Death of Art, Birth of Content

 

The question ‘what is art?’ has long plagued our species as we seem to be the only species that creates it. One definition is that Mankind makes two things: Tools & Art. Tools serve a physical and singular purpose whereas Art does not. Others say it is simply pure expression of the Will with no absolute purpose. Whereas a lot of people say Art does have a deep and profound purpose even an instructive one. The debate will rage for many centuries to come I’m sure but one thing is for certain humankind has created Art since the birth of consciousness and it shows no sign of stopping. Art seems to be a by-product of living. People who claim to have no creative or artistic leaning will still be creative in some way or will have some creative outlet, no matter how small or apparently inconsequential. The difference between the everyday person who is creative and The Artist is that The Artist has a passion for the Arts and dedicates study, education, time and effort to their development in the field so they might become more accomplished in it.

Content is a funny word. With the same spelling but a subtle difference in pronunciation it can either mean a state of peaceful happiness or a thing that which something contains. The meaning of the latter was once an identifiable object: the content of a glass was water, the content of a painting was a landscape or a portrait. Today the meaning has become more abstract. Content has providers, editors, managers, controllers and more. Content now has many meanings under one heading.

In recent years technology has levelled a great deal of playing fields in every industry and certainly in the arts. As an example for Photographers, what would have taken years of study in a darkroom to develop the techniques associated with printing a photograph and editing its final product and then a minute understanding of curation and galleries to display in is superseded by Instagram which will edit an image in a moment and display it for millions in mere seconds. We would call the former Photographer an Artist yet scholars, academics and critics would sneer at describing an ‘Instagrammer’ as an Artist. Thanks to technology developing a more egalitarian distribution of automated expertise the establishment surrounding the Art world is forced to find ways of differentiating the Artist from the everyday person and their creative outlet, thus dismissing Instagram and similar social media sites. What this implies is that to critics of internet outlets Art, ‘real Art’, is about the discipline and effort involved not necessarily the content of the Art. The creativity and uniqueness of a given image is dismissed due to its medium and normally what the image is of. Kim Kardashian’s Instagram feed became a book of self portraits published by Rizzoli, InstaPoet Rupi Kaur’s collection of Poetry ‘Milk & Honey’ is published by Andrews McMeel, both sell very well and both are largely not taken seriously by the artistic establishment or general patrons of the Arts. If they are called an Artist it is with the caveat ‘Internet’ or ‘Social Media’ as a prefix. In addition, with technology making many different styles and disciplines of Art available today’s ‘Internet Artist’ is often a multi-disciplined, multi-skilled creator. YouTube celebrities often write and edit their own videos, direct short films, setup photography shoots, write their own books, develop independent channels for reviews, journalism or anything that takes their (and their audience’s) interest. As such many people in more traditional media outlets and art industries struggle to define what these Artists actually are.

To counteract this they have instead been labelled as ‘Creatives’ and what they create, their creative output, is ‘Content’. This signals a very important change in the perception of the modern Artist: The Artist as commodity. The chief manner in which many internet Artists make their money is advertising. The average Youtuber or Instagrammer has a provable audience share in their follower count, they have metrics on who sees them, who interacts, how often and so on. This repurposing of business speak, ‘Creative’ and ‘Content’, for Artists and their output is indicative of how their creativity is perceived by those wishing to finance their creativity. Since the first Artist, their making a living has been a problem. The inherent monetary value of Art is at the whim of the public and like the definition of art itself it is hard to ascribe a financial definition to it too. Often an Artist relied on a Patron or familial wealth to support their endeavours, today these still stand but they have just updated. Many Internet Artists see the patronage of advertisers as freeing, no need to break into the near impossible Artistic Society bubble, yet as YouTubers recently discovered advertisers have certain demands and legalities they must abide by and so must control how their products are advertised which many YouTube artists and their ‘Content’ don’t adhere to. As such a recent crackdown meant a lot of YouTubers lost money due to monetisation of their videos being removed and in some cases channels were shut down. Unfortunately due to the open nature of the internet the absence of one channel/profile is often of little concern to the site as whole as there is always a wealth of other Creatives churning out Content daily.

Art has intrinsic value in that it is essential to life, whether we realise it or not. Cuts to funding in the Arts makes it harder and harder to make a living or even develop the skills necessary to become an Artist in an educational institution. Therefore it makes sense that Artists use one of the only avenues left available to them to educate themselves, develop their craft and create and publish works of art. Yet they are immediately dismissed as crass, vain, cheap, intellectually barren and so on. Not all ‘Content’ on the internet is great by any means but there are some truly great artists producing genuine works of Art online that get buried amongst the chaff. Throwing the baby out with the bath water regarding internet Artists may seem trivial but traditional Artists and their mediums are going to have to accept that digital ‘Creatives’ and their ‘Content’ are, in many ways, the future and have the potential to be as revolutionary and valuable as themselves and should afford them the same titles of Art and Artist. The goal should, ironically, be to judge them and their work on their Content not their medium.

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An Alternative Life

 

There’s a scene near the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Indy is teaching a class and says “Archaeology is the search for Fact, not Truth. If it’s truth you’re interested in Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is just down the hall.” At a time in history that will now forever be viewed as a cataclysmic slide into retrograde beliefs and historically appalling ideologies this phrase, of all phrases, seems to strike a ringing chord for me. Celebrity Scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted recently “I dream of a world where the Truth is what shapes people’s politics, rather than politics shaping what people think is true.” When the gatekeepers of important political information are outright lying using what they claim are ‘alternative facts’ the Truth has suddenly become a rare but malleable commodity, akin to gold. But it very much depends on your perspective today who you believe is the alchemist. And what rare metals you believe are facts.

I spent some time sofa surfing in Brighton last year before I travelled to America where I spent Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year and – importantly – the Election with my girlfriend. Whilst sofa surfing I was left to chat with my friends’ flatmate who liked a chat of an evening. His favoured topic of discussion was science. He loved it, delightfully rattled off scientific facts he had learned through casual study in his personal time and took even greater delight in pointing out the foolishness of people who had faith or believed in something that was only explainable without empirical evidence. His passion regularly made these discussions animated. At another time I was out for dinner with my work colleagues when a similar discussion came up and I happened to point out my general contempt for a Mr Richard Dawkins (not because I disagreed with his theories but I find him a singularly unpleasant fellow) to which I was taken to task, quite aggressively, by a colleague who I am still good friends with but at the time seemed to see me as akin to a child murderer. She took great objection to my dislike for a scientist and took it to mean I had no belief in the scientific method or empirical evidence. Nothing could be further from the truth. I believe profoundly in the scientific method, evidence based research, model projection and you ignore the findings of these at your peril. Anyone who does not recognise the contribution to society made by the scientific community is outright incorrect.

In my current under-employed state I watched through the entirety of Rick & Morty on Netflix the other day and was totally enamoured with it. Not just because it’s uniquely animated and performed, nice and short – each episode clocking in around the 20 minute mark – and genuinely funny and original but because akin to my other favourite cartoon Futurama, it is very very smart. Unlike the open sewer that is The Big Bang Theory which merely parrots scientific findings and geek culture buzzwords the writers probably find on Reddit, Rick & Morty takes huge concepts and ideas and doesn’t attempt to boil them down so they’re digestible but uses these as a premise to explore character development and story arcs, just like in y’know real life. Hanging from the paper thin premise of a knock-off Doc & Marty from Back to the Future they explore graph theory, string theory, the Post Hoc fallacy, the Uncertainty Principle and much, much more. Like Futurama it is beloved by the ever critical (and massively egotistical and arrogant) ‘Nerd’ culture, calling it a “love letter to science”. And whilst I occasionally found it glib or walking well trodden ground from other sci-fi that it was well above, I loved it too ranking it an equal favourite animation with Futurama.

And I think this is where the problem comes from.

My whole life I have never vilified religion or the religious and I still don’t. Why? Because the people against it, relishing in referring to themselves as Atheists, have come across as even more volatile, aggressive, bombastic, argumentative, determined-to-convert, rude and down right unpleasant than any ‘Religious’ zealot I have yet met. It is not a new theory but one that is spat upon today that Atheism is just as much a religion as any other. In the above mentioned conversations and so many more throughout my life, when I point out there are just as many holy books, churches, temples, priests and other religious ephemera attributed to Atheism as any other organised religion, I have been met with a (very literally) violent reaction. There are, obviously, differences between Science and Faith, namely Science has a need to demand criticism, questioning and wants to be proved wrong i.e. like life itself it wants to progress which indicates it’s probably the right path to take. However you’re slightly blinkered if you think faith hasn’t been proven wrong and developed over the course of 3 millennia. What startles me though is how staunchly any questioning of Science is refuted with the immediate appearance of mountains of evidence to support whoever’s claims are being questioned and the line of questioning duly shut down completely as if to say “that’s that put to bed.” This seems to negate the very rule which they live by, a lack of query. If, as I do, you truly believe science is for the benefit of mankind and will provide us a species with a future, this kind of questioning really shouldn’t have any impact on you or your faith (yes, Faith) in it.

What I think is missing from everyday life today – and most definitely on the internet – is Philosophy.

Let us define terms here, I am not speaking of a life philosophy or personal philosophy which everyone develops over time and throughout their life but actual Philosophy. In its simplest form this is the question ‘Why?’ to be asked of everything. And I mean everything. Sadly today it does not seem to be asked of anything. It also requires a difficult and complicated understanding of a lot of different aspects of life, culture and yes Science. This requires reading, a lot of it. In the world of the internet, long form ‘Content’ is discouraged and actively ignored in a culture of tl:dr (as this blog will attest) so the idea of reading an entire text of very difficult theorem and dialectics based on largely intangible evidence is off putting to the point of I-don’t-care. The odd youtuber tries to bring Humanities to the table of ‘Vlogs’ but they are vastly outweighed by the number of loud and proud science channels/profiles.

A few of my friends are Academics, all both doctors and lecturers in the Humanities field and all have expressed dislike of current studies in Neuroscience. They feel with computers creating graphs of emotional responses to literature, or a model for the perfect novel, something is being lost in the analytics of culture – and Humanity – by the human mind. The scientific method aims to create an objective view of the world and our universe so it can be better studied but as Heisenberg himself pointed out: “that which you study you also change”. We change the outcome by measuring it. That is because as humans we are subjective. In short: a fact is rarely an objective one.

If you’re a fan of video games like me you may have heard of GamerGate. This was a recent explosion in a particularly vile sub-section of the internet and gaming culture that found a flimsy excuse to exercise their most misogynistic tendencies and were quickly laying waste to certain websites and certain careers that didn’t align with their views under the banner “Ethics in video games journalism” whilst simultaneously being the most unethical bunch of parasites in the world. You may not have heard of them or may have forgotten them but you know them now because they’re the people who got the UK to leave the EU and got Trump elected. They’re also the idiots who tried to boycott the latest Star Wars films because they were lead by girls and talk about the entirely fictitious ‘White Holocaust’. Milo Yiannopoulos is a good example. These giant children see themselves as Geeks, Nerds, the ‘Alternative’ crowd. They consider themselves informed and erudite and coincidentally are staunch believers in empirical science. In the same way as both the leave campaign and remain campaign AND the Democrat and Republican campaigns were all pretty detestable and had ‘Facts & Figures’ to support their claims, facts – it would seem – ended up being a dangerous thing. This, for me, stems from the religion or rather the Zealotry of Atheism and/or Science. Which is where Rick & Morty comes in.

Rick & Morty is indeed about science, Rick is a scientist but the show’s strength is not it’s adherence to science it’s Rick’s ultimate contempt for it. Rick & Morty is more of a show about Philosophy, reconciling the knowledge of oneself and the universe that science brings, with our existence as a whole. Something French author and Philosopher Albert Camus referred to as The Absurd and what is generally paraphrased today as ‘Existentialism’. Ultimately a pure scientist or Atheist should end their life immediately. We have nothing to live for, nothing matters, we are cosmically insignificant, overwhelming evidence suggests humans are a negative force on planet Earth and over population is hastening us towards a swift extinction anyway. But they don’t. We thrive as a species because of science. This dichotomy, this search for meaning in a meaningless existence, is a profound and troubling question that most people shy from. Some people feign Nihilism (normally the same people who love 90s grunge) as a cool exterior or adoptive identity but true Nihilists are rare, if not totally extinct because we have generally accepted we give ourselves meaning to live. See how philosophy helped us? If we didn’t develop these theories we’d all collapse screaming into an abyss as Nietzsche would have it. Rick & Morty explores many of these challenging themes in some depth but the fact that this seems to be overlooked in favour of the science of the show I find troubling. Even the word Science to me has become troubling, or at least its usage has, in the same way as ‘Content’ has come to mean many things whilst killing the nuance of many others, this dogmatic adherence to the Saviour That Is Science is damaging in the extreme. Claiming our involvement in the world is a binary response of either Faith or Science is what got us where we are today in the west: totally divided. Both could learn from one another yet both have dug their heels in harder and harder and resist the scientific and objective method of query as well as the philosophical, less tangible method of query. Both sides sharing links to biased articles, Tim Mnchin songs, videos of Stephen Fry DESTROYING RELIGION, interviews with Climate Change denying scientists and other equally specious ‘Content’ to serve a given agenda. There’s a reason the study of Consciousness is referred to as ‘The Hard Problem’. There is a great quote from a book called Boneland by Alan Garner where a character says “I’m for uncertainty. As soon as you think you know, you’re done for. You don’t listen and you can’t hear. If you’re certain of anything, you shut the door on the possibility of revelation, of discovery. You can think. You can believe. But you can’t ‘know’.” We know an awful lot today but there is a vast gulf between information, knowledge and wisdom, a gulf most of us are happy to stand on either side of and never try to traverse.

In the first chapter of Hard Times by Charles Dickens, ‘The One Needful Thing’, the first words of the book are spoken by Mr Gradgrind: “Now, what I want is, Facts.” The book goes on to reveal Gradgrind as cold and cruel, concerned only with numbers and facts. The more I hear about facts at the moment the less inclined I am to want to listen. Not because I don’t believe in evidence or proof but because the legacy is so pernicious. Like a great band or artist who inspired a legion of rather dreadful imitators (I’m looking at poor Jeff Buckley here) the sanctity of facts has come under the wrong kind of scrutiny but for me the true damage is there is no search for Truth. After all, they’re not the same thing. Philosophy is just down the hall.

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P.S. There are some excellent articles and videos on the web about the Philosophy of Rick & Morty, Wisecrack’s in particular.

Try and have Merry Christmas

I’ve been remiss on this blog this year but I mean it’s been pretty quiet hasn’t it? Not much has happened. Will try and pick up the slack next year but feel like everything I need to say is being said online at the moment, a lot. The internet is just becoming background noise to be honest. 2017 is probably the year we start getting back to the real world as it seems we’ve been neglecting it and it has turned to complete shit. In the spirit of that, here’s you annual Christmas Poem from yours truly:


Merry Christmas Mrs. May

With snow gently lilting to the ground

Christmas lights casting their pearlescent glow

And a brass band blowing their mournful sound

Now wreaths of holly hung from doors to show

a welcome inside from a gilded tree,

mulling wine, chestnuts and the mistletoe

then comes a knocking and outside we see

wrapped up carolers singing songs we know.

“Do you have a license? And the volume’s

too loud. Make sure that brass band doesn’t stay,

I don’t think that’s a British seasonal tune

either. And mistletoe’s poisonous! No grey

area there, best take down this holly

wreath too. Is that snow white enough to play

in?” Poor No.10 (it’s not so jolly)

But have a Merry Christmas Mrs. May.

 


Also I made a Christmas song with my friend Christiana you can download for free over on Soundcloud. Click here to listen.

Be kind to each other. Except the 51% and anyone who voted Trump. Fuck them. They’re wrong and you need to tell them so and importantly show the evidence why. They don’t have facts to back up their racism, homophobia, misogyny and xenophobia, that’s why it’s called ‘ignorance’. Fuck 2016, let’s try and make next year better.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Negative Capability 

This is my 100th post here on This Written River and I wanted it to be special. A celebration. Sadly, it cannot be. Everyday some new horror is visited on humankind by humankind and I’m finding it harder and harder to understand how we got here and, more importantly, why are things not getting better?

As usual the only way I can express this is in my writing. I have written a short story that was being published by SleepyHousePress.com today but I asked them to hold off for a week due to its closeness in subject matter to the recent tragedies across Europe and the middle east. In its stead here is a poem I wrote today.

Negative Capability

In our pocket world it is easily seen

The total story from sublime to obscene

We suck and curl, one wave of grief,

Of outrage, of anger, of disbelief

We know the who, the what, the where, the why

But when asked ‘what the feel?’ we shy.

Like the horse held in place beside the passing train

We should not rear and stamp at other’s pain.

Do not lie, you do. We parrot kindness

Our sympathies, as it’s required of us

But do you kneel on the floor and grab,

Blindly smearing blood on the concrete slab?

Do you feel the pennies placed on your eyes?

Or cold metal shudder at those you despise?

Do you smell the cobalt air and feel the sting

Of tears of guilt and shame, that fear could not bring?

Do you put a head, fearful, to a chest

And listen if a heart still beats in that breast?

We see Paris, Lebanon, through the pane of glass

Flat in our palm and wipe a finger to scroll the past.

If that window cracked and our hand fell through

To touch the fear, would our minds attune?

Would we understand it’s all too few

That, though we’re all in touch, feel for you.

A lot of people are blaming religion at this point but a great tenet of Faith has always been ‘Do unto others’. So today: Love thy neighbour. Stay safe.

P.S. Negative Capability is a phrase coined by Keats and is explained well here: http://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/john-keats-and-negative-capability 

The Platitudes of Tumblr

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When I was a fresh faced 18 year old, having just moved into my first house with wages from my first full time job I was living with my friend Russ. My dear departed Dad would stay once a week when he was in town and I remember him spotting something that Russ was reading and picked it up to have look. It was a book by the author Paulo Coelho. Russ is a good 10 years older than me and I assumed, being 18, that anything he read was sensible and grown up. I knew little of what Coelho wrote but knew it was often described as  “a bit new aged” and rather “spiritual”. My father being the ultimate tree-hugging hippy who does tai-chi in his slippers, I assumed would nod sagely at this choice of reading material. He didn’t. He flicked through the book and said “Oh dear that’s no good. These are just aphorisms” then followed that up with, “that’s dangerous.”

Now my father had many faults, he was by no means perfect but he was a very wise man. Maybe not  “smart” but a very gifted and wise man. So for him to describe a book of aphorisms as “dangerous” puzzled me at the time but I did not ask him to elucidate. Having subsequently read some Paulo Coelho I now know that Dad was right in that it is some of the most wishy-washy ambiguous new-age bullshit I’ve read but ‘dangerous’? Dad never knew me as a poet as he died long before I converted so I don’t know what he would make of my now career as I don’t really know if he ever had any interest in poetry himself. I never saw any in his book collections. But he did like to quote in conversation, something I have adopted. I like being able to site reference to other instances when talking or writing and I have a good memory for those sorts of things. Though my quotes tend to be more pop culture and cinema… Anyway, point being he was a user of aphorisms himself so referring to a book of them as dangerous still seems odd. Especially from a man who re-read The Celestine Prophecy numerous times.

Aphorisms in the age of the meme are enjoying a resurgence unseen since the Victorian era when sound bite witticisms and wisdom-isms were all the rage thanks to the likes of Oscar Wilde (who has many a meme circling the toilet bowl part of the internet). These manifest as graphic design images that get posted on social media. You know exactly what I mean. The Instagram post that’s a picture of a sun bleached field of corn with a carefully chosen font exclaiming “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves”. Some are profound (as that Edmund Hilary quote truly is), some are genuinely funny, most are banal, asinine drivel with all the depth of a puddle. Love them or loathe them they are everywhere. Memes themselves are slightly different and I confess I detest the word Meme due to the fact it was invented by a man who is the reverse of spiritual who I also dislike greatly but this trend for creating “CONTENT” (whatever the fuck that word means now) involving little to no thought or creative development that simply involves finding a free image via google and slapping any old collection of words on top of it, is actually the death of aphorisms.

A true and poetic aphorism, in the briefest amount of syllables and fewest words, should cut to the bone of a topic. Encapsulate all arguments and respond to all queries. They are the beautiful jewels of language that speak to us with an immediacy that can be mulled over and thought on for hours even days later. Especially when timed and deployed correctly. If Wilde was King of these Shakespeare was God: “Our enemies are our outward consciences”, “How bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man’s eyes”, “All glory comes from daring to begin”, “Nothing can come of nothing”, “Have more than you show, speak less than you know”, “Light and lust are deadly enemies” and the most appropriate “Brevity is the soul of wit”. Those can be chewed on for a long time and deserve to be. Few of those have been subjected to the above treatment for memetic usage and those that have tend to be in serif font on an old parchment backdrop to signify ‘Ye Olde’. No, now we use quotes possibly made up by the typer or quotes that are truncated or poorly sourced and most of the time not attributed, just simply encased in quotation marks like the grammatical version of holy water.

Tumblr is where these go to garner the most ‘likes’ and views but equally where aphorisms go to die. Few ‘good’ aphorisms make it through the Meme generator as they require thought and effort to understand, this is not what the internet at large wants. It wants something quick and easy to digest but then it is not an aphorism. Then. Then it is a platitude. And platitudes ARE dangerous.

The various quotes that are the currency of tumblr can be deployed at the drop of a hat. There is even a meme that states “All females have 50 screenshotted quotes waiting in their album ready to post when shit goes down”. What this means is their currency is inherently valueless, they become an echo chamber, a feedback loop. There is a quote or aphorism for any given emotion, topic or experience and for every side of the issue. There are even old sayings that contradict one another: “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” & “Out of sight, Out of mind” being the most obvious. The picture of a balloon with an instagram filter on it with the words “you let me go” etched in faux typewriter font is sat alongside “Society often forgives the criminal, it never forgives the dreamer” and both given equal worth because of their context. Your way of thinking can be bolstered by a meme quote even if you know you are wrong. When “shit goes down” it should be a time for contemplation, serious thought. If you have separated from the one you love being told that “Love is blind” by a friend can cause you to analyse both your own motives and the person you are separated from’s, as apposed to the tumblr  equivalent of “There are plenty more fish in the sea”.

Tumblr’s platitudes promote inaction and uncritical thought, they are affirmations that you were doing it right all along and that you should carry on as you are. This is wholly wrong. Aphorisms, true aphorisms, stem from the poetic mode of compression and that in turn requires personal involvement on your part. It should be ambiguous, it should stir questions not set you at ease. The reason I was riled to be so vitriolic and sweary in this post is that the kind of childish ill-thought out platitudes I see all over social media have now worked their way into speech and interaction not simply the passive aggressive posting on facebook etc. People use these meaningless non-quotes in conversations as cappers on an argument or discussion like that quote ends it. No! A good aphorism or quote should further the debate, should deepen the turn of conversation not end it because whoever the quote is attributed to says so. My father knew this and I now realise why he declaimed the Coelho book as dangerous, as they were not aphorisms, they did not challenge, they did not deepen or contradict your current thinking, they affirmed it.

In the film ‘The Rock’ by Michael Bay, Ed Harris is talking to Sean Connery and quotes Thomas Jefferson saying “The Tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants” to which Connery’s character replies “Patriotism is a virtue of the vicious” which is, of course, Oscar Wilde. In the context of the scene, for such a silly action movie, this actually gives something of a profound weight to both characters and their motivations in the smallest amount of screen time and even just reading them together would give one pause to consider the necessity of patriotism. That is what great language can do.

So the next time you see one of those, oh so pretty, like-baiting quotes over a pretty dull image shoved through an IG filter stop before liking or reposting just because you thought “Yeah! It IS like that isn’t it? That thing. Yeah.” Because that’s what the meme is for but it doesn’t help you or anyone else, it just exists as a digital water wheel, cycling round and round taking what it already had right back where it took it from. Then respond to that post critically, reply with your OWN quote, a more ambiguous one. The great people who said these things were challenging you to see the world anew not telling you everything is fine the way it is.

“To speak with another’s tongue, is to be silent” – Leo Cookman, 2015

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P.S. Checkout these tumblr parodies to see the absurdity of this pernicious trend. I laughed till I cried looking at them and the originals deserve our contempt.

 

Sold Out

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Once upon a time there was a notion, seen as unforgivable, called  “selling out”. This was the idea that your integrity in whatever field was up for sale and whatever it was you had to offer, once bought, could never be retrieved as it was now “sold out”. It is often used in reference to artists of various kinds. The most egregious cases of selling out were when it was to do with advertising. It is often used as a weapon by seething rivals to wave at their more successful peers to draw attention to their lack of integrity and that their talents are for sale to the highest bidder. Some would argue, however, that utilising the money and exposure offered by some form of larger cultural presence, such as a business etc, is a great thing as it allows the artist to develop without the constraints of poverty and allows a greater audience to see their work. In a capitalist society the latter is generally seen as the focus for any artist but never more so than now.

The notion of “selling out” is all but gone today. The young creative sector of society’s only goal today is to sell their creations or  ‘content’ to the highest bidder at the earliest available opportunity. Youtuber’s (almost universally between the ages of 16 to 26) main aim is to gain a large enough following to tempt companies to advertise on their channel for an intermittent and wildly unrepresentative fee, singers and musicians believe their only route into success is to now use the various television “talent” contests developed purely to make money for the hosts and to be owned, wholesale, by the promotion company owned by oily, bleach toothed, hair dyed, billionaires. Fine artists and graphic designer’s greatest goal seems to be that their art is used in an advertising campaign.

Then there are the deluded artists (like me) who believe that integrity is all that matters when it comes to art, in whatever form. That believe art should not be censored or compromised for any reason, least of all money. That any creation is compromised the moment it requires substantial financial input, because that means that there a many more vested interests that believe they know how best to create the thing for the maximum return on investment. Whilst larger artistic works certainly require involvement from people other than the artist to create a piece, there tends to be a guiding hand. Which is where the idea of selling out came in. To make a film say, requires a lot of money up front to develop and produce and in western society that is an investment (and a high risk one at that) and the more input from outside sources the less control there is from the artist but for a book say it just requires the writer and their editor, right? Not any more. The publisher needs to cover costs too and the Big Six publishing houses need to turn over massive profits every year to maintain their lists so there will be executive input there too. What this amounts to is the fact that if you create anything of any kind your next step to being able to earn money from it is to literally sell it i.e. give away the thing you have created for a fee so it no longer belongs to you. Many business minded people would see not agreeing with this as precious but many artists (like me) see this sale as an unnecessary step it the creative process.

I think this death of the idea of selling out is largely due to the death of foundations, institutions and bodies that would assist artists or talents in their develop with the knowledge they would not make their money back, that their investment in culture was the return. In an age where universities now charge £9k per year – a figure set to rise in the coming few years – and where students are treated as consumers and then duly act like consumers, their education a commodity, the notion of social enterprise for no financial reward is an unthinkable concept. Therefore any creator’s drives must be largely financially minded today, you can no longer want to do something creative purely for the sake of creation, there must be recompense. As such, you must then sell. This sale is so much part of every industry today it isn’t even referred to so selling your product isn’t an unpleasant route that some artists or creations mistakenly take to be rich and famous, it is the goal in western (but let’s be honest, global too) society.

My utter utter despair at my fellow countrymen at the beginning of May for voting in such an unashamedly cowardly and self-centred way was also tempered with surprise at my own naivety that people would not vote for the outwardly cruel and despicable bunch of self serving cunts we now have in power by virtue of the slimmest majority possible. Scotland and Ireland voted (rightly) for themselves and so did England. The majority of voters in England sold out any notion of integrity for personal gain this last general election because they voted for their own pockets, to stay rich, middle class and take care of themselves and their own families knowing full well they were voting for five more years of food banks, public sector cuts, austerity, punishing the poorest and sickest in society and generally a government that any so-called ‘civilised’ country would be ashamed to have rule them. That to me, is the definition of “selling out” and the simple fact that but for one march in London little has been done or said to protest this fact means this mentality is the prevailing wind in this country I now bitterly call home.

I don’t deny I want to be a published author still as I would like to make a living from my writing but in light of our current regime and overall disgust with the attitude of the people in England I am more resolute in my desire than ever to not accept that to succeed is to be selfish. To truly succeed is to be selfless. Altruism outlives you and affects far more than your children or grandchildren. I have been long-term unemployed for the last 3 years (yet mercifully found a job just as the money obsessed Conservatives gained power) and was able to survive purely through the kindness of other people. My Dad was not wealthy and I did not inherit any great deal of money but I did inherit a support network of hundreds of people who have all in small or large ways kept me going over the last three years. I can tell you who hasn’t: British social institutions, our government and by extension our society as a whole. Every time I went to institutions for help they were either entirely unhelpful or incredibly bitter that they had to help me at all and when they did it was made as difficult for me as possible to garner any assistance at any turn. I was made to feel like a criminal and villain simply for the unforgivable crime of not earning money. This sanctified notion of “working families” that is all any political party cares about. The government sells its wares and expects returns despite being malfunctioning and piss-poor in its delivery and effects, my Father gave his away and his legacy is still present today. The same goes for most of the good people I know. If you sell yourself all you get in return is more money which many say is enough, I don’t. I’m greedy. I want to be happy and want other people to be happy and safe and fulfilled and creative. Money never has been able to and never will be able to purchase that.

Judas Iscariot was paid 30 pieces of silver for betraying Jesus’ trust and in so doing, causing Jesus’ death and then later his own suicide. All for 30 pieces of silver. Those coins are long since lost (if they ever existed) and would never be recognised amongst the currency of the day as it is. Judas sold out, it earned him little but cost him everything.

If you are looking for compassion here in England now, I’m sorry. We’re all sold out.

An addition to the ‘Canon’…

Given how disgusted and appalled I was with the result of the 2010 general election you can probably guess my utter despair at the result from the weekend. My contempt for the Conservatives and their media “supporters” (read as: sponsors, legislators and best chums) now borders on that of the worst far right parties of history. After the last election I self-published a small pamphlet of poetry that raged against the dying of the light but that just seems too puny to fight what is apparently the national public opinion that right wing politics and selfishness is the way forward. But frankly it’s about all I can do now.

Below is my first of no doubt many anti-Tory/austerity poems and would love it if you could share it, particularly to people you might know who are inclined to the right. Written in the Victorian style Gove loves so much and using the Conservative Party font, I hope the message isn’t too subtle to sink in. Please share the jpg or the text, I’m not fussed about credit, just get it out there. I’ll be tweeting it too if you’re so inclined.

Keep the faith, people with a soul and consideration for others tend win through in the end. It’s going to be a looooong 5 years.

giantsofalbion