Because this good read is unusual, it needs a bit of an introduction, especially for people outside of Toronto.

Darren O'Donnell is a local playwright who's currently showing his latest work, A Suicide-Site Guide to the City which I reviewed here, and if you read that you'll see that I really loved the work. Darren performed it last year at the Edinburgh Fringe, during which time he kept a blog (here) and which he's updated during the Toronto show with a link to a discussion he had with a girl named Stef (a friend of his) on her blog. This good read is that discussion, but because it was all very direct and unformatted, I got Stef's permission to put it up here so that I could clean it up for readability.

You can jump to the original by clicking on the screen-capture below, where you can contribute, continue, and catch up on more recent postings.

While for obvious reasons being highly Toronto-centric, this discussion focuses on the problem of what it means to be creative in North America. Are artists being exploited? Are they lackey's for the status quo? These are questions Darren attempts to raise with his play and attempts to get at in this highly, must-readable discussion.

It is frankly one of the most sane and considered things I've read in a long time, and insightful in ways that most articles and press fail to be.

Timothy, 9 March 2005

The participants:
Stef Lenk (the blog hostess)
Michael Barker
Darren O'Donnell
Some guy named John,
some anonymous fellow
Sean Dwyer (in Australia)


Ex-lefties and Suicide-site Guide to the City.

posted by Stef Lenk @ 1:53 AM Wed. 2 Mar 2005

I don't quite get this blogging thing. I mean, there's no index, no table of contents, no page numbers....so the other night, in a fit of distraction and lethargy to the tasks at hand, I finally clicked on this 'next blog' phenomenon in the upper right, to at last discover its purpose: the portal to a vast and random gazillion of other forays into online-journaldom.

Found a bunch that verified my niggling doubts about the habit, 'what I had for breakfast and the state of my underwear' type stuff (oops that must have been mine) and one posting that stuck in my mind. I of course clicked onward without the necessary bookmarking, and now couldn't find it again if I tried.

It was by a person of left leaning politics gone rightist. The only thing I remember which grabbed me was his observation that for all the leftist-qvetching, we ignore the glory of free speech, social assistance, feminism etc that has come in part with the predominant structure of our western world.

I'm not saying I agree with this co-relation. But I find it thought provoking.

We've been doing something right. To some extent. I don't know what it is, but I can't deny some of the developments of this part of the world that I profit from as a human, that keep me relatively safe.

I definitely know that I can't be content with an 'Us vs. Them' set of conclusions on the whole thing.

Saw Suicide-Site Guide to the City tonight. Parts were great, parts were not. I'm definitely not convinced maintaining this elitist circle of artists and corralling them together against the 'opposition' is the answer

The problem is this creating of the opposition in the first place, instead of trying to understand them, how they work.

This one idea did stick with me; that all us artists might be under some group delusion, fed social capital since we don't seem to be worth any of the money from the ones that have an abundance of it. We keep on chasing down the attention and waiting for our resultant riches, but in the end just get creatively milked dry.

the old 'dance, monkey, dance' scenario.
yes.

[Michael] Barker said @ 2:04 PM Wed. 2 Mar 2005

Yes, blogging - what's it all about? And is it benign? Or a not so subtle device for ego-gratification and miscommunication? A desperate electronic beacon pleading for rescue in a lonely world? Electronic love letters (or complaints) to god?

In any case, I don't want to speak to that - I want to comment on artists and 'charismatic capital' (warning, a half-baked, embittered rant is about to transpire). To a large degree, as much as it is a 'strange commodity', art of all stripes deals in 'charismatic capital' - something in the manner of what we like to call 'the cult of personality' - this capital of recognition and peer promotion is potentially redeemable for grants, teaching positions, wine and cheese, trysts etc.

This seems to inspire a fairly socially ambitious artistic culture, that carries with it the attendant interpersonal potential for harm and suffering - all under the umbrella of some kind of mass delusion that because artists have aestheticized layout of the board, they have changed the game.

They have not of course done so, but rather have made a playground of neurosis, ambition and self-absorption in a new guise - and there is nothing noble or elite about that. Can art transcend is murky milieu? Of course. But can the murky milieu transcend itself? Perhaps not in the social field of artistic endeavor.

Stef Lenk said @ 1:06 AM Thu. 3 Mar 2005

Blogging benign? No, I don't think so. The only things that are benign are the things one refuses to engage with. Which of course calls to mind the question as to whether 'refusal' is benign, which I think it most certainly is not.

Ego-gratification...yeah, kind of. Electronic beacon for rescue? Absolutely.

Mostly I think it's acting as a form of safe exorcism for me, with the option of the occasional judicious edit in favour of potential readers, which is helpful in its own unexpected ways.

I used to be scathing, but blogging is better than crack...

Now. Charismatic capital. Sigh. I finally had the opportunity, as you already know, dear Barker, to interview for what was ostensibly a 'creative' job in an office that felt like a coma or near-death experience. This was followed a day later by a talk in class by a cultural-worker of a distinctly opposite and apposite nature, which was utterly gratifying.

I'm starting to understand at last, little by precious little, what it is to be one of those odd animals whose interests lie outside the well-trained synaptic grooves of our western world. Do I need grants, teaching positions? Not necessarily.

Do I need wine and cheese? Well, yes, I must confess I do. But there are other ways to come by that. Strategic dating, petty thievery, barter.

All of which I fully endorse. In the immortal words of Seth (I think) 'it's a good life if you don't weaken'. If you do, well, you might as well sit back and enjoy the day off, 'coz the teachers and the grant writers don't get one. Ever.

Darren O'Donnell said @ 7:43 AM Thu. 3 March 2005

I'm certainly not interested in corralling elite artists and getting them to do anything against their will.

This notion of elite artist is interesting. I'm not sure I understand what you mean. Do you consider me an elite artist? I made 19 grand last year - my rent is almost 10. I don't think I qualify as elite.

What I'm suggesting in the show is that there are many people who are working in so-called creative sectors and this - so many people are saying right now - is the sector that's going to keep the economy of cities strong. (This in the context of the threat to the cities and to a more progressive way of live that is a sort of republican/conservative mean-spiritedness and willingness to accept an escalating police state.) So, if it's true that the 'creatives' - as [Richard] Florida loves to call them - are so important to the economy then we must have some power to shape the world. In the show I ask - what kind of world are we going to create? A nice liveable place or a happening hotspot - like Manhattan - a playground for the wealthy and tourists?

If we have power, then what are we going to do with this power?

Good book: The expediency of culture by George Yudice.

Stef Lenk said @ 9:11 AM Thu. 3 March 2005

Elite isn't just financial. You said something akin to it yourself; there does exist a 'social elite' in this city (well, those receiving 'social capital') some people are being wine and cheesed, some are not. And alot of people are making art.

That in itself is some sort of elitism. Or at best a sturdy wall of nepotism.

Re: artists keeping the city strong....

But strong in what way? If we look south at the end of the day, their faith is in bombs, not brushes. Maybe the Harvard sorts are writing books about the 'creatives', but government funds are still plundered mercilessly by the military.

And dare I point out that there's some amount of elitism in publishing too... to make it even more difficult, people publishing those books aren't making any money either, no matter what they are saying about the 'creatives'.

Re: a playground for the wealthy and tourists...

If we're just talking Toronto, they're already building the playground, look at the Distillery, look at the condos...(shrug).

Re: if we have power, then what are we going to do with this power?

It is a good question.

Darren O'Donnell said @ 9:53 AM Thu. 3 March 2005

ps:

I think Barker's comments on 'charismatic capital' are right on. Too often being an art-maker is considered activism enough, that artists work by different, transcendent rules but, really, we haven't transcended anything instead 'we have made a playground of neurosis, ambition and self-absorption.' So true. And we're willing to do this for so little - for charisma capital - which is nice to a degree but, really, when you need a root canal, you'll find that charisma capital is not a currency readily recognised by your dentist.

Darren O'Donnell said @ 10:13 AM Thu. 3 March 2005

I still take issue with this notion of elite especially when consider a wider focus - a global focus, say. Most of the Toronto literati could hardly be called elite. Maybe Michael Ondaatje and Margaret Atwood and a small handful of others. The rest are hardworking people who may have a bit of social capital but if you look at the whole spectrum of experience, who gives a shit if someone has access to a few more pieces of stilton than you?

Most of us are still mice running around a maze. I'm trying to identify a class of people who - one piece of cheese more or less - have common interests. And I would say the artist at the cheese table and the artist stocking the cheese table have much more in common with each other than with the guy who runs the company that makes the cheese. I think the distinction you're making between the two artists is petty.

I don't know that artist keep the city strong. That's just what all this creative cities rhetoric is saying. And I'm just trying to take their logic to its conclusion: if we do make it strong then we have power. What are we going to do with that?

Industry and manufacturing have shifted to the 3rd world, and, instead (so the talk goes), we have an information economy that requires - as its product - content. Creative people create content. So we are the 'workers' in this formula? And, as such, may or may not have the power to shut things down. But how are we going to shut anything down when everybody is pretty much happy to create content in exchange for their 10 minutes of time on the stage at the Drake or [an] article in the local weekly, or the distant promise of the six-figure book deal?

Playground for tourists - exactly. We had some footage of the Distillery District we cut because we were spending too much time on the subject already.

Darren O'Donnell said @ 10:38 AM Thu. 3 March 2005

Sorry, so many afterthoughts.

The point I'm making in the show is that artists are being bought off with social/charisma capital - they are being duped into thinking it has significant value - that to be an 'elite' artist hanging at the cheese table is a desirable place to be. And, while it may have its perks, it certainly can't even begin to be compared to having any real socio-political power.

But... if we are so important to the economy (like all the creative cities rhetoric says) then we should demand some political power. All of us - the elites eating cheese and those serving cheese. And we should do this together. And, then, maybe we can get some more cheese for everybody.

Stef Lenk said @ 12:01 PM Thu. 3 March 2005

Well, here's something.

Surrounding oneself with a bunch of people who are not artists by trade for a change is an interesting experiment in understanding how human group structure is built on both sides of the fence.

In order to make art, certain things have to be in place: skill, ideas, discipline, and hopefully public venues to incite dialogue.

In order to run a business certain things have to be in place as well:

You'd be surprised how similar both sides work.

No one's immune to elitism.

Having a bunch of people who share the same ideas, tastes, fondue bowls, leads to a critical mass that incites action. That mass can choose to stand alone or accept members, but those members need to share the same ideas (fondue bowl) to keep the momentum of the project going. This is a reality.

I'm not making a distinction between the artist in front of the cheese table and the one behind it, (hmm, maybe I am, I wrote it) but I've all too often seen the ones grabbing from the plates as they are being filled, assuming that distinction themselves. *Shrug* - that's my experience of it.

The problem is, everyone wants to be at the proverbial cheese table, whether its artists or 'artists by proxy'. The non-artists want to be there too. Guilt by association. That's the power dynamic, and that's where the potential for change lies. When artist and non-artist are talking.

Artists talking amongst themselves are just that.

As for Stilton, well, I love Stilton. That's a tough one.

All hail cheese for everybody.

Darren O'Donnell said @ 1:16 PM Thu. 3 March 2005

Also want to mention that here and in the show I am actually talking about 'cultural workers' a term that applies to people working in alot of different fields - to artists, to administrators, to animation workers, to grips, to boom operators, to front of house etc. People who work in the cultural industries - industries that are becoming more important to the economy.

And, yeah, most people want to be at the cheese table and often those who are there display very bad manners but, and this is the point I'm trying to make, the cheese table is not all that. The cheese table will not get your rent or your root canal paid for and, [and] at the end of the day, it will come down to that.

I'm identifying cultural workers as a class with shared interests because (if all this creativity hype is to be believed) we have access to alot of platforms from which to speak and many of us believe in the power of sharing (formerly known as 'lefties') and we could, if we could figure out what to say, make a powerful difference.

But the left doesn't have much of a program right now, we're in retreat and because of this, we have been abandoned by many people working in the cultural sectors - mostly cause the culture types just don't know what the hell we can do to deal with corporate capital. Nobody seems to. They're just too powerful - they will kill you.

I'm not talking about a bunch of artists sitting around doing their thing together but people who work in culture realising that they, as a group, possess power and could potentially make a difference for everybody. Because we're the people who control where the culture's cameras point.

I'm not suggesting that these people should do this autonomously, they need to link up with other people who understand the virtue of sharing.

I'm saying that cultural workers could be one wing of a multiwinged movement, a wing with alot of power. You seem to be thinking that I'm suggesting we need a little coterie of revolutionary art stars sitting around and trying to change the world by themselves. Nothing could be further from the truth. I'm suggesting that artists/cultural workers need to recognise themselves as just that: workers who are (even the ones at the cheese table) for the most part being exploited - just like most of the rest of the world and that, upon gaining this consciousness, should stop fucking around and start actually doing something about it.

In your talk about business being so similar to the arts - for sure. And it's filled with mostly frustrated people who are being, by and large, exploited too - working all the freaking time, often without pay, putting in extra hours etc. The fence you talk about does not cut the population in half by any means - the people who are on the other side of the fence that I'm talking about are not Mr and Mrs Joe business-guy but the captains of the industry, the few hundred billionaires on the planet and their politically powerful lackeys who steal from the public (poor) to give to the private (rich).

I also wanted to comment about the former lefty you referred to who thinks we should be thankful about all the Western world has given us. And, while to a degree, that's true, the West can only do this by ripping off most of the world and dealing with it's own populations in ways that some argue are simply new forms of totalitarianism. Check Foucault's concept of biopower or Hardt and Negri's Empire. The U.S. is jailing more people per capita than any society in the known history of the world... more than the U.S.S.R at its worst, more than China, more than all the totalitarian regimes ever. So... Free World? I'm not so sure.

Okay, that's all. I have to go rehearse now. I was supposed to spend my morning chilling and here I've been writing feverishly. Thanks for the opportunity to write about all this. I'll check in later today.

Darren

Stef Lenk said @ 1:52 PM Thu. 3 March 2005

The left may be in retreat, but the strategy has to start being amalgamation. Somehow. I'm not sure how. But I'm not talking passively here.

The Us vs. Them scenario is getting us nowhere.

We're all human. That might be a good place to start looking. The fundamentals.
And that doesn't mean pointing a finger at our weaknesses (say, our insecurities as audience, or our tendencies towards greed and defensiveness - those are human survival instincts, however iniquitous). What I mean is, point the finger, but quit laughing so derisively. accommodate people's defences, work with them, don't repel them by pushing too hard.

Re: the former lefty (who, I repeat, I don't agree with...) here's a thought: all us poor people out there shopping at dollar stores ('coz they accommodate our budgets) are doing more to increase the sweatshop third world exploitation problem than one rich person buying useless furniture at some custom designer's shop on Queen West. Terrifying, but true.

Re: America as land with highest per capita jailed: daily New York Times crosswords (I think it's the NYT, it's one of the biggies) are in fact put together by American prisoners. (Fact).

Also interesting, though perhaps unrelated: the Oxford English Dictionary was in fact first compiled by a man incarcerated in an institution for lunatics. (Fact).

I think the phrase is 'subvert from within'?

Whoosh. Blogging might be better than crack, but it sure as hell takes more time. (Chuckle).

Darren O'Donnell said @ 5:38 PM Thu. 3 March 2005

You [Stef]:

'the Us vs. Them scenario is getting us nowhere'.

Okay, well, I'll tell you what. If you can arrange it so I can spend some quality time with one of the worlds 300 billionaires so I can really understand where they're at then I will consider changing my position. If you can get me into one of their gated communities so we can have a heart-to-heart then I will really open myself to this person. Let me know. I'm busy until the 20th but after that I'm free.

You[Stef]:

'and that doesn't mean pointing a finger at our weaknesses (say, our insecurities as audience, or our tendencies towards greed and defensiveness. those are human survival instincts, however iniquitous)'. What I mean is, point the finger, but quit laughing so derisively. Accommodate people's defences, work with them, don't repel them by pushing Too hard'.
I'm not sure what you're talking about here. Do you think I'm laughing derisively at someone? In the show? Who? I certainly don't mean to.

You [Stef]:

'all us poor people out there shopping at dollar stores ('coz they accommodate our budgets) are doing more to increase the sweatshop third world exploitation problem than one rich person buying useless furniture at some custom designer's shop on Queen West.'
But it's not the poor shoppers who are getting rich from the surplus value that all the Third World labour creates - it's the capitalists. And, sure, people buy the stuff because it's cheap but the people who own those factories could easily pay their workers more without rising the price of the goods, or not much, anyway. I don't believe the onus is on the poor shoppers but, rather, the wealthy people who own the factories who are skimming all the surplus value.

Stef Lenk said @ 6:26 PM Thu. 3 March 2005

(Chuckle) relax cheeky. No need to get hostile. I'm on your side here, believe it or not.
Right.

What I'm saying is there are alot (alot) of wealthy people beyond the 300 or so billionaires of the world, and those are the gatekeepers. If you take the number of car owners to bike commuters on Toronto streets for even the most piteous example of the ratio my statement might make more sense.

I've had the (debatable) experience in the past of sitting at a Tanenbaum table discussing fundraisers for housing coalitions, and, honest to Gods, if you speak the right language you walk away with some serious funding. But it takes tolerance, however nauseating (and it is nauseating.) They are different animals with different needs, that they've manufactured for themselves because, believe it or not, rich people do not know what to do with their money. Frequently.

I am being slightly (actually, exceedingly) presumptuous, because I only know a handful of them, but I haveseen it, and it's a complete trip. Watching rich people being sold on something they had no intention of buying/funding before someone clever and knowledgeable impressed some well-manipulated logic into their heads.

That well manipulated logic, well, that's art. That's what needs doing.

Re: derisive laughter.
No, I wouldn't say you're laughing derisively at your audiences' hesitation to engage, but I would say some of your material is confrontational to the point where some people might shut off.

And people shutting off closes the door on dialogue, wouldn't you agree?

Purely subjective opinion: the kissing thing (in Suicide specifically) just diminishes the credence factor. It looks funny. What can I say. And as a result you lose a bit of political momentum, coz people are too busy feeling odd watching you tongue the air.

It was great for comic relief though.

Re: Dollar stores, poor shoppers and profiteering:

I agree with you completely. No argument at all. I was trying to point out the bigger picture: the effect of our actions on the greater global village, so to speak.

I'm a huge believer in voting with dollars. It's pretty grassroots, but it makes more sense to me than getting mired down in too much dogma. And even I am far far far from expert at it. I have been a guilty shopper at many a Dollarstore.

So there. Sorry I don't have a line on the worlds 300 billionaires. But at least it means you can relax after the 20th. :)

Darren O'Donnell @ said 10:42 AM Fri. 4 March 2005

You [Stef]:

'(Chuckle) relax cheeky. No need to get hostile. I'm on your side here, believe it or not. Right'.
Me: I was trying to be funny. It also occurred (after I had posted that) to say that if you set it up with the billionaire, we could make it a potluck, so I wouldn't inconvenience them too much. And then I was going to ask if they had any food restrictions. Don't you think that's funny?

You[Stef]:

'what I'm saying is there are alot (alot) of wealthy people beyond the 300 or so billionaires of the world, and Those are the gatekeepers. if you take the number of car owners to bike commuters on Toronto streets for even the most piteous example of the ratio, my statement might make more sense'.
Me: But the Us vs Them thing I'm talking is about the those of us who don't have billions and the very few who do. I don't know what you mean about gatekeepers. How are the yuppies with lots of cash gatekeepers?

You[Stef]:

'I've had the (debatable) experience in the past of sitting at a Tanenbaum table discussing fundraisers for housing coalitions, and, honest to Gods, if you speak the right language you walk away with some Serious funding. But it takes tolerance, however nauseating. (and it IS nauseating.) They are different animals with different needs, that they've manufactured for themselves because, Believe it or not, rich people Do Not Know What to do with their money. Frequently. I am being slightly (actually, Exceedingly) presumptuous, because I only know a handful of them. but I Have seen it, and it's a Complete trip. Watching rich people being sold on something they had no intention of buying/funding before someone clever and knowledgeable impressed some well-manipulated logic into their heads. That well manipulated logic, well, that's art. That's what needs doing.'
Me: I'm not interested in sitting around and charming a bunch of rich people. I want them to pay their fucking taxes, I want exorbitant wealth to be outlawed (it's morally wrong for someone to have many times more money than they can possibly use) and I want a very strict and low cap placed on inheritance. I don't feel like manipulating them. I feel like compelling them to behave in a way that is fair. And dodging taxes is wrong, superwealth is wrong, and inheriting money that you did nothing for is wrong.

You[Stef]:

're: derisive laughter. No, I wouldn't say you're laughing derisively at your audiences' hesitation to engage, but I would say some of your material is confrontational to the point where some people might shut off.
Me: My work is not for everyone. I'm not trying to convince people who are not interested. I'm calling out to people of like-minds - calling into the darkness to see who is out there and who can go with me. And I'm also trying to make sure that some people can't get into the work, will feel alienated. It's impossible to talk to everyone - some people must be shut out. I make stuff that would delight myself, looking to develop contacts with those capable of opening their minds to my ideas.

You[Stef]:

'and people shutting off closes the door on dialogue, wouldn't you agree?'
ME: Like I said, I don't want to talk to everyone. Some people are not worth the time and effort.

You[Stef]:

'purely subjective opinion: the kissing thing (in suicide specifically) just diminishes the credence factor. it looks funny. what can I say. and as a result you lose a bit of political momentum, coz people are too busy feeling odd watching you tongue the air. it was great for comic relief though'.
ME: When it works - and it usually works - it's really beautiful. When someone comes out of the audience to kiss me, it's really electric and it concludes the through-line about me feeling dead, leaden and wanting to want to make out but not being able to. Even when I kiss the audience like I did in the show you saw, I think, for the most part, it's so vulnerably ridiculous and bizarre that it makes connections with enough people. If some think I'm a nutbar and feel odd about it, that's not so bad. It's important that I continually try to sabotage my own credibility - which's why I talk about fingering Farheen. I don't want to be trusted by people who look for flawless people to trust. I want to be the loser I am up there.

You[Stef]:

'I'm a HUGE believer in voting with dollars. it's pretty grassroots, but it makes more sense to me than getting mired down in too much dogma'.
ME: I'm a huge nonbeliever in consumer activism. I think it's a placebo and doesn't really do much of anything except make a few people feel they're doing something when really they're not. It's not the individual's consumption patterns that will affect change but, rather, the production patterns of the people who create consumer goods and who also create the demand for consumer goods. We need more regulation around that stuff, more responsible production, more responsible advertising (I've read interesting cases for banning advertising). Unless that happens, buying Green is only going to make the most superficial difference. The Rebel Sell is a good book about this topic. It challenges some favourites of the 90's Leftism - stuff like culture jamming, consumer activism, anarcho-individualism. It's a disconcerting book but well worth reading.

You[Stef]:

'so there. sorry I don't have a line on the worlds 300 billionaires. but at least it means you can relax after the 20th. :)'
ME: Well, I would settle for some of these millionaires you know. Or even some people who are clearing 6 figures. Can you introduce me to those so I can get over my 'Us and Themness'. I'm serious. I want to meet some rich people and see what they are like. You talked about this Tanenbaum table - what's that? How can I access these wealthy people? I really have no clue so it's hard for me not to feel they are a 'Them'. If I could meet some I might feel different. But they never seem to be around. I suspect they are all hanging around with other rich people but I'm open to be proved wrong.

John said @ 12:01 PM Fri. 4 March 2005

Hi Stef--

That old cliché of the Leftist going Right happens all the time, especially when people forget where all those good things like freedom of speech and suffrage and a living wage came from, i.e. people struggling and fighting for justice, equality, freedom and so on. They weren't handed to us on a plate.

There's still plenty wrong with the world, which is why we still need a Left. But being a Leftie doesn't mean you can't stop to smell the flowers now and again or even appreciate the complexity of life and some of the ironies that mean we sometimes end up on the same side of the barricades as people we wouldn't expect to.

Stef Lenk said @ 1:35 PM Fri. 4 March 2005

Thanks, john, for the moment of levity. I am a very firm believer in stopping to smell the flowers, even perhaps picking the occasional one when no one is looking. (shrug) I do my best to leave them unharmed, but I'm as human as the next lover of botany.

Arguing with someone on the same side of the barricade is indeed an irony, albeit a fascinating one.

Right. Ok, Darren.

D:

'but the us vs them thing I'm talking is about the those of us who don't have billions and the very few who do. I don't know what you mean about gatekeepers. how are the yuppies with lots of cash gatekeepers?'
me: The same way most of us artists and people with limited income tend to cluster together ourselves. Great book: Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton.

D:

'I'm not interested in sitting around and charming a bunch of rich people. I want them to pay their fucking taxes, I want exorbitant wealth to be outlawed (it's morally wrong for someone to have many times more money than they can possibly use) and I want a very strict and low cap placed on inheritance. I don't feel like manipulated them. I feel like compelling them to behave in a way that is fair. and dodging taxes is wrong, superwealth is wrong, and inheriting money that you did nothing for is wrong.'
me: I agree with all of the above, but there must be a course of action that is more realistic, because rich people hold onto their money like Armageddon is around the corner and planning a personal onslaught. Probably because they know they are no more deserving of it than the next person. Personally, I think dialogue is more productive than building a wall and then screaming out from behind it. (shrug)

D:

'my work is not for everyone. I'm not trying to convince people who are not interested. I'm calling out to people of like-minds - calling into the darkness to see who is out there and who can go with me. and I'm also trying to make sure that some people can't get into the work, will feel alienated. it's impossible to talk to everyone - some people must be shut out. I make stuff that would delight myself, looking to develop contacts with those capable of opening their minds to my ideas.'
me: And you succeed. Admirably. But global change and stuff that would delight yourself are two different agendas, non?

D:

'Like I said, I don't want to talk to everyone. some people are not worth the time and effort'.
me: Drag. Those are probably the ones who would pay for your root canal.

For the record, I'm not talking about sucking up to rich people. I find that repellent and nauseating as well. I don't know the answer. I'm not proclaiming otherwise. If I thought I could, I would be writing plays myself, and I'm not.

D:

'when it works - and it usually works - it's really beautiful. when someone comes out of the audience to kiss me, it's really electric and it concludes the through-line about me feeling dead, leaden and wanting to want to make out but not being able to. even when I kiss the audience like I did in the show you saw, I think, for the most part, it's so vulnerably ridiculous and bizarre that it makes connections with enough people. if some think I'm a nutbar and feel odd about it, that's not so bad. it's important that I continually try to sabotage my own credibility - that's why I talk about fingering Farheen. I don't want to be trusted by people who look for flawless people to trust. I want to be the loser I am up there.'
me: now that I hadn't considered, and that's rock solid. I agree.

D:

'I'm a huge nonbeliever in consumer activism. I think it's a placebo and doesn't really do much of anything except make a few people feel they're doing something when really they're not. it's not the individual's consumption patterns that will affect change but, rather, the production patterns of the people who create consumer goods and who also create the demand for consumer goods. we need more regulation around that stuff, more responsible production, more responsible advertising (I've read interesting cases for banning advertising). unless that happens, buying green is only going to make the most superficial difference. The Rebel Sell is a good book about this topic. it challenges some favourites of the 90's leftism - stuff like culture jamming, consumer activism, anarcho-individualism. it's disconcerting book but well worth reading.'
me: (shrug) agree to disagree. Books duly noted though.

D:

'well, I would settle for some of these millionares you know. or even some people who are clearing 6 figures. can you introduce me to those so I can get over my us and themness. I'm serious. I want to meet some rich people and see what they are like. you talked about this tanenbaum table - what's that? how can I access these wealthy people? I really have no clue so it's hard for me not to feel they are a them. if I could meet some I might feel different. but they never seem to be around. I suspect they are all hanging around with other rich people but I'm open to be proved wrong.'
me: Truce, Darren. I'm just a person standing behind the cheese table (and stealing the occasional piece of Stilton) and trying to work out my own answers, according to what I've seen work and what I haven't. I went to see your play 'coz you do good work, you challenged my opinion of it and so I responded. It's not my intent to discredit what you're saying; I wouldn't have the political acuity to do so even if I wanted to. (chuckle) This debate is a bit like Hulk Hogan stepping into the ring with Holly Hobby.

Here's an art project though. Take the Instant Coffee gang to Bay street and have a make out party. That's where you'll find the millionaires and the gatekeepers, not the streets of Kensington and Queen West. Now there is something.

Darren O'Donnell said @ 2:31 PM Fri. 4 March 2005

you:

'Personally, I think dialogue is more productive than building a wall and then screaming out from behind it. (shrug)'
me: Hopefully, that's not what I'm doing. I'm trying to put some questions and observations our there and dialogue with my comrades to come up with a plan of action.

you:

'but global change and stuff that would delight yourself are two different agendas, non
me: No, global change is my delightful agenda, and my strategy, like I said, is to foment dialogue with 'comrades', to come up with a course of action. There are enough people on-side, we just don't know what the hell to do. The show is directed at these people so we can talk about how we can stop being in retreat. We have a critical mass of bodies but lack a viable alternative way to organise the economy.

you:

drag. those are probably the ones who would pay for your root canal.
me: But, Stef, I don't want them to pay for my root canal. I want them to pay their taxes, forfeit their immoral wealth and work for their damn money like the rest of us. And I want cultural workers to be paid according to the worth they contribute to the economy/society. If that happens I'll pay for my own root canal. But, again, it comes down to a difference between our strategies - you seem to want to talk to the rich people (a small percentage of the population) to convince them to give us some money while I want to talk to all my poor friends (a huge percentage of the population) so we can agree on a plan of action to change some fundamental structures so there is no longer any ridiculously rich people. I know my goal is 'unrealistic' but why not think big?

you:

you challenged my opinion of it and so I responded. it's not my intent to discredit what you're saying; I wouldn't have the political acuity to do so even if I wanted to. (chuckle) this debate is a bit like hulk hogan stepping into the ring with holly hobby.
me: I don't think you're trying to discredit me. I just wanted to challenge what you had said. This is why I wrote the show - so people would respond, we would talk and see what came out. I'll check out that book you mentioned. I'm also serious about this Tanenbaum thingy you referred to. I want to know more about wealthier people.you:
take the instant coffee gang to bay street and have a make out party. That's where you'll find the millionaires and the gatekeepers, not the streets of kensington and queen west. now there is something
me: Like I said, my priorities are with building the bonds and strength within my community. We're divided and conquered right now. My first goal is to participate in discussions between cultural workers about our situation and start to figure out how to get through this. I want political power for us and, when we have it, then we can go down to Bay street and negotiate with them.

Barker @ said 3:44 PM Fri. 4 March 2005

Whoa, so much has transpired since last I wrote - and there are so many threads to pick-up, re-weave or untangle. I'm just gonna jump in with the 'start anywhere' strategy, so forgive me if my post is non-linear!

Darren, I think you expect too much of the 'cultural sector', a nebulous term at best - any time you try to define a community, or class, it tends to be bit wiggly under scrutiny - and a definition of 'cultural worker' that extends from 'boom operators' to 'performance artists' (for example) seems a bit broad. The different currents and camps of the 'arts' draw their water from different wells, ride different economical waves, and have different ideological outlooks - one only has to rub a film crew against a street theatre ensemble to see that. Not everyone under the 'arts umbrella' is at the cheese table, some of them are at the trough. I don't expect that a focus-puller has much trouble paying for their root canal.

As for the expectation, or revolutionary-conceit, that the coffers of the privileged few will be overturned by smock-wearing, beret-bedecked revolutionaries, well, I lack faith in that scenario - not because the coffers are well guarded, but because I don't think the dynamic for that outcome is there. There is no doubt that art is potentially a powerful force, in that it has the power to incite dialogue, scrutinise or question - or if we broaden the definition of art - sell cellphones - or that art can't serve the agenda of very different masters.

I always liked Laurie Anderson's definition of her role of artist as one of being a 'spy' - a spy in the service I would assume, of the greater good (to use a dangerous phrase). And I think that art has at least three great things to teach - self-expression/realisation, relational dialogue, and imagination. Through art we can claim a voice in the important dialogues of our times, through dialogue we can find new answers to difficult problems of existence and relationship, and by exercising our imagination, we resist the nihilism of despair and the status-quo.

But these things are potentialities in art, not sure-things. Self-absorbed, ungenerous, nihilistic art abounds - and I'm sure Darren that you are aware of the troubles we 'cause ourselves in our unskillfulness on our side of the barricades. So your strategy of theatre, that promotes dialogue and exercises that strange space that theatre still allows between audience and performers, is right-headed I think. But the usual pitfalls of that dynamic are still there - someone is playing conduit or vanguard, a bunch of people are facing the stage - we can play with this dynamic of course - I've seen it done - but it is a forum, not a solution in and of itself - and no one is going to leave the theatre and storm Bay Street - at least not immediately after the performance. They're more likely to retire to a bar for a drink and a bit of post-performance processing. We've been doing this for a long time. And it's worthwhile - if something of the favourite leisure activity of the self-styled boho downtowner.

And I admit, I have lost faith in the 'art scene', the one that is over on the 'fringe' (you know, the 'poverty jetset'), perhaps because I have lived too much in its green-room. I know the petty jealousies, self-centredness, and delusional thinking that prospers there - there are good things too of course, but I think the struggle has to be to get our act together as people first, and not attach so strongly to these identities that divide us. It's on the basis of our common humanity that we will have meaningful dialogue and growth - not by holding onto some desire for validation and reward from some imagined other.

As for wealthy people, I've had the somewhat ironic experience of being in contact (in a somewhat servile dynamic) for ages - and behind the Prada and nose-jobs, I see the same grasping, just on a grander material scale. I'm not looking to increase my resources to fund my irresponsibility - I am trying to learn to take responsibility for myself. This seems to be the task at hand.

OK, I'm leaving it a little open, but I have to get back to my arts administration day job! I'm enjoying this exchange! I wish there were a larger audience. Carry on!

Stef Lenk said @ 10:53 AM Sat. 5 March 2005

(chuckle) Ok, my turn.

Barker, you're a master of the written word as always. Your distinction between film crew 'cultural workers' and street theatre ensemble is spot on.

The fact is, in this 'huge percentage of the population' you want to talk to Darren (artists/cultural workers), there already exists a feudal structure, and it's only difference from the rich/poor divide is the value gauge (which is, as you've rightly observed, the assertion of social capital instead of economic).

Barker points out rightly that not everyone is at the cheese table (blessed cheese table), and might I add to that that many who are... are very happy to gorge themselves and chortle derisively (or uncomfortably?) at all the art workers who aren't there, thinking somehow they are better than those absent. Why should they share cheese or the ticket that got them to the table, since it was so hard come by in the first place?

And, just for perspectives' sake, perhaps they have a point - the ticket is hard-won. I know I'm hesitant to extol the same praises on a weekend hobbyist painting northern Toronto autumn landscapes than I am to someone who toils in poverty and hammers away at their art and the arts system to make a decent living at it 24/7.

And one last thing, before leaving the proverbial cheese table, while many of the art community's lower-downs (as it were) are scrounging to make rent doing arts admin jobs at our city's cultural centres, the higher-ups (ie. those working in the film industry, animation, the more lucrative 'cultural' niche) are suffering from a similar anxiety trying to maintain their hard-won financial security, by being utter workaholics and slaves to their respective industries. And so it goes on up the line.

Barker's idea that the Prada nose-jobs (Prada nose jobs :) ) are suffering from this same human failing, that is, grasping at status and superiority, I agree. The problem is less the means with which they do battle (money, fraud, etc) and more that they feel the need to do battle at all. That's what I'm concerned with when I speak of 'talking to rich people'.

Status Anxiety [by] Alain de Botton. Bloody Fantastic book.

Now - just a point of interest here, I notice that the things we managed to agree on, Darren, have disappeared from this subsequent volley. Namely the part about your making yourself vulnerable on stage (kissing scene) so as to remind people to quit searching for flawless teachers, accept peoples' humanity (I'm paraphrasing here, correct me if I'm wrong).

What's significant about this omission is that for dialogue to occur, attention has to be paid to what people agree on just as much as that which they find conflict in. If it just falls by the wayside, there's nothing to build on and it all just becomes one of Kalle Lasn's infamous pessimistic rants about how terrible the world is that have made Adbusters so tedious.

D:

no, global change is my delightful agenda and my strategy, like I said, is to foment dialogue with 'comrades', to come up with a course of action. there are enough people onside, we just don't know what the hell to do. the show is directed at these people so we can talking about how we can stop being in retreat. we have a critical mass of bodies but lack a viable alternative way to organize the economy.
This is great and should make it into your play somehow or at least into the program notes. It's very lucid.

Darren O'Donnell said @ 4:42 PM Sat. 5 March 2005

I do want to emphasise that the focus of this analysis is not 'artists' but this vague term 'cultural workers' and that I'm trying to take all this creative cities rhetoric to its conclusion.

Stef you make a good point - while the focus-puller may be able to afford the root canal, he will have a hard time finding time to get it done. This, I think, is another form of poverty.

I talk to people who work in the cultural sector and ask them this loaded question: 'are you privileged'? And most people respond with 'yes, definitely' as if the confession lets them off some global hook. And I know the notion of privilege is always relative, but I do believe that these people are actually deluding themselves. They are not particularly privileged - they work all the fucking time, often for free, putting in outrageous hours at work, turning their free time into constant networking opportunities. With the creative cities rhetoric this is taken a step further - people working in these sectors will 'save' the western economy or 'save' the cities.

So if all these people who feel so grateful and privileged to be doing their noble cultural work are actually sustaining a large degree of the economy with their sweat and their time then aren't they/we owed something? Aren't we in a powerful position to make some demands.

These are rhetorical questions, meant to foment discussions like this - not meant as a serious call to arms or anything like that.

My most immediate and tangible goal is to see if it's true that cultural workers are as important as so many people say we are and if this is the case, raise the awareness of our situation. I want those people who feel they are so privileged to realise that they are, in fact, not particularly so. I watch Naomi Campbell, the producer I work with, have to put in 16 hr days to get done what must get done and wonder how the hell can we collectively put our foot down. It must be possible in some small way.

Anonymous said @ 9:22 PM Sat. 5 March 2005

Well, having read all this ongoing O'Donnell banter, I've gotta say that it only makes me dislike Suicide-Site all the more. Not that I didn't hold rampant feelings of discontent toward it to begin with.

Darren O'Donnell said 11:22 PM 2005-03-05

Why so chicken, anonymous?

Stef Lenk said @ 12:12 AM Sun. 6 March 2005

Um, ok, kids, Holly Hobby here, play nice or move to another blog.(!)

I agree completely that lack of time is another form of poverty.

This factor actually bears further scrutiny, 'coz it's the money vs. time factor that both parties so often have to choose between. Hence the fast food culture, etc etc.

You pointed something out during the Q and A for Pppeeaaaaccceee that I thought was very true, this idea that we lower income arts sorts are often encouraged to associate ourselves with the rich (that is, we aren't starving in Third World countries, and so therefore we must be on the opposite/privileged end of things, when that is in fact not exactly true.)

Re: rhetorical questions: I think asking rhetorical questions is one thing, inciting global change is another. Do you want to incite a call to arms or not? I think your messages on this have been mixed. This is a genuine query, not meant as cheek.

Darren O'Donnell said @ 7:32 AM Sun. 6 March 2005

Hey, the anonymouse started it!!

I just meant that I don't think that a sudden shift in the economic arrangement is going to be happening anytime soon and that the first phase will have to be a bunch of discussion where those who understand the virtue of sharing begining to figure out what exactly to do, how to deploy the power they may have but not know they have, how to access power if there happens to be some avenues for that or whatever. Of course I hope that all this discussion will lead to something but I'm going to keep my expectations to a minimum both to avoid disappointment and to stay humble - the few small discussions the show may instigate may be nice but hardly enough to get anything significant rolling. But I think it's important to keep our eyes on the biggest prize we can imagine.

My most immediate goal is for my immediate circle of friends/peers (I count you, Barker and the anonymouse among these) who are cultural workers to begin to view our situation as one of significant poverty and that with all our crazy cultural production - like the poverty of the classical exploited worker - we are actually are producing surplus value. where is this value going? And why isn't it coming to us?

The Edinburgh fringe provides a good example. There are thousands and thousands of performers there - 1700 shows - and it's well known that only but the tinniest percentage will make money - everybody else pays to play. So who benefits?

Edinburgh does - the people who rent their flats at incredibly inflated rates for the month do, Smirnoff, Guinness, the airlines etc etc. And in exchange, a few plays are picked up to be produced in London and a few comedians sign career-solidifying deals with the BBC. The rest of us subsidise the whole thing. And this applies, in a less concentrated way, to all cultural activity.

All these people working their asses off and not being compensated - and it's not because they're not generating capital - they are, they're just not positioned in the right place to suck off the value. I mean, as far as I can tell, the only people making any money at most art openings are the folks over there at Steamwhistle. And, of course, they're intelligent guys and they recognise this and they support the community with those awards and whatever else - but they're not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts but because we buy their beer.

If cultural workers start to understand that all their activity creates wealth for someone other than themselves, then who knows how we as a class might think about all our crazy incessant cultural production/activities. I see someone like Tyler Clark Burke (the Santa Cruz organiser) - and wonder sometimes what the hell she's doing. She works like crazy, creating these events and they're fun and all that but they're happening at her expense for the most part. I had a conversation with Misha Glouberman from Trampoline Hall and he was just coming to the realisation that no matter how successful his events would become, his income would be really very small. And, again, the important point, is that all this activity does create economic value but never for the people who make the stuff. The value accrues to others. How can we get some of that back?

And also - since it is creating value, we as value-creators have power. How do we use this to shape the world?

These are rhetorical questions I guess but ones that I hope will create discussion that will get some change happening. But, like I said, it's best to keep expectations modest.

It's 7 AM and I can't sleep. Later.

Stef Lenk said @ 11:19 PM Sun. 6 March 2005

Some re-evaluation is needed of your immediate circle of peers. How this group itself is organised, [with its] feudal structure and all. You want to address all of them, but you're just not going to find them all at the Instant Coffee make-out parties. (Well, I'm not there, I don't think Barker attends, and Anonymous, well, your guess is as good as mine)

You will find others at your plays, frequently 'coz of that social capital you possess, frequently 'coz artists outside your immediate circle support each other and are interested in good and/or progressive work. Doing this work does accomplish something, it's just not gonna be the 'deus ex machina' kind of change you might be hoping for.

The fringe is indeed a humbling experience. I haven't been to Edinburgh, but I've worked the Toronto Fringe for a couple of years, and seen how difficult it is for those involved. I have intense respect for all 200 odd companies who undertake it.

Here's a fact that can't be ignored about fringe though (since it's not juried). Yes, there are alot of great artists paying for the few that get recognition, but, sorry to say, there are also alot of crap plays that pay and get a chance to practise in a professional environment with their material that just isn't up to professional standards. I mean, some of that stuff is painful to sit through. I have no less respect for a company with a shit play (hey man, they're up there, I couldn't do any better), but I won't lie and say any play is great and worthy of notoriety or funding just 'coz it's a little guy putting it on.

I would imagine Edinburgh is not exempt from this crap factor.

So no, the little guys don't get social capital out of it, or financial gain, but man, the value of practise can't be underestimated.

And, um, I'm afraid the Steamwhistle guys aren't the ideal company to point a finger at either...somewhat ironically, I investigated their marketing tactics a few months ago for an article on this whole subject, and they are in fact a pretty cool establishment. They donate to over 122 events in Toronto a year, and there is no feudal scale or evaluation to those events. I'm sorry, I can't at the moment remember the parameters for applying, but their staff are super accommodating when people call to inquire.

They actually changed the name of their 'Steamwhistle Art Awards' to 'Untitled Art Awards' for the 2004 chapter. A small step, but a step nonetheless. And since they give their beer for free at openings, us little guys don't pay for it.

Sure, it's a marketing strategy, but if I get a free Steamwhistle beer at an opening and I think it tastes like shit (which, incidentally, I do), well, (shrug) I don't buy it. I haven't lost anything.

Good beer sells, while the shit doesn't (just like theatre).

I agree completely that marketing is greasy business, but the reality is, how many people wouldn't rather go to an opening with free booze? (Quiet J.P. if you're reading this, the same applies for pink lemonade :) ) Unfortunately, the presence of beer might well sway my intentions if I don't know an artist's work that well, especially as a devout cyclist throughout the blistery winter months.

Perhaps not the ideal prioritising on my part, but I'm pretty dedicated to not seeming like some flawless icon of pure artistic dedication myself.

Darren O'Donnell said @ 4:53 PM Mon. 7 March 2005

I do think you and Barker are in my circle. You're certainly more in my circle than most of the cultural workers in the rest of the world. Even if you don't/didn't come to the makeout things or even, for that matter, my shows. We're woven into a community with plenty of overlap. This feudal structure you talk about is just weird to me. Is this because I am the lord of the manor? Like I say before, the differences are, I think, fairly minuscule - I guess from your perspective they seem large. Can you elaborate on this? Can you tell me how you see this feudal structure organised. Who are the power brokers and how do they exercise this power? Who are the serfs?

I don't expect a sudden massive shift in consciousness. I just want one. Is it wrong to work with that goal in mind?

And with the Fringe. My point is that tons of money is being made but very little goes to the people who are making the work whether they suck or not. They are there producing the buzz that gets people to spend their money in that town. Practice is good but they deserve some split of the profits. Otherwise it's just not fair. And again, it doesn't matter if they suck. The buzz pulls in the crowds and their efforts contribute to that.

I mentioned the Steamwhistle guys because they are so good. But the bottom line is beer sales. And I disagree that aggressive marketing can't make people drink swill. Doesn't it happen all the time with all different sorts of products?

Stef Lenk said @ 6:52 PM Mon. 7 March 2005

(chuckle) I don't think you're king of any manor...

The feudal structure I'm talking about is a social capital thing; who the media is talking about and what venues they pay attention to.

There's alot of artwork going up in non-Queen West galleries that is being ignored for that reason.

Obviously that's loaded for me since I'm one of 'em.

There are also street performers doing great work (case in point Red Pepper Spectacle Arts and other inclusive community theatre endeavours) that nobody really touches upon and are literally starving for funding; but it's not an acknowledged channel of creativity when the weeklies are looking for their commentary material.

Now magazine has called their books section 'Books and Zine reviews' for years (I'm not sure if that's changed recently, I don't check anymore), but at the time I was reading it, they not once reviewed or even mentioned any 'zines. And some of my friends have done some serious 'shifting in consciousness' with their DIY stuff (yes that's you, Scott.)

I'm sure Now, and Eye, and all the papers share your 'we're all equal as creators' thing, but I don't see any evidence of it.

And last but more certainly not least, when was the last time we heard any significant buzz about the fantastic graffiti art in graffiti alley? That stuff is changing all the time and it's brilliant, (whether you appreciate the medium or not). And I think the only coverage they get is the yearly festival in September. And that's a crying shame.

So...yes. I do think the differences are there, and large. If social capital is the currency for all us cultural workers, it's not split evenly.

I'm suggesting that those responsible for getting that infamous creative buzz out need to expand where they are looking, if that feudal structure you don't think exists is gonna fade, in my mind anyhow.

Not wrong to work towards a shift in consciousness. Not at all.

It would be interesting to get some numbers with regards to the Fringe. If a split in the profits is even viable, when all is said and done. At least in the Toronto fringe, their admin. department is small and super hard working, and from what I've heard (I know them) always under a tight budget. I know when I work there every year it's certainly not for any huge paycheque I take home (not a dis on the Fringe).

I don't think it's aggressive marketing that makes people drink swill.

I think it's idiots who fall for aggressive marketing that drink swill.

And there will always be idiots who fall for aggressive marketing and drink swill.

I'd like to propose that very few of them are active and influential members in the arts community. We see to be a pretty informed bunch when it comes to coercive tactics, in Toronto at least.

(shrug) in this I could very well be wrong.

Barker said @ 5:08 PM Tue. 8 March 2005

So much to respond to, so little time! I'm going to 'start anywhere' again. I think the power we might possess as somewhat disenfranchised 'cultural workers' (i.e. Not Lion King techs or focus-pullers), rather than stemming from any 'industry' affiliations - marginal or otherwise - is in our sense of the right we have to personal expression, to a dialogue of peers in an unusual language, and our imagination - an imagination we extend, at best, to our entire lives, off canvas and on.

Truthfully, rhetoric of the Information Age aside, the 'city' (I'll define this as the city's financial economy) is not going to miss 'one more painter' or one more 'playwright' - no matter how much Toronto might profess to be a city of the arts - it is not going to see itself as that much poorer if Shag had remained as so much wood pulp, or Instant Coffee folded - it is our little art-aligned community that would feel those gains and losses, and not on a financial level.

Any city needs its local heroes - and Toronto, with its pervasive inferiority complex, may need them especially - and we are fortunate in that we do have local heroes of the arts - and they are inspiring and improve the quality of life for some segments of the population - so social cachet they may have, but powerful financial clout, they do not have.

I am not trying to diminish the role or power of artists - even marginal ones. There is an enormous potential to have a positive impact on the lives of our community, and our peers (as you identify them) through our artwork, action and example - but it is more the maturity we express as people and citizens, then as artists, that will determine that impact, peer-to-peer. We have some social power, with power comes responsibility, our social power is ours to use or misuse. But artists seem to have a tendency, at least in our subculture, towards self-centredness - perhaps no more, or no less than other kinds of subcultures - but it is the particular ways in which it is expressed in the art scene that makes me a little doubtful of the potential for rallying to goodness around the identification as artists. In any case, I don't have any real disagreement with the opinions expressed here, just alot of personal frustration with some tendencies in my peer group! I'll freely admit to that!

Sean D[wyer] said @ 10:39 PM Tue. 8 March 2005 [writing from Australia]

Stef and others,

Well I have finally caught up on my blog reading, and I couldnít resist posting some sort of response to such a heated discussion.

I should first declare my status as a card carrying member of the tie-wearing middle class. Not yet the Pope Stef (though I certainly would look good in the outfit), I am one of the teeming masses of time-poor, personally unfulfilled, wage slaves who toil for 7 and a half hours a day to make the world safe for modern capitalism.

But Iím OK with it.

Darren said:

'the important point, is that all this activity DOES create economic value but never for the people who make the stuff. the value accrues to others. how can we get some of that back?'
That sort of question needs a good old fashioned capitalist answer - you set up a company that produces creative content and you sell it to the people. If they like what you produce you will get the economic value back into your pocket, which you can distribute as you please. If the public donít like it then you take a loss. That's how it worked for Shakespeare.

Your social capital is worth what people are prepared to pay for it. And if people do pay for it and more and more people are employed to create more and more content that gets seen by more and more people, then that is how you might change the world.

It would be alot more effective than holding workshops on how to collect more tax from rich people.

Corrupt and stupid as it is the capitalist system gives you a simple, though difficult, way to cash in your social capital and gain economic power which is what you seem to want.

Am I sounding like a leftie who has turned rightie? Well maybe, I have certainly headed to the middle over the last couple of years. The main reason for this is that I work for the government, and, frankly, I wouldnít trust myself or any of my colleagues with any more responsibility or money than is absolutely necessary, and I donít think anyone else should either.

And I think all lefties need a big reality check, and so do the righties. The fact is that the radical left and the radical right have not given society much of value at all, not suffrage, not freedom, not equality. The freedoms won and enjoyed by us in our societies were almost always achieved because of a combination of a free market and a parliamentary democracy, arising from the tensions that such a system creates and resolves. Itís the centrists who progress. But slowly.

Not that I think the left-right distinction is relevant or meaningful anyway. Hitler was a socialist after all. And for that matter he was also a politically minded artist, which makes you think.

I must also point out that artists in Canada are not anything like the 'classical exploited worker'. Whatever poverty you may be experiencing in this life, it has been your choice. Saying something like that demeans classically exploited workers. It is good to live in a time and place where you are free to make that choice.

And now I must choose to do some work. I hope that was controversial enough.

Stef Lenk said @ 12:27 AM Wed. 9 March 2005

Indeed, Barker, indeed.

I think the political becomes the personal, and vice versa, and not just for artists. I think about this from what you've written here, but also from our discussing it, and it certainly bears repeating.

Although to your 'it is more the maturity we express as people and citizens, then as artists, that will determine that impact...' I do give pause...I think it can be the same thing. That is, I think our impact as people and citizens is also our impact as artists.

Once again, the Personal becomes Political.

Darren, your work is a good example of this.

And to Mister Dwyer, welcome! (small yippee and cartwheels from distant Canada)

Controversial enough, indeed!

And, surprisingly, Lefty as I may be, this makes a whole lot of sense to me. Well most of it. I'm not sure that I agree that the 'centrists' have elicited much change. I'm not saying they haven't, I'm just not sure yet. I've been thinking about that alot lately. I guess as a Canadian (with our well-rooted patriotic inferiority complex, as Barker duly mentioned) I worry that 'centrist' means 'fence-sitter', and I'm ill-disposed towards fence-sitters.

To clarify: people attempting to see both sides make sense to me; people attempting to see one or neither are a worry.

What it comes down to is working with Human Nature, instead of complaining about how much it sucks. Most of us are selfish, fearful, money-grubbing creatures. It's naive to think that we can fuck with it.

That being said, (lefties take note) we can fuck with it. Not change it, but fuck with it, so to speak.

I think that's where the tenets of capitalism came from. An organised way to fuck with things. After all, if you can put together a play and get people to pay to see it, and potentially go home and write their own play or what-have-you, then you too are being a capitalist. Ayn Rand has some significant points to make about this. (Sorry, Barker, I can practically see you flinching :) )

It always amazes me...I've had more than one argument with ex-punk rockers and anarchists who feel like they are above and beyond the needs of capitalist society...they don't need rules, they don't need structure, everyone for themselves and all that pap.

And eventually they get tired of being so hateful ('coz being hateful is exhausting) and that very structure becomes the thing that pays their weekly wage, and keeps them from a world of suburban crack and gunpoint.

But still they go on about how much people suck, and continue to steal from and screw the very people that are paying their rent.

Simply put, I think you gotta take the good with the bad. Not passively, but as a necessity.

Darren O'Donnell said @ 9:03 AM Wed 9 March 2005

All this is interesting but time-consuming.

Since there's a new guy on the block, I thought I'd respond to him.

Sean says:

That sort of question needs a good old fashioned capitalist answer - you set up a company that produces creative content and you sell it to the people. If they like what you produce you will get the economic value back into your pocket, which you can distribute as you please. If the public donít like it then you take a loss. That's how it worked for Shakespeare.
me: Can you explain, then, a situation like the Edinburgh fringe festival where the fact that there are 1000s of show is what attracts tourists to the city. And that only, say 10% of those shows make money. If those 10% were extracted and presented at their own special festival it would not attract the throngs of people who come to Edinburgh to spend money on beer, hotels, taxi's, haggis etc. It's the fact that there's this massive festival going on that is attracting people. Yet 90% of the shows will lose money. Those artists - with their presence - are creating a vibrant festival, yet they are not rewarded at all. In fact, they pay to play. It's the beer companies, the hotels, Smirnoff etc etc who benefits. Is this not a nuance that sort of puts a wrinkle in the classical capitalist analysis.

Does capitalism always reward as fairly as you say it does: you make a product, people buy or not. Case closed. Personally, I don't think so. One's labour may generate profit for others because of how you may be articulated in a particular network. And, maybe, a pint of Guinness is more interesting than your boring stupid show, but that Guinness drinker is in Edinburgh because of your and other boring stupid shows. Without your presence there wouldn't be a scene. is it possible to acknowledge this kind of contribution?

sean d:

I must also point out that artists in Canada are not anything like the 'classical exploited worker'. Whatever poverty you may be experiencing in this life, it has been your choice. Saying something like that demeans classically exploited workers. It is good to live in a time and place where you are free to make that choice.
me: Is the choice between a stupid mind-numbing job with no creative autonomy and a stupid career in art with no pay, ridiculous hours and creative autonomy really a choice?

They both suck.

And maybe being a classically exploited worker sucks even more. And maybe it is nice to be able to choose which suck-ass life you will lead but it does nothing to take away from the fact that it still sucks. One or two degrees of suckiness in one direction or other shouldn't lull one into accepting a stupid exploitative situation even if there are people who are exploited more.

Stef Lenk said @ 10:24 AM Wed. 9 March 2005

Dialogue is time consuming.

That's it's nature. But that's what you're looking for, no?

Re: both work options suck. That's not really productive thinking.

Re: Edinburgh Fringe. I would suggest that people come for the shows and for the beer, the haggis, the hotels, the other people. It's not one show on its very own that would convince one person to spend whatever large amount of money it takes to get to and stay in Edinburgh for the duration of the festival.

Darren O'Donnell said @ 5:21 PM Wed. 9 March 2005

Stef: 're: both work options suck. that's not really productive thinking'.

me: You don't find the truth productive? It doesn't do anybody any good to pretend that just because someone had to choose the lesser of two evils, the choice they made is one of their own free will. I don't make the choice I make with any joy, I do it cause all options stink and i take the one that causes the least amount of stress for me. But, in the end, I'm also saying that it's not totally clear that it is the one with the least stress. Michael Albert in Paracon has an interesting solution to the creative

work vs. mind numbing work: we all do a bit of each.

stef: 're: Edinburgh Fringe. I would suggest that people come for the shows and for the beer, the haggis, the hotels, the other people'.

me: But the festival is why they are there. They drink beer while they are there but they can do that in London. They come for the festival - no festival, no thousands of people. All the other stuff you list are aspects of the festival but it's the shows in the festival that are the hinge-pin for the whole thing.

stef: 'it's not one show on its very own that would convince one person to spend whatever large amount of money it takes to get to and stay in Edinburgh for the duration of the festival.'

darren: Well, that's exactly my point, it's all the shows that make people come and spend their money, yet most of the performers lose money. That's not fair. And it doesn't conform to Sean's classical capitalist paradigm. It's not a one-to-one relationship between producer and consumer - this is especially true when we're talking about cultural products.