BBC 1, as I begin to eat my dinner at a few minutes to 7pm: an advertisement about the upcoming Sport Relief major charity event, where a child gets chummy with his favourite sporting icons, when asking them to join in a two part costume to take part in the event. Then the always avoidable The One Show. 5 minutes in, the shows two presenters start jumping around, with bubbly smiles, in bright red costumes, telling us about the ‘importance of the charity event’, with narrated clips of past Sport Reliefs where certain celebrities have ‘done their bit’ to help the cause.
It’s hard to show negative reactions to events which the hype has built moral fire walls around.
Once one starts to frown, and refrains from praising these ‘great’ celebrity role models, it may look like one believes they have sniffed out a rat, that they think all the good intention is false, or even that one doesn’t want to be reminded of most desperate people/situations on the planet. Not at all.
I don’t doubt that the celebrities, like Eddie Izzard on his country-long marathon, do these things in the aim of helping people. But when I see all this enthusiasm and hype being (good)intentionally whipped up for the causes it aims to serve, I can’t help feeling a defeated sort of feeling, or the feeling that no matter how much I shouted “something is not right here” it is translated by those around me into “I’m trying to be controversial by slagging off things there to help needy people”. But as long as our guiding light remains Live Aid, and big charity events are the main way of helping those (and those things) that are in the most desperate situations, I can only conclude that their problems won’t only conclude but will increase.
So, is one mean and selfish if they find the televised screams, and ‘bubbly’ street charity workers’ shouts for our help annoying and troubling? You may think this is the case, but it would be a very simple way of looking at it, a way that doesn’t allow for the thoughts that it maybe isn’t a rule of nature that so many people are in need of hand outs from generous people. If I didn’t care for the homeless, I wouldn’t find it so upsetting when I see people in train stations with all their possessions they can carry in transparent bags, wondering where they will spend their first night without a home. If I didn’t care about nature, and climate change, and the damage humans are doing to the planet, why would the subject be noticeable (in some form) in nearly every piece of art work I have made for the best part of a decade? Surely one doesn’t need to dissect the societal norms around them, to see that something has seriously gone pear-shaped when we are surrounded by so much call for charity, on every street corner, and in every newspaper, with logos that strangely seem to enhance the legitimacy of the big company logos which occupy the same areas?
Running “1, 3 or 6 miles” doesn’t change things for the better, changes to the social system do; changes to a system where it has been normalised for more government money to be spent on bailing bankers out and military spending, and world sporting events (where nation states childishly compete to outdo each other with fancy shaped buildings and fireworks), than on helping the world’s poor or tackling climate change. Mass charity is what happens when society stalls, and goes back on the idea of progress. Big charity events merely give causes their ’15 minutes of fame’ where they can appear on the stage of the usually much more don’t-give-a-shit spectacle complex, to make our hearts momentarily bleed, hopefully just enough to be thrown a few crumbs to keep them afloat before the spectacle gets back to its usual task of keeping us as consumers hooked on dreams.
Charity of course, fits perfectly into this consumerist complex. Which is why the logos of the charities whose workers chase your guilt up and down high streets actually enhance the legitimacy of the big company logos that occupy these same areas. Giving money to a charity, or competing in an event to raise funds, is merely the purchase of ones exemption from the guilt of living within highly exploitative and destructive system, and this exemption allows for one to then go and buy from the big companies, with the exemption from the guilt allowing us to momentarily forget that these companies, if not themselves ruthlessly exploiting people and the environment in other parts of the world, are certainly part of a framework of companies bolstering the legitimacy of doing so.
And by stating that this is what I feel a world consisting of innumerable charities allows for, I am still not saying that all those who do give money or time to charity do think in such a cynical manner. But I do think one registers it as ‘doing their bit to help’, and may actually believe that it can cancel out the negative effect of shopping at big company stores (which of course we all have to do because it is has been almost impossible not to). I also think that it results from an unquestioning acceptance that this way (the way of charity being the only help for the most desperate situations whilst the real riches of the world are utilised for crueler ends) is seen as the only way, as if all we can do to help the most needy, from now until the end of the human race, is to throw them just enough crumbs to survive. Keeping them down, of course.
Do you feel like an angst-ridden teenager at 28? Which no confirmation of true age, when confronted with an ever-more aging face staring back at you from every reflection, can eradicate? With the ever-mounting pressure to remain young, to be hip, adventurous and to be eternally striving to advance oneself and be ‘living’ the high times, that is mediated to us by young-looking role models (whether they are actually young or incredibly well photo-shopped), the effects of alienation and discontent that traditionally by-and-large affect teenagers, now affect people further and further into their adult lives. The size 30 waistline is truly strangling us right into our 30’s. Yet there’s never any talk of this – alienating those caught in this existential no-man’s-land furthermore.
Doing my artwork from home, and having a job (when I have one at all) that gives me days off in the middle of the week (which no friends usually have free also), a much needed escape from my cul-de-sacked-residence is usually destined to be relatively solitary one, estranged from the friends who I don’t have the confidence to call until the time of day when English towns have become alcohol-gated communities. I’ve got into an early-afternoon habit, once my hands can’t take any more biro-gripping and key typing, of heading to towns/cities within the 20 mile affordable-to-travel-to radius. But once I get there I am suddenly confronted by an attack from conventional reasoning as to why I am in this place. Amidst the races of individuals trying to get places from the station terminus, I begin to stall, getting in peoples’ way. They seem to have purpose; a life which they are in such a rush to resume. I don’t. Just what am I doing here?
I start to feel a sense of not belonging, an estrangement, and an eagerness to find a place. An uneasiness I expected to be way beyond by now. My mind starts repeating “I’m 28 for god’s sake!”, desperately trying to make it feel true in the physical world. But no matter how I try to rush off’ trains when I’m meeting a friend, or arranging a van to pick my artworks up from an exhibition, my life seems to stay put. Nothing has really changed since I was the shy 16 year old school leaver who would avoid people he went to school with in the street, rather than have to walk past them, in fear of being ignored by them all together.
Many thougths and sights gather and congeal during the course of day that make me look back from these ‘post-Fordist’ times to the lives of my ‘Fordist’predecessors (the previous generations) in shame and embarrassment. Families, homes, ‘proper’ jobs in their 20’s. These societal changes don’t seem to register on the tips of most tongues, and whether possible to do so or not, there is boding expectation to make your way through the world, which hangs heavier around ones neck every time their age hits a higher twenty-something. But what’s there to be made, doesn’t make for this, and what lies in wait just perpetuates your past doings.
If we stick to the core meaning of alienation – to feel that you don’t belong; to feel not at home in your own surroundings – then this alienation may be behind why, after getting off the train, I then make my way to sit in the very chain cafes that I am often critical of for driving small businesses out of existence. In towns/cities which aren’t ‘my home town’, where I am at for no real reason, I feel out of context with the surroundings, with an imaginary person whispering “you don’t belong here” in my ear. And these coffee shops are out of context because they are everywhere and are thus nowhere; a place alienated from its surroundings for an individual who feels alienated (which in no way exempts me from the guilt of frequenting such places). And after that where? For, when I’ve done sitting in the cafe, I don’t really allow for anything much to ‘happen’, because I’m too eager for the feeling of at-least going somewhere, which the train back home-wards provides, and is this the underlying spur for the endeavour.
Regarding those who meander in solitude up and down streets, cultural discourse would have it that it’s a 15-19 age thing, circumventing the age of The Catcher In The Rye’s socially lost protagonist Holden Caulfield. And this holds true for musical tastes also; where bands dealing with discontent and alienation (a prime example being Nirvana, but I also the likes of Radiohead, The Smashing Pumpkins, The The, Joy Division) are neatly categorised as “angry young man music/the sort of music I listened to in my teen angst days” (yes, I have actually heard these said), as a call to get rid of these feelings of not fitting into society, as if it’s an ‘age thing’, to find your seat within the big arena, something many seem depressingly able to do without any noticeable painful transition.
Well, the said bands are still some of my closest audio companions, and I first read the Catcher In The Rye when I was 25 years old, yet felt utterly in tune with this teenage protagonists aimless journeys to places in a city, that he realised he had no reason for being at once he’d arrived. Consequently I feel offended by the usual back-cover reviews describing the book as ‘the quintessential book about teenage-angst ‘, to paraphrase the many.
What does this mean? Does it mean completely shelving everything I have just said just in order for it to be fitting to say “you need to move on (grow up)”? Well, if that is so, please fucking show me how to! Please show me how to move on from this junction-less ring road. If my brain was made of nuts and bolts rather than organic tissue I’d gladly let you tinker around with a screwdriver if there was any hope of lifting the veil of grey mist blocking sight of progression into an ‘acceptable’ place to be for an adult. But it wouldn’t work. Plans are being made now, but if you see me still looking vacantly at train departure electronic boards in 1 year’s time, don’t be surprised.
Weekends seem to actually induce mini-crisis points, from where I wish I’d never asked my boss for them off, because it seems so much easier to be working. At least on weekdays I can at least be functional in my usual doings, and not feel bowled-over by omnipresent ‘evidence’ to a uncertain self of people having purpose to their weekly working as they are meeting up during their shared time off with friends for a much earned rest.
At least on weekdays, I see others as being in the same boat as me, as equally struggling to deal with the cultural norms subjected onto them. And I see other reasons for the causation of alienation. Looking at every lone person on a bus, every lone person with time on their hands, I’m seeing others who are alienated and needing a place also. Everyone’s looking for contact via their mobile phones. Perhaps it isn’t just directly the propagation of youthful imagery that perpetuates the teen alienation into adulthood, but the rapidity of the amount of electrical communication?
When others contact you it makes you feel wanted, but not merely wanted in the ‘desired’ sense but wanted in existence. Someone of strong enough self certainty to avoid irrational anxieties, may not need to needed/wanted by others in order to make their existence seem of worth, but for others, lost in the blur of a fast-paced life, lack of contact with others, when all you see around you in the street is others texting/talking on phones, can make you feel anxious about your own worthiness of existence upon this planet. Thus you begin rapidly texting people, and the desire to get (back) onto social networking sites, such as Facebook, hangs like big tangled branches from every inhalation and exhalation. I tend to text with more ferocity the more I feel like the spectrum of life is passing be by, and also when I’m places where I feel like I don’t belong, and regardless of what they text says, the real message is ‘Hey, I’m here! Don’t forget me”. And of course it is for everybody else.
The link between why we are a society both equally hooked to high-tech forms of communication and the pummeling from youth-obsessed imagery, is what I’d argue is also the link between my inability to move past my alienation and the social system we live under. We never feel complete, thus we never feel like we belong.
I haven’t been thinking too clearly of late. This might be a start, looking at examples of distractions that enhance this disorientation
I can hear the spectacle calling me from down stairs. Whooshes and explosions tempt me to be sucked into the dreamscape
When I walk past the television set downstairs around tea-time, as I attempt to quickly get a drink, not wanting to lose momentum from the work I am undertaking up in my room, there is often a film on, set to the typical action movie formula, which my father hasn’t so much decided to watch as become resigned to watching. After I have got that needed liquid, and I make my escape for the stairs back to the room where I’m working, I get caught by the action on the screen as if I’ve accosted.
Most ‘blockbuster’ action films (especially the recent re-makes) have but a skeletal amount of content, but have collosal heaps of spectacle; and it is at these moments that one (re)understands the almost-hypnotic power that spectacle (especially spectacle that has had millions spent on making it) has on people. It just draws you towards it like a light draws in a moth. It is seductive; you’re telling yourself to leave the room, to turn and make a dash, but it’s like the screen has hold of eyes from the sockets and his pulling them into a whirlpool.
Notorious for being empty of new ideas, Hollywood, which is the USA’S foremost propaganda machine (‘diffuse’ propaganda; to use Guy Debord’s word for describing the way that most so-called ‘democratic’ nations’ spectacle works), still shows us why the American way is still the most powerful; it’s seduction.
Facebook: the crowd in your lonely room
What I need to remember when I’ve got Facebook on whilst trying to do other things (things that rejuvenate my sense of self like making art, writing), and struggling to do so, is that Facebook is a crowd, even if it’s a non-physical one. One cannot think clearly when it’s on, when the blue and white rolling news channel of friendship is promising/or threatening (?) to put up the excitement-creating red cubes of communication in the top left corner on the screen. Although the crowd isn’t physical, and many members of the crowd may not even be present at certain moments, the potential of the presence of members of the crowd pulls the crowd mentality over us. Not a crowd mentality in the sense of an unthinking mob, but in the sense of the paranoia and self-consciousness, and the feeling that one should reply to everything said around their Zone/Facebook wall, like one often feels in a busy street or crowded room. This isn’t so great, regarding the places where we usually use Facebook: places like bedrooms, where one would previously have found only their mind at work; a place for reflection and clear thinking being encroached upon? But most of us Facebook users know it is so hard to leave this potential crowd! It makes us feel so lonely if we turn it off, or deactivate our online persona for a few days, even though we probably didn’t have this lonely feeling until it encroached upon our once completely solitary spaces. Its shouts have a spectacular effect, like the aforementioned films do, and they call us to back to the computer screen like the films call us downstairs to be subject to the TV (the dictator of the settee).
Elaboration in this will be needed at some point, I know! But I didn’t want to post it onto the place where 150 words fit more appropriately than this blog where I usually write in more detail: Facebook