Race + Culture

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By Krister Axel

I had it all together. First the home schooling: more time with the kids. You get less work done, but family time is precious. Adjustment made. I kept blogging, I did what I could. The show must go on. We were still making ends meet.

In March, it still felt like there was hope. Of course, there is always hope, but back then it felt palpable – Bernie was still in the race, and it felt like Covid might just be the thing that gets us closer to M4A than ever before.

Then Bernie dropped out, and that hurt. Still hurts.


Last month, just four short miles down the road, the Almeda fire burned through the towns of Talent and Phoenix, here in Southern Oregon. The damage was sudden and brutal. Today, just over a month later, for the first time, it is raining. We can finally relax. But for me, it is not so easy. My mind crossed a tipping point, I guess. I just want to acknowledge how much hurting is going on right now. The sheer weight of Coronavirus, coupled with wildfires, and hurricanes, and armed militias, and police cruelty, and evictions, and corrupt government is crushing. When I take a step back, and think about the person I was 8 months ago, all I get is nostalgia. We have all had a hard year.


Platforms like Facebook and Twitter are basically social experiments – we write something, we send it out, we hope someone reads it. We hope there is a sense of understanding, but we don’t know. The question is never answered – does anyone really get me? Is there a point to any of this?

Music is also like that: we do all the work up front, we craft our narratives, we give birth to creative children, and we set them free. They never come back. Making art is really just screaming into the void. It is hard to balance our own passion and excitement against the cold limbo of eternal indifference. But we do it, because the rewards are more than commensurate. Art is proof that life is worth living. The connection between creator and audience, in all mediums of art, is a rare and poignant magic. George Carlin said ‘being an artist is like being in a race – with yourself.’ All we have is our own past work to compare to. We don’t know where we will end up, but at least we aren’t standing still.

This is the age of the algorithm. Aggregate sums and demographic cohorts are the grist that our corporate overlords consume. When we ‘browse our socials,’ we only see what the algorithm wants us to see. The ‘invisible hand’ of market commerce pushes us. And in the rush to validate our own interests and sense of self against those of the ‘group,’ we are losing touch with the concept of having a personal aesthetic. I see it every day. ‘Lean-back listening,’ the whole concept of just pressing play and leaving it alone, is great for the platform, but not for the artists, and not for the listeners. When we stop paying direct attention to what we consume, the quality goes down.

But that is the world now. As a collective of digital nomads with an insatiable hunger for online content, we gave away our power before we had any. Now, the individual is gone.

On this blissfully cold and rainy night in early October, it feels far away: the next hot summer. The next scorching wind. The next unknown. There is an intensity to this year that is truly unique. The stakes feel higher than normal, because they are. Everything is on the line. If art is how we decorate space, and music is how we decorate time, then prose is how we decorate thought itself. I am screaming with my words: fuck fuck fuck fuck.

I don’t know if we are going to make it as a species. As sad as it is to say, there are concrete steps we need to take, collectively, to ensure that our future is not utterly and inescapably bleak. This is the challenge of our generation. No pressure.

That being said, if we are able to persist, if we can overcome the obstacles we face as humans, and as political subjects, then I can say with certainty that art, and the powers of individual expression will have had a powerful part to play in that sudden upheaval of society. It has to start now. Let us be bold in our demands. There isn’t much time left.


Jim Morrison has always been a source of both inspiration and curiosity for me. I grew up fascinated by the 60s and 70s, and when I lived in Paris I often visited his grave. Almost fifty years after his death, his presence lives on. His views on the effect of mass media on the individual psyche are as true now as they ever were.

Today is the age of the heroes, who live for us and through whom we experience the heights and depths of emotion. The spectator is a dying animal and the purgation of emotion is left up to the actor, not the audience.

– JIM MORRISON

It seems clear – we need to re-engage, and re-create, the spectator. The world is numb. Art can fix that. When in doubt, keep making art. In the fight for economic justice, equality, and a future we can believe in: if the art is good, the world will follow.

Write that book. Call your mom. Quit smoking. Go vegan. Call your Senator. Vote. Support the things you believe in. Turn it into a song.

This year is not normal, so there is no need to pretend that it is. All we have is each other.

Go.


Krister Axel is a poet, writer, and content creator at chillfiltr. For more of his work, visit his website.

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