Discover more from 📡 by Mike Rugnetta
📡 – 2023-03-24
Artist dies of exposure (to assholes)
News has broken of another Art Man who abuses, demeans and overworks his fabricators and assistants (it’s OK if you don’t know which one; they’re all the same).
The practice is a common one associated with the creators of many “great works.” David O. Russell. Jeff Koons. James Brown. Even Jerry Seinfeld. (The sole female example I can conjure is Ellen DeGeneres, but I don’t know if we’d say she makes “great works”?) The charitable read of the practice – not that it deserves one – is that abuse creates a crucible in which heat and pressure are necessary components of making incredible, and influential cultural products. Greatness requires people to be pushed, vision requires sacrifice, only “strong personalities” can lead into unknown territory, ambitions are achieved only through toil, and so on.
The tragedy isn’t just that this is not the case – it’s more than possible to make great works without purposeful, undue suffering; this is demonstrated frequently – but also that this attitude filters down into the whole of the Culture Industry™ from the upper echelons where it is most visibly practiced, and so considered a necessary element of success, or perhaps worse: its reward.
I think the excuse goes something like this: the positive impact of great works is so significant, that the suffering of those directly involved in its creation is forgivable, as their number is small, and their gift great. And further: the world is so competitive, one can’t be expected to get ahead – and thus achieve such positive impact – without working so hard, and working others so hard, so as to cause suffering. It is framed as a necessary condition of achieving notoriety, whether in the form of an acclaimed TV show, a respected film, significant works of fine art, &c.
This is a vaguely utilitarian philosophy: the population which realizes a positive impact on their lives (an adoring audience) is much larger than the population which realizes a negative one (suffering fabricators), and so on balance the result is a net good. Like all utilitarian philosophies, it is also consequentialist: the ends are thought to justify the means. Except, they do not.
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I find – and have found – that the abuse of fabricators, cast members, technicians, writers, and other collaborators is not a requirement for producing “high quality” work, but the result of three factors: 1) personality flaws of those helming production, 2) misunderstandings of what is required to make great work and what the larger function of that work is, and 3) as in all other things: material conditions. The economic realities of the world come to bear on art and media making as they do everywhere else. Excuses for the mistreatment of others in creative pursuits – “pressure makes diamonds”, “we must be uncomfortable to embrace newness”, “brutal critique produces the best ideas” – these are thin veils half-hiding the circumstances described above; they are deflections for otherwise avoidable creative, collaborative malpractice.
For instance: does it make sense to perpetuate suffering of those closest to you, if the aim of art is in fact to reduce suffering on the whole? Of course such is not the aim of all art-making, but much of the most popular art is certainly meant to entertain, inspire wonder, curiosity, to shift or challenge default perspectives, or in some way externalize some personally felt affect, allowing an audience to feel a sense of belonging, an experience which we might classify as literally sublime. For art which does intend to shock, or appall, we might look to punk rock or hardcore music for examples of notoriously caring, and supportive groups which produce art that nonetheless traffics in the graphic or the obscene.
The truth is, those who insist upon the utility of bullying would insist on it in any circumstance. The success they enjoy is simply taken as post-hoc justification: false “proof” that their approach is sound.
If one’s intention is to create works which improve the lives of others, it is conflictual to do so by diminishing the lives of those involved in its production. This ruins the conceptual basis of the work. It makes it, in short, a bad work of art. I recognize this is a personal perspective: I judge works not just on their outward appearance, but also their conceptual consistency. YMMV, as they say.But insofar as this is an attitude held by a percentage of the art-going public, artists whose work is constructed under duress continually threaten to “ruin” those works, or “undo” their meaningfulness by producing them in such a way. Why risk it?
Perhaps, one might answer, because they must. It is difficult to find good workers, good fabricators, good performers – and even the ones who are good must be pushed to create groundbreaking work, as it is not in their nature, as it is not in anyone’s nature … such is the challenge of truly new approaches. Furthermore, we can’t exactly sit around and wait for them to get it. Collaborators must be forced, pushed, hastened … we have deadlines, show dates, install dates, a limited budget.
This is demonstrably, occasionally true – though at great cost. In personal experience, the best artists possess leadership skills more akin to a guide – or teacher – than a supervisor. There is a pedagogy to bringing collaborators around to the inner functioning of every project; they cannot always be commanded towards this knowledge, only encouraged. They will get it, and often will get it in their own way, which is – to me, at least – a valuable ingredient of collaboration, and shared art practice. It is true this can take a while, though. This becomes a “problem” only insofar the material conditions of the art world make it one.
Often it is the case that artists hire fabricators because they cannot make their own work. Often it is the case they hire fabricators because they cannot make enough of their own work to meet growing demand. Often, both. It seems it’s in these scenarios we are most likely to run into the abusive type: when their livelihood, notoriety, prestige, etc … depends in fact on the skill of others (and such is the case with the most recent Art Man who inspired this screed.) This is a fundamental upending of status not unlike what’s seen in the rest of the working world: your boss needs you more than you need them, but the only way they can maintain the control they believe they require is to pretend as though the reverse is the case. The best way to enliven this fiction is, of course, fear. “This job is a special opportunity; don’t squander it.” “If you don’t meet these challenges you will be fired, and your reputation ruined.” “This is what it’s like everywhere; if you can’t hack it here, you can’t hack it anywhere.” “Maybe you are simply not good enough.”
It can be difficult to see these fears for what they are when one is in the midst of the work, and so desirous of success akin to that held by the person architecting your mistreatment. It doesn’t help that we’re taught over and over by those who occupy such vaunted positions that the circumstances are necessary: you must sacrifice everything to succeed, you must toil, difficulty is unavoidable and in fact: desirable.
Perhaps at some level of notoriety … this is the case. Perhaps there is a point past which, in order to sustain one’s growth trajectory, one must exploit their collaborators. Following which, I wonder if anyone should really continue aspiring to such levels of notoriety, and if we should perhaps possess a healthy suspicion of those who do?
Anyway. On to the stuff I liked:
Somehow every Fever Ray record (there are three) is the best Fever Ray record, and the newest is no exception. Good god. Does Karin Dreijer ever miss? HIGHLY recommended.
For lovers of: weird noises (crunchy).
For lovers of: weird noises (sproingy).
For lovers of: weird noises (earthy).
JPMorgan Had Some Fake Nickel
JPMorgan, which does not make batteries or cars, bought bags of abstract nickel years ago. It took delivery of that nickel, not in the sense that a truck full of nickel showed up on Park Avenue but in the sense that an entry was made, on the ledger of the warehouse, saying that the bags of nickel in Row X, Shelf Y now belonged to JPMorgan.
JPMorgan then used that nickel for its intended purposes for years. Those purposes were to write financial contracts referencing that nickel. The nickel worked perfectly well for those purposes — JPMorgan’s derivative contracts traded and paid off normally — for years, even though the nickel was not in fact nickel, just bags of rocks.
People Are Freaking Out About KFC's Diablo 4 Beta Codes
"Just ordered my KFC chicken sandwich with the Diablo promotion," they said. "Question: do I actually have to pick up the sandwich to get the code?"
How a social network falls apart
What’s allowed Twitter to continue, even in its ramshackle state, is that there’s no obvious next home for the people on it to migrate to. The “big name fan” equivalents of Twitter — its power users who are often celebrities like Stephen King or other figures of real-world influence — can’t just pivot to journalism or find another platform where they will have similar influence. While Twitter alternatives like Mastodon have seen an influx of users as Twitter slowly winds down, there just isn’t the same level of centralization on that platform as there is on Twitter. On Mastodon, I can’t bully a US senator while I catch up on some celebrity gossip and then read breaking news straight from the journalist reporting it themselves.
The Tyranny of Science Over Mothers
As the theoretical availability of a risk-free life seemed increasingly possible (in this example, the hope of cures for disease seemed just around the corner), a funny thing happened: Society became generally more paranoid about risk because they felt it was avoidable. To put it another way, the more that perfect safety and health seemed within Western society’s grasp, the more people began to feel a pressure to maintain vigilance and avoid these risks. If disease were theoretically avoidable, it also seemed that everyone ought to do everything they could to avoid it. Thus, the moment disease was no longer seen as an inevitability, neoliberalism swooped in to make it seem like good, responsible people would obviously find ways to successfully avoid such risks.
The Oscars in Labor History: Union-Busting Is at the Roots of the Ceremony
Mayer founded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) in 1927. AMPAS was initially designed to seem like an advocate for employees, effectively trying to replace the need for a union. However, membership in the organization was by invite only, and its loyalties clearly rested with management. Peter Decherney, a professor of cinema studies and author of Hollywood and the Cultural Elite tells Teen Vogue, “The Academy promised to be this industry-wide body that could help set standards. It never worked that way. It was often dismissed as the studio-heads' union.”
The rise and fall of the Synthetic: The mediatization of Canada's oil sands
The concept of the Synthetic is developed to trace and trouble the prevailing popular mythology of Alberta's oil sands and place the omnipresence of petro-hegemony into focus in a time of crisis and transition. The Synthetic is theorized as a period of petroculture beginning in the late 1960s with the rise of Alberta's oil sands industry together with a rise in oil sands narratives, docudrama, and the emergence of mediated or synthetic politics reliant upon processed images. Attention focuses on three mediated moments within the Synthetic beginning with the banned 1977 CBC docudrama The Tar Sands and the reaction of Premier Peter Lougheed. This signals the power and grip of oil's hegemony. Second, the short film Synergy produced for Expo 86 captures the thickening of synthetic culture and oil's saturation of the public imagination. Finally, the controversy manufactured by Alberta's Canadian Energy Centre over the animated film Bigfoot Family suggests petro-hegemony's loosening grip.
Negativity drives online news consumption
Online media is important for society in informing and shaping opinions, hence raising the question of what drives online news consumption. Here we analyse the causal effect of negative and emotional words on news consumption using a large online dataset of viral news stories. Specifically, we conducted our analyses using a series of randomized controlled trials (N = 22,743). Our dataset comprises ~105,000 different variations of news stories from Upworthy.com that generated ∼5.7 million clicks across more than 370 million overall impressions. Although positive words were slightly more prevalent than negative words, we found that negative words in news headlines increased consumption rates (and positive words decreased consumption rates). For a headline of average length, each additional negative word increased the click-through rate by 2.3%. Our results contribute to a better understanding of why users engage with online media.
This is experimental work - the first fully playable first-person 3D shooter, written in an Excel workbook. You can go through the levels of the secret base captured by aliens, kill various types of zombies / creatures, and encounter various features. Sometimes you need to use your logic to move on. The whole story will be constructed from random messages during the game. You can save your progress at any time (3 slots are available) and restart it later. The game features authentic engine (100% VBA macros), levels, art, models, sounds and music, distinctive "retro-pixel" appearance and feeling.
(via the Fun City Discord)
Vocal Fry discourse is soooo 2015, but I did not know this genre of video existed until this week, and HOO BOY … 1) lol and 2) it’s nice to see male-presenting folks get pulled through the wringer for this supposedspeech pathology.
Released a short Rumination to the Reasonably Sound feed, the first thing posted there since the start of the pandemic (😅). It’s about stomach noises, and was a delight to work on.
I was inspired to tackle this – which has been at the top of the RS To Do list for *grumble*5 years?*grumble* – thanks pretty much directly to the positive response for the Extras that went public a few weeks ago. The first draft script for this went up on my Patreon a little bit ago, with a preview of the episode not long after.
All in all this came together REALLY quickly. It’s hard to say why … but the last two months it has felt a little bit like I’m finally able to pick back up a number of things – personally, professionally – that got dropped in early 2020 for … obvious reasons. So. Not making any predictions about anything but … that feels nice.
This post is already too long so we’re keeping it short here, click the various buttons and also BYYYEEEEEEE!!!! xoxoxo
Related: the question of if one can “separate the art from the artist” which has no definitive answer. I am sometimes able to extract the person from the thing they made, or simply forget about them. Occasionally, knowledge of them outside their work might improve my experience of it. Just as occasionally, the reputation of an artist is so displeasing I can’t experience their work without thinking about their horrible little lives (Woody Allen, Carl Andre, Ezra Pound). Perhaps this is a personal shortcoming; perhaps Ezra Pound should not have been so voluminous an anti-semite. I don’t know, though, that I would say Carl Andre’s murder of his wife, e.g., makes his work conceptually inconsistent… rather this fact is simply very distracting, and makes it difficult for me to appreciate his floor squares and stacks of wooden blocks on their own terms.