It Ain’t Free

I wrote this in 2004….
Irony’s always ironic.

America pumps it’s market driven interests throughout the globe only to naively ask, “Why do people hate us?” and then answer their own question with “because we’re free”. Now I now one true fact about my life – IT AIN’T FREE.
Art ain’t free. It’s very expensive when working within the capitalist model. Working outside that model? Here in the US that’s called underground. To be an underground artist takes work and perserverance and either rich parents or a job that’ll pay a living wage. Not that it can’t be done- but we’re talking about models here. Sure the underground model can work. It builds prestige, a market base and respect among comrades. The most important product of this work is the integrity the artists feels about the art s/he’s creating. The integrity of the work, the spirituality of the creative process, perhaps even the illumination of truths are indeed rewards in themselves to the artist. But will it support you? Probably not. And I’m sure there is somebody this has worked for but I’m talking about large monetary scale support. But how much money does one really need? Does the truth sound better or ring truer when delivered in a Bentley?

Underground is what it is because it’s outside the radar of populust consumptionist culture. Any hip-hop created outside the states is underground in the US. Any art aimed at communities of color that isn’t commercially marketed is called underground. Once the underground moves into the light of success it loses the edge- some argue the truthfulness- of it’s alleged pre capitalist roots. Finding diasporic artistic movements and contributions is an effort to Americans. To find out about different (read as non American) forms of artistic revolutions takes effort. It takes time and desire to experience something else. Why when bred in a culture that tells you that you are what everyone else on the planet either wants to be or destroy, would you look outside to find other modes of artistic expression? MTV et al barely show non mass produced music and images from within the US. When you’re told that art is either an imitation or a negation of what you believe to be art, why would you not believe that your expressions (and for a lot- not all- of this generation of “urban” youth it’s hip hop) can’t be translated into a global struggle against oppression?

Why can’t we Americans get up off of that? Because it’s a “Lovely Day” when the Gap tells us to all look alike like most proletarian/ elite models. We see through the unitarianism of our systems, not specifically governmental, but the transnational bent of American corporations the need to create a consistent market base for their products. Products! It’s sad to think that James Baldwin, Fela Kuti, Gil Scott Heron, Nina Simone, etc could be thought of as product. But when looking at the current cultural landscape of mass produced “artistic” endeavors… you have to wonder if you would even have heard of them today. When we make an effort to move through cultural differences it’s apparent that colored artists all over the world living in “decolonized” war zones are moving in a similar rhythm.

True power comes from controlling one’s own destiny. Money is not (always) the answer to that problem. Changes in policy, educational curriculum, early cultural and media studies education are some of the steps to freeing the minds of youth of color to see the links they are in the struggle for the global destruction of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Moving past methods of control and searching for ways to find truth and integrity globally through art could be the key to bridging power structures leading to the bonding of the links to personal freedom.


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