Art in Our Times, a poem

Art in Our Times

Piss poor excuse for a joke,

All the un-ironic irony in real life.

I have always said it,

Life is a parody of the self,

We live in Chaplin’s Modern Times,

We are the machines,

And the proles.

We are wheels,

Turning and obedient to the driver,

Circle after circle,

Loop after loop.

Never changing,

Always moving,

Who are we, you, I?

Identity in these times,

Matches no other,

Identity in the past,

Must be laid to rest.

People are tired of cliches,

They need new ones,

New tropes,

New motifs,

New characters.

We,

The artists,

The writers,

The workers!

We must create something new.

We must not merely express our times,

We must change them.

What are the times we live in?

What will our era be called?

What can one do?

to help,

to change,

to move forward?

What can one do to stop the delay?

So that art,

and liberty,

can save us all.

Advertisements

A Quick Note About Leftist Strategy

Strategy and ideology are equally important but when one gets put ahead of the other you run into problems.

Put ideology ahead of strategy you end up doing stupid shit like not voting or joining cultish fraud left groups. If all you care about is validating your analysis instead of thinking tactically to gain the most materially for the most people then you are not helping the left.

Put strategy ahead of ideology you end up selling out important beliefs. If all one cares about is getting socialists elected and not about holding them accountable, about laying out a socialist program for society, and building alternatives to capitalism all at the same time, one is not helping the left.

Leftists should have a strong idealogical core. They should also use that ideology to think and act as tactically as possible.

I don’t think it’s that complicated.

Sex and Revolution, Why The Left Needs to Talk About Sex

Many like to think that we have overcome our prudish cultural fear of sex. It would seem like we have come a long way if one thinks about the constant use of sex in advertising, the existence of thirst trap instagram feeds, and the new public acceptance of kink culture. While we have come a long way in the sexual dialectic, we still have very far to go.

The left must make sex and sexuality integral to our rhetoric and platform. Forsaking sex when talking about our society leads to a continuation of our insecurities and perpetuates the erasure of large groups of people.

Sex Sells

Sexually repressive cultural constructs in our society are still rampant. Our fear of sexual nuance leads to a lack of dialogue on the subject of sexuality. This lack of a dialogue leads to numerous social problems and leads to people developing sexual insecurities. These insecurities are extorted by the capitalists who work in advertising and marketing in order to drive unnecessary consumption for the sake of generating profit.

The use of sex to sell is rampant most in online culture. On instagram we see body building men and women, or “fitstagram models,” selling us snake oil powders and teas that are supposed to make us stronger and sexier. More often than not these models and the commercials they perform in are not only extorting our insecurities, they are selling us the idea of what sex should look like.

The same can be said of the commercials on tv and videos that use sex to sell. Remember when you see an Axe body spray commercial or a Just For Men hair care ad and it ends with a man and a woman sensuously caressing each other, the advertisers aren’t just telling you “Buy this so you’ll have more sex,” they are also telling you “Remember, this is the only kind of sex!”

So long as the sexual dialogue is lacking then there will continue to be erasure of people outside of the heteronormative and gender binary spectrum. While we have made progress in the acceptance of gay people, we are seeing the erasure of trans people and those who identify as queer, as well as gender fluid people, non binary people, and asexuals thanks to the use of sex in advertising. The use of sex in advertising more often than not normalizes only one kind of sex, heterosexual sex.

The fact that we almost never even talk about asexual people leads to both erasure and perpetuation of further insecurities. (Am I not normal because I’m not sexual enough? Maybe if I buy this stuff I will be!). Erasure of sexuality hurts and holds people back on multiple levels.

We Can’t Talk About Sex Without Talking about Consent!

Our lack of a genuine and all-encompassing discussion of sex also holds back the growing #MeToo movement. One of the reasons we exist in rape culture is because we do not teach enough about consent. You cannot teach what consensual sex is if you can’t even talk about sex itself. This lack of understanding of consent is one of the reasons why victims of sexual violence are held back and afraid to speak up. It is a direct cause of the belittling and even life threatening attacks against victims who come forward. We have often heard these toxic, and infuriating arguments made when a victim of a sexual predator comes forward, “If she didn’t want it why did she dress like that?” Or “Are you sure you didn’t lead him on?” Etc. If we do not talk about sex, how can we properly talk about consent!?

Porn as a Public Service

Our lack of a sexual dialogue is evident in the thriving industry of pornography. Consider how the number of genres of pornography has gone up exponentially over the last decade, why has this happened? Because for literally millions of people internet pornography is the only avenue to explore their sexuality because capitalism isolates us from one another, keeping us from having the sexual dialogue we need.

The porn that a society consumes is reflection of that society, and the fact that porn genres seem to be increasing in numbers by the day demonstrates how people become isolated from talking about sexuality with each other and are desperate for outlets of expression. As a pro sex individual, I am glad that porn performers are giving people this place to explore. Porn performers and other consenting sex workers are the sexual vanguard because they are willing to express and explore their sexuality to the point it becomes their living. The services they provide allow the sexually repressed masses an avenue to explore their sexuality. Just a side note, the least we could all do is pay for our porn every once in awhile.

What Will Happen If We Don’t Talk About Sex

So long as we do not discuss sexuality in an open, public, and universal way there will be capitalist extortion of our sexual insecurities. We can fight this extortion by making a discussion of sexuality central to a leftist platform.

One of the best ways to do this is to support sex work decriminalization and to elevate the voices of sexwork organizers. We should particularly elevate the voices of organizers who identify as LGBTQA+ in order to fight back against their erasure. It also makes the most sense to elevate the people who make their living off sex as the vanguard for discussing the need for sexual liberation.

We can counter the capitalist isolation and its extortion of our sexualities. Talk about sex and talk about sexwork. Talk about consent and make sure that you do not shy away from the word sex.

Acknowledge that our social perceptions of sex are still heteronormative. Acknowledge that many still think of gender being a biological binary.

Let us fight the erasure of sexual preferences and of gender and sexual identities so that we may overcome the insecurities that the capitalists use to extort our consumption.

Let us elevate sex workers and fight for decriminalization and unionization of sexwork. Let sexworkers and LGBTQA organizers take the platform and follow their lead.

Let’s make the revolution sexy!

Cruel Reality, a poem for our times

Cruel Reality

A classic song screams out through my radio,

“We won’t get fooled again!”

Unless we don’t pay attention in history class,

Or worse, when we don’t bother to ask any questions.

Yet soft,

Do not let your words enable “deconstruction.”

Fight on weirdos, fight on freaks,

Fight on.

Stanza 2, the part where the poet keeps rambling,

Not this time.

My poems are no longer mine,

No longer for me,

No longer needing to be justified or validated.

Poetry itself is justified.

Does the president get it?

Of course not,

Evil is as evil does.

Evil has no humanity,

Do not appeal to where there is no court.

Why do so many legitimize evil

by doing nothing?

Denial, easy to do

when ICE or the B.I.A isn’t kidnapping your child

and beating up your grandmother.

Brainless professional bootlicks

and we give them badges and parades.

If they failed at high school football

why trust them with the law?

Cruel reality, not everyone is on your side.

Cruel reality, our lenses can be skewed

and skew our view.

Cruel reality, people are not always what they seem.

I could go on for days about this world’s cruel reality.

And I will.

I need to.

Cruel reality, an idea is an idea in of itself.

It’s all inane, but it’s all very interesting to.

Both?

Yes, and neither.

Confused yet?

Good. That’s step one.

The next is controlling

channelling

the inevitable frustrations.

Your microwave will kill you

faster than a diseased box

and the cops are bloodthirsty.

Long live reality T.V.

Max Headroom was no metaphor,

Tangent words begin again

reps and senators

Hot sex live 24/7

And the millionaires whine more about it than we do.

That’s nice but please sir,

Please master,

May I have some more?

No, well, can I have my life back?

No?

Can I at least live?

No.

Why are the puppies begging eyes

only effective when they are blue,

not brown?

Enjoy cable?

iPhones? Wifi?

And all the other masturbation aides?

Well, congrats jerks,

While you were hate tweeting about whatever it is,

Tyrone got shot,

Maria was deported,

And Mohamed is stuck in LAX.

Good luck replacing all three.

Flags make good cum catchers,

And even our soldiers are tired of being props,

Sick of being human flag poles.

Don’t use the used to justify you.

Facts to suit theories not theories to suit facts.

Have I limited myself?

Is grammar so important?

What do order and style

have anything to do with truth?

When did “MAGA” become “Zig HEIL!”?

It always was.

A big, round planet

that no empire could ever keep covered.

Caligula had to come sometime

but a horse in the senate would be fitting

since it is already full of jackasses.

Thank you good night!

You’ve been a great crowd!

Don’t forget to harass the waitress on your way out.

Cruel reality,

Integrity can fall short,

And supremacy hinders the so called “supreme.”

Cruel reality,

Proustian memories triggered not by a cookie, but a beer,

A familiar scene, my local pub and brew.

A dad trying,

A bored teen,

A hungry young sister,

Convinced she “isn’t hungry daddy!”

It is her standing rock, she will not be moved.

A sweet scene, tainted by the world it exists in.

Cruel reality,

Not everyone on the same side

is actually on the same side.

Cruel reality,

One man can destroy democracy.

One can always interfere,

But one can never stand in the way of truth.

Cruel reality for them,

The truth is always there,

And will always haunt them.

Cruel reality,

We can never be free from the haunt of memory.

Nation captive to nation,

The profit in pain.

Cruel reality,

Kids don’t care about the carbon-dated world

of colas and silver screen stars.

Should they?

A question for the philosophers, not the poets.

Cruel reality for the enemy,

Is that the game is a state of mind.

But the game ain’t saying nothing.

Today the masses say it,

Cruel reality for the enemy,

The eye of integrity,

Karma and big brother

Are on them like never before.

Cruel reality for the enemy, but we all got game.

Cruel reality, what is happening here

Is perfectly clear

And it always has been.

Cruel reality,

Racism is not just for the racists,

But even the “good” people.

Cruel reality for me,

Though frustration is real

The tedium of this world,

The pain and suffering

Is more real than ever today.

Cruel reality, that isn’t too cruel when you think about it,

But the time, the chance, to step back,

And give others a space, a time, a home.

Cruel reality, pretty blond pornstars

Have gone political,

And trust me when I say

It isn’t pretty.

Cruel reality.

Cruel reality.

Cruel reality.

Won’t someone pass me a pill

Since joints are a sin?

Pass me a pill so that I may sink

So that I can forget

So that I can ignore these days,

This era,

So that I can ignore

our cruel reality.

What is Socialist Art?

It is very true that one cannot always go by the principles of Marxism in deciding whether to reject or accept a work of art. A work of art should, in the first place, be judged by its own law, that is, by the law of art. But Marxism alone can explain why and how a given tendency in art has originated in a given period of history; in other words, who it was made a demand for such an artistic form… – Literature and Revolution, pg. 150

Recently I was attempting to answer the question,”what is socialist art?” as a theoretical response to Trotsky’s Literature and Revolution. I had just finished the book and was working on a piece that would be an attempt to expand his application of a Marxist lens towards the arts by contemporizing it for socialists here in the 21st century. Originally I started off with the question, “what is socialist art?” However I found that I could not answer the question until I answered a more pressing one, “what is arts place in the Revolution?” Since I have now established that art indeed has a place in Revolution with my previous blog post, I will now attempt to answer my original question. What is socialist art?

Arguably Trotsky’s Literature and Revolution is the most influential piece of Marxist literary theory. It was arguably the first application of Marxism towards the arts and it paved the way for the likes of Terry Eagleton. Communists such as myself who came to leftism through their study of literary theory owe the existence of their Marxist lens to this text.

Although it was written almost a century ago, Literature and Revolution still provides us with two central principles that can be applied if we are to look at art through a socialist lens. In order to determine, “what is Socialist art?” we must look at art as socialists. It should be noted that the terms Marxist, socialist, communist, and leftist are used interchangeably in this piece, as they are in most of my work. It should also be noted that Trotsky uses the term “proletarian art” as opposed the term “socialist art.” In this piece the terms will be used interchangeably because art that is inherently proletarian is art that in-turn inherently socialist.

Literature and Revolution offers use two principles that can be used to determine what is socialist art. The first is that the proletariat are capable of understanding art, and that it is the bourgeoise who have controlled the economy of art, but their control does not mean the proletariat are not interested in art.

In addition to that, Trotsky’s work demonstrates art, like anything in historical dialectics, are subject to the economics of its time and place and therefore serves as a reflection of history and culture from where the art comes from. Therefore proletarian art will reflect proletarian culture. Trotsky argues that this proletarian culture needed to be developed by the proletariat after Revolution was achieved. However this is not so today. Unlike Trotsky and the bolsheviks who were rebuilding a culture from scratch, there is already a rich existence of anticapitalist traits in contemporary art.

Proletarian art is one that is reflective of the proletariat in the time and place they exist. Whereas bourgeoise art is always indulgent for the sake of indulgence proletarian art is always one that is expressive. Consider the artists who create for arts sake versus the working class artists who produce art not for profit but for the sake of their own self expression, or for the reclamation of their colonized culture.

Jeff Koons and Damien Herst are more likely to produce indulgent and pretentious sculptures for the sake of a high price tag, whereas a Chicano or Chicana street artist is likely to graffiti a mural to express their outrage over their coopted or ignored cultures. Another fine example of anti capitalism in art is the legend of Banksy, a person who shreds his art if it ever appears for sale at Sothebys. Proletarian art is art that rejects the bourgeoisie or the racist patriarchy they uphold, rather than cater to them.

However what is most important to consider is the amount of people who draw, write poetry, blog, make videos, jam with friends, all without seeking a profit. The fact that art is a form of therapy, a form of community, a form of cultural reclamation, a form of resistance, and a form of self expression demonstrates that the masses, and therefore the proletariat, are both interested and capable of being involved in the world of art. Therefore the “art world” should not be controlled by a single class but should be something that benefits the collective.

Proletarian art is about radical self expression, bourgeois art is self expression to appease an already affluent class. Proletarian art is not just self expression of an individual artistic proletarian but rather it is a self expression that rejects bourgeois influence and the oppressive systems within that influence. Art that rejects the bourgeoisie and the systems of patriarchy, white supremacy, and imperialism are all arguably manifestations of socialist art.

Bourgeois art however is expressive of the artists individual politics through its indulgence. To put it plainily, art for arts sake is art that is art that accepts the status quo. Since the status quo is one of oppression, indulgent bourgeois art is art that is complacent with oppression. For example the art of the impressionists, while technically masterful, were created to appease a petite bourgeois art world. In Literature and Revolution Trotsky points out that while bourgeois artists are often obsessed and even mystify the peasantry, they ignore the reality of their industrial proletarian neighbor. “Our old literature and “culture” were the expressions of the nobleman and the bureaucrat, and were based on the peasant.”(pg 30)

In other words bourgeoisie artists romanticize elements of the working class but refuse to incorporate the reality of their struggle into their world. This is still true today and can be seen in the bourgeoisies co-opting of street art and graffiti art.

Street artist Bansky hid a shredder in this frame and activated it when his piece sold for over $1 million at Sothebys in 2018

Proletarian art is also art that is created in response to the bourgeoisie power and all of its manifestations, whether it be colonization, patriarchy, or the overall class system. The murals of Malcom X, Martin Luther King Jr, Harriet Tubman, Zapata, Caesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta that grace the walls of buildings in Compton, Watts, East LA, Oakland, and South Sacramento are all examples of the modern working class using art to fight bourgeoise oppression. Indigenous and African artists who are keeping the arts of their colonized people alive should be welcomed as socialist art as well. The fact that art is used by so many for so many different purposes reflects the truth that the proletariat are both capable and interested in the intellectual properties of art.

There is also the agitational element of political street art like Banksy’s or in the cultural expressions of non white street artists. There is also the agitational effort we see in feminist art. Art that puts the reality of sexwork or the reality of attacks on women’s bodies should be included in our definition of proletarian art as well, for women are the most exploited of workers and any art that reflects that reality is inherently a rejection of the bourgeoisie definition of art. The same goes for art produced to agitate and express the realities of being trans, non binary, or gay. All art that is born out of a rejection of capitalist oppression must be included in our definition of proletarian art.

Fridha Khalo’s “Henry Ford Hospital, 1932”

If socialist art is art that rejects the bourgeoisie’s control of art, then socialist art should elevate oppressed cultures and people. This is because art is a reflection of the times and place it is produced no matter what. Considering we live in explicitly racist, sexist, transphobic, and queer-phobic times, proletarian art should both reflect that and reject the status quo that enables these cultural constructs of capitalism. There is also the reality that art and cultures have always been around but all in someway or another all cultures and art forms have been forced to respond to capitalist oppression. That is proletarian art, black poetry slams, indigenous art, street art, or any art that exists because of a rejection of the capitalist status quo.

Unlike Trotsky in the USSR we do not need to re-define art we need to use it to elevate our working class. We simply must reject the notion that the art we put up in galleries and museums to honor famous artists is the only manifestation of art. All we need to do to determine “what is socialist art?” is to bring in the arts that have already been born out of their rejection of capitalism. This is not only possible but it is already happening, artists have been creating to reject capitalism even as Trotsky was writing Literature and Revolution over a century ago, what has not been attempted is a general contemporary categorization of socialist art. However even Trotsky himself pointed this out in the text;

“themes migrate from people to people, from class to class, and even from author to author. This means only that the human imagination is economical. A new class does not begin to create all of culture from the beginning, but enters possession of the past, assorts it, touches it up, rearranges it, and builds on it further. If there were no such utilization of the “secondhand” wardrobe of the ages, historic processes would have no progress at all.” – Literature and Revolution pg 149

In conclusion, the proletariat are already creating their own art for means of self expression, political agitation, therapy, and cultural resistance. Whereas Trotsky’s Revolution had to create a proletarian culture, today a proletarian culture already exists in the numerous oppressed peoples under contemporary capitalism. Therefore our proletariat art is the art of our oppressed masses, of people who have either been denied their culture or denied access to the culture created by the bourgeoisie. Socialist art can be any medium, but it must either be about reclaiming culture or rejecting the oppressive pillars of capitalist culture. So the ultimate answer to my question, “what is socialist art?” is art that actively works to reject capitalism and the oppressive structures that capitalism brings.

False Flags, a socialist poem

False flags,

Do they wrap the coffins of martyrs in fake news?

Dying children,

Pipe bombs and alienated labor,

all because of misinformation.

Get help or get a gun

but only turn it on yourself.

Life is not black and white

but our options sure are.

The literary gatekeepers say they want “edge.”

They want the “best.”

Yet all we read is fluff pieces

about some racist grandma yelling in her office.

And some shlock about a garden with a friendly bumble bee.

When you remember that bees are dying, the poem loses heart.

False flags,

Killing children,

Winning the presidency.

Such are the times we live in,

Such will the time be

Where our children die.