Big Fish in a Small Pond, Begone!


I’ve been struggling with whether or not to move to NYC for a while now, and in addition to the exorbitant rents, the gentrification, the overcrowding and the pollution, one of the things that keeps me hesitating is the idea of relocating itself. The common assumption is that the next step in a successful arts career post-regional success is to move somewhere that’s a national hub for your profession, impact on local communities and national-level hubs alike be damned. If you stay local, it signals that you’re throwing in the towel, or worse yet, that you’re a washout – yesterday’s “after the break” story in today’s 24 hour news cycle. “There’s NYC, and then there’s the Midwest.”

I’m wary of the notion that regionalism is inherently questionable, viable only as an intermediate stepping stone by default. On the surface, this seems reasonably intelligent, if social darwinist in nature – the great artists get uplifted, the merely passable ones get shunted aside to fare better elsewhere. The reality is more economic in origin, rather than merit-based – national level hubs serve as a weeding out engine, not only of peoples presumed to be less talented (and by who?), but of people whose work doesn’t map as economically viable within the hub’s machinations. If anything, the media and technology industries that hire within national-level hubs, and that increasingly provide bread-and-butter gigs for artists of all types after an indeterminate number of unpaid internships, create a “there’s always the post office” dynamic for their workers. Such work all too often moulds people’s talents into a narrow definition of creative expression, if one is allowed to express oneself at all. Imagine an experimental poet trying to slog through their days working as a technical writer, or a conceptual artist relegated to the marketing team. Even allowing for employment in numerous arts organizations (as well as smaller, more creatively-driven small businesses), there are more Bukowski-in-the-ad-sorting-room sorts of jobs available than Frances-Ha-at-the-arts-org ones. While I’m saying this thousands of miles away from NYC, the pattern seems self-evident upon inspection, especially when you consider how closely it resembles the dynamics in another arts-magnet-turned-creative-class-cash-cow hub, the SF Bay Area.

Further, the attempts at making a place for regional artists don’t fare much better than the dismissal of them. Consider “Don’t worry, you’re a big fish in a small pond.” All well intentions aside, this frequently serves as a form of micro-aggression against emerging and marginalized artists. It’s saying “there there, less-than,” rather than applauding the tenacity to create wherever one lands. It dismisses creators who stay local, while inferring the “national-level super-artist” mythos that drives everything from artistic elitism to urban gentrification, as anyone who has recently tried to get their work hung at an “important” NYC gallery, or to find an apartment within easy access to said gallery, can attest.

An aside: when I advocate for viable regional arts hubs, I am not just talking about teaching classes through a non-profit or community program. If anything, assuming that serving communities exclusively in that way is the only ethical option for working artists diminishes the range of possibilities available. It unintentionally (or passive-aggressively) reinforces the “less-than” dynamic – it can be taken as a variation on “real artists don’t teach,” as well as more directly asserting that “real organizers aren’t FT artists.”

It’s the perniciousness of these assumptions that lead me to believe that the pressure to move to a national-level hub is rooted in flawed-if-not-corrupt concepts – nevertheless, these assumptions in all their forms, both regional and national, drive enough of the bottom line that I continue to wrestle with whether or not to bite the bullet. That said, instead of a national level mythos that excludes or downplays anything that doesn’t fit within its narrow purview, why not reverse the trend of defunding regional arts programs, and focus on building sustainable arts careers wherever people happen to be living? The internet can play an important role in this, although it also has its drawbacks, its tendency to act as a global-level slush pile being one of the more critical ones. Regardless, the arts should be allowed to flourish wherever they happen to spring up, in whatever way they manifest themselves – not only in locations like NYC, LA, Chicago, Nashville or Miami, but everywhere where someone puts pen to paper, brushes paint to canvas or plays a note.

Thanks to @MHarrisPerry and @libshipwreck for brain food.

“Trial by Social Media” vs. Abolition


Trying people in the court of social media is not inherently better than trying them in media, period.

If anything, social media doesn’t even have the illusion of a code of ethics on its side. At least mainstream media arguably had one once upon a time, which although it was frequently shunted aside when it wasn’t busy being smashed on the almighty rock of the bottom line, it still required lip service on occasion.

There are potential liabilities to seeking justice via social media, as well as in media, period.

  • It’s only a matter of time before someone is set up, if this hasn’t already happened;
  • It’s only a matter of time before someone goes to jail who didn’t commit what they’re accused of, if this hasn’t already happened;
  • It’s only a matter of time before someone has their life destroyed, only to have it turn out later that they were not guilty, set up, or both, if this hasn’t already happened.

There are countless examples of all these things happening via mainstream media; at best, it’s only a matter of time before it happens in social media as well.

There are increasing numbers of media outlets that are fast to publish gratuitously salacious and/or violent clickbait, and slow to address underlying causes – especially if the person being covered happens to be famous.

I don’t think reporting and/or tweeting et. al. on the newest alleged dirtbag becomes news just because they happen to be celebrities. I think going after them IS a very good way to increase the number of clicks for a website, which in turn, means more potential advertising revenue.

This tendency overall has nothing to do with providing solutions, otherwise there would be an equal or greater amount of in-depth journalism on the underlying issues – it’s predominately about money.

You can’t advocate for prison abolition (or for that matter, actual justice) on the one hand and retribution on the other.

Revenge isn’t justice, it’s revenge. Consider how casually Michael Jackson was tried and convicted both in the press and online – and not just by white people – despite his having been exonerated. Even when revenge may arguably be justified, the risks involved – from injustice to a McCarthy-like snowballing effect – remain intact.

All of this is why I advocate for abolition. In my view, abolition is not just a rejection of the prison industrial complex; it’s a wholesale tidal shift in how society views justice. Prison is bad enough, but what of the mindsets that lead to imprisonment seeming like a legitimate virtue, in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary? There needs to be a shift in consciousness, not just a shifting of blame.

On the futility of challenging vacant buildings


From long haul organizing platforms to “burn it all down” militancy, radicals online and off are working to dismantle institutionalized, hegemonic power structures that have changed their scope and mechanics from those familiar to any student of global capitalism in the 20th century, to the emerging globalized networks of the 21st. These attempts at resisting Empire are based all too often exclusively on assumptions hard-won from struggles throughout the previous two centuries, even as long-standing forms of oppression are exacted in ever-widening and deepening levels. While these attempts are more often than not serious in nature – which is to say, what motivates said attempts are a result of actual conditions and considerable thought – this means that radicals are fighting against specific implementations of systemic oppression that no longer exist, although the oppressions themselves, and those who implement them, are still very much with us.

So what causes this disparity? At least in the U.S., the sentiments driving this are in no small part are rooted, either directly or indirectly, in left-wing and/or third world nationalist nostalgia based on prior victories and near-victories, both global and national. Despite all well and apt intentions, this is in essence fighting a manifestation of institutionalized power that has long sense re-centered and altered its means; an empty office complex with all of its intellectual property safely sequestered in the homes of telecommuting professionals, far removed from the negative impact of lock boxes and bricks.

Resisting an imagined 20th century institutional leviathan, on 20th century terms, in order to overcome a decidedly real 21st century one runs the risk of creating an army of golems, with potentially unforeseen consequences. A movement that attempts to achieve victory based on these rules may well be out-maneuvered by more well-informed actors both known and unknown from across the political spectrum, not to mention the architects and maintainers of institutionalized power itself, well before such victory is even possible. You can’t win at chess on a mutable board controlled by your stated opponent, especially when the real opponent owns the board, and quite possibly, both players as well, adversarial assertions notwithstanding.

The contemporary reality is that the locus of hegemonic power that reached maturity throughout the 19th and 20th centuries (plantation, factory, church, family, et. al.) has become increasingly if paradoxically fractured yet ubiquitously networked, and modes of oppression are following suit to the point of rendering collective knowledge of past forms of strategy and tactics moot, no matter how completely just said mechanisms were in times past, and the intentions behind them, valid still. This is not to say that resistance will eventually be rendered pointless. If anything, its potential is stronger than ever, in no small part because the networked means of oppression has become embodied to such a degree en masse – which is to say, biopower is a real phenomenon, effectively in universal terms – that individual actors can use their personalized agency to act together as a collaborative fulcrum against Empire, even within corporate-controlled forums, such as social media. In turn, this collaborative experience can potentially be utilized to build decentralized, lasting networks of resistance and transformation. But asserting that such an engine of collaborative power will miraculously change networked hegemony back to its prior 20th century state in the hopes of a lasting victory for the bulk of humanity in the 21st century onward, is about as useful as an alchemy-based engine of democratic wealth redistribution as a means of transcending global capitalism.

Further reading:

Multitude, Hardt and Negri
History of Sexuality, Vol. 1, Foucault
Liberating Theory: Sklar et. al.
Horizontalism, Sitrin

Originating chess metaphor via @jonubian.