Sunday, May 20, 2012

Drinking Our Way to Freedom

The Minneapolis Spectacle 

The Minneapolis 'spectacle' is not much different than any other city in the U.S.  Entertainment, food and booze feature prominently.  I was looking at the recent edition of ‘Vitamin’ – the Star-Tribune’s knock-off of City Pages.   It is filled with gluttonous and always breathless reviews of local restaurants.  Because of course ‘hip’ people do not cook.  And upcoming local rock shows and street festivals, movies, art exhibits – the list is endless.  There would not be a spare minute of your life left if you seriously indulged in each and every activity. The City Pages is not much different (being the template…) though City Pages does have local investigative journalism – the new editors scotching national journalism several years ago.  The latest Rolling Stone – a magazine I’ve been reading since issue #2 – is the ‘Big’ issue, full of more excited and enthusiastic stories for up-and-coming national rock bands, actors, software, games, writers, blah blah blah.  It is something of a cross between Time Magazine and Tiger Beat this week.   The new editor of Rolling Stone came from Details magazine, after all.   Then there was this weekend’s Art-A-Whirl in northeast Minneapolis.  Art-A-Whirl is a neighborhood party of outside concerts, open galleries, jewelry vendors and studio visitations over many blocks.  I visited the Northrup King building and the 331 Club’s neighborhood, looking for something worthwhile to buy.  The latter strip has even been featured in the NY Times, the bible of establishment ‘hip.’ 

What does it all have in common?  Well, as the current Democratic Party economic strategy goes, you attract ‘intellectual capital’ to a city by having cultural capital there for their consumption.  In other words, the Guthrie and the Vikings stadium are both economic tactics to encourage corporations, corporate executives and ‘talented’ college graduates to come to Minneapolis.  So is the growth of hipster neighborhoods – either organic ones, as in Northeast, Cedar/Riverside and Lyn-Lake, or now corporate commdification, as in Uptown.  (see the review of “Rebel Cities”, below) And it doesn’t matter if the taxpayers benefit or not - they will pay, as commanded. 

Who are the main consumers of these consumables?  Mainly young, white, now urban refugees from outstate Minnesota, Iowa, the Dakotas, Wisconsin & Nebraska, and anywhere else Minneapolis draws from – even expensive East coast cities or failing and overcrowded California and Nevada cities.  The Art-A-Whirl is also packed with white middle-aged ladies from the suburbs.  For the ones in the Northrup King building, it was probably the first time they’d ever been in an industrial structure in their lives.  Most poignant was an old black & white photograph of the Northrup King workers who used to inhabit the building before the artists and artisans got there – filling sacks with feed, seeds and the like.  And now gone.  The artists have borrowed their authenticity, it seems.

We all enjoy our pleasures - drinking, eating, music, art, decoration, passing the time, curiosity, commingling. The question is – when does all this become only this?  Especially if there is a bit of a fire raging?  In the 4 floors of the Northrup King building I did not find one example of political art, critical art, even socially-conscious art.   Nor was there any art movements in evidence.  It is people working in various materials, using light, patterns and themes to create decorative items for your home or body.  And that is it.  Not a drop of social consciousness, nor any kind of intellectual movement - even history itself is usually missing.  Nothing but endless distraction. 

As I’ve pointed out before, entertainment is now far more effective than religion at being an ‘opiate.’  (see reviews of “Empire of Illusion” and “Society of the Spectacle,” below) That is why we have a ‘national entertainment state’ dominated by 6 large corporations.  Nor am I personally exempt from this.  While people work themselves to death every day – if they are lucky enough to have a job - on the weekends they can escape for a bit from the tedium of alienated labor or home tasks.  And for those who are unemployed or under-employed or in some kind of severe social trouble – then drinking, eating and hanging out becomes an even more aimless form of escapism.  But it is what Minneapolis is getting very good at offering.  Art-A-Whirl was created by local people, so the City or some corporations did not blow this out of their ass (unlike the Vikings stadium), and for that, it should be treasured.  But for what it reveals about our own culture?  Somewhat of a sad message.  Sort of like a victory party before the game has barely started.

If the beer money ever runs out for the unemployed?  Then look out.  Cultures usually have two themes - escapism or confrontation with reality.  And those are still our choices.

Addendum:  Montreal, Canada is a town full of sidewalk restaurants, cafes, bars and nightclubs.  The French know how to enjoy life, and when the cold and snow disappear, the population surges into the streets for enjoyment. You'd think the 'pacification of the cappucino' would be working there quite well.  However, unlike their American brethren, they also know how to resist en mass.  Nearly a half a million youth, students and young workers were out on the streets of Montreal last week protesting up to 85% tuition hikes and laws which make public demonstrations over 50 people illegal without notification of the authorities ("Bill 78").  This marked the 100th day of a student strike.  Who are the authorities?  The provincial government is dominated at this time by the Liberal Party of Jean Charest.  Ah, those liberals? Don't you love them? 

Red Frog,
May 20, 2012 

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