June, 2006.Summers are sweaty things, and can add considerably to the sense of having been hurled into the Universe. Even worse is if plans must be laid, wealth must be accrued for some project. What then? How can a man really focus on Experience and Wealth simultaneously? I’ll tell you: he can’t. Money is inherently such an abstraction. Enough at times, to make a Working Man feel like he’s just struggling for tokens and good marks in Heaven. I should consider myself lucky that I’m not a working man. Just another loather of all vocation. Another renegade philosopher plying his trade.
I always work ad hoc, to a specific Purpose, as evidenced by my previous entry in the Dossier of Employed Being. People should never relinquish their personalized forms of outrage at Necessity; it’s the only way we’ll get our priorities straight. I saw an old black man, crossing Locust around 50th street. His shirt read “I LOVE MUSIC MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE.” I hope that shirt was telling the truth.
I’ve been pauperized by my own beliefs, and I couldn’t be happier. Maybe this means I’ve successfully rationalized my failures. Either way, I guess I’m set. When money becomes a telos, an end-itself, it becomes the downfall of Men and their culture. Kind of a platitude, right, money as poison. Everyone knows this. But moneythink is more common than this; more innocent, seductive, and banal in a Hannah Arendt kind of way. It’s one of those uncomfortable, inconvenient truths you cannot broach over Christmas dinner. It operates in a grey area where the differences between good intentions and self-compromise are very subtle.. in the fog of resell and realism, cover charges, and cultural goods and services.
It turns out that Aristotelian logic does have some bearing on the moral dimension of life. At least when it comes to measuring the hearts of Men. I let my daydreams drift the other day, thinking about myself in a parallel universe. The universe in which I am a millionaire king. I imagined what I could do. I imagined the eighth, ninth, and tenth wonders of the world that I would build. It would be so easy. Then applying my Arisotelian devices, I derived a sad truth: few of these wonders are in the works today; therefore, very few millionaires are willing to make the same thrust for glory. Are there compatibility issues? You’d think that, at some point, before their deaths, they’d set aside their White House dinner plans and turn a major American city on its head; handing out hundred dollar bills with special instructions. What does Man hope for? I suppose I should start watching more television. Television seems like a really good bay-window onto alien hopes and desires.
The universality of currency— the abstractness of pure exchange value— has no necessary part in its ills and evils, any more than the universality of water or computers makes them evil. Universality is still a matter of means. I think the toxicity of money has wholly to do with its reductionism, the way it shadows and backgrounds other values and needs; reduces them to bad jokes. Beliefs interfere with the reductionism of finance. This is the definition of integrity: to be as indissoluble as a diamond, even against your own best interests. It has real power though, in the end, epitomized by the ideological leverage of martyrs.
On the other side of things, a developer who wants to run a beautiful mill building through “residential rehab,” and slap a New Urban Living banner across its broadside, should better understand the meaning of his actions. He may be a good man, a family man, a decent neighbor and citizen, with full support of City Council. He’s still committing a minor evil, a disservice to Men and their culture.
Returning from Buenos Aires, having spent my fortunes well in the Southern Hemisphere, I returned home to the abstract task of accumulating wealth again. Primarily for the hairy start-up costs of another Athenaeum. After an internet shakedown, Jonny and I landed some employment that involved wearing Mexican luchador costumes, and parading the streets of Philadelphia handing out free merchandise and calculated wackiness to the passing public. Sound fun? I can only offer cautionary words…
We received the costumes and merchandise in the mail. Stickers? Check. Antenna balls? Check. Wrestling Mask? Check. Tights? Check. Cape? Check…. We couldn’t believe our luck. A mountain of absurd merchandise, a Powerrangerish luchador costume… “they call this work.” When Friday came, we suited up and met somewhere on Washington Avenue, on bicycles, in full costume. We already noticed some heat. Cars were beeping, waving, screaming yes and what-the-fuck, responding with an all-around uncomfortable level of enthusiasm. I didn’t understand. They weren’t the ones getting paid.
We couldn’t do it. I felt like I had pinched a nerve, in my conscience, despite having botched the whole job from the get-go. When friends helped, it felt even worse, like a more total betrayal. The air of promotions is so completely Stalinistic. Its paranoia seeps into everything it borders and breaches. We needed some new angles of approach. We tried promoting in Nature. We staged knifefights and underground wrestling clubs. All decent, momentary distractions. In time, it became so terrible, so rotten, that it actually became fun again, as dread frequently does. I came up with brilliant solution… “the Problem-Solver.”
“Seriously why don’t we take pictures of ourselves at home, then photoshop ourselves into bar scenes?” Jonny was at first unconvinced. Unconvinced, but so miserable that he relented. We snapped off about twenty poses, in his living room and on the South Philadelphian sidewalk. It took me two hours of googling and photoshopping to grasp how terrible of an idea this was. It was a hundred times easier just to do the job right, and have drunk bar-goers gurgle “hey, dude, you just made my night” or “do you want to take a picture where it (hiccup) looks like you’re fucking me from behind?”
We thought this was bad. Imagine how Jack Black and Adam Sandler must feel. Reconsider stardom. Can you imagine the moral torment involved in shooting a commercial? Or a big, heaping, flopping, pointless blockbuster? What a waking nightmare. Self-compromise internationally broadcast by satellite, for all the world to see. Half of acting must be like this. Could you imagine talking out of your ass everyday on Good Morning America? But there are chumps who do it. It is such an embarassing indictment of the entertainment industry to me; further proof that culture and money do not mix well. That this is fact at all.
It makes me think… about the old historical materialist insistence that culture is merely the bottom-up by-product of material, historical, and economic forces. A superstructure that sits above, and helpless against, the causes of things. Sadly enough, this is often true…often painfully, evidently true. Culture is too weak to interfere. It sits back as trophy, decor, and hagiography. But there is such a thing as strong culture, which can push everything else aside, jeopardize the normal play of material, historical, and economic forces. Its outlook may be conditioned by specific, leisure-class, historical factors, but— point is— it made it to the other side, and became a force to consider. In the way that, ironically enough, many of those old historical materialists overturned half the world by their pieces of strong culture. With pamphelets, big talking, and proletcult. You would have thought they’d have a very different take on things, been a little more optimistic about human agency. Rich mentioned adapting the stances and platforms of the Open Source movement for all forms of culture, maybe for other resources as well. Old or new, the idea is golden. Strange that I would want to pull the de facto funding on all forms of culture, but I do. Even if it means many more sweltering days in a wrestling mask.
(Please enjoy more photos; the bottom two by professional photographer Ramsey Arnaoot)