Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Commerce will set the workers free?

“Let the readers choose. Whoever pays the most on a given day can leave a comment with plot details or characters.”
“Or product placements?”
“Why not?”
“The Great American Cybernovel.”
“Or at least an interesting experiment.”
“I love you.”
“Not tonight, sweetheart.”
Colin, for a moment, believed it might work. Generosity. Commercialism. Sex. Violence. Americana in a digital age, but what would he call it?
“Commercial Novel.”
“Get out of my head, Sylvia.”
The luster of clouds dimmed. Summer mosquitoes swarmed. Colin and Sylvia took their dogs inside, and Colin, facing the blank page, buoyed by his wife’s faith, began to type the first line of a serialized behemoth that could be quite good, career suicide, or a minor lark. But at the very least it had the potential to save his house and provide antidepressants for his dog.
-from Commercial Novel
There's an interesting point (or two) in Marxism that's usually overlooked by Marxists. Capitalism is not the worst way to organize an economy; it was an improvement over the feudal systems it replaced. And it will end when the people come to understand what will replace it; the workers will bring into effect their own liberation. That's the basis between a rift between some Cultural Studies Marxists, who see progress and an in-between-ness, and some "Manichean" Marxists who see only evil in capitalism.

Personally, I have a great deal of sympathy for someone like the Reverend Billy Talen, founder of the Church of Stop Shopping. He's funny, which a person taking on such a project ought to be. Plus, I was best man at a wedding he performed in Union Square, where his sermon was truly touching. He wasn't aware he'd be performing a ceremony, so he gave an impromptu sermon on the history of Union Square and the role of public space in society. According to Wikipedia, the square wasn't named for the labor unions that formed there, but I'm pretty safe imagining myself walking in the footsteps of Emma Goldman whenever I pass through. But, however emotionally satisfying I sometimes find anti-consumerism, I also come across criticism of "culture jamming" and countercultural posturing that are intellectually quite satisfying. I know, in the end, that the in-between-ness of capitalism means a lot of critiques are going to be in-between. In the end, we have to trust the workers or any other group to know and act in their own best interest, and we ought to be respectful of their understanding of their own perspective even when we disagree. The point there is to persuade rather than disempower, while countercultures instead aim to shock.

And sometimes rank consumerism is a progressive force. Sure, it leads to the abuse of sexuality and horrible mysogyny on primetime tv. But that mysogyny, even if tv can be a force for perpetuating the ideology (and I believe it can), was not created by tv. And it also leads to lesbians on tv (and, very slowly coming around, gay men portrayed as something other than fodder for straight, male fantasies) and challenges to heteronormativity. Like it or not, crass consumerism can be (in-between) empowering. At the very least, we can use pop culture to talk about what people want rather than telling them what they want and why it's not what they ought to want. That's why I'm fascinated by this project, the polar opposite of Rev. Billy. It contravenes many of the basic assumptions I'm not sure I realized I hold, but at least it's funny, which a project of this sort ought to be. And if you want Colin to create "a lasting memorial to the conservative socialist agenda of [his] latent Christian atheism," go for it!
Commercial Novel is a novel that's for sale, but not in the traditional sense.

Instead, the very fabric of the novel is for sale. You can change the plot, change the characters, add your own details. All you have to do to participate in literary history is donate the most on a day when we post.

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