what it would be like if things were different, but different in a way that didn’t involve bigger cars and shinier appliances?

What are you going to do about those people? The creative people among us?  The artists? Is there a place for them in this world?

Well, if you’re creative and you want to be successful (you know: so you can buy more expensive crap), then you can beg and plead and grovel and sell your soul to the devil and find a way to fit in with some firm or some corporation where you’ll be allowed to come up with designs that other people will market. Money will be made. Happiness all around!

But what if that’s not you? What if you’re a creative all the way to the bone, here meaning “someone not interested in the way things are, the status quo, the traditional way of doing things.” Someone who wants to try new stuff, figure out other ways of doing and seeing and being. Someone who doesn’t want to fit in and adapt. What if it’s more important to you to say what you think than it is to get invited to the White House?

What if you’re John Lennon?

Or ______—fill in the name of any creative person who was out there on the fringes, doing amazing stuff but really not getting a lots of strokes from the people on the inside. I can think of some right now, people who are living and working and making their art and are never going to be known as Painters of Light.

Then you’re dangerous. You’re stirring up ideas. You’re making people think. You’re not doing your job:  not only are you not sitting at home in front of your television, but, damn you, you also haven’t bought into the Earn More, Buy More mentality that’s so important to keeping the economy on an even keel. You are, in fact, a liability.

And what’s to be done about that? We need to get rid of you. And since we can’t actually (not yet, although we’ll find a way if it comes to that) come to your house and disappear you, we’re just going to make it reallyreallyreally hard to do what you do.

How will we achieve that? First of all, we’re going to make it virtually impossible for you to learn anything about the art you want to pursue. We’re going to gut funding for the arts in the schools. We want to raise generations of worker drones, and they need math and science. They don’t need art and music and literature, so we’re going to scale way back on those.  We’re going to institute standardized testing in the areas in which we need you to be proficient for your future Worker Drone job. No Child Left Behind? Pshaw. That’s what we call it to your face; behind your back, we refer to it as Every Child an Indoctrinated Child. Why do you think we didn’t want the kids to listen to Obama’s speech to school children? Did you really buy into that “socialism and health care” argument? Fool. The reason we didn’t want them to hear him talk about education and possibility is that we don’t want kids to THINK about education and possibility. We don't want them to think at all. No. We want them to learn by rote the few skills they’re going to need to be able to do the jobs we need them to do, and that’s it. They don’t need logic or reasoning or hopes or dreams or goals. They need to learn to do some simple math and read well enough not to set themselves on fire and then get the hell out there and start earning a paycheck. Because we have plans for that money.

And if you somehow manage to get exposed to art anyway and somehow, against all odds, start to develop a little career at it? We’re going to make sure there’s no money available—no grants, no fellowships. We need all the public money for war. Hell, we have a war that’s going to last for the next thousand years! We’re going to need a LOT of your money.

Next to tv., war is the perfect tool for controlling a population. You start a war, and then you get people whipped up about it. Or maybe you get people whipped up and then start the war. Whatever. But once you’ve got them all rallied around a war and frothing at the mouth about The Enemy and Aiding Terrorists, your job is going to be ever so much easier, because they’ll turn on anyone who dares voice a dissenting opinion.

There was the scene in the movie about Lennon where all these people were burning all their Beatle records (note:  an ancient precursor to CD’s) and t-shirts and posters, being exhorted by radio personalities to burn it all, burn everything and then to shun the Beatles and turn from them.

And to think:  Glenn Beck didn’t even have a forum yet. He was just a toddler!

So. You eliminate funding for arts education. You cut funding for artists. You marginalize creative thinkers and make them seem either dangerous or just a liability in a Time of Great Peril.

You don’t want people to think too much about this, so you cut funding to libraries, which has always been problematic for you, being a haven for thinkers, never mind that you’ve figured out ways to force librarians to bend to your will. In times of prosperity, it’s OK to build concert halls and expand libraries and have public art shows and concerts. But in tough economic times? Then it’s different. There’s no extra money for any of those things, and they’re the first to have their budgets cut. Cut the funding for libraries and then embark on a campaign to convince people they’re redundant:  you can get books online, you can download audio books.

You can use the technology we’ve talked about to get everything you need!

You know, the technology to which someone else controls the access? The access that, if necessary, could be shut off?

Imagine:  you become totally dependent on cell phones, the internet, PDA’s—all those things that rely on satellites to deliver information. Nobody has a landline phone. Nobody has a radio. Nobody owns books. There are no libraries.

Who controls the satellites? Meaning:  who controls your access to information and communication? To any idea of what’s going on in the world?

I want you to think about this. To think about the direction the world is going. Think about what those in power want and need from us, and then think about what we really want and need for ourselves.

We want freedom and everything that means:  we want to live our own individual lives in whatever way makes sense to us. We want to share ideas and information, to make things and share them with others, to be able to travel and meet people and see things from a perspective that’s different from our own. We want to learn and share and create.

Unless we’re willing to stand up and talk about how these things are vital, how they’re way, way more important than skipping dinner with friends so you can be sure not to miss the new episode of Gossip Girl or maxing out yet another charge card so you can upgrade to hi-def, things will keep going the way they’re going, and the people who are doing well by that are going to keep doing well. They don’t care how you’re doing, not as long as you haul yourself out of bed every day and go to your job and make some money and then go out and spend it.

They’re teaching us not to care, either. Our kids don’t care—when’s the last time you heard a child complaining because they didn’t get to take art class in school, or because the museum is open on three days a week? No:  your kids are being trained just like all the rest of us, and isn’t it convenient that the manual dexterity fostered by gaming is pretty much the same thing that’s going to be so helpful when they’re assembling, oh, say video monitors for some foreign company, standing on the line for 8 hours a day? Think of it as physical training to avoid future repetitive stress injuries.

OK. I have to stop now. I get to writing about this stuff, and then I sit here and think about it, and then I get to feeling just the teensiest bit crazy. It’s so much easier when your conspiracy theories are shared by the masses, you know? If I were a birther, I’d feel so much better, so much a Part of Things. As it is, I feel like the Lone Loon, ranting away about the Evils of Technology as I type things to be uploaded to my blog and sent through cyberspace.

I’m sure a good dose of daytime tv would make me feel ever so much calmer. Or maybe a trip to the mall. . . .




Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention that all of the school children are being drugged [yeah right, ADHD} and have to go to the school nurse to get their daily dose. More controlled, zoned out zombies walking about. The drugs will help them forget what a crayon is used for. I live what I preach...NO cell phone, no I phone, no lap top computer, no texting, no GPS , no blog, no Twitter , no web site, no Facebook, no MySpace. I am far too busy hanging with friends [aka interacting with real human beings] and pursuing creative endeavors.

Ricë said...

good for you!

Jazz said...

Ahhh a Ricë rant!! It's been a while. Thanks for saying this - though you'll be preaching to the choir. Though if only one person says "whoa! you know she has point" you will have accomplished much.

Linda Teddlie Minton said...

Ricё, this is the kind of post that makes me holler "I LOVE RICЁ!" at the top of my lungs. Never mind that there's no one else in the house to hear me ... I've just gotta holler it.

And you may be preaching to the choir, but you also reach a lot of other people, via forwards and referrals. My sister is a regular recipient, for instance, since I often forward your more exciting posts to her. And I happen to know that she, in turn, forwards them to her friends.

So please, keep writing in your inimitable style and unique voice. I know I'm not the only one who is hooked!

P.S. I voted in the Midland Library poll after reading your previous post ... after all, I did live there at the age of 2, and I just may come back there some day!

sandra said...

I hear you. But how do we get stimulated,bling bling wearing,yak beauty incorporated,materialized young people inspired. Do we use the current technologies or do we yank them out of some of these things called "school"?most disadvantaged children watch 12 hours of tv per day. And I watch teachers and mentors struggle to compete against manic carricatures...I'll be gone one day;but what will remain in the future. Right now my hope is to not become a victim of random crime by some "techonological" robot...

dust bunny said...

Gah, I love ya, Rice. I need to print this post for longer, paper-in-hand pondering.

aimee said...

this would make a great book...

ChrisF said...

You give "the powers that be" WAY too much credit for forethought, plotting, organization and intelligence. I think they stumble across something that works and try more of same. I don't think it's particularly thought out-well not in the far-reaching way you are thinking of. Imagine a bunch of people of about the caliber and intelligence of, oh let's say GWB. Now imagine them in a room together looking at pie charts of current purchasing trends and getting dollar signs in their eyes. That's as far ahead as they think. If you doubt that, ask Earl to introduce you to anyone in mid-level management in a public school! Same mindset.

Anonymous said...

I am shocked! Yes, shocked I tell you!
There actually is a brain in Texas! Whoohoo!
Who would have guessed?

Caity said...

Not a Lone Loon at all. I just wish I could somehow get the people who NEED to hear (read) this to take notice!

Kelly Kilmer said...

:D applauds

Velma said...

atta girl.

sandy said...

To Caity and Rice and all of you with an actual functioning brain; An FYI

Dear TEDizens,

A TED Prize wish is about to be granted. We'd love you to participate.

On September 27th, 1pm PDT, Karen Armstrong, joined by the Dalai Lama and three other Nobel laureates, will unveil plans for the launch of the Charter for Compassion. The event will include short TED talks on the true meaning and significance of compassion by some of the world's most inspirational figures.

We'd love you to watch the event, live-streamed over the web ... and to consider joining thousands of people around the world for the celebration of a truly giant idea, perhaps the biggest idea humanity has ever had.

Please be part of this.
Details here.

Anonymous said...

I love it when I see a good flick or read something that leaves me thinking about it for a few days and that is exactly what your blog posting did for me yesterday. The thoughts keep rolling around in my head and it was still there when I fell asleep last night. POWERFUL posting and you nailed it. We are being tracked when all the stores want to know your zip code when you make a purchase for "marketing" purposes which is really about more control. When I bought my little art studio TV they wanted my name, address, phone number, cell phone [don't have one] and I was paying with cash. Easy transaction, right? I have cash and you have the TV. I refused the information and they almost refused to sell it to me. So, pretty soon we will have a very tiny little chip implanted into our hand and then they can just swipe the hand and get our social security number, name, address, phone and DNA. It will be sold as something that is just ever so convenient and we won't need to carry cash or plastic money. With just the quick swipe of our hand and we will be on our way and out the door and so happy with the convenience of it all. I hope I am long gone before it comes down. If the masses are headed in one direction, I am the one going in the opposite one. Being mainstream can be dangerous.

Angela Recada said...

I LOVE you! My neck is sore from nodding my head while reading this entire post, then nodding it some more while I had my husband read it.

What you write would be funny, if it wasn't all so frighteningly true.

My entire life I've butted my head against the walls of my conservative surroundings. Over the years, I would repeatedly try, and fail, to escape those walls. I gave up for a while, entered corporate America for more than a decade, and felt my soul shrivel up and die. When I finally married and had my first child, I knew I had to be the one to teach her how to survive in this world.

No day-care drones were getting their hands on my child!

Child #2 came along shortly thereafter. And so I spent the next 20 years letting my two children play and be creative, teaching them about ideas and art and literature and music from all over the world (and throughout time, as well).

They are rare birds, my two. And they are going to kick ass out there in the world.

It's not how I ever thought I'd spend 20 years of my life, but I couldn't have done it any other way. It's the most worthwhile, and most difficult, thing I've ever done in my life. At least my kids know how to think and question and decide things for themselves. They don't watch TV!

As you said, it's a very rare thing these days.

So here I am, at 52. I'm never going back to that conservative box. Finally, I'm going to carve out a creative life for ME, a life everyone has always told me I couldn't or shouldn't attempt. ("My God! If you do that you won't have health insurance! Get a REAL job")

Funny, now I'm the one learning from my kids how to be free to live My life My way.

Tecu'Mish said...

Wonderful writing! Two things I would add, or perhaps I missed in your great article: the human condition is resistant to change and snake oil salesman come in many disguises.

Anonymous said...

What a great post! Finally, it's nice to see someone say something real and honest for a change on a blog.
I've been reading Living the Creative Life, which I found at my library this weekend. Your book is one of the best "creativity" books that I've ever had the pleasure of reading.(And I've read plenty)
I never watch TV because it makes me feel physically/mentally ill.
I constantly worry about the kids growing up in our country right now...being bombarded with all of this crap coming their way down the shute.
I can only hope that they grow up feeling like myself, and realize just how important it actually is for the SOUL to have lifelong learning and exposure to the arts.
Keep up the fight sister!
I know I sure as hell won't let them take the thinking, art, books, music, originality, and beauty out of my life!