Tag Archives: keith spencer

Why the Rich Love Burning Man

Writing in Jacobin, Managing Editor Keith Spencer discusses why Burning Man became a festival that rich libertarians love:

In principle the annual Burning Man festival sounds a bit like a socialist utopia: bring thousands of people to an empty desert to create an alternative society. Ban money and advertisements and make it a gift economy. Encourage members to bring the necessary ingredients of this new world with them, according to their ability.

So why do rich libertarians love it unironically? Perhaps because the way that the city is created charitably allows them to build the world that they desire, unimpeded by the pesky democratic process or the protestations of the proletariat; in other words, it provides a model for the sort of laissez-faire, top-down economy they want to live in: .

This is the dark heart of Burning Man, the reason that high-powered capitalists — and especially capitalist libertarians — love Burning Man so much. It heralds their ideal world: one where vague notions of participation replace real democracy, and the only form of taxation is self-imposed charity. Recall Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s op-ed, in the wake of the Obamacare announcement, in which he proposed a healthcare system reliant on “voluntary, tax-deductible donations.”

This is the dream of libertarians and the 1 percent, and it reifies itself at Burning Man — the lower caste of Burners who want to partake in the festival are dependent on the whims and fantasies of the wealthy to create Black Rock City.

Read the full piece over at Jacobin.

Fear of a Capitalist Planet

Martian Canals

A map of the so-called Martian canals, an optical illusion witnessed by astronomers in the late 19th century. Image courtesy NASA.

Managing Editor Keith A. Spencer writes in Jacobin how scientists and businessmen project our economic system onto the stars:

Have you ever seen an alien? Scientists haven’t, but that hasn’t stopped them from speculating that imperialist extraterrestrials could be on the way.

With the exception of one inconclusive blip in 1977, we haven’t detected signs of alien intelligence. Having scoured our solar system with probes and turned up empty, extraterrestrial (ET) signal searchers now survey the galaxy on the radio portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, where photons can traverse interstellar distances and arrive on Earth unscathed.

The most prominent and well-funded organized effort to search radio bands is led by the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute, a private nonprofit foundation that borrows time on radio telescopes or scans the skies using their own arrays.

While the SETI Institute has been actively searching for forty years, there have been few attempts to send out focused radio signals of our own towards presumptive inhabited worlds. This poses a conundrum: why should humans expect aliens to send out focused “hello” signals of their own, if we do not do it ourselves? This idea, that we should send out messages in addition to listen for them, is known as “Active SETI.” Continue reading

Superheroes & Ideology: FilmFront Episode #1

What do superhero films tell us about American culture? How do the ideas in superhero movies inform our beliefs about society, individualism, gender and power?

Join PopFront’s resident critic, Keith Spencer, in this video article about cultural politics and superhero blockbusters—the first of the occasional FilmFront series.

Marxist Mixtape: V.I.P. – “Buut Wallz”

A quick survey of the most memorable lines from nineties hip-hop is enough to confirm that the dominant hip-hop culture at the time was saturated with a normalized sexism. “B*tches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks” growled Dr. Dre on 1992’s The Chronic; growing up in the nineties, I recall hearing children repeat this during middle school P.E. long before I ever actually heard the song. Likewise, Snoop Dogg’s motto/anthem “G’z Up, Hoes Down” was so embedded that these words were frequently etched onto bathroom stalls at the same school.

One notable response to the industry culture was Lil’ Kim’s 2000 song “Suck My Dick,” an aggressive ur-feminist reaction to the breed of mainstream hip-hop culture that glorifies sexism and objectifies women. On “Suck My Dick,” Lil’ Kim delivers a harsh response in the same vein as the sexist lyrical mode she emulates. She pulls out all the same tropes—glorification of her genitals (“Imagine if I was dude and hittin’ cats from the back/ With no strings attached / Yeah n***a, picture that! / I treat y’all n***as like y’all treat us”) and demands of oral sex and money (“All I wanna do is get my pussy sucked / Count a million bucks in the back of an armored truck”). Continue reading

Marxist Mixtape: Watsky ft. Chinaka Hodge – “Kill a Hipster”

“Only hipsters like zombies,” my friend commented as she watched the zombies prance around in Watsky’s “Kill a Hipster” music video. The zombie-hipster metaphor is particularly apt given the racialized origins of both hipsters and zombies: Zombies originated in Afro-Caribbean Haitian folklore—corpses that could be reanimated through necromancy—yet in the past decade that history was mostly forgotten, as the zombie became a semi-humorous staple of Western youth culture (evinced by the popularity of media like the book Zombie Survival Guide [2003] and films 28 Days Later and World War Z).

The hipster, too, has its origins in appropriation of both African American and other cultures—something Norman Mailer first noted, but which Watsky does an effective job of illustrating. “Hummus, hummus, I’m getting hummus, hummus,” he chimes at the zombified hipsters lounging in the park, practicing Spanglish at the taco truck. Watsky and the video hipsters’ adoption of keffiyehs—a symbol of Palestinian resistance that became completely stripped of meaning after its hipster appropriation, on ironic par with Che Guevara shirts—illustrates the same kind of cultural forgetting. Continue reading

Marxist Mixtape: Michael Smith and Mark Fischer – “Go For it Mike” (1984)

Long before Tim & Eric made a career out of avant-garde parodies of commercial culture, American video artist Michael Smith cultivated an alternative persona to do just the same.  Meet “Mike,” the lovably simple, middlebrow hero of Smith’s ongoing (now decades-long) series of art videos, “Mike’s World.” In Smith’s own words, “Mike” is “a modern-day Candide,” perennially confused and overwhelmed by technology, glued to routine and infinitely suggestible. He is, in other words, the perfect consumer, naïve enough to be molded by whatever advertisement or scrap floats his way.

In the inaugural (and my favorite) video from the “Mike’s World” series, “Secret Horror,” we are treated to scenes of Mike whining over spilling his bridge mix (his favorite snack), being overwhelmed by appliances that gnaw at his attention, and getting abducted by sheet-wearing ghosts—themselves manifestations of the ghosts in the television to which he is addicted. Continue reading

Hemorrhage: An Ablution of Hope and Despair

“Hemorrhage: An Ablution of Hope and Despair”
Dance Brigade’s Dance Mission Theatre
3316 24th Street, San Francisco CA 94110

 

photos by Mily Trabing

photos by Mily Trabing

In April 1937, Mussolini and Hitler’s air forces, in compact with Franco’s nationalists, began a bombing campaign against the Basque city of Guernica. The city had no military defenses and few soldiers; hundreds of civilians were killed or maimed in the assault. While the Basque civilians were horrified at the senseless aggression of the fascists, the rest of the world barely noticed. Rather, it took a generation of artists to take to their typewriters and paintbrushes to communicate the fascists’ war crimes to a callous world.

One of these artist happened to be the Spaniard Pablo Picasso, who was living and painting five hundred miles northeast, in Paris. His response was to paint “Guernica,” perhaps his most famous canvas, an abstract depiction of the agonizing death of Guernican civilians under the wrath of the bombers. So powerful and illustrative was the painting that it is rumored to have prompted a Nazi officer to arrive at Picasso’s doorstep in Paris and ask, “Did you paint this?” To which he responded, “No. You did.”

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Mayor Lee’s Civic Priorities

Civic Center poverty

illustration by Justine Neuberger

In an editorial entitled “SF needs to make the Main Library safer,” the San Francisco Examiner lauded Mayor Ed Lee’s effort to “institute stronger consequences for breaking the rules” at the main branch of the San Francisco public library. “Give Mayor Ed Lee credit,” wrote the editorial staff. “[Lee] is right in making a big push to rid the Main Library of what he called [the] ‘small number of people who create disturbances and commit crimes, tarnishing the experience for everyone else.’”

“People who commit crimes” is a rhetorical construction designed to obfuscate. If the Examiner were being truthful, they might have rephrased this sentence to something like: “people—many them poor, and many of whom have untreated mental illness, and have no where else to go—whose desperation leads them to commit crimes.” The truth is that poverty in San Francisco’s civic center is nothing new—nor is the civic tendency to criminalize them.

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