On centrality

(public domain-1923)

(public domain-1923)

Many a sitcom has had settings in which a dozen or more people were in the same place together – mostly some type of social-friendly spot like a diner or an old pre-mega-gentrified coffee shop/bar. Actually what’s now considered an average sitcom is already tailored to post-early-gentrification anyway, but I digress: If a sitcom is set somewhere where there’s a few dozen people around, it usually focuses on a handful of exceptional people. We know they’re exceptional because in this small sampling of supposedly average people there are stories focusing just on them. In this sensationalized media-drenched world, it was interesting to see how comparatively muted the coverage of the horrific slayings in Charleston, South Carolina was. Perhaps that’s because sensationalizing something often requires that the designated bad people have played their part. The alleged bad guy here doesn’t look like who’s supposed to be the bad guy; he looks more like someone sitting at the center of everything on a couch or at a booth.

About a decade ago in the familiar sitcom scenario, you would have been hard pressed to look in the background and find any people of color, and even now, for all the supposed “Empire”s that are dominating TV, in the narratives of your average sitcom set in what’s considered an average place, there may or may not be a few. Did you ever notice how odd it really is to always focus on a few amazing people, almost always white, when there’s all these other people around, just kind of dawdling? For some, many even, that’s aspirationally metaphorical–these central people who are worthy of having good things happen to them as the rest of the world is reducted.

This dynamic is still commonplace, but in some quarters it’s a bit less common than it used to be, which really upsets those whose sense of self-worth is built on being the good average person inherently worthy of centrality.
A survivor of the Charleston massacre reportedly said that the alleged shooter told his victims that he had to do it because African-Americans, it was implied, were “taking over.”

“Had to do it,” as if there was a counterpoint that said, no, these are people. They don’t deserve this.

In typical fashion, the massacre has been considered by some to be an aberration; this is what hate crimes are supposed to be, even though hating those insidious others that threaten to challenge someone’s supposedly rightful space of centrality is hardly an aberration culturally. There are plenty of programs that regularly present information and twist it through that prism.

What’s amazing is the way that the victims of some of these families are so forgiving. What’s incredibly sad is that hundreds of years of molded centrality will continue to make some people think that it’s only right for some people’s lives to mean much more than others. And what those people, so desperate to be more than somebody else, don’t get it is that if they weren’t being pointed to one scapegoat, it would be another.

Upkeep

If you’ve ever wandered the stacks of a library and thumbed through the books just looking for something interesting, maybe it took you a shelf or two — maybe even a series of shelves, ’cause even when publishing was thriving and not so much about it books, there was of course the catering to privilege — but surely something that spoke to you appeared. Something like, “Unlearning Hemperkin’s Rules for Optimum Snobbery.” Maybe the words were in a book that didn’t even have its cover sleeve anymore, something as tattered for the passing of time as it might have been for being read so much. I think blogs can be sort of like those particular volumes, except of course that they’re an ongoing process.

And that ongoing process isn’t always so big with the going. Some of my favorite bloggers came and went in an instant; I don’t think it was due to a waning attention span, at least not in and of itself. Life is hard, and if you’re not getting paid from some soft-ish perch to write about what it’s like for those folks on the rocks, written word upkeep means having to occasionally tear pieces of yourself off for fuel — metaphorically, of course.

One of the perennial Zeitgest narratives is about apathy; it’s usually more about “care more!” than the reasons people become apathetic. Having to deal with basic human selfishness is hard enough, but there’s also the manifest destiny of privileged comfort. Blogdom has a lot of greatness to offer, but at its generalized best its landscape also has these smiley commerce- and privilege-driven ideals that are nice to disconnect from for a bit.

Racetogetherness, plus

Edouard Manet's "At the Café Guerbois," via wiki.

Edouard Manet’s “At the Café Guerbois,” via wiki.

Starbucks is often enough considered a harbinger of gentrification – which sees gentry-level folk push away those who can’t afford to live in a “Starbucks-worthy” area. Frequently those most negatively affected in this scenario are people of color; this is one of the things that made “racetogether” seem more like “marketingtogether.” However well-meaning it may have been, it came from an outlook that is somewhat inherently commercial. Ideology-wise, Starbucks has a left-leaning slant and it likely expected its customer-base to be much more for “racetogether” than not. Even if by some chance there’s an enlightening dialogue about race, everyone’s simply going back out into a landscape of inequity that people literally buy into, anyway.

Starbucks has tried to bring what you might call its progressive income zoning to neighborhoods with less resources, but I don’t think there are any long-term examples of Starbucks in areas without some source of upwardly mobile income. Such zoning goes beyond space to a mentality that inherently defines itself by being juxtaposed with blackness, which is not a part of what’s mainstream unless it enhances it via various forms of supposed exoticness — and among that particularly what doesn’t challenge the false narrative that some people are inherently virtuous/better while others are not.

Most moderate- to high-status discussions of race/class – even those on a fairer minimum wage – are lessened by a social order in which racism, all -isms are connected to profiteering in some way.

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I bought some ketchup recently (yes, I will take the ketchup-buying ribbon, thank you) and anyhow, it had this cap that’s impossible to make a mess with. Though that was not the highlight of that week, it was a highlight of that week — and thus this is also a ketchup post.

One less hour

The sun via wiki/public domain and old political allusions.

The sun via wiki/public domain and old political allusions.

The complications from the loss of an hour to due to daylight saving time are — and let’s not mince words or sporadically used punctuation here — mammoth!!! One hour of rejuvenating slumber traded for more time with the sun? Psh. What has that thing or Congress done for us lately?

So all right, maybe the sun has its moments — but to be just a tiny bit more serious, it really is interesting to ponder the loss of an hour. Is it just a loss to how much sleep we could have gotten, or, if one doesn’t have to work, would that lost hour have accounted for more escapism? Sleeping and escapism both share a disconnection from the present, though one is obviously a biological necessity, and the other — like vegging out on TV — would generally not be considered in the same vein. Of course, life as we know it has always been padded by escapism, and in a society in where there’s more perennial fear-mongering and increasing anxiety over both that and more corporate demands on what essentially amounts to breathing, escapism has become something nearly all-consuming. Beyond sleep, extra time rarely goes to the kind of personal development that doesn’t just keep one in a self-satisfied bubble and instead makes one, like, a part of the overall world where there are also people who are downtrodden — and hopefully makes that world just that much better. Sure, that’s probably as customary as anything. I don’t know. It’s just, you think there’s an hour that is now gone, but any extra time we have as a society usually goes to disconnecting or keeping up the right funhouse mirrors for ourselves anyway. So, hey, the concept of one more hour in a given day may not be all that fruitful, and not just in a corporate way (but not in a tie-dye kind of way, either).

happy new post

So maybe to really appreciate any notion of a new year, one has to settle into it for a while, to the point where maybe it’s February and the so called “new” year really just seems like a continuation of the last. Okay, obviously the newness is in the calendar year, but there’s this always this sense that things could be miraculously new. Less sparkly and nicer than that, I think, is simply the whole life continued thing. And so here’s continuing.

I’d noticed a lot of people didn’t really enjoy the holidays; they’re a time when hype makes people feel like they should be part of something either conducive to fulfilled materialism (which is always going to leave one feeling empty) or, more ideally, something warm, loving and fulfilling. But that latter bit isn’t easy to come by; rather, it’s what we should be trying to build toward every day, and life, with its pains and scars amid a world of hegemonies, makes that hard. So when it comes to a particularly so called holiday like Valentine’s Day, instead of feeling left out of some loop, give yourself a break from the notion that life should be this commercial where fulfillment is effortless and people gloriously trade in cultural capital.

In other news, I’ve obviously let up on the posts — but I certainly plan on trying to add to the about the blog-ness when I can. The Eleanor Davis interview I did a few posts ago is something I think is pretty great, in that regard.

Thanks for visiting this at present infrequently updated blog. Less is more, folks.

Happiness and why I Don’t Care About it

Originally posted on something witty:

“Are you happy?”

Someone who loves me asked me this question. It was the only thing she wanted to know.

The answer was no, but I answered “I think I’m getting there.” I wanted to give her the comfort and reassurance she sought, misleading or not. She asked as though it was the most important thing in the context of my life, but it didn’t sit right with me.

Why is the most important thing to you that I’m happy? What if I’m not happy, but I’m kind? Is that not important? What if I’m not happy, but I’m generous? Is that not important? What if I’m not happy, but I am creative and free? Is that not important?

We’re so hard up for happiness, the idea is even being sold to us.

buyhappy-header

Happy_Meal_341

It underlies almost all of our media and advertisements. Evidently we’re so desperate, advertisers think we’re dense enough to think…

View original 184 more words

Eleanor Davis on “How to Be Happy,” a better “everyman,” and diversity in art

“Maybe when you have enough to be comfortable and you are still unhappy — that’s when you start thinking about gluten, and new-age workshops, and going ‘back to nature.'”

The preceding quote is from the following interview with cartoonist and writer Eleanor Davis, whose new collection of comics, “How to Be Happy,” is a fascinating exploration of people grappling with emptiness and a sense of self, in varied art and narrative styles.            

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 There’s only a few romantic pairings in “How To Be Happy,” but it seems like the least hollow one is because the pair share the same delusion.  

Which do you consider the least hollow one? My favorite romantic pairing is Jennifer and Matt in “No Tears, No Sorrow,” although that wasn’t really implied. I just had it in the back of my mind that they ought to fall in love.

My impression thus far of the least hollow relationship — or rather, least hollow interpersonal relationship — had been between Adam and Eve in “In Our Eden.”

Oh yeah! The Adam and Eve in “In Our Eden” is a pretty interesting and complex relationship. I don’t think it’s a very good one, though; Adam doesn’t ever ask Eve what she wants or needs, he just assumes she will go along with him, and she does. I don’t know if that’s because she shares his utopian beliefs or because she loves him, but in some way love is a utopian belief, I guess.

I feel like there’s this grappling with specific upwardly-mobile approaches to happiness, in searches for authenticity or something purer or the new mantra/motions of happiness. Do you feel that maybe this particular demographic has an obsession with “happiness”?

Well, if you’re struggling just to make ends meet, maybe your focus is going to be on making rent and paying your doctor bills, and that is plenty to be unhappy about. Maybe when you have enough to be comfortable and you are still unhappy —  that’s when you start thinking about gluten, and new-age workshops, and going “back to nature.” The kind of unhappiness I write about is real, but it’s also a luxury, I think.

 Maybe when you have enough to be comfortable and you are still unhappy, that’s when you start thinking about gluten, and new-age workshops, and going “back to nature.” The kind of unhappiness I write about is real, but it’s also a luxury, I think.

After I re-read it a few times, that part with that woman bawling, essentially about feeling the weight of a very disconnected world, only to be told about going gluten-free is kind of strangely hilarious.    

Thank you. I hope there is a combination of empathy and humor in my stuff.

There’s some interesting explorations of strength in “How To Be Happy” — the strong man with the deep cut who pretends like it’s nothing; and then there’s the sort of Hercules figure, the collection’s most jubilant figure. Does this rare example of happiness come from him being strong for others?

Oh man! I feel kind of weird about that story. It’s often cited as the single happy story in the book, while I think of it as one of the saddest ones. In that story, “Make Yourself Strong,” the muscle-man’s strength seems infinite; it’s a pleasure to watch him. But no strength is really infinite. A story about a superhero is only happy until the hero comes up against something he can’t overcome. In my mind, writing it, the strong man wasn’t able to lift that final toppling building. The building crushed him, and the last three images of the rescued people and the strong man’s laughing face are in some sort of happy afterlife.

Graphic novels, literary or otherwise, don’t tend to have a lot of diversity in story form or especially on a production level. Most are generally seen as being universal in nature, but how universal do you think something is that lacks awareness about privilege and the lack there of? I feel like what makes “How To Be Happy” universal to me is the bawling woman acknowledging a sense of disconnection with the world that speaks to, among many things, that divide.

This is an excellent question. It’s one I grapple with a lot.

When I was a young artist, a lot of my fictional stories were about men. I was trying to speak my own truth, but I didn’t feel that everyone could relate to a female protagonist. Especially in the simple allegorical stories I was telling, I thought a male character could be an “everyman” in a way that a female could not. In art, women are wives or mothers or objects for sex. Women are bitches or goddesses or creepy old crones. Men are, simply, people.

As I gotten older I’ve realized how cowardly it was for me to go along with this idea. I’ve realized the harm it causes. I have been fighting the misogyny in my own heart and I’ve rejected the idea that the only everyman is male. More of my characters are women now. I am more willing to be a woman myself.

I have been fighting the misogyny in my own heart and I’ve rejected the idea that the only everyman is male.

Rejecting sexism in art has also made me more aware of the overwhelming whiteness in art. This problem is huge and it has terrible consequences. Media is the mirror a society sees itself in, and the majority of society is either not reflected, or is transformed into something warped and flat and hideous. This is harmful for the people who are under- and misrepresented, and it’s harmful for the people who think they know their neighbors and countrymen from these false representations. It’s also bad art. Art is a pursuit of truth. The truth is not white, and it’s not male.

 Rejecting sexism in art has also made me more aware of the overwhelming whiteness in art. This problem is huge and it has terrible consequences.

So we have this terrible situation, which is that we are consuming a huge amount of bad and even harmful art, and as artists, we are producing it.

My own comics are very white, and that’s something I’d like to change. I’m also very white, though, so I want to tread carefully. I don’t want to take one of my typical stories with a thinly veiled stand-in for me and just color the character’s skin cocoa and give myself a pat on the back. Cultural appropriation is also something I worry about. And I worry about speaking for other groups without having their lived experience. But in this case I think I, and other artists like me, need to risk f***ing up by trying their best to show diversity, rather than continuing to tell this easy White lie.

So we can try to help the terrible situation we’re in by encouraging existing artists to bring more diversity into their own art. I think that’s great. It is a giant step in the right direction and it could have a lasting impact. However, it’s not enough. For art to be true, not only the characters need to be diverse, the artists making it need to be diverse too.

 For art to be true, not only the characters need to be diverse, the artists making it need to be diverse too.

Making art is often a privilege. Making art takes time; becoming a really good artist takes an incredible amount of time. Time is expensive. Formal art training is insanely expensive. Most art jobs are vastly underpaid. All these factors make becoming an artist an iffy financial investment, and making iffy financial investments is easier if you’re in a position of privilege. And, of course, jobs themselves are often more readily available to people of privilege. Consumers, art directors, and clients are often unwilling to hire artists whose voices are different from the ones they are used to.

Here is what I think can be done. As consumers, we can proactively support diverse creators. As artists we can reach out to diverse creators within our own communities. As artists we can refuse to do low paying or unpaid work which devalues all art and makes art a “hobby job.” We can donate to organizations that support diversity in art, like We Need Diverse Books. We can fight for better funding for the arts in public schools, and for more grants for the arts in higher education. And we can fight for economic justice and equality for all people; for our own sakes, for the sake of our world, for the sake of art, and for the sake of truth.

Check out “How to Be Happy” at http://www.fantagraphics.com/browse-shop/how-to-be-happy-pre-order–5.html. For more on Eleanor Davis, visit her site — http://doing-fine.com.

Much thanks to Eleanor for her time.