ALCStudies Journal

Advanced Labor & Cultural Studies Web Site & Blog

Tag Archives: Dissent

Not So Creative Commons

Many of us rely on the efforts of musicians, actors, painters and filmmakers these days to entertain us and fill the hours inside. Yet posts and articles abound lately about the challenges artists face finding forums for their work and getting paid. In a putative free-market economy, many of us take it for granted that musicians, artists, actors, writers and others of the creative class will continue to produce original work for the rest of us to be entertained and edified by, all the while struggling to pay their bills.

theatre-masks-drama-comedy-illustration-260nw-1266071665

Beyond this, there is the question of censorship. It is one thing if authorities in Hong Kong, or Moscow or even Washington D.C. take action to limit free speech. It is another if artists censor themselves, Creative expression depends on a willingness to confront uncomfortable, even politically-incorrect truths. The United States especially, like other liberal democracies, prides itself on a tradition of free speech without fear or reluctance to address difficult issues. Writers and artists produced work even under the emperors in ancient Rome. In the present polarized environment, this has become problematic.

Please see the following message from the director of a theater group canceling a sketch comedy performance on the eve of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Critical points are in bold. For the record, the performance parodied both candidates, as well as other political figures (including someone whose name starts with ‘P’ in Russia). The writer made the requested revisions. The reason given for canceling was not the quality of the script, but that the performers were not comfortable with the subject in the current political climate. We are all living with the results of the election. We’ll never know the consequence or worthiness of the performance.  — DA

11/9/16: 11-19 Opening Sketch Post-Election

Thank you for sending the updated script of the sketch and everything – I’ve read over it and like it a lot with the adjustments.

Unfortunately, I’m in a bit of a mess here. My actors are protesting performing the sketch. They are not comfortable doing anything Trump related currently, and are saying that they will not perform in the show if we perform said sketch.

As a producer, this is a really hard call for me. I love working with new and local artists and also the time that we have devoted to doing the sketch already, I would want to put it up on its feet to showcase your writing/work with all of the hard work and thought you put into it.

Due to the circumstance that I am in, combined with the issues with my actors/performers, we may have to put this sketch on hold and not perform it in November.

I apologize sincerely with this news – it feels as though it is the safest one to make currently. We would love to possibly have another sketch for another month in the future, though, that we could possibly do. I will be the one, if needed, to post on social media or any other source stating that we won’t have the sketch, but I doubt that it will be necessary.

Please let me know possibly if you have a sketch or anything you’d like to put up for December or January – that would be the best bet and I am sure after a month, things will have cooled down a bit since at least some time has passed.

My sincerest apologies and best,

On Wed, Nov 9, 2016 at 5:05 PM ___ wrote:

Please see attached first take allowing for the Donald’s election. Starts page 14. I’ll work up another ‘just a dream’ version. I’ll send tomorrow and we can decide.

You familiar with the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy?   The BBC radio version from the late 70s/80s is is online and is outstanding .

Remember: Don’t panic, and always carry a towel.

Keeping the D(issent) in Digital

How many of our numbered days do we spend filling out online forms, updating our Linked-in Profile and Facebook page, dutifully presenting our online presence and maintaining our omnipresent brand? We measure out our lives in tweets and Keurig cups, following rules dictated by others supposedly to make our lives happier and more productive. 

How much human time and energy is spent remembering and changing passwords, securing our data, fearing for our privacy? This algorithm becomes the rhythm of our lives, a dithyramb of distraction. The technology designed to liberate us risks becoming our prison. We are our own willing jailers, watched over by those who claim it is their right and responsibility in a dangerous world. But who watches the watchers?

In Europe, which has experienced totalitarianism, fascism, communism (and others which may slip my mind), they have learned to be properly skeptical of the uses information is put to by the state – however ostensibly well-intentioned. But in the U.S. government and corporations claim to act in the best interests of constituents and consumers while mining our digital browser droppings against our wishes and without our consent. Perhaps it’s time to accept the roles of citizen and consumer are now interchangeable. We accept a certain conformity, a certain go-along to get along in the interest of of having our cake and eating it. There’s a tradeoff between convenience and liability:  instant shopping, news from everywhere and nowhere, having our identity follow us across devices and locations, convenient phonecalls so that we are never out of reach of being reached out to.

A phrase from the old days of IBM punchcards declared ‘Do not fold,spindle or mutilate’. A recent Slate essay proposes bringing dissent into the digital age. The author suggests people assert their agency by subversively throwing a spanner of civil disobedience into the virtual paradise of the web through such techniques as:

  • Obfuscation (through frequenting random sites)
  • Misinforming
  • Misdirecting
  • Creating False Identities

Good luck to them. This behavior adds a new spin to the notion of creative destruction that economists blithely use to describe the process of continual obsolescence that superannuates products, people and skills. Whether you might be subject to penalties or arrest for this sort of thing is an interesting question.  The Matrix is everywhere, it is all around us.

Other words to inspire you include:

  • Dangerous
  • Deviant
  • Desperate
  • Defiant
  • Daring
  • Dogged

 

America has given the world a noble line of dissenters from Thomas Paine and Thoreau to Joseph Heller’s Yossarian in Catch-22. Our willingness to give up our birthright  for a mess of pottage (to cite both Thoreau’s Life without Principle and the Bible) is ironic to say the least. How easily we click the pressbar to reveal our purchasing habits, sexual proclivities, income and location to persons and institutions whose trustworthiness is unknown, in order to receive the simulacrum of individual attention: daily reminders of what we might like to buy, pontifications matching our presumed political affiliations, amusing tweets and cat videos. This tailoring of content to our personal brand is seductive and insidious. It reassures us that our every quirk, opinion, and desire is okay — and more to the point worth something. Thus the commodification of the self is nearly complete.

This automated individuation has a homogenizing effect — lulling us into conformity. Despite our celebration of Thoreau, backhanded respect for Paine and admiration for Heller’s Rabelaisian character, the dirty little secret of democracy (and perhaps all human nature) is we want to go with the crowd. Inside every non-conformist is a man (or woman) in a gray-flannel suit trying to get out. It’s exhausting (if it’s even possible) to get up every day to create and sustain your own unique brand. It’s scary as hell to chart your own course through the dark forest of capitalism with creatures red in tooth and claw.    

Immersed in our connected isolation, we become less like Thoreau than T.S. Eliot’s  J. Alfred Prufrock. (Don’t forget that Eliot was American). Rather than celebrating our own individual expression and possibility as human beings, we become afraid to wear our trousers rolled — unless trouser rolling is trending.

get-attachment-1.aspxHere’s my manifesto for today:  Step away from the social network. Take a break from attending breathlessly to crowdsourced opinion polls, received wisdom and tweets calling each to each in the virtual echo chamber. Dare to eat a peach grown in the garden of your own autonomy. – D.A.

David Abramoff Ph.D. is Director Emeritus of Advanced Labor & Cultural Studies

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