I’ve noticed recently that about every five minutes, I have to unclench my jaw from where it’s been locked up tighter than Fort Knox. I have a low-grade headache pretty much all the time; I’m behind on all my email, and my submissions inbox? Let’s not speak of it. I feel guilty for taking some time to write this newsletter, but I also feel guilty that I haven’t done a newsletter in a few weeks, so here we are.
I just had to unclench my jaw again.
Today I want to talk about hope, and despair, and making art (or helping to make art) in the face of the ongoing nightmare of modern life.
And it is a nightmare. I could list all the reasons – our current traitor in chief, the callow spinelessness and cowardice of every Republican, the fact that I am about to get on a plane to go to a city that is currently on fire – but the biggest reason right now that everything is Really Awful is:
The rampant, unchecked ability of the agents of capital to ruin everyone’s fucking lives.
This is at the front of my mind because just the other day, my favorite sports website (Deadspin) got caught up in the kind of dumb, late-stage private equity bullshit that has turned the media landscape into a flatter, more shitty version of a very flat state. (Like Ohio.) Deadspin, which was the sports spinoff of Gawker Media Group, was a place you could go for coverage of the World Series and also interesting takes on, well, everything. And Gawker, if you’re a person who pays attention to the New York media economy, was the website that libertarian nightmare billionaire Peter Thiel helped Hulk Hogan destroy.
Anyway. The private equity firm that owns Deadspin tried a thing where they forced them to run autoplay ads (with sound on, because they’re MONSTERS) in what was theoretically a moneymaking move, but the editorial staff wisely said that this was a horseshit move. In a separate but not unrelated incidents, the site’s management, including editor Barry Pachetsky, were told to “stick to sports.” They ran a full glorious day of “non-sports” content, including Three Good Dogs I Met and Look at the Wheels on This Pumpkin Thief, and then Pachetsky was fired. Most of the rest of the staff has quit or will be quitting in solidarity, including Drew Magary, a man who made me want to give a shit about sports in the first place.
Autoplay ads with sound on are patently not a moneymaking move, and haven’t been since about 2007. What they are is a transparent attempt to tank a company so that the private equity firm that owns them can get rid of a “distressed” asset and get a tax break at the same time. It’s the same all over – ironically enough, Deadspin had a great article on the scourge of private equity on not just our media landscape, but our lives.
I’m not really sure where I’m going with this. It’s just something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately; in her essay collection Trick Mirror, New Yorker columnist Jia Tolentino talks about how seemingly the only answer to the nightmare of capitalism is to become rich, so that you can get to a state beyond consequences. I’m not sure I’m there yet, but I can understand the urge that drives people to monetize their lives and sell their souls just so some bank branded fleece-wearing MBA douchebag in a private equity firm can’t downsize them out of existence.
Anyway, what does this mean for you, the writer? I’m not sure. If I had an answer for the question “what do we do about late-stage capitalism?” I’d either be rich or have dismantled the system already. I don’t have an answer. What I do have is a strong belief – stronger than ever – that what artists do is important. It’s really important, in this day and age, to make something, because there are a million (billion) (trillion) forces operating on us at all times telling us that anything we make is useless. What you make is important simply by virtue of it existing. And IDK who needs to hear this, but art that is made for no monetary gain is also important, and is also art. Fanart? Fanfiction? Art. Worthwhile. Furry art/ Also worthwhile. Also art. Bless your hearts.
And yeah, it’s hard. And I don’t have any answers for that, either. The audacity – the impossibility! - of carving time out of your day to make art feels, on the face of it, silly. But also, how joyful. How magnificent, to do a thing just to put something beautiful into the world. Even if no one ever sees it. Even if no one ever buys it. The fact that you made it; the fact that you found a space in the chaos sequence of capitalism and took it and formed something out of nothing; that fact is beautiful.
The only thing you can do at this point in history, besides set fire to things or join the cult of Gritty, is to behave in exactly the way the prevailing cultural forces would deny you. it’s so easy to give into nihilism, because it feels as though nothing matters.
In fact, if nothing matters, then everything matters. If there is no world beyond this one, then the world we make is the only one that will ever exist.
So be true to yourself. Do something. Do your art, your sexuality, your whatever. Be kind to others, because the world sure as shit isn’t.
Make your weird art. Fuck the billionaires. And someone, please, for the love of god, give the team at Deadspin new jobs.
Links! Because somehow we must press on against the relentless tide
“For years, Gawker and Deadspin were the only two websites I read every day. I read them because the sites were fun and fearless and unpredictable, with writers who often made me laugh and usually taught me something about how the world works and sometimes broke major national news stories. After Gawker was killed by Hulk Hogan and Peter Thiel, Deadspin was was I read. And now Deadspin is gone, too.”
Can you give me the name of a book that dramatizes bedbugs? (1944)
We have not found any books that dramatize the lowly bedbug. Bedbugs, though traumatic to many who encounter them, are rather undramatic insects. They quietly drink blood, leaving itchy bites on their victims, but are not known to transmit or spread disease. They are certain to make one uneasy though. One would like to think that, in Melville’s Moby-Dick, Ishmael and Queequeg take turns harpooning bedbugs, but as we know, they turned their attention to a certain whale.
“My ladies, you’re going to start to form a line,” Heath, 31, tells the women streaming down. She holds an iPhone in her right hand, eyeing the running stopwatch app, and raises her other arm to direct the traffic.