Just a quick note to let everyone know that Walter Biffle--troublemaker, thrower of wrenches into cogs, comforter of the afflicted and afflicter of the comfortable--has earned his MFA and is now fully legitimated to raise hell in Charleston (and everywhere else.) Congratulations, Biffle!
It’s summer now, which means that it’s time for the yearly ritual of unveiling my legs. A few times lately, people have complimented me on my brand of feminism—on being passionately feminist as well as charming, engaging—and they’ve said things like, “You know, because you shave your legs and everything.”
I’ve just smiled and nodded, but in fact, I don’t shave my legs, and haven’t since the spring of my first year in college, 15 years ago. I remember the decision as a real moment of clarity; I think I’ve always been someone who questions assumptions, and I’d begun avidly questioning gender role expectations. I realized, this shaving thing doesn’t make much sense. Men don’t shave their legs. What does it mean? Is it some kind of symbol of infantilized womanhood? So I stopped. And let me just point out that me not shaving is actually quite noticeable—I’m not one of those girls with diaphanous blonde leg hair who stop shaving but no one can tell. It made an impact.
The response of some of my friends was interesting. Several of them stopped shaving, too (although I believe they all eventually returned to it). Two friends—fairly thoughtful, culturally oppositional people—felt uncomfortable about this decision. They said, “Well, you’re just doing it because you’re not so good at shaving, right? It’s not political, right?” Of course it was political. Several people also pointed out that I might limit my potential dating pool, to which I responded—and I stand by this—that hairy legs are actually a great litmus test. Any guy who wouldn’t find me appealing with hair on my legs is not the kind of guy I’d want to hook up with anyway. And about eight months after that decision Walter Biffle bounced into my life, guitar in tow, and found me incredibly appealing, hairy legs and all (and has, in fact, never seen me with shaved legs).
But that’s not the moral of this story. There is no moral to this story. To tell the truth, since coming to
But I don’t think I can do it. I get to a point where I think, “Hmm, yeah, maybe I should just give up the fight and shave,” and then my analytical brain kicks in. Feminist philosopher Susan Bordo says, “The difficult issue, for me, is figuring out the meaning and consequences—both personal and political—of my actions. In having a face-lift or in having my ‘Jewish’ nose bobbed, what norms would I be servicing? What effect would those actions have on my sense of who I am? …On the values I am communicating to those who look up to me for guidance? On shaping, in my own small way, the culture of the future?”
And then I envision the actual process of shaving. It’s been fifteen years since I’ve done it, and the thought of buying a razor and getting in the tub with it and then scraping all my leg hair off just seems ridiculous.
1. Well, we've decided not to fix the Saturn. It's a DNR. Like an old person who's lived a long life, the Saturn's time has come. I called the mechanics this morning and told them that they could sell it for scrap. It's been a good and faithful car--it only cost $4200, and I put 130,000 miles on it. Baxter and Walter and I have taken many road trips in it, and I learned lots of things from it (how to add my own AC refrigerant, how to install a horn, the fact that you turn the heat on when a car's overheating, etc). I'm sorry to see it go. Deandra points out, though, that the Saturn never became part of me in the way that my Subaru did. Walter still makes fun of me for how nostalgic I get about that old Subaru.
2. Things leave the world, and things enter. Check out my dad's new blog, List of Constant Facts. You'll get a sense of why I am the way I am from this blog.
Let me tell you about my day. This morning, as I was driving through Lumberton, NC, about 200 miles from Charleston, my car stopped. I had to have it towed to a repair shop in this tiny Southern town so that I could be told by the mechanic that my timing chain had broken. I don't know if you know this, but when your timing chain breaks, it sends hundreds of little shards of metal careening through your engine compartment and warps your valves, as well. I now know this for a fact, because the guy showed me some of the metal shards. What this means is that the engine is gone.
This wasn't as much a shock for me as it might have been, because the Saturn has 203,000 miles on it, and I knew its days were numbered. I called Biffle for some consultation, and he suggested that we wait until Monday to decide whether or not to have the mechanics put a used engine in the Saturn ($1800!) or to let them scrap it and become a one-car family.
In the meatime, I had to get myself back to Charleston. Renting a car was the obvious solution, but there aren't that many rental places in Lumberton. Enterprise gave me a great rate, but they don't do one-way rentals, so I would have had to make someone drive with me back to Lumberton to return the car (Claire? Meghann?). Avis does one-way rentals, but they were in a town 30 miles away, and there was no taxi company in Lumberton. The mechanics suggested the Greyhound bus.
While I was making phone calls and trying to identify what my options actually were, the mechanics asked if I wanted any lunch. Unfortunately, although I was starving, I'd made a cardinal error, gone against my raising and my father's List of Constant Facts (soon to be a blog--watch for it), and gone on a trip without any money on me. (Lee Piepmeier: "Do you have any money on you? You can't go on a trip without any money on you!") And so the mechanics bought me lunch. How nice was that? It was pretty tasty, too.
I managed to find a cab company in Fayetteville, NC, that was willing to drive me the 30 miles to the car rental place, and I got a one-way rental (expensive as hell, let me tell you), and drove in air conditioned comfort back to Charleston, a mere five hours later than I'd planned.
Side note: Having just come from a workshop on oppression, and being in a situation that made me uneasy, I was really aware of power dynamics. I was aware of being white (huge advantage--how freaked out would I have been as a person of color having to hang out in this auto shop in the rural South?), female (drawback, although these particular mechanics didn't seem creepy or manipulative), financially solvent (thank goodness!), and a native English speaker (I had to do so much phone calling and negotiating to finally get out of there--what would I have done if I didn't speak the language?).
This may be the end for the Saturn. I'm not ready to make that pronouncement yet, though.
I wrote yesterday's Theater of the Oppressed post while I was lounging on the bed and watching TV in my $30 hotel room (I love Priceline), so there were a few things I forgot to include. Here are some cool ideas from the workshop:
- Expression is not the same as emancipation.
- When things become a monologue, that's oppression. We achieve our full humanity in dialogue.
- Forum Theater is rehearsal for revolution.
I'm blogging on location from Chapel Hill, NC, where I've spent the afternoon and evening at at Theater of the Oppressed workshop. The Theater of the Oppressed uses theater as a tool for eradicating social injustice; it's linked to the ideas of Paolo Freire and pedagogy of the oppressed, ideas that propel my teaching. Although I'm usually all over experiences like this one, I have a few complaints--or maybe just cranky observations--about this one.
- It was interesting being a student, since I'm generally not in that position these days. I got some useful insights about my own classes. For instance, the guys leading this workshop seemed, at times, to want so badly to let everyone speak that they'd sacrifice momentum for the sake of inclusion. I do this, too. The problem is, when you're the student, you start getting bored, thinking, "Yeah, yeah, we've heard this before--let's keep moving!"
- Claire mentioned this recently: there are some kinds of scholarly writing (social science research, often) that stop at exactly the point where they're about to get interesting. They assemble a bunch of facts and then don't discuss what they mean, why they're there--the theory. I felt a bit like this today. We ran through hours of interactive theatrical games, and while they were fun, I kept thinking, "Okay, tell me how to use this in my class. And more importantly, how is this game going to help eradicate oppression?"
- And going along with #2, they got to the really, really interesting stuff at the very end, when we didn't have enough time to go into it as much as I would have liked.
In our class two people acted out a scene on a subway. A black woman was sitting in a row of six empty seats, and a white man walked in and sat next to her. Then the facilitator had them escalate the scene so that the woman got up and moved, and the man followed her. We talked about sexual harassment, rape culture, and white and male privilege. I stopped being a vaguely bored, increasingly hostile student during this discussion and was fully engaged--I could definitely see the political and pedagogical potential for this exercise.
I went to a blog party tonight. What is a blog party, you ask? It's an excuse for people who know each other only virtually to get together in person. I had a brief junior high flashback at the beginning, walking into a crowd of people I didn't know and having to just put my hand out and start making friends. But that feeling quickly faded. I mean, hell, these were folks willing to come out after work and hang out with other people simply on the basis of the fact that we all make blogs. How threatening could any of us be? Gotta love the nerd herd.
I will say, however, that I got the distinct impression that I was the less desirable of the Baxter Sez authors for this particular gathering. Although everyone was polite and happy to meet me, their eyes lit up when they heard what blog I do, and they all asked, "Where's Biffle? Is Biffle here? Did he come? Can we call him Biffle?" When they learned that Biffle has headed back to MA to defend his MFA thesis, they made valiant efforts to mask their disappointment. I can hardly blame them--he's always been the flashier member of this couple, and this blog is no exception. I can't compete with Jemima and the Grits for provocativeness (although I am cooking up a good post about leg shaving that you should be on the lookout for), and if you've only recently started reading Baxter Sez it's possible that you don't even know there is another writer here.
But anyway, the party was a lot of fun. Thanks to Dan, Joan, and the other people who pulled this event together.
My parents were in town the last couple of days for an action-packed visit to Charleston. We ate seafood, pancakes, and Greek food, we watched Mission Impossible III, and the most exciting part: we took a walk through the Audubon Swamp at Magnolia Plantation. The weather couldn't have been nicer--here's dad enjoying a sunny swamp view.
And then, there they were--alligators! I'd gotten thoroughly excited every time we saw even a turtle, but this place was loaded with alligators. One was sunning on a specially designed alligator resting platform. At first we thought she was a fake, but then we saw that her feet were wet, and Eagle-Eye Kelly Piepmeier noticed her close her eye. Other alligators were just swimming around. These were some sizeable alligators--five and six feet long, probably.
And so what's the logical thing to do when you see an alligator resting in the marsh grasses just off the path you're walking on? Poke it with a stick, of course. I don't know that Biffle actually touched the alligator, but he certainly annoyed it, and it splashed and swam away.
(The redneck's last words, by the way, were, "Hey, man--watch this!")
Later we went to the beach. Here's the official Baxter Sez Mother's Day photo.
I'm well aware that i'm a drudgey blogger: ohhh, the state of the world! we're all gonna die, blah, blah, blah. Art is a thorn in my side. I want to be a good person, blar, blar, blar...
Well, today i have a really important quesiton i need y'all to weigh in on:
should i go to my 20-year high school reunion?
Like most people, i am full of foibles (a word that, i found out by googling, means "the weakest part of the blade"). One of these foibles is to refer to someone else as "brilliant" when what i really mean is that "i agree with them." One person i find myself agreeing with almost constantly, and therefore consider brilliant, is the writer/farmer/bad poet Wendell Berry. Another one is a visual artist and writer named Gregory Sholette.
I wanted to throw Sholette in here because i find i'm currently at an emotional/intellectual impasse on this, the final installation of Jemima and the Grits. See, i've been sittin' here for...what? four days? writing a paper. That paper contains sentences like this:
Although I found only the most critically aware of these citizens seeing past my evident contradiction, Conscientização, nonetheless, enters into an active, simultaneous refutation and reinstatement of privilege. Similar to my struggles in balancing the twin objectives of memorialization/politicization, this second dialectic, too, laid bare the central contradiction found in almost all interventionist and activist work.
And that's alright, man. Those sentences say some stuff, but not really in the way i like to say them. Only problem is that i've gotten myself into that jargon-y head space, and i'm havin' a hard time gettin' out. I'm having a hard time finding the middle ground between academic crapspeak and saying things i feel inside. So, instead of having to search out this middle for what i want to say about art and specifically the plea i wish i could make to the art scene and artists in charleston, i want begin by referring you to a couple of websites:
(and then hit "english" and then "art". after that, you're free to surf.)
(For Sholette you're gonna have to click on the "writings" link.)
Those two sites pretty much sum up academically, and in a much better, clearer way, what i'm just not willing to go in to here.
Alright. Having done that, lemme get back to my old, comfortable habit of haphazardly connecting disparate stuff:
For the last couple of days, in order to clear up my head and give my brain a break from the last...oh, eight months...I've been re-reading my Sherlock Holmes books. See, look here: i'm an idiot. Here's what i mean: I love Sherlock Holmes. Now, there's nothing wrong with that in particular, but i'm a member of a silly club of people that study the stories. I've cross-referenced cases to actual events in the weather. I used to have an old London timetable for trains, just to make sure that Doyle wasn't playing fast and loose with the actual schedule (pronounced Shed-dule). So just where did that Jezail bullet pierce Watson? Was it in the shoulder or the leg? My copies of the stories have color-coded highlighting to designate "deductions," "humor," "Baker Street," etc. I wish i had a picture of Irene Adler (i'll bet she looks like Alison in a high, lacy collar).
Anyway, (ah...good old "anyway") the other night while i was reading these stories again, i was really aware of all the references to people not being of the same "station," of how so-and-so had an income of so many pounds a year, and i thought that's really the only thing America's had going for it all this time: the permeability of the "class" structure.
But, that's a fable that tells us we can be born a sharecropper and die the president. That fable may be truer here than it was in turn of the century England, but it ain't that much truer, is it? I mean, come on. I just read a "story" in the newspaper this morning about Jeb Bush's interest in the presidency. I know it's a puerile deduction, but if the any-boy-being-president fable were true, then it would be a near statistical impossibility for two members of the same family to end up as presidents, right? To paraphrase Holmes: when you've exhausted all other possibilites, what remains, no matter how ridiculous, must be the truth. That truth?
We live in a plutocracy.
Alright. Moving right along (although, i know with my blog posts that that's a relative term). Lemme bring up just a little bit of theory here for a second. Julia Kristeva is the mama of "the abject." The abject, very reductively, says that you can't know beauty without you know ugly.
Well, here's some abject for you: Jemima and the Grits. That's the name of the every-painting i discovered upon first moving to Charleston.
Jemima and the Grits is the high art equivalent to a Fort Lauderdale Airbrush Palm Tree License Plate with LeighAnne's Name scrawled across it.
It is a beach scene with an inexplicably orange east coast sunset featuring the silhouette of a fat black mammy in a headscarf uncle tommin' some steaming pot on a stove with a spoon.
It is some doufus, nigh on realistic, oil paint representation of the house you already live in, or a bunch of fresh flowers that already sit on your dining room table.
Come on folks: that ain't art! it's f/art if i've ever seen it. It ain't people coming together "from all walks of life to share a mutual joy in self-expression" as the faux story-- planted by a realtor for I'On-- claimed in this morning's paper about that community's neighborhood art group. (I'On, for non-Charlestonians, is a bleached out, jillion dollar, disneyland suburb nestled far from the place where dirty men can abduct your children and drug-crazed ethnic groups steal you plasma teevee. I'On is a place where you can stroll to the local coffee shop on groomed, non-cracked sidewalks and visit with your neighbor over the stacked stone wall that surrounds your gated community. All of this is yours, starting in the low 800's...)
Sorry. I've become more bitter than i thought i would...that's cheap resentment and fear speaking, and i'm sorry. (i'm still gonna leave it there, though)
here's the deal: i believe that real capital A Art started as an effort to communalize. To humanize and create a sense of place and history. Jemima does that, too, but it does it by way of de-humanizing a whole other group.
Someone, somewhere, long ago picked up the burnt end of a stick and expressed themselves on a stone wall. They defined, through the use of visual representation, the common struggle for survival they were all experiencing. They drew a picture to help their children recognize what root vegetable to pull out of the ground, or to memorialize Ugh's brave battle with the saber-toothed tiger and how he saved the village, and died in the process.
In my weaker moments i realize that they may have also drawn a picture of Blugh, from the other village, and explained how Blugh was mean and evil and violent and would take thier rooted vegetable if they didn't kill him first. I don't know, man. Maybe that's just the course of history.
What i do know, however, is that at least today, i have Plenty. I have so much that i could start giving away everything right now and still have some left over next week. And maybe that Plenty was actually provided by a long line of Blugh's within my own community, raping and pillaging the next community over. Again, i don't know.
But i don't think it's Plenty that makes me human. I think it's the choice to enact the kind of world i want that really makes me human. It's that choice that gives me the abililty to appreciate real beauty.
I want to have the willingness and courage to choose a better existence for all of us. I choose to agree with another brilliant thinker and believe that "the arc of history is long, but it bends toward freedom." I want my contribution to help bend it a little more.
I've had to take a few days break from the blog. And i'm gonna have to take perhaps one day more. Why? My attention has been elsewhere--meaning i have been writing an entirely new thesis paper.
Not to worry, though. MFA thesis papers are pretty undemanding things. I've heard a past grad at my school turned in a paper that contained nothing but a list of adjectives. Another wasn't really about the written content at all, but, in an effort to say something about the state of "the hand" in modern society, all copies were made using an old-school, non-electric typewriter. I've heard at RISD they're only expected to turn in a paragraph. (designers are evidently expected to produce objects, not think about them...)
Anyway, even in all this low-pressure liberality i 've gotten some heat from a committee member for not including any actual information in my thesis. Stories about drinking and singing ad-lib blues songs were not gettin' it for her. I only had two items in the bibliography. She cited a problem with "gratuitous profanity."
I understand where she's coming from. My thesis made the stuff i write on this blog look like a born-again Judith Butler. But i decided, instead of messing up fifty pages of good storytelling, to write an entirely new paper, replete with semi-colons and the correct use of "always already."
Anyway, that's where my attention has been. I'll be back at the plate tommorrow--same bat time, same bat channel--aimlessly swinging away.
part two of Jemima and the Grits...
Well, i knew i was in trouble yesterday when i got two comments, in pretty quick succession, right after i'd posted that post. Now, i've never met Kelly Love Johnson, but i do know Mary and, in my head, i could see her: making herself kinda small and fuzzy, her eyes all beady with glee, wickedly rubbing her hands together in excitement over whatever blasphemous thing i would eventually write on here. Like me, Mary loves a good conflict (and i'm willin' to bet so does KLJ). I'd made the mistake of creating an expectation.
I re-read my post and saw that, yes indeed, it promised some controversy. "stupid and dangerous opinion," i wrote. "something even i might regret saying." Them's some big words, and i can say some pretty drastic stuff. So what am i gonna do?
Maybe he'll claim that everyone in Charleston's art scene is havin' sex with animals!
Well, sorry to let you down, but that's not what i'm gonna say. Not even close...
After i posted yesterday i had to drive out to Mount Pleasant to Petsmart to get some pheromone stuff so Inky the cat'll quit spraying everything in our house. The drive gave me some good reflection time. On the drive I thought tommorrow maybe i'll talk high theory and explain why the avant-garde is really about the practice of humilty these days, or why post-modernist irony is giving way to the new paradigm of Commitment. Eventually, though, i discovered that what i really needed to do was examine...and get ready for some corny-ness...what it was that i felt in my heart. I feel that this is the right move, because instead of explaining the theoretical concepts above, i could actually live them--theory and process...aligned. *sigh*
First, let me tell you what set me off: In yesterday's Post and Courier, concerning a show at Ella Richardson Fine Art, Larissa Dozier, public relations consultant for the gallery, says "In 1947, Miro began his exploration with the challenging mediums of multicolor etchings and lithographs...Miro pushed the limits of his own creative genius through artistic concerns unique to the graphic arts....although the technique of printmaking and its various mediums are rooted in nearly 1000 years of experimentation and production, Miro approached each [print] with revolutionary concepts of imagery." The article goes on to explain, most importantly, that "Bryson Strauss, curator and oral historian at Timothy Yarger Fine Art of California...will offer his expertise on the graphic mediums," (and get this) "what it means to acquire an original artwork by Miro in today's art market."
Folks, i got nothing against Miro. In fact, i really like Miro. But, i'm here to tell ya, Miro was no genius. His pictures were not "revolutionary concepts of imagery." And neither were Pollock's , nor Warhol's nor Serra's. And neither were (insert a thousand other valid artist names here...)
See, if an artist has any validity, it's not gonna be found just in their pictures. That validity is gonna be found in the fact that they lived and breathed a life that ran counter to a current cultural dialogue.
Now it hurts me to write the above. It hurts because saying that is the act of summing up the center of a thought-onion--a thought-onion that's got a million layers and is a thousand miles across. The above is a wild generalization, and i love wild generalizations...until i start talking about something that really really matters to me (or something that i'm freshly out of a graduate education for) . The above generalization doesn't take into account the avant garde, it doesn't debunk that near-parenthetical phrase "a thousand years of experimentation and production," it doesn't address the cult of the new, and on and on and blah dee blah. For the sake of brevity, however, that's where i'm gonna leave it.
Alright. So, Bryson Strauss is gonna tell us how to invest in a Miro. That's crap. That ain't art. That's investment. And these days, if you're a person in the business of making a pretty picture or a three dimensional object for someone to invest in, then you're not an artist. To take a page from the post-modern handbook, i'd like to suggest a new name for the person that does that: f/artist.
Alright. That's awfully dogmatic. And marxist. (And funny, too). To be fair, i could also suggest the pretty-picture-person be called something i consider a compliment, but what they generally abhor: a craftsperson. But all of that is not what this post was about. That stuff is not really what my heart is telling me to say.
Without further delay, here's where my insides, and yesterdays post, and today's post, line up.
First of all: 99% of art really is a bloated substance-less slob dedicated solely to the consumptive pleasure of wealthy white people.
I'm gonna be 38 years old (!) in a few days. I'm just now getting out of school. I have student loans. I don't have a job. I have developed, due to my studies in art, an ethical manifesto that says privilege is fuckin' stuff up. It also tells me that if i make a living by exploiting that privilege, then i'm part of the problem. maybe i'm hopelessly naive, but i just think it's ridiculous to think that someone is gonna go into a gallery, right here in Charleston, and spend thousands--nay, tens of thousands i'm sure the gallery hopes--on a freakin' lithograph when five blocks up the street someone is hungry. Where realtionships between white and black people still smack of 1859. "yesSUH!," an elderly black gentleman addressed me yesterday.
I don't, for the life of me, want to be a part of that system. But...i'm afraid. I've desperately, and purposefully, held on all these years to the idealism of an 18 year old. I've been able to avoid, for most of my life, actually committing myself to any real process. Sure i've been a satellite member. I've used privilege and money and parents and my spouse, but that membership has always been kept, at least, at a distasteful distance. And now, dammit, i've got to get a job. I've got to shit or get off the pot. Every fiber of my being cries out at producing yet another museum worthy piece of crap that perpetuates elitism and power and whiteness. To produce beauty that only a few can afford...
But what am i gonna do?
If i rail against that system here on this blog , for all to see, then i'll identify myself as the enemy...or a liar. That's why i want to open my big fat mouth, here in this general store, and say that i don't want to join that club. I want to say that i intend to continue being that idealistic 18 year old, and tell you i'll have nothing to do with bronze casting and oil paints and medium specificity.
People have done this and managed to survive. To sight some success stories, I think Steve Whittlesey, my instuctor up at school, has managed it in a way. The artist Dan Peterman is doing it. I even think--although he's gotten really rich in the process--that Neil Young has done it. I even think Gridgey is doing it up there in Cookeville--hang in there Gridgey! I want to say, here, that i wanna do it too.
i'm gonna ride a bike to new orleans, dammit.
After having written the following post i realized that, even for me, not only had i gone on for way too long, but that i may have crossed a line in asserting an opinion that even i'd regret. Therefore, i visit you now, here at the beginning, to tell you that i'm gonna edit and break this thing down into three installments. These installments are as follows:
1) one of the values of blogs
2) is capital "A" Art a bloated substance-less slob dedicated solely to the consumptive pleasure of wealthy white people?
3) a Charleston everypainting i call "Jemima and the Grits."
okay. on with the entry:
Here's another over-reaching, far too inclusive, wants-to-be-about-everything post for you.
What i'm fixin' to do here is probably stupid and dangerous. I'm gonna write an opinion about a community and an industry that i may eventually have to depend upon to feed myself. But first, let me talk about topic number one: one of the valuable attributes of blogs...
I'm here on my back porch, Thursday, May 4th, writing this. In a few minutes i'll have to make the choice of hitting either the "save as draft" button, or the "publish post" button. I'm well aware what that second option means. It means, of course, that i'm gonna commit what i'm writing to cyberspace. That writing, as far as my limited knowledge of cyberspace goes, will be floating around for years to come. It'll also be there right now. Anyone--a gallery owner here in Charleston, people that make and teach art for a living that might possibly employ me, etc.--will be able to see this. I'll be opening my big, fat mouth for all to see. But, then, that side effect of blogs may just be one of their benefits also. Here's a couple of stories that might vaguely help me illustrate my point:
I had a great uncle who was known around his hometown of Triune, Tennessee for having a big, fat mouth (a big, fat mouth is one of the side effects of being a Biffle, it seems). Anyway, this uncle used to make outrageous claims. He used tell outrageous lies. He was known to open his big fat mouth. He also, however, tended to make good on some of these claims. For instance, one day at my grandfather's general store, he told everyone within earshot that he was gonna ride with the Guvna of Tennessee--in his limosine no less--down to Mule Day, an age-old festival in Columbia that got its start by seeing how far a man's mule team could pull an outhouse. Of course, everyone knew that my uncle was pullin' their leg.
He got away with it, though. What he did was actually call up the freakin' governor of the state, explain that he'd lied to a crowd of people and was gonna get dragged over the coals if he didn't make good, and would the governor, please, please, be so kind as to actually come by my grandfather's store in Triune--in a limosine--and pick him up?
Well, believe it or not, it worked. Come Mule Day, the governor showed up--in a limo--and picked up my uncle. (What no one knew is that the deal he'd struck with the gov. was that he'd get picked up, driven out of sight of the store, and and then get dropped back off again.)
Another time, at that same store, he told everybody he was gonna ride a bike all the way to New Orleans. He had no intention of doing it when he said it, but, yet again, having said this to the public, he had to make good on his claim. This time, though, and unlike the Mule Day deception, he actually did it. After like three months, and with a very sore butt, he made it to New Orleans on a bicycle.
The point here is this: we don't have general stores anymore. We don't have--well, at least my generation and ethnic group--doesn't have barber shops. There is no forum--save for blogs--where a person can make an outrageous claim to the larger public, a la Floyd's in Mayberry, and get taken to task for it. Yeah, we can do this at work or at school, just like we did in the past, but it's not the same. Those places are too close and personal. There isn't the anonymity, the public clearinghouse kind-of-place like the barber shop or the general store where disparate groups of people gather together to create grist for the rumor mill. In other words--save for blogs--there isn't a place where a person can get fodder for a good rumor that begins "did you hear what that Biffle boy was sayin' down at the store today?"
I don't think that particular kind of public scrutiny exists anymore. Oh, sure, we're all neurotic about our public image, but that image can't quite come back to haunt us as directly as it did back when you opened your mouth at the barber shop. (I think that happens to explain the appeal of the television show, Seinfield--the idea that, although you, personally, might live in an anonymous world, the Seinfield guys seemed to live in that unique community of "acquainted strangers" where a person is taken to task for their actions or words.)
See, we depend on that community of acquainted strangers to keep us honest. Family is kind of stuck with you, our friends either forgive us or write us off and disappear. The work place may come closest to what i'm talking about here, but even then those relationships are still tighter than the kind of public i'm talking about.
Having said all that, what i'm getting at is this: if i put an outrageous claim here on this blog--specifically about what i want to say about the arts community in the place that i live-- i'm kinda bound by my word, to a group of acquainted strangers, to make good on it.
okay. So there's part one. If i--or you, for that matter--still care tommorrow, i'll continue.
just so you'll know, this post is gonna end up talking about the Toyota Scion and American culture, but first...
Since i have so little time left up here in Massachusetts i haven't had Gridge's ship me any more coffee. And since i've found that the faux designer coffee in bins at grocery stores is all about presentation (and not at all about quality), AND since i have a very annoying, tiny grinder up here, i've gone back to my roots and started buying cans. If you just want a fairly decent and affordable cup 'o mud to start your day, then a can of giant company is better than a bag of tiny faux local roaster. Mostly i've stuck with Maxwell House, but I've still been experimenting. The other day, for instance, i bought a can of something called Harmony Bay and found the only thing it had going for it was its patented can design.
The bigger text here, however, is concerned with two things: quality and difference. For years i've been a paranoid consumer. I've always figured no matter what i was buying, for whatever price, under whatever name, it was still the same product. It was probably made by one of just a couple giant companies and put into a different package. This goes for woodworking equipment: Jet and Powermatic are different colors and different prices, but they're the same thing. The only difference is the lingering reputation from when they were still manufactured in the U.S. This goes for clothes: Bananna Republic and The Gap and Old Navy are different stores but sell the same thing. The only difference is in how much they iron stuff. (To their credit, however, the Bananna/Gap/Navy triumverate knows their consumers are savvy and so owns up to the connection, turning it instead into a clever marketing strategy).
So i was pleasantly surprised this morning to open a can of Chock Full O' Nuts. I got to step back and say "viva la difference!" I mean, it still tastes like coffee from a can, but it was obvious to my eye and nose that this coffee was not made by the same ole same ole. CFo'N is a Sara Lee product. Maxwell House is Kraft. As far as i know, these are not the same company.
Anyway! Opening that can of coffee this morning led me to pondering why it is that i resent the crap out of the Toyota Scion. I hadn't figured it out yet, but it has to do with nothing short of the tragectory of consumer products over the history of industrialization.
First we had the situation where if you wanted something you made it yourself, right? Then, later on, you got it from a local source. Mass-manufactuing ended the local source concept, but buying something still required being a careful consumer. Generalizing heavily, the mid-century was characterized by having the consumptive and actual value of a product as still somewhat of a choice. We then entered a phase--say, over the past twenty years--where the only value left was the consumptive value. What i'm calling "actual value" ceased to matter because everything was the same product. Well, lately, consumers have become hip to even that. Manufacturing has had to come up with a new wrinkle. And what is that? individualization.
Enter the Toyota Scion. Taking a page from the book of Harley Davidson, Toyota has introduced a way to sell the same over-priced, over-hyped crap to everybody, but allow the consumer to believe it's their own through the act of customization.
Alright. Why does this matter to me, you might ask? Well, you can't imagine how dis-heartening it is to have a love of making things by hand, and by believing there is an inherent value in the one-of-a-kind, only to see phase after phase of mass-production continually render what you're doing obsolete. Those people that tell machines in China how to make things are some clever bastards.
What i'm talking about here is the American Cowboy love for the concept of freedom, of the individual. We Americans love to think that we are, to a person, unique. That unique-ness has always already (?) come to realize itself through being a consumer. So the late-nineties generic manufactuing process wore itself out--we saw through the disguise--and it had to morph into this new thing of customization. Hence the Harley Davidson and the Scion (whose website hardly even mentions its connection to Toyota), hundreds of home improvement shows, and thousands of the same crap-ass coffee with names like Harmony Bay in patented cans.
Here's the deal: don't be a sucker. This whole scheme is the same wolf, in the same sheep's clothing--only this time it's wearin' sunglasses and a moustache hoping you won't recognize it.
Wanna be unique? Don't buy anything.