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Culture wars Politics

Pop Corn Politics

“I’m walking’ on sunshine, whoa-oh, and it’s starting’ to feel good!”-Katrina and the Waves

It’s been an exhausting 4 years of toxic narcissism and an overwhelming 2 months of realization of how rooted it’s become. After an aggravating day at work, I sat down in front of the tube to catch up on Inaugural hoopla.

It was surprisingly ‘normal’- whatever that is now. The day began as I had my coffee, with tRump muttering something to a few die hards before dinging the taxpayers for one last free plane ride to a golf course. I did see part of the live whip around of pop stars around the nation, and though most of the acts were not to my taste in day to day listening, none were insipid; it was clearly heartfelt. It’s probably good for me to at least get a quick survey of the heartbeat of what we used to call Top 40 music. One veteran arena rocker made the inspired choice of the ultimate feel-good pop anthem, “Here Comes The Sun”. Another sang in front of what Vox called “two billion shit-tons of fireworks”.

Vox pointed out the corniness of the whole thing, but it sure beats the ugly sounds of gun-psychos in the halls of the Capitol. If we are to be a nation of pyromaniacs- it’s in our anthem-let it be in the service of idealistic pop, not jaded conspiracy.

There was blues, country, hip-hop and grunge, all filtered through mainstream pop, a reminder that in America, however successful the radicals are at changing the conversation, most legislative progress gets sifted through the middle.  It was also a nod to the creative spirit, in that dance incorporates forward motion, and singing is breathing itself. I firmly believe that however justified the rhetoric of outrage, only art and community can get us out of this mess.

It was all so hopeful, and many on both sides seemed to get into the act, from McConnell’s good humored jibe at Pelosi, to Kamala Harris, dressed in the semi-official color of the day (battleground purple), tickled pink to be the first person of color to be sworn into her office. No promises on either side, I get that, but a nice opportunity to just EXHALE and re-start the conversation with the platitudes of pop to ease the process. At the roots of American exceptionalism has always been, along with all that gun-totin’ puritan manifest destiny crap, American naïveté. But there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the end of 4 years of unrelenting bile and corruption. 

Somewhat lost was Biden’s choice for a first legislative push (other than COVID), which is apparently immigration. Bold, in that it squarely confronts the ugly truth of racism, xenophobia and America exceptionalism, first thing. It challenges the GOP’s fascists to either double down on their vitriol or get on board with needed change. As one commentator I read noted: bland reassurance is nice for the start, but ultimately, Americans want change. Most politicians hate it, but the skillful ones- Biden is that- know that engineering change requires both boldness and subtlety. Buckle in, America! 

I had expected the safer choice of Infrastructure, which would provide economic relief, as well as a vehicle for elements of a green New Deal, and I’m glad to see the bolder path was taken. I don’t expect it to meet with favor from the extremes of either right or left, but change, in our system, requires the engagement of the middle, so this one has a chance to get the ball rolling, if people get behind it as they seem to indicate in the polls. 

Martin Luther King said that only light can drive out darkness. On a day of filtered sunshine, I’m feeling some filtered joy. 

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Books, Comics, Music Culture wars Ideas Politics Soccer World Cup

Reading Edge: The World is Round

It goes without saying that reading is a good escape. The process itself, of converting symbolic words into imaginary visual images, is absorbing and a form of fantasy. Fantasy is probably necessary to a creative human life, but now, with creative and social freedoms under severe repression from a political order that seeks to colonize truth and harness fantasy in service to the big lie, it’s essential to understand its power.

No more powerful shared fantasy exists than sport , as measured by the passions it excites. No sport has launched more fantasy than football- the kind you play with your feet- a cultural practice that David Goldblatt points out cogently in his exhaustive study of its history, is common to more of the world’s people than any other. No religion, language, cuisine, or most certainly, other sport, can match its hold on the sheer numbers of people football beguiles.

Consisting of infinite complexity within the frame work of a very simple structure, it’s the scaffolding upon which billions of wishes, hopes, playing styles and cultural attitudes are hung, a shared dream.

Within my four walls with a pandemic virus raging outside, and a cynical, uncaring thugocracy in place in the White House, time to kill and a more than virulent need for escape, it’s become a comfort. It helps to have a new TV, which the long dark approaching winter of a quarantined society almost demanded.

New streaming services, in a jostle for customers are offering cheap packages, and mine provides football from some of its artisanal centers, such as Germany, Italy, Holland and England. It’s rarely noted, but one thing that separates football from insular American league sports is international play, and so competitions range from national leagues of cities and towns to Champions Leagues of top clubs from each country, to Nations Leagues of whole countries vying for continental championships, to of course, the World Cup, a true world championship in which each of over 200 sanctioned nations around the world is eligible to compete.

There is no ‘offseason’, no recovery day, no ‘wait til next year’. The game is an engine of dreams, an escape into the infinite variety of human ambition and athletic creativity. So it’s perfect for a quarantine.

The rest of the world, by virtue of not having a corrupt goon leading it, is now mostly on the way to limiting the virus. After a short shutdown, most leagues are now back in operation, and with an obsessive agenda of making up game fixtures lost. So there’s a LOT of football on right now, albeit in half empty stadiums. US TV can not get enough of it.

First off, there’s the omnipresence of multiple leagues and competitions mentioned above. Coming from all time zones, it offers solutions to every unfilled time slot. My go-to is the European leagues, with offerings each day from roughly 6 AM- 4 PM. That leaves the evening for movies or reading (The US league, an acceptable brand of football comparable to Dutch or Swedish top tiers, and English and German second tiers, is on during the evenings, but for various bizarre reasons, my own local team is unavailable to watch, so it’s hard to not get seduced by the foreign games. Anyway, I haven’t been able to watch much Euro Ball in the last few years owing to prohibitive cable costs. I’m sure streaming will also become expensive after the promotional push is over.) So now is the time.

Football has now become my comfort activity for the pandemic shutdown. I did read a lot during the early days of shutdown, though I always read a lot anyway. As variety becomes a necessary quality in Q-time diversion, soccer fills the bill. Travel, exploration, cultural outreach and escape- football provides a little of all of those, if only in my mind.

I’m still reading, of course. What’s on my list? No surprise:

The Ball Is Round, David Goldblatt: I said “exhaustive”. This 900-page monster is that. The first time I read it after the US edition was released in 2008. At the time I simply let large parts of it wash over me, a favorite strategy for large complex readings. But I kept it on the shelf, knowing a return was inevitable.

Goldblatt spares no detail, and the book might not be for the superficial fan. Goldblatt traces ancient origins then the growth of the game in elite English public schools. Then its adoption by the British working classes as the industrial revolution’s unionism brought a sudden surge in wages and the invention of the weekend, along with the railways as a way to enable professionalism with traveling teams then leagues. Chapter after chapter, a litany of the game’s spread to the myriad nations of the British Empire, and beyond: both formal colonies and informal trading partners. A given country gets British help building industry and railways; native workers get income and holidays; country absorbs football, adding its own cultural flourishes. As the game grew, it became irresistible to fascists and socialists, militarists and capitalists, industrialists, and always, the poor. and working classes. Each culture has its own history with football, and all the histories are here.

Here, the book becomes a story not of a sport, for the devoted fan, but of Industrial Age culture. If history is written by the winners, then football is the story of those brief moments in the sun enjoyed by the losers. A tiny South American country has a democratic renaissance and wins 3 world championships in a row (Uruguay). A Jewish cultural center dominates the world of European football before disappearing into the maw of fascism (Hakoah Vienna). And a ruined fascist realm itself finds rebirth in a new democratic national identity at the 1954 World Cup (Germany). Goldblatt does not set out to write an overtly Marxist history of the game, but he demonstrates clearly that the game can not be separated from the history of socio-economic development. Dictatorships can win World Cups ( Italy, 1934-38), but the game’s inherent celebration of individual and collective endeavor ensures that it is there on the front lines when dictators fall as well ( Arab Spring).

The question is: who writes those scripts? Soccer often looks like an amorphous codified bit of entropy to Americans weaned on the over structured spectacle of gridiron football, but there must be a reason why, as Simon Kuper writes in Soccernomics, Brazil wins, and England loses. It’s not called ‘the beautiful game’ for nothing. Its deceptive simplicity allows endless room for individual creativity, and if English imperial arrogance would not admit of cultural differences, the Brazilians added more than enough samba and Carnival to ensure the game’s continued appeal. And multiple world championships. Like How Soccer Explains the World, by Franklin Foer, this book deserves a wider audience than the typical, obsessive fan boy blather. But as football gains curious new fans here, it may get that.

Inverting the Pyramid, Jonathon Wilson: A game that began as two mobs trying to kick a ball across open fields to a rival town’s city walls retains its transparent aims, but doesn’t always reveal its intricacies. The British in its early days of organization in the 1850’s saw no reason to complicate things much beyond a limit to the amount of people rushing the opposite goal, and that stodgy puritan athletic smugness continued for decades, but others, notably in Europe and South America, quickly saw that a rapidly professionalizing game rewarded innovation. Wilson chronicles the long journey from massed forwards dribbling toward goal to the modern formations that have made managers millions.

The whole thing got started with the ‘center half’, a deceptively named concept of moving a forward back a little off the front line to entice his opposite numbers to advance, thus creating space behind to pass the ball into. The center half, as linking function, eventually drifted back to just in front of the goalie, as ‘sweeper’, and now seems to have manifested as the variety of roles included in the designation ‘defensive midfielder’ that seem to be an integral part of all successful teams. Along the way, 2-3-5 morphed into 4-2-4, and on and on with a high pressing 4-3-3 currently the Ferrari among the Volkswagens. And a 4-2-3-1 the Volkswagen Van of small club dreams, providing versatility in defense and attack. Each change subscribed to the calculus of creating time and space for the most creative players, though there were retrenchments as well, e.g., “Catenaccio’.

Suffice it to say, that this book, too, is not for the superficial fan, sitting on his couch stewing over a 1-0 scoreline, wondering when is the two minute warning so he can get some snacks. But if you’ve gotten sufficiently fascinated by the game’s mysteries to wonder just how that sneaky little pass before the killer pass came to be, then you might find it your tankard of Tetley’s. As for me, having long ago become obsessed, I came up with the plan to read this tactical history in tandem with Goldblatt’s cultural one, alternating in roughly two-decade increments, comparing the game’s social progress with its strategic leaps. I’m now up to the mid-50’s through 60’s, a golden era for most of the game’s important regions, except England, of course.

Not nearly as dry and technical as it might seem, this book amplifies the way that each culture made football its own taking its inspiration and often its narratives from Goldblatt. Often it is individuals, whether players or managers, who inspire tactical innovation. And sometimes, as in the case of Brazil, it is an entire cultural project, to bring the individual expression of the ghetto and the Carnival, into a high performing team level. The results have been known to bring down governments, so it is far from a trivial story.

Will football show the way to a safer communal celebration of sport? Will it dull the violent racism of populists or surrender to it? Will its globalist momentum lead to expression, or repression? Will women, gays, blacks lead its next resurgence? The answer may lie with a rag tag neighborhood game and 22 beat up pairs of sneakers being played somewhere (everywhere?) to a hip hop beat, or, in other words, the beat of a different drum.

I certainly wouldn’t bet against it, and I’ll be watching, for sure. That’s what makes it a great escape, for me, and for ghetto kids of all stripe. It obviously can’t be quarantined out of existence, because it’s what dreams are made of.

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Books, Comics, Music Culture wars Politics Reading List Uncategorized

Reading List: First World Problems

This is a real grab bag, partly because in the rush to finish up some deadlines this fall my reading was very fragmented. It’s very unjust when life upsets my reading schedule, I just want to be on record with that.

For a brief while, I wasn’t really reading much at all. Some of these are also leftovers from earlier readings this year that I’d never put down impressions for. This is mostly comics, as that’s something that fit my frantic pace of life, but I did return to prose eventually, and there are a couple of those here as well.

Sabrina, Nick Drnaso: a critical fave that I’d alluded to in my Besties list as needing to read. It got nominated for a Booker prize and attracted attention. I read a rather rambling and contrarian review of it in the Longbox Coffin blog, and it sparked my memory. 

It delineates the spirit of our post 9-11, post-truth world (fear, rage, conspiracy and misguided, even corrupt, populism seem to rule our discourse, whether Right or Left). Thus the book is rather bleak, mostly. The art mirrors that social entropy in simplified, almost emotionless cartooning and flat color. Everything looks fluorescent-lit.

Though the book’s not fun to read, it stays with you. I almost put it down, and did avoid it a couple of nights where its creepy atmosphere of fascist media bullying hit far too close to home in Trumplandia. The current conservative trope of infested, dangerous cities, lifted from 60’s conservatism, and dating back to the anti-immigrant politics of the early days of the GOP’s turn toward fascist politics in 1912, are proof of that. It’s hard to see positive human interaction in our venomous, twitter-fied online dialogue, but the book ultimately does offer for one main character, at least, a way out. Fear of change, an armadillo like interiority, are the gateways for the numbing negative populism ranging through our public dialogue. Interpersonal contact is the exit strategy. As always, love is the answer.

I also got Kramer’s Ergot #10 and Now #6 in the mail. They are the two preeminent comics anthologies now, and it’s interesting to compare them. They’re both published by Fantagraphics, a long-time pioneer in alternative comics, but are edited by different people. There is much intersect, but they are not identical.

Now is the latest in a long line of Fanta anthologies, meant to test drive new creators, or promote company stalwarts. The company, led by Gary Groth and the late Kim Thompson, has debuted so many of today’s comics stars that it’s easy to lose count, and foolish to not keep up with their latest discoveries. Now, edited by Eric Reynolds, features international artists and has increasingly showcased very abstract comics. Kramer’s has never been afraid of abstract or expressionist comics and has returned often to its favorites. That’s because Kramer’s, a franchise edited and originated by Sammy Harkham in the 90’s and self-published before being published by the legendary and now deceased Alvin Buenaventura before ultimately landing with FB, has developed a kind of stable.

Both these most recent issues feature Steven Weissman, an artist whose hyper charged ‘kids’ comics FB first published in the 80’s, but who now brings a surreal humor and a real zest for fabulism to many other traditional genres including the western, or the fairytale.

Both also are prime promoters of the Fort Thunder/Paper Rad/ ‘cartoon brut’ schools of comics as exemplified by Marc Bell, Helga Reumann, C.F., and Mat Brinkman, etc. These 20-oughts era movements constitute a revival or continuation of the zine subculture that grew out of punk rock in the 80’s and earlier, the comics subculture of the 50’s and 60’s, especially undergrounds. Some, like Bell, trace their roots ultimately back to the ‘big foot’ style of the turn of the century newspaper comics. Many of those were expressions of marginalized cultures, often Jewish.

So while FB (Now) has always sought out and attracted young innovators looking to get published, Kramer’s may possibly have the deeper roots in self publishing. Either way, or both, one can get a nice overview of cutting edge comics, especially if periodic visits to Spit and a Half.com, John Porcellino’s online mini-comics clearing house, are added in.

These are clearly a world apart from the fan-boy oriented mainstream publishers of superhero fantasy found in the direct market shops; but also the newer, burgeoning young adult genres advocated by libraries and school reading programs. Comics are an expanding medium, and in exploring their relationship to the art, design and literary worlds, these two titles are essential.

Songy of Paradise, Gary Panter: Panter also got his start in the punk rock era, and is best known for a series of LP covers he did for Frank Zappa in the 80’s; and the sets for Pee Wee’s Playhouse on TV. He was a Raw Magazine mainstay. Here he takes on Milton’s Medieval biblical fantasy, Paradise Regained, which I haven’t read. The Temptation of Jesus in the desert is here enacted with Panter’s hillbilly character Songy. It’s a large format comic, and Panter is able to really stretch out, proving that his punk/expressionist style is in no way incompatible with great design and a sense of place, which his post apocalyptic comics have always had. Panter’s thick, unrefined, but very precise and evocative line must have been an inspiration for the cartoon brut comics creators but his dry humor masks a genius for Candide-like satire that sets him apart.

Comics Journal #304: Simon Hanselmann Interview: I was delighted to see this feisty little mag ( also Fantagraphics) available at Tattered Cover for the first time in a while. Gary Groth doing his Gary Groth thing, long form interviews of comics creators, that in the strictest sense usually need an editor, but in the long view, now after roughly 35 years of them, form an irreplaceable study archive of some of the greatest creators of the 20th and 21st Centuries. ” Moving on to your Kindergarten years… ,” I swear I read in a Patsy Simmonds interview once. That gives you an idea of what to expect.

But who else was ever going to do such a complete job of documenting ignored cartoonists and writers, with many of the earliest ones now dead? I really doubt there’s a lot of critical source material on Will Eisner or Harvey Kurtzman, for example. TCJ is comics’ magazine of record.

This is a very timely interview, in that it touches on issues that are hot topics in comics, and indeed in many pop cultures; such as #metoo, transgender issues, and queer identity as pertains to satire and biography in comics. Hanselmann raises some interesting questions in regard to the comics subculture, in which snap judgement and the ‘cancellation’ phenom of say, Twitter are very definitely in force, as in all pop culture. This is a very complex set of questions, as he points out, and may not always be compatible with creative freedom.

I’m also reading a radical feminist survey of Julie Doucet’s work from the 80’s/90’s. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but sometimes creative work- however ground breaking a feminist vision Doucet’s work was- viewed through that prism can suffer from a lack of balance and perspective in understanding what the artist’s vision and motivations actually are. I haven’t finished it, so it’s premature to say more, but I’d like to return to the topic soon.

Paul Gravett’s overview Comics Art, which seeks to touch on but not comprehensively examine, current and historical issues in a refreshing survey of international comics, is his best book. He had real flashes of insight in Escape Magazine, a British publication that featured comics and criticism from both sides of the Atlantic in the 80’s, but his Graphic Novel was too much a coffee table dog and pony show intended for newbies during the first blush of comics’ entry into the mainstream to be of much use to the serious student of the medium.

This one explores issues surrounding comics’ history as a marginalized medium, its use by marginalized populations, and its structural development to examine its nature as a unique art form. There are copious examples and Gravett does not always go to the usual suspects from American or British newspaper and comic book publishing, instead taking the opportunity to introduce lesser known artists worldwide.

While I do not always agree with his choices, he uses them well to explicate his ideas in a compendium of short essays on various topics. I’ll return to it again in a comparative sense, I’m sure.

I wanted to sample the new volume of Pretty Deadly, by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Emma Rios, and Jordie Bellaire without having to wait for the ‘graphic novel’ album in March. I’ll still buy that, I’m sure. The only place to get a ‘floppie’ of the first issue is the comic book store, so I did one of my periodic ‘State of the Comic Shop’ visits and spent an hour sifting through the various titles on offer. I have my thoughts on that; it’s also a separate post, that ties into the current transition of alternative/ literary comics from comic shop direct market to the bookstore market. But I did enjoy the first installment of the new arc, which takes place in 30’s Hollywood.

I have hopes that I’ll be bewitched by it as much as the first volume, a sort of goth spaghetti western, that I discuss here. I was a little disappointed by the second, a World War I narrative that did not attain the same heights of fabulist synergy. As you may have guessed, it’s one of the oddest series out there. I discovered it during my first survey of mainstream comics, just after I left my day job and had time on my hands. I don’t have that kind of time to devote to mainstream comics now, but again, I’ll try to work up some impressions before the year is out.

And that brings me to my “Besties”, which when I wrote them for the first time last year I just assumed would be the typical yearly survey. But I’m not the type of reader who tries to keep up with current releases, so I have to get on Amazon or Goodreads or something and try to figure out how many of this year’s releases I’ve actually read. I promised myself I would make note of 2019 reads as I read them, but now the holidays are crowding in and I obviously haven’t done that. Reading Listing is hard! But I’m determined to have my Besties, even if it has to include leftovers from last year, such as Sabrina, or Coyote Doggirl, a sort of feminist “Lonely Are the Brave” in bubblegum colors by Lisa Hanawalt that I finally got to this year.

Civilizations, by Armesto-Diaz: a big survey of world history from the perspective of how civilizations interact with and modify their natural environments. It eschews the traditional ‘progressive’ history of flood plain civs to sea/trade/colonialism to ‘modern’. It advocates against a top-down hierarchy of ‘advanced’ v. ‘primitive’. It’s somewhat provocative and interesting, well written and highly readable. But I dawdled, had to take it back, as it was due. I got just over halfway through it, and was enjoying the lively almost bantering tone, and some pretty fresh thoughts on how to judge social and civic innovation through the centuries.

A Long Petal of the Sea, Isabel Allende: from the freebie pile at work ( it’s not been released yet). My bucket list of South American writers continues, and this one has two, really- Allende, and Pablo Neruda, whose social conscience and poetry inform the story of a couple who span two eras of socialist experimentation, from Republican Spain through Allende’s father’s brief, doomed Chilean reign. The omniscient narration and dreamy factuality of S.A. lit is here, though the realism is far from ‘magic’. Highly readable, certainly sad at times, but ultimately hopeful.

I don’t call myself a socialist, but we certainly need a lot more of the democratic kind right now, as the proponents of unregulated capitalism have failed and are becoming more corrupt. This book is thought provoking about leftist agendas, their pitfalls, and the obstacles they face.



Categories
Art Shows Culture wars Landscape Politics

Westering

Gun ownership is inevitably in the news again. For most who defend its increase in the wake of the carnage it creates, it is a power fantasy. In a country where the long term trend is downward in crime, and where terrorism hasn’t gotten the foothold it has in Europe and other places, the actual need for firearms is quite low, and the fetish of gun ownership is mostly about a male cowboy/crime fiction fantasy scenario where problems (including psychotic rage) are easily solved with the correct ordnance.

The proven fact that the opposite is the actual result of unlimited ownership of weaponry- the society becomes less secure, more regimented, less just- hasn’t intruded in any meaningful way into the NRA-sponsored fantasy. Where did it come from?

“Westering”, 2009, Monotype, 32×44″

Westering: When I got the invitation to show with other ASL instructors at the state capitol, I thought immediately of this piece, which is older, but has been seen only in a couple of small shows. It is ostensibly a landscape, one of many, I’m sure, that have hung under Colorado’s golden dome, but its theme is much more complex, as it alludes to the American push westward. Though the print hasn’t been a centerpiece in my exhibition history, I’d like to explicate the thinking behind it which holds a very central place in my landscape years, roughly 1999-2009.

The association in the American spirit/mind of heading west with individual freedom and opportunity dates back to the Puritans. It is now expressed in xenophobic ultra right wing politics of survivalists and gun fetishists, but other subcultures, such as environmentalists have also  drawn inspiration from the American move westward. Artists such as Moran, Twain and Bierstadt have made both poetry and cash from selling this vision back to the populace. And the Arcadian/Rousseau myth of humans at peace in nature’s solitude relates in a complex way with the gun totin’ loner.These Right and Left fantasies are inextricably linked. I myself left my decaying Great Lakes region rust belt childhood home to escape the decay and drug fueled lassitude there as a teen, and spent time in transcendently beautiful and stubbornly racist Wyoming,

I’m quite vocal about my politics elsewhere, but in my artwork, this is about as political as it often gets. One of the last elements added to the print was the small enclosure next to the windowless structure, symbolizing isolation, aggressive aquisitiveness and the closed mind of the typical “home on the range”, now a fortified compound in many minds. This bunker mentality has had a big effect on American politics of late, and certainly is intrinsic to the gun fantasy.

This isn’t a criticism of rural living per se, or even gun ownership. We could all use a little dialogue with our neighbors, and our poisonous politics proves how the urge to ‘head west’, rather than learn to live with each other, is one of the country’s greatest threats. It derives from the Puritan notion of the individual’s right to ‘treat with God’ in his own way. It reaches horrifying apotheosis in the ‘lone wolf’- style shooting spree, one against the hordes.

In an age where ‘compromise’ is a dirty word (sometimes on both sides of the aisle), an understanding of this complex psychological, and very American impulse can get lost. I was always very satisfied with what I was able to say in this picture, and now through December, I’ll have my ‘say’ in the halls of government. If only the majority wishing for an end to carnage had theirs.

This image relates to memory and the way we move through it.
“Man With Torch”, Monotype, 30×42″, 2004.

Carrying a Torch: While I’m glorying in the exhibition, I’ll mention that I’ve had work hanging in both the state and nation’s capitol complexes. This print, entitled “Man with Torch” hung in Senator Bennet’s office in DC for a year as part of a juried program to showcase Colorado’s artists. Many also consider this one pretty political, and while I don’t argue with the obvious ecological interpretation, it was actually concieved of as a commentary upon memory and our human urge to destroy and remake the past constantly, in the process endangering our future relations. I quickly realized how apropos it was to the environment, but that’s not how my mind was working as I made it, as a reaction to an earlier smaller piece, “Woman With Torch”, which really isn’t political or even existential commentary at all, but as often happens with early, smaller pieces of mine, made simply as a compelling image. But a picture’s allusive qualities often creates great appeal for the viewer, I’ve learned, through many conversations in my booth at the Summer Art Market.

There’s always more than the surface intention to the story of a work’s creation of course, but I try to honestly convey what I was thinking at the time, for what it’s worth. The viewer often gives me a -valuable- different story. John Lennon always maintained that “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was inspired by the innocent words of his five year old son, but most of us who lived through its  popularity always considered it a song about hallucinogens. It’s disingenuous to believe Lennon was unaware of this, and art creates a meaning of its own. The artist is often not in control of this process.

Please comment with your own take if you have seen “Westering”.

Categories
Culture wars Health Care Reform Politics

America Goes Low: Art, Culture, and Political Healing

I’ve got some news about workshops and shows to post, but first, a little commentary on the current political regression:

I don’t make a lot of political commentary on this page, as it’s a bit counter- productive to what I’m trying to do here. My art isn’t demonstratively political, I can at least provide a haven from my political opinions for the people who come here to enjoy it. But art, culture and politics cannot be completely separated, as my early post on the importance of access to health care to the arts makes clear.

So in trying to come to terms with what most mainstream commentators recognize as a president-elect with fascist tendencies, I’ve had to ask myself how the art can help us reverse this disturbing trend.

Waves of anger and nausea, stress and distraction are to be expected, but I do not intend to add my anger to the bonfire of rage, ignorance and intolerance that the dumbfucks have lit. Resistance is a good thing: well organized and thought out, especially in the areas of health care and Medicare, environmental issues and immigration, which will be under siege in these reactionary times. There are many ways to protest and resist, and I will continue to use them. But in the meantime, art, books and friends will be my refuge. I’ll try to stay off social media for a while, do some more writing and sketching, and let the darkness do what it does, which is to prepare for the light.

First of all it’s polarizing to post too much about it. While anger is a natural human reaction to the travesty of intolerance we witnessed on Election Day, and a time-tested motivator to the type of activism that will be needed to rescue the country from incipient fascism, I don’t wish to add mine to the raging bonfire of entitled grievance that has been started out in the ideological hinterlands. My hot air, however righteous, can only fuel that inferno of ignorance. The proto-fascist backlash has a momentum of its own in this country, and must be met with real contemplation, not reflexive confrontation, lest it feed on itself.

Second, though I haven’t articulated this very well over the years; as I’m sometimes guilty of indulging my own anger- I feel real empathy for those who’ve chosen this path of fear, anger and scape-goating of minorities, though of course without endorsing their rather self- destructive solution. Some of the grievances are real, though whom they have chosen to blame are ghosts and strawmen, planted in the path of their blind rage by the authoritarians and oligarchs who have successfully manipulated them.

Third, anger is destructive to my own personal growth and creative energy. It creates actual physical stress, for one thing, to which many we saw on social media on the night of the election can attest. If we could have done a word search on Facebook and Twitter, I’m sure the word “nausea” would rank very high. It’s distracting and self reflexive, not good companions to personal  reflection and contemplation, which aid in thoughtful creativity.

And of course it doesn’t work. We’ve seen an entire reactionary political backlash fueled by anger, and what they got for all their self-consuming rage was… that. It’s unlikely to make them feel better about their lives, or about their country. After abuse and bullying comes self loathing. Rinse. Repeat. It’s a massive, red-state-wide temper tantrum, and it can’t be solved with more anger. However, we can’t put Michigan and Wisconsin in “time-out”.  We are, much as we hate to admit, not parents, we’re peers. As abhorrent as these people’s views are, they must be addressed as equals.

So it’s time to breathe, count to ten and listen to the grievance, without endorsing the ignorance. Somewhere between the lines of  the ugliness, the anti-gay screeds, the religious intolerance, and the deep seated hatred of women, there are real  issues that could be addressed without buying into the hate, to defuse the bitter anger these people have given into:

Educational opportunities must be increased. The rather pathetic cry to “bring our jobs back” (newsflash, demagogue voters: they’re not coming back, no matter which orange tin-pot you install in the oval office) would be greatly reduced by simply getting more people in rural areas and depressed suburbs into higher ed, even community colleges or computer schools.  Equally at risk with the redneck crowd are the immigrants whose votes are depended on for the Democrats’ coalition, so it’s a win-win.

Infrastructure needs to be repaired. This degradation is the GOP’s own fault of course, but it will provide jobs for the aggrieved and strengthen the country for the future. Again, emphasis must be placed on rural areas, who often  have overcome their distrust of schools, art centers and public transit when real, decent jobs are provided.

Arts, culture, religion are potential allies, not necessarily enemies. Bush’s plan to fund faith-based charities could be revived and converted  to enlist more moderate religious orgs to counteract the poisonous mega-churches where right wing intolerance incubates.  Yes, we’ll wind up funding kitsch like ten commandments sculptures and youth centers with abstinence programs,  but the trade-off could be meth education and occupational training, with opportunities in senior care and home health care in areas where they are desperately needed.

Many rural areas truly are depressed and deserve our attention. This is also true of immigrant suburbs too. The almighty free market has fattened the cities at the expense of outlying areas, and to that extent, the rage is justified. The orange buffoon who rode this wave of ignorance will have little interest in these things, of course, except as a sop to his massive ego. Yes, we could wind up with a brand new hospital or two named after a certifiable member of the rape caucus. But the Republican Congress might be amenable to sliding some relief for their incredibly Gerrymandered districts into the coming care package for billionaires their corrupt colleagues are sure to demand. The demagogues used to sneer at this as “throwing money at the problem”, but the poor whites who actually do the voting are in fact the biggest consumers of welfare, and won’t complain about money flowing to their small towns, as long you don’t call it that. Similarly, The deficit issue was co-opted by Dems from Clinton on, and is a dead issue with the GOP.  Rural economic relief was how FDR sold the New Deal to Congress, thus marginalizing the radical ultra conservatives for two decades. What matter if we drive up the debt to defuse the vindictive rage of the white power crowd. It must be insisted to include black and immigrant areas, too, and when possible to include the more traditional arts as a tourism attractor to depressed areas.

It could lead to a lessening of fear and rage in the boonies. This is the real driver of the dysfunctional  GOP, the demagogues who intentionally fan the flames of hatred only look to profit from it. Jobs and tourism might pave the way for a stronger economy and a more temperate political dialogue.  This could eventually lessen the impact of social change on psychologically threatened white males and loosen the grip of rape culture, bigotry and gun fetishes on the fragile ego of the uneducated white male.  A few more social moderates in the GOP caucus might result, balancing out the political opportunists who prey on these red state insecurities.

Yes, it’s incremental, a real dirty word with the far left dreamers. Yes, the representatives who might sign on to solidify their districts will hypocritically continue to provide lip service during campaigns on “wasteful government programs” for the benefit of the gullible, but they will not vote against it as they are in the White House now and will need to bring something home and is it not better to see them profit politically in this way, than to accept Koch brothers’ money to foment  anti-immigrant hatred?

And it can’t hurt to try. Our own propensity for outrage at every cultural failing, every pipeline, and every moralizing dickhead, hasn’t really solved much, as we found out November 8. We should save our energies for the truly important battles: women’s choice, environmental treaties,  immigration reform  and reducing militarism, which are feeding this incipient domestic terrorism and hardened hatred. We must cop to our own sometimes extremism and admit that we are equal partners in the race to vilify honest political compromise, incremental social change, and the large amount of hard working politicians who still want to do things together but are stranded between the loudmouthed blowhards on both sides. It doesn’t mean compromising our values, it means rewarding honest intentions, whether we agree with them or not.

As a culture, we’ve grown fat slow and angry, swinging for the fences of political absolutism, rather than playing the small ball and manufacturing compromises. It opens the field for manipulators to play a cheater’s game with the lesser angels of our social media and leads to real corruption, as we are about to see, not the kind the conspiracy theorists on both sides screech about.

Neither side is reacting well to seismic social changes, whether the side that desires their undeniable benefits, or the side that fears the insecurities it inevitably brings.  It leads to a failed state. While honorable resistance to the very real threat to democracy that demagoguery brings is needed, so is a recognition  of, and concern for the very real needs of these victims of a rapacious political culture. We can work together without sacrificing our principles.

Categories
Culture wars Health Care Reform Politics Uncategorized

Healthy Future

I’m mailing a small check to Kaiser today. It’s a two-block walk to the mailbox; weather, H75/L43, P/C, no chance of showers. A slight bit of exercise, but essentially, it’s a very bland-seeming denouement to a tale that started, for me, about 5 years ago.

I’m updating it now, in the interest of writing a resolution to the tale and preparing for the next steps.

The health care reform drama kicked into high gear in my life when I left my prototypically “soul-crushing” day job in one of those conservative mega corporations for a gig as an artist. For seed money, I had a small pension, which held no hope of covering both my basic expenses and the rather exorbitant COBRA premiums I was being offered. Medical insurance instantly became a major obstacle to success and security.

I write about this issue and how it applies to small-time artists and America as a whole, in a very early post on this Squishtoid Blog, here. No, I never did write that manifesto. But when one has health, and common sense in government, who needs monkeys?

As I mail my first premium check, I’m “signed up” for Obamacare, though not yet, as its bitter, still spitting enemies like to somewhat desperately point out, “enrolled”. However, as The New Yorker cover artist Barry Blitt points out in gleeful, puckish pen strokes, the Affordable Care Act battle is now over, though the Tea Bag haven’t realized it yet.

As for me, the victory comes a bit late. I am now actively looking for another day job. There’ve been ups and downs in my struggle to make free-lancing work, but the financial part, born in Bush’s recession and maturing in a down-sized America, has sloped steadily down.

Let’s compare the aspirations with the reality:

I did start this blog and later a website (though I’ve not had time to grow them), established a social media presence, attracted a steady following for workshops, was in a lot of shows, grew my artwork in both vision and inventory, and most important, had fun and felt healthier.

On the downside, I did not sell enough major work (Denver does buy art, but prefers it small, mostly) to grow the business or create financial stability, and racked up a fair-sized amount of debt.

My upside remains positive, but my downside is beginning to send me warning notices. Hmmm, need cash flow.

This is where ACA comes in and why it is, by all accounts, useful, necessary, and working.

Obamacare was easy to get and far cheaper than I expected. There were glitches, yes (The biggest: a strangely designed search engine that did not, at first give me all the choices at my disposal). But computer glitches are very fixable, and were never going to determine the success or failure of America’s first-ever attempt at a comprehensive health care program. In fact the major obstacle now preventing coverage is not software, but Tea Bagger political spite: millions are going without health care in GOP-controlled Red States, locked out of medicare expansion simply because the Tea Bag wants them to blame Obama ( who SHOULD they blame? The Supreme Court).

But, as I predicted in my previous post, health care reform has made my situation, and that of millions of other independent, enterprising Americans a whole lot better.

It’s flipped the part-time job situation on its head.

I don’t really need a “career”,  as the Walmart shills like to call their shit jobs. I just need some steady cash flow to get out of debt and finance  my real business which is creating art. I can now look for a job that offers more flexibility (read: studio time). Even if I do wind up back inside the corporate machine (believe me, I’m trying to avoid that!) I don’t need to grovel through ignominious “huddles”; or worry that if I can’t make my drudge schedule fit my show schedule, I risk my health coverage. I simply make some credit card payments, then walk out and leave the work to those whom the jobs were originally designed for: 16 year old kids. No, I won’t feel a bit guilty. If big corporate want a more loyal work force, they can start offering better jobs.

Thanks, Obama!

The effect is starting to be noticed in articles, commentary and statistically. The GOP propaganda machine calls this “destroying jobs” but as usual, their definition of “job” is looser than the lips in the Rape Caucus’ Caucus room.  And for most of us, anything that shifts the balance of power in the economy even slightly away from the entrenched, paneled boardrooms and toward the ever-creative, ever-industrious Main Street is a huge victory for American independence and possibility.

Categories
Politics

Everybody Knows This is Nowhere

Here’s a quick follow-up on the last post. The Tea-Bagger beat the plagiarist. Apparently Colorado GOP voters are more worried about the U.N. /bicycle conspiracy theory than whether their children receive quality education, or their seniors, health care. But politically, bicycle batallions are the least of their worries. In addition to the third-party Immigration Nazi, who polls show will siphon votes from the paranoid Bicycle Nazi, his own party wants to replace him with a self-funded (read: rich) candidate of their choosing. 

In the Senate Primary, appointed incumbent Bennett beat Romanoff to set up the fall contest with another Tea-Bagger, who has money problems too, with Bennett’s campaign fund about eight times the size of his own. Neither GOP nominee has ever held office, while the two Dems, both moderate liberals, have accomplished quite a bit in a short time using bi-partisanship and common sense. 

So, as Mike Litwin writes in the Post, the Dems, once assumed to be subject to voter backlash, will actually be favored in the top two races heading into the fall campaign. Colorado is too small to be a bellwether state, but if Hickenlooper and Bennett pull this off, the nation will certainly take notice. “Crazy”? Litwin is one of the Post’s few token liberal pundits, and I often agree with him, but if paranoid, anti-government libertarian claptrap gets bested in November by experienced, common sense, moderate progressives, will that really be so crazy?

Categories
Politics

Purple Haze

I haven’t commented on politics too much lately, but the GOP Gubernatorial slate aren’t really practicing it, anyway. More like slapstick. Yes, I know the conventional wisdom is that the Dems will suffer losses in the mid-term elections because of Tea-Bagger activism, but you couldn’t prove it here in Colorado. As those who are paying attention know, Colorado is a former Red State that has been trending Blue. It also, according to CPR, has the largest percentage of Tea-Baggers in any state. I guess that puts us in a Purple Haze, but it sure has been a trip here, and the rest of the country is beginning to stare.

There’s all sorts of fun ‘n’ games going on here, as we’re having a primary right now. I could go on forever, but let’s peek in on the GOP Gubernatorial Primary.

After it was revealed that the old school, conservative,”jobs” candidate’s most recent employment was plagiarizing college profs at 300k a crack, the anti-immigrant guy jumped in with the unsurprising assertion that AZ’s new law was forcing illegals not back to Mexico, but onto Colorado’s welfare rolls. Presumably, his solution will be to shove them along to Nebraska. Problem solved. Soon they’ll be in Canada, where the party out of power ISN’T trying to eliminate their health care system. Thanks, Immigration Nazis!

Now the Tea-Bagger candidate has jumped in with the opinion that Hickenlooper, the current Denver mayor, and  presumptive Dem candidate, is by installing bike-share stations and encouraging greener transportation alternatives, hastening a “U.N. takeover”. He went on to explain that the plot is “well disguised”.

True dat, true dat. As are Curly, Larry and Moe’s Statehouse credentials. In politics these days, though, paranoia is the new black. So no one can really guarantee that images of bicycle-mounted U.N. shock troops, or 30 foot walls from Pueblo to Four Corners (neatly slicing off – ouch! pun intended- Trinidad, sex-change capital of the nation) WON’T resonate with voters. 

Nor are the Democrats averse to the hijinks. Hickenlooper, who has been perking along just fine, rightly reminding voters that he had created more jobs and balanced more budgets than all the GOP candidates combined, couldn’t resist announcing to a large crowd that included several car dealers that he wanted to “wean Americans from the automobile”. Innocent enough for us two-wheeling fifth-column types, but in the Rocky Mountain West, where visiting your neighbors often requires a 3-hour drive… well, like the gun fetish thing, Dems usually just don’t go there. 

Over in the Senate Primary, Andrew Romanoff, who led the charge when the state legislature went Democratic in ’06, has been trying to paint his incumbent opponent, Michael Bennett, who was appointed when Ken Salazar joined the Obama administration, and who has done pretty well with his brief time inside the Beltway, as a big-money Washington insider. I’m expecting an ad about Bennett’s Swift-Boat adventures on the Arkansas River any day now. There is a Republican Senate Primary, and it does feature another of those zany Tea-Baggers, so stay tuned, as hilarity will undoubtedly ensue. 

Actually, speaking of the Arkansas, a new Jean-Claude and Christo project to cover it in the trademark orange fabric is advancing nicely. I don’t doubt the Tea Baggers will have something to say about THAT before this whole thing is over, too. There’s nothing to stop the U.N. Navy from sending kayaks, too.