I’m trying to cut down on the drink during the holidays, so I went to go see two movies this past weekend: Exit Through The Gift Shop and Inside Job. The first has to do with the art world and the second has to do with the world of finance. Both have far-reaching implications into how we live today and both made me feel like everything is a crock of shit.
This is the age of suckerdom, P. T. Barnum style. There is no wool that can’t be pulled over the public’s eyes, no trick that can’t be played on “The People” over and over, again and again. We are such a joke that I prefer the Wall Street creeps who ripped us off because at least they’re making moves and having a good time. I prefer the fatcats at Sotheby’s who turned street art into a commodified multi-gazillion dollar market because at least they’re drinking good wine. I am sick of going to documentaries, shaking my head in disgust, and pointing the finger at the bad guys.
You know who the real bad guys are? They’re the ones eating greasy popcorn in the theater. The bad guy is you. The bad guy is me.
In this Great Age of Suckerdom, as with all Great Ages of Suckerdom, there is one main fetish: information. We fetishize information because information enables us to blame. It allows us to project our weakness outward. It’s everyone else but us. It can’t be our fault. We’re the victims. Ooohhh, ahhhh…The world is an evil place beyond our control.
No, you’re the evil place beyond your control. The easy move here would be for me to keep labeling the age, ripping into the generalized sickness of our time. As you sit there reading this piece—which is just another piece of information—you’re not thinking about yourself, but other people. As I’m writing it, I’m not thinking about me, but you. Nothing sticks here. Nothing ever lands. As I was watching Exit Through The Gift Shop, it occurred to me that whether it be street art, classic art, classic rock, new-fangled writing, documentaries, or whatever cultural vector is being utilized to get the message across: it ain’t working. It’s all dead. The very channels themselves are so corroded that no transmission can be made without becoming corrupted.
Now the expected righteous power move here is for me to write: We must therefore stop the transmission. We must end the flow of information and take action. Stop the machine. There’s enough out there. We all know the deal. But a call to action is just another way of me saying you go out there and get arrested while I sit here and take credit for it. And we’ve already got enough Timothy Learys. So, let me throw down something that will be unexpected:
Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery / Make me a poster of an old rodeo / Just give me one thing, that I can hold on to / To believe in this livin’ / Is just a hard way to go.
I don’t know what it is, but that song always make me love people. It always makes me cry for the weight that each of us must bear. It breaks my heart for all the shit that we endure. As straight-up weird as this is going to sound, whenever I’ve had big revolutionary fantasies of bombs going off at Goldman Sachs, the homeless storming Sotheby’s and stealing the cheese plate, or a rock and roller from the South waking up and taking over the White House, the soundtrack to it all is “Angel from Montgomery.” It goes into slow motion and I picture the faces of all these goofy badass American cowboys and cowgirls, which is what they really are, and I feel love. I picture fists pumping in the air. I picture wide smiles and tearful eyes of joy. I see joints being passed around and the truth filling the air.
I’m tired of being pissed off all the time. It’s done nothing but make me into a 41-year-old dickhead who goes to see anti-capitalist documentaries at the mall to keep from drinking too much. I can’t do it anymore. I know the deal. I know the world is fucked up. I know that things are turned upside-down and that chances are we may not pull out of this thing. The more I see and hear about how bad things are, the more I just want to scrap everything. The more information I get coming at me, the more I just want to turn away.
But goddamn, just once I’d like to see you and me win one. Pull out a radically soulful victory against the mournful tide. I want you to look at me with pride in your eyes. I want to look at you with loving admiration. Like when we watched our best friend do that impossible jump on his bike back in the fourth grade. That moment when he was in the air, floating above the earth. It didn’t last. It couldn’t last. Except that it did. Forever. It made life worth living. Those magic moments are the things that have given me strength, kept me going when it seemed like resistance was futile. And it wasn’t me on the bike. It was you. It was watching you pull off the miracle.
I didn’t need to see a documentary about the pigs in the financial industry to know that I should fight for justice. I didn’t need to see a documentary about the art world to know that I should try and live an authentic life. I just needed to see you smiling at me from across a dirt road in Texas when I was a kid. I just needed to see you laughing in my backyard with a beer in your hand on a Saturday afternoon. Those are the things that have made me fight. Famous artists with publicists, celebrity friends, and lines of people around the block waiting to get into their high-profile openings—they just make me feel bad about my life. Wall Street wizards with leer jets, hookers, and blow just make me feel like there’s no hope. But when I think of you out there, intense thoughts rolling around in your head, flawed and fucked up as I am, with the same desperate fire burning in your heart, then I feel connected to something bigger than myself. I feel connected to the music of darkened dreams that refuse to die, the old soft music that makes even the tough guys cry:
Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery / Make me a poster of an old rodeo / Just give me one thing, that I can hold onto / To believe in this livin’ / Is just a hard way to go.
And blaming is what cows do when they eat the shit-covered grass that they shit on.
JASON FLORES-WILLIAMS is a lawyer in New Mexico.