“What we need is a critique of visual culture that is alert to the power of images for good and evil and that is capable of discriminating the variety and historical specificity of their uses.”
- W.J.T. Mitchell. Picture Theory (1994).
10 August 2009
Bullshit (2nd in a Very Irregular Series) ~ etown.org
It has been a long time since I promised "a semi-regular feature aimed at puncturing purveyors of bullshit" flowing from the moralistic and self-righteous. You can find the first installment here. And you can find a discussion of what I mean by bullshit here ~ it is not just catchy advertising! And while it surely applies to the loathsome right, it hardly applies only to them.
This time out I want to talk about a radio show I heard for the first time this evening. It is called etown. It is hard to argue with "music.ideas.community."! You can find their website, where I lifted the logo above and the following statement, here.
about us > what is etown?
etown's mission is to educate, entertain and inspire a diverse audience, through music and conversation, to create a socially responsible and environmentally sustainable world.
etown is an exciting weekly radio broadcast We're heard from coast to coast on NPR®/public, commercial, and community stations. Like old-time radio variety shows, every etown show is taped in front of a live audience and features performances from many of today's top musical artists as well as conversation and information about our communities and our environment.
etown is a community builder By featuring diverse music and interviews with a wide variety of authors, poets and policy-makers, etown creates a constantly expanding "community on the air." With the addition of inspiring e-chievement awards, listeners all over the country are reminded that individual efforts really do make a difference. etown is a place where respect for each other and our natural environment go hand in hand.
etown is a great live event Whether at the Boulder Theater or one of the many other venues around the country where the show is recorded, etown is an entertaining, informative and downright inspiring live show. Hosts Nick and Helen Forster lead the show seamlessly, mixing music and message with humor and energy to create a one-of-a-kind live show. The show includes two musical guests, an interview guest and the presentation of the e-chievement winner. At the end of every show all musical guests collaborate on a one-of-a-kind exciting finale.
Tonight the show featured Bruce Cockburn who, while I'd not claim to be a huge fan, I generally like. And it was broadcast from Montpelier, Vermont. After singing the first number Nick Forster the show's host chatted with Bruce about his trip to Iraq and eventually noted how the point of the show was to connect the dots (or something to that effect) between ideas and music and ... well, you get the point. Also, during his intro this evening, Nick had noted to the audience that Montpelier is maybe the only state capital in the country that does not have a MacDonald's restaurant. (An observation met with enthusiastically self-congratulatory applause.) There is a point to relating this last point, but for now, back to this evening's show.
One of the things the etown folk apparently do each week is present an 'e-cheivement' award to someone who has been nominated by a listener. This week the recipient was Paul Rice. Here is what the etown web page says about him:
Paul Rice, TransFair USA: As a young man, Paul developed deep concerns regarding issues of global hunger, poverty, sustainable agriculture, and the challenges of rural economic development. Building on the broad experience gained while living and working in developing countries around the world to address these issues, he founded the nonprofit TransFair USA in 1998. It's the only third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the U.S. TransFair USA audits transactions between U.S. companies that offer Fair Trade products as well as international suppliers from whom they source. Annual inspections ensure that strict socioeconomic development criteria are being met. They ensure that farmers and farmworkers are paid a fair, above market price for their product. TransFair USA has certified several million pounds of coffee, providing farmers in poor countries with over $140 million more than if harvests were sold to local intermediaries.
Well, that is terrific. And it seems as though Rice is doing good work. So, to this point I am thinking, this is not a bad show. A bit treacly perhaps, but not bad. Then came a word from the sponsors. Here is the set of sponsor logos from the etownweb page:
Note the logo in the upper left hand corner. Then, go to The Rocky Mountain News and you can learn from this story that from 2001 through 2006, McDoanld's Corporation was the major shareholder in Chipotle. Yes, the same McDonald's that Nick Forster derided in this opening comments, was the underwriter of Chipotle's growth for the better part of a decade. Damn those golden arches - it makes me feel soooo good to be moralistic.
Things don't get much better, though, once you dig a little deeper. Once you've read the RMN story, go to The Nation and search on 'Chipotle.' What you'll get is this set of links to stories about how the firm - which turns out to be a local Colorado outfit, started roughly at the same town as etown itself was launched - deals with farm workers here in the U.S.A.. Let's be charitable and just say the bottom line is 'not very well.' (And, let's be clear, this is not a new issue. Chipotle has actively resisted dealing with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers which represents farm workers in Florida. In other words their exploitative behavior is not just an oversight. It is ongoing and willful.)
So, on the one hand we are giving an e-chievement award commending a fellow for trying to do right by poor farm workers in developing countries while on the other hand we re accepting underwriting funds from a corporation who not only owes their current financial well-being to McDonald's but is actively engaged in mistreating farm workers here in our own developing counties.* The RMN story relates the self-satisfaction of the Chipotle brass for purchasing free-range pork. It is more important, apparently, to worry about the welfare of animals than to deal in a fair way with the farm-workers who are putting the veggies on the table.
So, here are the questions I have for Nick Forster- when you connect the dots for us, can you explain why you are are lauding 'fair trade' with agricultural workers in developing countries while taking money from Chipotle? How about helping build community among the farm workers in Florida? Community is not just about feeling good. It is about organizing and solidarity. In other words, it is about political action informed by political principles. Next week Nick, will you speak out on the air about the way Chipotle underwrites the exploitation of farm workers? Or perhaps you could bestow an e-chievement award on the Coalition of Immokalee Workers! __________ * Although I am not certain about this, I believe that McDonald's has had an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers since early 2007.
Now that the FTC has promulgated rules requiring full disclosure of any possible conflicts of interest, I feel obliged to note that I generally write about photography, books, recordings, and so on that I have paid for myself; if I ever do receive 'complimentary' copies of such works and then write about them, I will state that in the post. Having said that, my judgments about particular publications, (journalistic, artistic, or musical) works, or views are just that - judgments - if you take what I say as an "endorsement," that is your interpretation and you can act on it (or not) as you please. I'd say "caveat emptor!" but you are not actually buying anything here, so it is hard to see any basis for complaint.
"Help Kick Start United in Anger: A History of ACT UP ~ This is a Great Project and God Forbid that they Don't Have to Count Pennies!
"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." ~ Dorothea Lange
"Photography is nothing - it's life that interests me." ~ Henri Cartier-Bresson
"Photos always seem to exist as sort of stuffy, unnecessary antiques that we put in a drawer — unless we take them out, put them in current dialogue, and give them relevance." ~ Mark Klett
"The job of the photographer, in my view, is not to catalogue indisputable fact but to try to be coherent about intuition and hope. This is not to say that he is unconcerned with the truth." ~ Robert Adams
"Light, then, .... is indeed a wonderful instrument ..." ~ Mark Rothko
In Thinking About Photography Here Is The Problem, Or Part Of It, At Least
"What the modern means of reproduction have done is destroy the authority of art and to remove it - or rather, to remove the images which they reproduce - from any preserve. For the first time ever, images of art have become ephemeral, ubiquitous, insubstantial, available, valueless, free. They surround us the way language surrounds us. [. . .]
The art of the past no longer exists as it once did. It's authority is lost. In its place there is a language of images. What matters now is who uses that language for what purpose." ~ John Berger
"[P]hotographs depend for their meaning on networks of authority. The image supplies little in itself. What counts is its use and the power to fix a particular interpretation of the events, objects or people depicted. Some people, and especially some institutions, have much more clout in this processs than others do." ~ Steve Edwards
"The first question must always be: Who is using this photograph, and to what end?" ~ David Levi Strauss
"By contrast, almost all writing about photography in our times tends to begin with the alleged nature of the product rather than with its production and use." ~ Patrick Maynard
"The Arithmetic of Compassion: Rethinking the Politics of Photography" British Journal of Political Science (2011)
"Review of Mark Reinhardt, et. al Beautiful Suffering: Photography & the Traffic in Pain" Journal of Politics (2007)
Assorted Artists, Authors, Thinkers, Provocateurs
"Apolitical art and artless politics are the fruit of a divide-and- conquer strategy that weakens both; art and politics ignite each other and need each other." ~ Rebecca Solnit
"... hard and fast categories ... tend to be instruments used by the victors." ~ Václav Havel (1986)
"The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude." ~ George Orwell (1946)
"Can it still be controversial to say that an apparently disengaged poetics may also speak a political language - of self-enclosed complacency, passivity, opportunism, false neutrality . . . ?" ~ Adrienne Rich (2006)
"I think art always is political, one way or another. That is, on purpose or by default." ~ Allan Sekula (2005)
“Those who say that art should not propagate doctrines usually refer to doctrines that are opposed to their own.” ~ Jorge Luis Borges (1952)
"My position is that you cannot work towards peace being peaceful. If the peace is to be one where everybody’s quiet and doesn’t open up ... share what’s unspeakable ... offer unsolicited criticism ... defend others’ rights to speak and encourage discourse — that peace is worth nothing. It reminds me of the kind of peace that was secured in my old country under the Communist regime. That is the death of democracy. That might have consequences as bad as war—bloody war and conflict. So, to prevent the world from bloody conflict, we must sustain a certain kind of adversarial life in which we are struggling with our problems in public." ~ Krzysztof Wodiczko
“I am interested in a political art, that is to say an art of ambiguity, contradiction, uncompleted gestures, and uncertain endings; an art (and a politics) in which optimism is kept in check and nihilism at bay.” ~ William Kentridge (1998)
"The function of art has always been to break through the crust of conventionalized and routine consciousness." ~ John Dewey (1927)
Paris Review: Is it a concern to effect social change with your plays?
August Wilson: I don’t write particularly to effect social change. I believe writing can do that, but that’s not why I write. I work as an artist. All art is political in the sense that it serves someone’s politics. Here in America whites have a particular view of blacks. I think my plays offer them a different way to look at black Americans. For instance, in Fences they see a garbage man, a person they don’t really look at, although they see a garbage man every day. By looking at Troy’s life, white people find out that the content of this black garbage man’s life is affected by the same things—love, honor, beauty, betrayal, duty. Recognizing that these things are as much part of his life as theirs can affect how they think about and deal with black people in their lives.
Paris Review: How would that same play, Fences, affect a black audience?
August Wilson: Blacks see the content of their lives being elevated into art. They don’t always know that it is possible, and it’s important for them to know that.
New Corporate Friendly Postal Regulations Threaten Independent Media
NEWS ABOUT RIGHTS OF PHOTOGRAPHERS IN NYC
News, Comment, Letters & Arts- And I surely do not mean "fair and balanced"!
"Most of all photography is probably an instrument for showing things, a device for displaying them." - Urs Stahel
"The most political decision you make is where you direct people's eyes. In other words, what you show people, day in and day out, is political. . . . And the most politically indoctrinating thing you can do to a human being is to show her, every day, that there can be no change." ~ Wim Wenders
"Democracy is a proposal (rarely realised) about decision making; it has little to do with election campaigns. Its promise is that political decisions be made after, and in the light of, consultation with the governed. This is dependent upon the governed being adequately informed about the issues in question, and upon the decision makers having the capacity and will to listen and take account of what they have heard. Democracy should not be confused with the “freedom” of binary choices, the publication of opinion polls or the crowding of people into statistics. These are its pretense.
Today the fundamental decisions, which effect the unnecessary pain increasingly suffered across the planet, have been and are taken unilaterally without any open consultation or participation." ~ John Berger
Inclusion, Exclusion & the Politics of Photography
"I have said that a photograph bears witness to a human choice being exercised. The choice is not between photographing x and y, but between photographing at x moment or y moment. . . . What varies is the intensity with which we are made aware of the poles of absence and presence. Between these two poles photography finds its proper meaning. ... A photograph, while recording what has been seen, always and by its nature refers to what is not seen. It isolates, preserves and presents a moment taken from a continuum. ... Hence the necessity of our understanding a weapon we can use and which can be used against us." ~ John Berger
Photography Magazines, Etcetera - Print and OnLine
If We Use Photography to Help us Think, How Should We Understand the Processes of Thinking?
"605. One of the most dangerous ideas for a philosopher is, oddly enough, that we think with or in our heads.
606. The idea of thinking as a process in the head, in a completely enclosed space, gives him something occult.
607. Is thinking a specific organic process of the mind, so to speak - as it were chewing and digesting in the mind? Can we replace it by an inorganic process that fulfills the same end, as it were a prosthetic apparatus for thinking? How should we have to imagine a prosthetic organ of thought?" ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein
"If one takes the view ... that human mental activity depends for its full expression upon being linked to a cultural tool kit - a set of prosthetic devices, so to speak - then we are well advised when studying mental activity to take into account the tools employed in that activity." ~ Jerome Bruner
"...[H]uman thought is basically both social and public - ... its natural habitat is the house yard, the marketplace, and the town square. Thinking consists not of 'happenings in the head' (though happenings there and elsewhere are necessary for it to occur) but of a traffic in what have been called by G.H. Mead and others, significant symbols - words for the most part but also gestures, drawings, musical sounds, mechanical devices like clocks, or natural objects like jewels - anything, in fact, that is disengaged from its mere actuality and used to impose meaning on experience. From the point of view of any particular individual, such symbols are largely given. ... While she lives she uses them, or some of them, sometimes deliberately and with care, most often spontaneously and with ease, but always with the same end in view: to put a construction upon the events through which she lives, to orient herself within 'the ongoing course of experienced things,' to adopt a vivid phrase of Johns Dewey's." ~ Clifford Geertz
Electronic Frontier Foundation: Support Bloggers' Rights
Resources For Bloggers Needing Anonymity
"Just the Facts Ma'am"?
"Many persons seem to suppose that facts carry their meaning along with themselves on their face. Accumulate enough of them and their interpretation stares out at you. ... But ... no one is ever forced by just the collection of facts to accept a particular theory of their meaning, so long as one retains intact some other doctrine by which he can marshall them. Only when the facts are allowed free play for the suggestion of new points of view is any significant conversion of conviction as to meaning possible. ... In any event, social philosophy exhibits an immense gap between facts and doctrines." ~ John Dewey (1927)
"When the right-wing noise machine starts promoting another alleged scandal, you shouldn’t suspect that it’s fake — you should presume that it’s fake, until further evidence becomes available." ~ Paul Krugman (2010)
Dewey is Right, But So Is Krugman ~ It Is Good to Know if Someone is Simply Making Stuff Up!
"It's odd I suppose, ... but I have always had an aversion to the marriage of music and politics. Leaving the discussion of instrumental music aside, I have always admired songwriters, wished I could have been one myself. I love a song that tells a story, and when it tells of a man's suffering or a woman's hopelessness or dreams, one can certainly argue the case for political meaning, and in fact I would. But when people start telling me how to change the world over a G-major chord, that's when I generally leave the room. With all due respect, I always felt Joan Baez's 'I Dreamed I saw Joe Hill' was the moment in the movie 'Woodstock' to go out and get popcorn. It's a long movie after all. I was waiting for Sly and the Family Stone and I still am - "I want to take you higher - baby, baby, baby light my fire" - now there's a message!" ~ Wayne Horvitz
"Music speaks. It speaks in its own language differently to each of us. I believe in music as a contribution to the discussion about who we are and where we are headed. ... The unruly thing about music is that it demands its own meanings that are beyond any explanation. You might be able to decipher the nuts and bolts, but in the end, you can't unscramble the mystery of how music makes you feel. That's why I don't often write about my music. Words can so often obscure the feelings and the sense of music. Music is not an argument, it lives in its own universe and refuses to be pinned down." ~ Dave Douglas
" ... the questions a photographer raises may be more profound than the answers the medium permits." ~ Rebecca Solnit
"Because, you know, the photographs . . . are more a question than a reply." ~ Sebastião Salgado
"A picture can be an answer as well as a question but if you can't answer your question try to question your question. There are clever questions and stupid answers as well as stupid questions and clever answers. There can be questions without answers but no answers without questions." ~ Ernst Haas
Patronize Independent Purveyors of Books & Music - Help Maintain our Intellectual & Cultural Ecology - Nearly All These Places Take Orders OnLine
YOU WON'T EVER BE DECISIVE IN THE OUTCOME, BUT YOU CAN VOICE YOUR VIEWS AND CONTRIBUTE TO THE CACAPHONY ~ SO REGISTER, FIND A CANDIDATE, HOWEVER HOPELESS THEIR CHANCES, AND VOTE
Cool Designs and Other Things (More to Follow)
"The best art makes your head spin with questions. Perhaps this is the fundamental distinction between pure art and pure design. While great art makes you wonder, great design makes things clear." ~ John Maeda
"I don't bring an essentialist view to my background as a designer. But design gave me an opportunity to observe and learn about the social politics of production, distribution, and use. Use is very important." ~ Krzystof Wodiczko
“I don’t think it is the function of art to be pleasing. ... Art is not democratic.” ~ Richard Serra
"We may distinguish between two types of imaginative process: the one starts with the word and arrives at the visual image and the one starts with the visual image and arrives at its verbal expression." ~ Italo Calvino
"There is something embarrassing in ... the way in which, ... turning suffering into images, harsh and uncompromising though they are, ... wounds the shame we feel in the presence of the victims. For these victims are used to create something, works of art, that are thrown to the consumption of a world which destroyed them. The so-called artistic representation of the sheer physical pain of people beaten to the ground by rifle-butts contains, however remotely, the power to elicit enjoyment out of it. The moral of this art, not to forget for a single instant, slithers into the abyss of its opposite. The aesthetic principle of stylization ... makes an unthinkable fate appear to have had some meaning; it is transfigured, something of its horror removed. This alone does an injustice to the victims; yet no art which tried to evade them could confront the claims of justice." ~ T.W. Adorno
"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise." ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald
"A photograph is a moral decision taken in one eighth of a second, or one sixteenth, or one one-hundred-and-twenty-eighth. Snap your fingers; a snapshot's faster." ~ Salman Rushdie
"I cannot find any good use for the term postmodernism. ... I have no idea what is supposed to make a painting, or a novel, or a political attitude, "postmodern." ~ Richard Rorty
"The greatest obstacle to transforming the world is that we lack the clarity and imagination to conceive that it could be different." ~ Roberto Mangabeira Unger
"Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing." ~ Arundhati Roy
 "A limited imagination defends itself against recognizing the world as a system of connected vessels; it also is incapable of moving beyond the familiar."
 "Great numbers, however, cause particular difficulties for our imagination. As if we observe humanity in a way that is not permitted for humans, and allowed only to gods. ... In other words, they can think in categories of masses. A million people more, a million less - what difference does it make?" ~ Czeslaw Milosz
"Politics depends, to a great extent, on judging what is actual relative to what is possible. [. . .] However, we have an inherently weak grasp of what is 'possible' and most societies are not set up so as naturally to improve this, or to make us aware of possibilities we may have ignored or taken with insufficient seriousness." ~ Raymond Geuss
"Start doing the things you think should be done, and start being what you think society should become. Do you believe in free speech? Then speak freely. Do you love the truth? Then tell it. Do you believe in an open society? Then act in the open. Do you believe in a decent and humane society? Then behave decently and humanely." ~ Adam Michnik
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I allow comments on nearly all posts. In fact, I encourage comments and usually am happy to offer replies. That said, I will feel free to enforce standards of civility here.
I am completely willing to delete boorish comments ~ e.g., those involving name-calling, cursing, or that are generally disrespectful toward me or other readers. The same goes, especially, for various forms of bigotry. The same goes for comments that are not germane to the post or comment thread.
Except in very rare instances, I do not publish anonymous comments. Experience suggests that unless a reader is willing to identify himself and take responsibility for his views, he too often proves willing to act like an ass. (Apologies for the gendered language, but it seems appropriate in this context.) So, like boorish, anonymous is a more or less direct route to comment oblivion. Life is too short.
I treat this blog like I treat my living room. If you come here and act like an ass, I'll show you the door. And, as is true of my living room (& yours no doubt, too), I am the sole judge of what counts as acting like an ass. Fair warning.