RANGER AGAINST WAR: Paeans to the Peons <

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Paeans to the Peons

What I learned is the four basic needs—
food, house, clothes and medicine—
must be cheap and easy for everybody. 
That's the civilization. 
But if we make these four things hard for people to get, 
that's uncivilized. 
 So I feel like now is the most uncivilized era
of humans on this earth 
 --Life is easy. Why do we make it so hard?, 
 Jon Jandai  

Their world didn't allow them to take things easily,
didn't allow them to be sane, virtuous, happy.  
--Brave New World, Aldous Huxley


How does this sort of thing strike you? Take the Crate and Barrel Holiday Gift Guide 2013:

Page 21 features the "Alpaca Animal Ornament" suite, featuring a "Chubby Schnauzer Dog," "Chubby Husky Dog," a "Jailbird Penguin" and "Winter Cow with Scarf", hand-knit by peasant women in the Lake Titicaca region of Peru, "empowering the crafters to earn a sustainable income to provide their families with food, shelter and healthcare."  

That would be what we call "subsistence level", and doubtfully most of the crafters are "chubby" or own chubby animals. But we are and do, and can afford to hang little sweater representatives of our ampleness from our trees (or possibly from the faux-tree triangular structures they also sell.)

Below the fat animals are a set of skeletal euphemistically-named, dark-skinned "Natural Fiber Bicyclists" made by "small family groups of artisans" also trying to "earn a sustainable living," i.e., genuine Skinnies in Kenya. Ironic, no? But thanks to our largess and holiday desires for bright and shiny things, some Mexicans, Peruvians and Indians can stave off food insufficiency for awhile.

Also odd is the car featured alternately carrying a tree or wrapped boxes -- what appears to be an early 60's Studebaker Lark. What does this nostalgia say about festivities in 2013? Is something missing when Black Friday shopping is conducted on Thanksgiving Day?

And then there are the children's play shelters featured in CB's sister catalog, The Land of Nod. The "A Teepee to Call Your Own" at $159 (see below) costs more than the cardboard homes of many who live on the street in Bangalore or any other blighted city, and probably outstrips the annual income for many who live there.

What is interesting is that the "artisans" creating the work featured in many hipster catalogs like CB2 are either endlessly reproduced "reproductions" of someone else's design, or they are manufactured by denizens of women's shelters or prisons, or are the result of some effort by a blighted member of a Varying Disabilities school population. 

Is this the legacy of Ruby the Painting Elephant, or Warhol's elevation of the mundane to art status? Is it the manifestation of Walter Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"?

In any event, while we apotheosize the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) industries, it seems we are outsourcing our art or marketing bright scribbles packaged by those who handle the unfortunates who "create" it (the wardens, special ed teachers, etc.) Not that what Rothko or Lichtenstein did was much different, but they got paid well for it.

The New York Times asked in a recent editorial if the age of Liberal Arts education was over. Florida's Governor Rick Scott convened a task force last year recommending that students majoring in liberal arts and social sciences should pay higher tuition fees, arguing they were “nonstrategic disciplines” (Humanities Studies Under Strain Around the Globe). 

A liberal Arts education will not guarantee great art or literature, but it can provide the fodder out of which such things grow. Without that, see the holiday catalogs of Crate and Barrel and CB2 for a glimpse of your future in art and design: gaudy, garish and bright. All gash, no flash.

Don't get me wrong: bright and colorful can be wonderful. But the artists who design and create these works of art should be remunerated accordingly, and there should a place in society for them so that they may live above the subsistence level Crate and Barrel crows about.

With governors like Rick Scott that is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

NEXT: Ranger's outrageous rejection by the American Legion

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Blogger James Buchanan said...

Liberal arts is a necessary adjunct to education. It should be taught from day 1 in schools. It does not teach what is bad art, but what is good art, not how to write, but what to read, and why to read. That teaches you what to paint, sculpt, or to write. Just as critical thinking sorts the BS, LArts shows you why.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013 at 7:25:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...

Agreed, James. I would go a step further and say that L.A. is more than "a necessary adjunct to education" -- it IS education!

We seem to have no problem being paternalistic about turning off people's minds, but not about stimulating them to do much beyond non-critical consumption of things bereft of much positive value.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013 at 4:27:00 PM GMT-5  

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