When I was young, I did the typical thing of going along with my mother when she went grocery shopping. I never really noticed the way she’d try to stay within a limited budget until the time a cashier was ringing her stuff up, and she was short of the total by one cent. This was in a chain store she went to all the time, but the cashier wasn’t about to let her slide with that one penny. Nowadays I find myself thinking that the silver lining of this is that she would never had to walk past the cashier and feel like she’d been a charity case. But that’s just cynicism on my part. While I’ve found that very few people really ever do anything for someone else without some sense of personal gain (if only in standing), I can’t disavow the notion that not letting someone slide on one cent one time is pretty bogus. It’s also, at its most simple level, just business.
I also recall going to a corner store once in a while, and my mother having to put some trifle back for being short a few cents, and the guy behind the counter insisting that the few cents didn’t matter. And for the sake of someone else, someone who’d never in a zillion years ask someone to give her even a few cents was okay about that–because, to the guy at the corner store, the loss of a few cents to someone who wasn’t trying to chump him off was genuinely trivial. He did not expect a parade out of it. For him, business was not business minus any semblance of human consciousness.
This particular decade has certainly seen a strong resurgence of that minus-human-anything kind of business. That’s certainly the most profitable kind, because, if your business is a part of something that millions of people utilize, little cents add up to lots of zeroes behind dollar signs. So taking people out of the equation as anything beyond walking wallets is optimal. Like those guys on Wall Street saw it. And, of course, that way of thinking has really ensured a better world for everyone . . .
This profit-maximizing kind of thinking extends itself well beyond the businesses people must use to get their basic needs met–all the way to the arts, where the idea of coming up a little short is supposed to be different. The arts all have their own measuring sticks when it comes to what’s good and what’s not, but, at a certain level, subjectivity is a mark on all of them. Subjectivity–being a human consciousness thing. So the more business-driven art is, the more its qualities are measured in currency. Currency ends up driving all the art that’s put up and heralded in front of you as art or literature. The value of any piece needs to be at level as such that being a cent short is out of the question, and in an arena where currency isn’t just about the literal monetary kind, the value of an artist’s background and demographic also come into play.
It’s just funny; you grow up being taught many works of art that, for all of their virtues, don’t usually engage you all that much. And even when you don’t love them, you can maybe see what someone else saw in it enough to bring it to light. The fact that such things abounded lead many people to think that completely catering to the lowest common denominator, mainstream or otherwise, wasn’t the bottom line with art. I think about writers and artists whom were published decades ago whose backgrounds and subjective lack of appeal to mainstream currency means they’d never get much off the ground these days–and, as far as a percentage of what was being put out there, they were still only a tiny bit of art-related industry output. But still, their lingering presences on the printed page speak to a time when art as a business wasn’t quite so soulless–or maybe when there was enough for folks to let their souls be stirred a little beyond business. Nowadays, creators have to know how both they and their works are measured, unless they’re naturally such that they have/are exact change for what they’re going for.
I’m not the biggest fan of The Sin City movie that came out in 2005, but a character had two good lines that stood out to me, and forgive me if I’m paraphrasing them: “These are the all or nothing days. They’re back.”