“Cause the world needs more lawyers”

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Image: Summit Entertainment 2016

Have you seen La La Land?  I found it profound.  It speaks about capitalism itself, and a thought experiment I’ve been trying out on friends:

Imagine an Ayn Rand-inspired world where there is no public subsidy or taxation to incentivize or disincentivize purchasing, and where employees keep 100% of their wages.  Would the resulting purchases be a complete reflection of what society valued most?  If we wanted something, we would buy it.  If we needed something, we would buy it.  If we didn’t, we wouldn’t.

What would become of art?  Museums and galleries, concert halls, theatres and opera venues would close overnight.  Those institutions are usually heavily subsidized, even despite expensive ticket prices.  We don’t value the high production costs highly enough, despite our bourgeois pretentions of sophistication.

Yet the message of La La Land is “follow your dreams”.  In response to Mia’s protestation that she should have done something useful with the last six years of life rather than chase an acting career, Sebastian tells her sarcastically, “’cause the world needs more lawyers”.  Whatever the word is for irony that isn’t ironic – fact? – Sebastian is spot on.  Actually, the world does need more lawyers, and it needs fewer actors.  Why?  Because administration to manage the complexity of protecting capital has ballooned with the concentration of wealth.

The real irony is that the very ubiquity of art and the very glibness of messages such as “follow your dreams” has cheapened it so much that it has become commonplace.  Art is free: on Spotify, on Pinterest, on YouTube and everywhere: it has been reduced to background for our conspicuous consumption.  It’s clickbait, it’s ‘send us your email address with your competition entries’.  It provides context for our purchases – I’m a goth, so I must buy these clothes and wear my hair this way, not that way.   Art is dead other than the high-end kind, which is more about capital and tax efficiency than supporting aspiring art graduates.  Published writers make far less than the minimum wage on average – “follow your dreams” is a route to starvation, and freezing on the streets.

We seem determined to ignore the ugly realities of capitalism, or turn those ugly realities into beauty, because the alternative is acceptance that Things Can Certainly Not Get Better.  From the opening dance of drivers stuck in a traffic jam, La La Land shouts capitalist realism – if only we workers opened our eyes and saw traffic jams, unemployment and poverty for what they are: failures of our democracy and of our society, of an unsustainable increase in living standards for two generations paid for by fossil fuels, colonialism and exploitation that we pretend no longer to tolerate.  We understood that workers in the Soviet Union were fed lies and propaganda, so why is it so hard to accept that Hollywood is our equivalent?  La La Land hides this message in plain sight.

 

 

 

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Silent blogging, coming to a cinema near you.

What can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.  – Ludwig Wittgenstein.

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I didn’t want to write anything in this blog as it’s about vanity and silence – but how does one blog about silence?

All utterance is ego: I want, I need, I think.  We speak to fill silence and awkward pauses, we speak to demark our territory as if it’s temporary aural graffiti.  We attach so much importance to utterances (“but you said!”) and yet silence is also unforgiveable.  Chat and the ability to hold an interesting conversation is considered “good value”.  Conversely, someone who turned up to a dinner party and sat there in silence would be considered rude.  As a result, it’s an endless game of non-fatal Russian roulette – condemned to speaking to avoid the rudeness of silence; condemned to be an egotist, talking about ourselves, speaking words, words, words.

Theodore Zeldin wrote a book called Conversation about the power of conversation to break down barriers, explore new territory, realize new things about ourselves.  Zeldin’s organisation has spawned “conversation dinners“.  But in my experience, most conversations are 80% talking and 20% listening from one person – in other words two people in a conversation ends up wanting to squeeze 160% talking into the available space.  We don’t do a lot of listening.

Everybody wants a record deal. Everybody wants to be naked and famous – Tricky

And everyone thinks they have something to say.  Everyone does have something to say because we’re all individualists now.  I do.  So I blog.  Can everyone read all of what everyone else has to say?  Of course not – we’re too busy saying stuff to read it.  But is any of this content useful?  There must be an immense amount of duplication at any given time, but also throughout the history of thought itself.  In other words, it’s not the content.  We just want to say something.  Say anything.  It’s an impulse, a survival instinct perhaps, against the fear of being no-one: our digital footprints become us, like a CV but with less room to blag.  If it’s not on Facebook, did it happen?  Will an agent stumble across this blog, or someone’s YouTube uploads or instagram photographs and offer us a lucrative advance?

No.  The likelihood of someone using the information we willingly and voluntarily disclose about ourselves to defraud us is much, much higher.  Amazon, Google, Facebook, WordPress and the rest are actively scraping content and scanning sites right now at our expense.  Vanity outdoes reason every time.

I have a sensation of what I want to say – but no utterance I manage ever comes close.  Any utterance is doomed to be a pale imitation of what I had in mind.  It takes concentration and hard work to craft and recraft words, music, painting into that original inspiration.

Are we trying to do too much, be too much?

 

 

Weddings, civil war re-enactments, anything.

20170413_085133I wrote last time about the political implications of nostalgia. Watching graduates parading through the dross of Wolverhampton with their parents after graduation reminded me of a further, related thought I’d had before: dressing up is another version of this nostalgia, another form of self-hate and escapism.

There are many situations where we dress up, if we stretch the definition of dressing up: the existence of “office wear” illustrates my point. Ann Summers shops provide the uniform for an assumption of what adventurous lovers wear. Replica football strips fulfil the broken dreams of many football fans and erstwhile clan warriors.  Smart casual shirts for men, cocktail dresses for women fulfil the dress code for “sophistication”.  They each have socially acceptable and unacceptable times and places but in essence, they’re fancy dress.

There maybe a big difference between dressing up as a royalist musketeer in a reenactment of the Battle of Edge hill, wearing a graduation gown and mortar board through the drab and empty streets of failed industrial cities, and wearing a 19th century top coat and tails down the aisle of a 14th century church in 21st century England.  But what they all have in common is anachronism: because contemporary times – where we value diversity, equality, tolerance and democracy, for example, just doesn’t have the right cut. We prefer to dress up and celebrate fashions of a time when slavery was legal and it was fine to beat children. This is the way of nostalgia: the arbitrary celebration of “the past” or “heritage” without critical judgement, whilst at the same time critically judging the present (by trying to mask or ignore it).

In a way it’s similar to the floating carrier bag scene in American Beauty. There is no beauty in a floating carrier bag, but it is a sign of desperation with the brutality of late modern capitalism that we have been reduced to finding beauty where there is none. I’m sure holocaust survivors managed to stay sane by doing the same thing.

There is little beauty in late modern capitalism.  Instead we choose to pretend there is by dressing up.

The arse end of capital.

Cities are the concentration of capital around dense networks of trade.  In very simple terms, the more frequent the transactions, the taller the buildings.  All transactions take place in physical space: digital trade will involve a customer, a supplier and many interactions in between, all with a physical presence somewhere.  “Cyberspace” is less ether, more a warehouse on motorway junction.  So alien is the concept to human minds and so rapidly has the digital economy swamped our capacity to understand it, we would rather imagine Keanu Reaves hopping across grids of blue light.

Urban density is a visible manifestation of capital.  It diminishes until it becomes peri-urban greenbelt, dog kennels, horse riding schools and sports clubs before the profits from agriculture are sufficient to justify its retention as farmland.

Capital in the 21st century loves shiny buildings, its medieval hilltop fortresses or monasteries.  Outside the edges, are the modern equivalent of the hovels of those eking out a living from the scraps – remember the monastery in the 1986 film of The Name of the Rose.  It is a concrete, glass and steel pyramid of the debt that has given us the illusion of rising living standards: capitalists in the penthouses, owning the debt of the desperate edge dwellers eager to get inside the gates far below.

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(c) Neue Constantin Film, Cristaldifilm, Les Films Ariane 

This is a typical sight in a typical city: the fortress where capital is concentrated and its edge, beyond which lies dereliction: holes left fallow waiting until the potential rewards are great enough and secure enough to de-risk investment and redevelop it.  Meanwhile, the inhabitants of these edge spaces politely wait and suffer the social consequences, unaware of the parasitic nature of the debt that created the hole, and welcome its redevelopment with yet more exclusionary uses that feed their misery: more consumption and regressive sales taxes using borrowed money, the promotion of luxury and individualism, the slave-ships of offices for “knowledge workers”.

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The redeveloped New Street Station in Birmingham.  Looks eerily similar, no?
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200m away from the sparkly regeneration of New Street, it stops abruptly.