Saturday, June 30, 2012

Real Conversations #1: "Democracy is increasingly defined as successful capitalism"

Here in book form are four in-depth conversations, most centering on art and politics, published in 2001. Re/SEARCH publisher-provocateur V. Vale interviews a logical cast of countercultural entrepeneurs and artists: singer/actor/publisher Henry Rollins; former Dead Kennedys frontman, political pundit and Alternative Tentacles Records proprietor, Jello Biafra; City Lights Books publisher and Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti; and the perennially youthful garage punk intellectual Billy Childish.  

Considering the tidal wave of events since 2001, it's astounding how the interviews in Real Conversations #1 still resonate with contemporary issues. Depending on your point of view you'll find Rollins, Biafra, and to a certain extent Billy Childish, insightful or exasperating in their politics, but its hard to miss the passion in their arguments.

Ferlinghetti, by far, takes the longest view of events past and present, and suggests solutions (some new, some old), sounding the most conservative by comparison. Many will consider these four exchanges as nothing more than preaching to the already converted, but in this political season they take on the character of voices crying in the wilderness. Here's an excerpt from the interview with Jello Biafra:

JELLO BIAFRA [having just been panhandled]: Even the homeless have corporate logos on them -- what does THAT say about what we're turning into?!  ...

V: It's finally time to examine how advertising, marketing and branding have gotten so much better, to the point where it's almost impossible to have any kind of "counterculture" anymore-- 

JB: The San Francisco Bay Guardian ran an article about Pepsi trying to buy into the school district here. Soda companies and Frito-Lay will offer millions to a school district that has had its tax money taken away (by the very same people whom the soda companies "funded," I suppose), then say, "We'll give you ten million bucks if we're the exclusive beverage in all of your schools."
And they get to advertise. Like in Colorado Springs: instead of pep banners in the gym, there are Pepsi banners, Pepsi machines the minute you walk in the front door, Pepsi ads on the sides of school buses, posters, etc. And even though they passed a law against it here in California, the companies are trying to do it anyway. 

V: It's the mind-set of the corporate state: Do whatever it takes to make maximum profits as quickly as possible, ignoring people's welfare and the environment -- 

JB: Actually, the corporate state has no mind, because there are too many people (and too much money) involved, who fight with each other because they want total control over everybody else--and no one can have it all, not even Bill Gates! When you get to that level, it's like wealth addiction rather than crack addiction--a far more dangerous drug, in my opinion.
That's why I seized on the Green Party's idea for MAXIMUM WAGE and trumpeted it everywhere. The Green Party didn't set a maximum, but here's mine: six figures, and then cut everybody off! And the benefit would be FREE SCHOOLS, FREE MEDICAL CARE, FREE CHILD CARE-- things that are a given as a human right in other "civilized" countries. And FREE TRANSPORTATION . . . 

I like the idea of abolishing the stock market entirely. That's a major element of wealth addiction. Once somebody gets their first million, what more is there to gain? Obviously, there's a very deep drive to succeed, and success is measured in money, and people figure they have to keep playing the game and play for higher and higher stakes to make more and more money to feed their wealth addiction habit.
And if it means screwing over everybody else, so much the better -- thus Ross Perot, Donald Trump, Dianne Feinstein's husband, etc., etc., etc. That's why the best way to put wealth addicts in rehab is to take their money away. [laughs] 

When I went on "Politically Incorrect" and introduced the idea of maximum wage, I was booed by hosts, guests and audience alike. When I called Michael Jordan a wealthy parasite, another guest (the star of the TV version of "Clueless") whined, "But wait, he was a good basketball player. He deserved all that money" and other pearls of wisdom. 

Part of what I did in Seattle during the anti-WTO protests was just to say: Step One is to divorce oneself from corporate feudalism as much as humanly possible--not to mention sabotage it, if you possibly can. Unfortunately, there's just one way to completely divorce yourself from corporate feudalism -- I know of only one person who ever pulled that off, remaining pure and politically correct as the driven snow, and that's Ted Kaczynski.
But he suffered dearly for his art statement, didn't he? He lived in a little cabin with no windows, so miserable that he sent mail bombs for 20 years to people he didn't even know, because he couldn't get laid. There's got to be a better way! 

That was then; this is now, and 2012 is a radically different election season than 2000, with some surprising echoes. Here's Lawrence Felinghetti: "We can't afford unrestrained capitalism, just like we can't afford unrestrained anarchism. In fact, unrestrained capitalism is the ideal of the Free Trade movement and the whole Republican policy in this country. Democracy is increasingly defined as successful capitalism . . . which is not necessarily so. Thinking the unthinkable, you could say that unrestrained capitalism is a form of anarchism! [laughs] Or, you could say that it's anarchism carried to greedy extremes." That kind of sentiment would have found Ferlinghetti a microphone moment in Zuccotti Park.  

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