[-empyre-] Artists Against Oligarchy?

joseph tabbi jtabbi at gmail.com
Mon Apr 20 02:13:48 EST 2009

I confess I'm not overly impressed, when artists consciously 'respond'
to crises, in their art. At best, direct action by artists can be
ludic, like the artful protesters outside the limo of the
multi-billionaire in Don DeLilo's Cosmopolis, traveling by fits and
starts, inches and yards, all day, across lower Manhattan. The
protesters are at times right outside his car, banging on the hood,
and the randy rich young man in the limo calmly watches them on his
TV, even as he monitors holdings on screens and conducts his daily
routines of business and pleasure in the back seat.

I agree with Davin that 'big government' is really the only force
capable of reigning in, and perhaps breaking up, the big banks and the
oligarchs. And now, again, in America we have an oligarchy don't you
know. The thing to watch when it comes down to finance, is the
distribution of wealth. The rest as far as I can understand, is smoke
and mirrors. (Viz. the repeated and so far largely ineffective
bailouts of AIG and Bank of America and others - as sophisticated and
opaque a governmental intervention as one could ask for, when a good
old-fashioned break-up might have solved the 'too big to fail'

That trillion (plus change) alloted, mostly to rescue banks 'too big
to fail'? That schtupp of 'real money' (Jim A) is precisely balanced
by the trillion in bribes remarked in an early thread. The trillion
'here' IMPLIES the trillion 'there' - unless someone (or rather, some
governmental group) reigns in the ones who sustain a culture of
bribes. And we're not talking just about stacks of hundreds bundled in
Jack Abrahmov's briefcase either: the international oligarchy is not
made up of thugs, but is overall a rather 'genteel' and seductive
bunch, as depicted in a recent cover story in The Atlantic by a former
IMF guy who dealt with the oligarchs in Russia, Ukraine, Indonesia,
Argentina - all the old neo-capitalist hot spots. He says in the
article, if you look at the numbers only, the situation now in the
U.S. is exactly the same as it was in the recent past with these more
blatant oligarchies and banana republics, and the response (if the
U.S. were a less powerful nation that didn't pay its debts in its own
currency) would be a selective arrest of the oligarchs or an FDR style
break-up of the trusts.

I also like Jeff Pierce's idea, of closing the Fed. But in any case
this all comes down to personal politics, don't it? Good for purposes
of discussion, but for purposes of 'action' there need to be lines of
communication, knowledge of the ropes, and influence with those having
the power (and willing/able to use it) to act at the scale needed. Art
actions are good at *disturbing* lines of communication, but those
disturbances happen generally at the level of individual consciousness
and sense experience, and occasionally through mass media if and when
they are understandable on terms set by... mass media. Art actions are
not directly operative. Only policy can do the trick, n the place
where action needs to happen, to be effective (effective of change in
the present). Or force where policy fails.

Instances where art has directly influenced action and changed (even
improved) the lives of millions are rare. But is Uptain Sinclair an
artist, when he is depicting the old Chicago Stock Yards, or is he a
very effective propagandist?  (An old saw, I know, I know...)

Out last night in my neighborhood, I saw a bumper sticker back behind
a Chicago bar. It used some nice graphic effects to write out the
words, Buck Flagoyovich. Very artistic. But that came after Blaggo got
bucked by the Fitzgerald prosecution team and impeached by the U.S.

Here again, in a different register, it's necessary I think to sort
out changes in areas that cannot affect one another directly: on one
side there are changes in consciousness and sensibility - which can
have long-term and unpredictable effects that, at some point, have to
be considered by politics, such as whether a constituency believes
flogging is right, or kings are natural, or money is necessary
(Davin). On the other side, when the political and the politicians
gets/get around to accomodating these kinds of deep changes in
sensibility, the accomodation will happen through policy, not because
of direct action by artists. (I suppose.)


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