The 50 Shades of Grey Fad

It’s difficult to know how to write about Fifty Shades of Grey.

For one thing, I haven’t seen it and I intend not to: partly out of solidarity with the women who’ve raised their voices about its issues around domestic violence; and partly out of my own resistance to having my libido co-opted into Hollywood’s money making machine.

The problem is with critiquing what we haven’t seen. It seems a bit Mary Whitehouse-ish to be criticising a film because we don’t like the idea of it.

Perhaps, though, we can talk about what we have seen, which is the beast that curls this marvelous stuff out on us from on high – which seems to be hidden in plain sight. One of the characteristics of our time is the way the powerful farm the life of the people for profit, and the way our sexuality is expected to be offered up for exploitation*. What goes around masquarading sexual freedom and liberation here is nothing much besides the enslavement of our sexuality to consumer capitalism. Our sexuality is not being liberated from the private to the public in some great Freudian relief of pressure. Our sexuality is being lifted from the realm of personal relationships and shuffled into the private pockets of rich and powerful white men.

I think I am right in saying that the film is about a rich powerful white man who gets to do whatever he likes to a woman by getting her to sign a contract. This is supposed to appeal to the dark side of my libido, and to that part of a woman that secretly desires powerlessness and subjection. Indeed, we as a society know quite well what its like to be subject to whims of rich powerful white men who know how to use a contract. And the beast knows that we love it! “Lose control!” says the poster.

So no, I don’t think we should.

The other problem with writing about this film/book/“phenomenon” is the hype. How do we talk about it without adding fuel to the fire? I think, in fact, the film will be charity shop fodder in no time, as the book already is. The lasting battle is against the powers who will still hold the keys to the city’s high places and “public” arenas after this fad blows over, and are still able command access to the sexuality of everyday men, women and children, and absorb all into the politics of profit and penetration.


*Foucault calls this biopower. See History Of Sexuality Vol1


Christmas vs Empire

I think Mary’s lovely Magnificat sounds more like a politicised protest song than anything else…

He has brought down the mighty from their thrones
   and exalted those of humble estate;
He has filled the hungry with good things,
   and the rich he has sent away empty.

Here’s my Christmas reflection for Nomad Podcast…

Breast Feeding & Prophetic Action

The prophets are the women breast feeding their babies in public.

If Walter Brueggeman is right that the biblical prophets criticised the present situation and energised people towards an alternative future, and did so by offering symbols from the past, public breast feeders do it all.

They criticise an order that has made breasts a symbol of women as the playthings of men, and the iconography of power, profit and control. The fact that the criticism rings true is obvious by the cries coming down from businesses, politicians, and celebrities telling them to stop it. Meanwhile the protest against the people who drag women’s bodies through the public sphere as visual amusement comes up from everyday people. (That fox, the prime minister is happy to say public breast feeding is natural, but he won’t raise a whimper against Rupert Murdoch’s peculiar right to publish breasts as a misogynist spectacle in a daily newspaper, because he knows that Murdoch carries the keys to the next election).

The prophets – the public breast feeders – energise us towards an alternative vision: a humanising order against a dehumanising one. A relational order against an alienating one. An order that glorifies grass roots life against the cult of the idealised image. It’s something that the businesses who rule consumer capitalism can make no use or sense of, and that makes the consumerist reconstruction of masculine libido evaporate. Its the image of Kingdom against empire.

Of course people aren’t feeding their babies to make a statement (apart from the protesters outside Claridge’s). British life has made a prophetic statement out of ordinary human life, by being a place driven to strangeness by systems of power and profit.

Babylon is Dead Vol#3

Plugged in my music computer a few days ago to start recording the new project and I found this – a song from Babylon is Dead Vol#3, which will never get finished.

I think it was recorded 2011, in the thick of financial collapse (“the party animals are saying that the party is over. But whose party was it anyway?”) and the riots, occupy protests that followed (“But behold, the empire’s endless sameness has been broken and a brand new word has been spoken…”).

I love how redundant it sounds now. In 2004 when I made Glass & Tears it was all about how numbing and passive life in the West was, and how difficult it was to care about or believe in anything. Now there’s protest, dissent, hope and hunger for change all over the place. People are fighting for things because they believe those things are worth fighting for. I know it’s full of mess and contradiction, but the pervading numbness of the last decade is over. There is a sustained awakeness underneath those radicalised spectacles of the last few years, I think.

I recall reading Leonardo and Clodovis Boff saying that Liberation theologies don’t last forever, because they respond to life on the ground, and by God’s grace life on the ground changes.


Revolution & Rebellion

Here’s my speech for Napier & Goulds “What Artists Think About Rebellion” night at the Mac 02/08/2014…

When we hear the word ‘revolution’ today, it usually refers to some technological development. The Ipod has just got smaller. Broadband has just got faster. Cable has just got more channels. All this is to say, that the media powers are developing more efficient ways of monopolising the cultural life of the masses.

When we hear the word ‘rebellion’ today, it is usually manifest in some expensively dressed individual who wears a look on his face that says f-ck you! All this is to say, that the capitalist ethic of self-interest is being drilled into masses of young people by that powerful minority of profiteers.

The language of revolution and rebellion has been co-opted into the consumer capitalist machine. And popular artists have been oddly uncritical of the situation. In fact, we’re complicit. We’ve been making their propaganda for decades.

How gloomy! What shall we do?

The first and most important question is probably this: is there actually cause for a revolution or a rebellion of some kind? I think there is, but we shouldn’t arrive at that conclusion lightly, since revolutions are usually horrible, costly and drastic things.

For now, I would like only to suggest two principles that I think are necessary to rescue popular art from its current impotence and powerlessness.

1. The actual and local manifestation of our work must take primacy over it’s mediation by mass mediums.

Gil Scott Heron said it a long time ago, and I think it’s still true: its almost impossible to for anything truly revolutionary to happen via mass mediums. Revolutions happen when real people really come together around shared beliefs. Mass mediums, on the other hand, are tools of segregation: they keep each in his or her own private space. Artists have a capacity to bring real people together around an idea, but only when we take the trouble to organise and create actual gatherings for work to be shared. Life is richer in time, space and matter. We have the power to bring people together, or we can just create more content for the structures that keep people apart.

(See Arts Manifesto: 16-20)

Popular art is more or less synonymous these days with mass mediums through which they’re sold. That relationship must be broken, if we are to even begin talking of revolution.

2. The artists fundamental purpose must shift from self to other.

It is generally assumed that we artists do what we do because we want a career… we want to build a cult around ourselves and our work. All this is very much in the capitalist spirit of self-interest, which is, of course, very un-revolutionary. But more than that, it is a mindset towards the arts that strips them of all revolutionary potential.

Art can function as an invitation to the people gathered around it. It can invite a group of people to share a feeling, an experience or an idea. It can present people with a question and invite them to answer it. It can present people with a problem and invite them to solve it. It can present people with an issue and invite them to discuss it. It can present people with a conviction and invite them to rise to it. Art can invite people to critical consciousness, solidarity, and even to action. But it can hardly do any of these things as long as people think that the art is not really for them, but for the artist, who really just wishes to further his own little empire. In this case the people are invited to nothing, but to watch an individual climb the cruel mountain of his own ego.

(See Arts Manifesto: 3-4, 11-15, 21..)

Art must once again become a pursuit for the blessing of the community. We must begin to think of our work as gift… as grace… as nourishment for the people that we actually live amongst. The artist must deny self, pick up cross, and work for the blessing of the other. And so I have said elsewhere repentance is the revolution, because repentance is rebellion against self, and self is the god of capitalism

* * *

I leave you, then, with these two principles that I think may help us recover the revolutionary potential of art:

1.To abandon our obsession with top down mediums, in favour of the actual, local manifestation of our work.

2.To abandon our obsession with career, in favour of work that cultivates the life of the people we live amongst.