For a while, I couldn’t write anything here because of the disaster in East Palestine, Ohio and the (disgusting, hypocritical) response from just about everyone involved.

For the sake of my mental health, I avoid the news. I don’t listen to npr anymore, I don’t have any news apps on my phone, I don’t read the Times (New York or Los Angeles). Even then, things like this are unavoidable. While I do believe that it’s important a tragedy such as this should be the headline of every outlet, when the response is just sadism from the state, then it’s less news and more propaganda for hopelessness. The news media, for some time now, has no effect on governance and therefore is simply a public relations firm for the interests of capital.

I was discussing the idea of fear with some folks the other day and so many of mine relate not to the nature of the world but rather the force of economic necessity that has been built into it. The experiences of cultural understanding, social purpose, and self-reliance are all fractured by a system like capitalism. This is the sum total of what it takes from us: our very humanity. A forced relationship between the idea of personhood and the individual’s ability to profit. The understanding that a life is considered meaningful only in relation to its economic value. That achievement is a monetary success.

This is why so much of the news is depressing. Not only in its tragedy, but how that tragedy tends to reinforce all of the ways that we live under inhuman values, where only psychopathic ideologies stand a chance at living comfortably. We can all see that things are going to get worse before they get better, but most days I wonder if they’ll ever get better at all.

There are plenty of reasons to dislike Valentine’s Day—it’s a con job for florists and the greeting card industry, it’s impossible to ‘get right,’ there’s no set list for expectations (like how on Christmas, there are presents, or on Thanksgiving, there is food).

But truth be told, the reason I can’t stand it is that it’s like Columbus Day in that it’s a completely arbitrary holiday that makes a whole bunch of people feel like shit. Like, Veteran’s Day doesn’t shame you for not having signed up for the Marines. New Year’s is literally about a clock ticking. The message of President’s Day isn’t, Well, you should have made something more of your life and maybe we’d be celebrating you.

Valentine’s Day is basically, Oh you’re in a relationship? Good luck getting this one right. Maybe you should reconsider the entire thing. Maybe you are the problem. Oh, and that whole giant crowd, you all are single? Fuck you. There’s just nothing nice about it.

The kind of romantic love that Valentine’s Day ‘celebrates’ is difficult enough to come across, much less maintain for any length of time. The entire notion of having a ‘holiday’ for it is insane, because that sort of hyper-focus is so reductive to the idea of love that it either complicates existing relationships or compounds loneliness. All of that is to say the very nature of this day is antithetical to the concept of love, and we’d all be better off if this shit was just scrubbed from any and all future calendars.

BuzzFeed announced it was going to introduce Artificial Intelligence to create more content this year. An AI won an art contest last year. It’s just another day in America.

It doesn’t really disturb me that business-types will increasingly turn to technology to replace creatives, because creativity and business has always been a tenuous relationship at best. Of course nobody in America would want to pay artists, because in a consumer society, art is a product and not a language—the way people are commodities and not compatriots.

The difference between art made by a person and by a machine comes down to what any individual believes what art is, and why it exists. If art is just glorified wallpaper or a form of entertainment meant to provide a service for the consumer to pass the time with, sure it doesn’t matter how or why it was created. But if art is believed to be related to the core of what it means to be a human, it matters very much. In capitalist society, humanism is an afterthought to profits and material success, so of course the idea behind a piece of art is disposable.

To me, this isn’t a fight worth getting involved in because the details are representative of a much large issue: our society is built around the foundation that people are more important to consider as statistics rather than human beings. It’s why our healthcare is fucked, it’s why our politics are corrupt, it’s why poverty and homelessness appear on every street. If the very basis of our learning in the United States is that our peers are competition and our nature is consumption, then of course our art will be handed over to a machine programmed to produce thoughtless aesthetics.

An AI can be an interesting tool for a person to use, but given the results of mass acceptance of social media and allowing corporate technology dictate our personal lives and communication, it’s hard to imagine anything positive coming from doing the same with the essence of humanity—our creativity.

It took me a while before I realized why sports were such a big deal. I mean, I played basketball, soccer, and baseball as a kid and also knew about every statistic possible. But it always struck me as odd that adults would be so into them, at least to the point where Monday Night Football was such a phenomenon. To me it seemed like there’d be more important things to deal with than kid’s games.

Then when I grew older and realized how nobody wanted to talk about real-world events like war or inequality. Then, everything kind of clicked. Sports were the way that, especially men, could take their pent-up rage about whatever real-world bullshit they avoided talking about and put it into a singular focus: a team, a tradition, a logo, a name.

Now I see it everywhere: the all-consuming nature of cultural significance. The debate of opinions that will have no resolution—food, films, places, cars, clothes, art. And all for what? It’s a stone’s throw from talking about the fucking weather. A time of ‘culture wars,’ indeed.

So I dig this opening from Letterkenny because it knocks down this notion of superiority-by-opinion through a couple things LA is famous for being self-important about. This cultural vanity is not exclusive to Los Angeles, but it’s able to be acutely specific about how the most mundane aspects of culture are over-valued in the United States, likely because nobody wants to talk about anything that actually matters.

I recently finished reading Resistance Anew: Artworks, Culture, and Democracy. While I enjoyed the book, it could be summed up as a lot of pontificating about what art is, or can offer, in a time of crisis—especially as the elite, capitalism, and their ‘art markets’ largely control the field. Within the 142 pages of theory, there was a whole lot of this—

Now, it is in this field of disorganization, in this breeding ground of virtualities, in this implosive void, in this deposit of signifiers in search of signifieds, in art, to say the least, that verbal thought revitalizes itself, while at the same time disqualifying itself. How do we otherwise explain that, since the Renaissance, or already since classical antiquity, since the sculptural premises of anthropocentrism, art is prophecy, that it is regularly one step ahead of events and thought? And, in addition, how do we explain the silence of the great thinkers and the great philosophers on this subject? They are not aliens who could have cogitated their discoveries autistically. Would they want to make us believe that they neither saw nor heard anything about the art of their time, even though the relationship to the inspiration is obvious? One could say, paraphrasing Edgar Degas, that some of them, starting with Plato, shot the artists, and that they picked their pockets—at least, for the most part, they were reluctant to reveal their sources.

—Michel Thévoz, “Sensure”

I’m not trying to trash on art theory or what Thévoz is saying, as I rather enjoyed his essay. But as I made my way through the book, time and again I found myself thinking, This is why everyone hates contemporary art.

The language used to describe and debate art now is rooted in academia and philosophy, not the basics of human expression. This foundational issue is easily seen across the ‘culture’ of the ‘art world,’ when one can’t just have a conversation about a work—one must be able to understand what it means through the eyes of one philosophy or another. A person’s opinion about any work of art should be considered, regardless of if they’ve ever read fuckin’ Deleuze.

It’s reflective of how just 8% of working artists come from a working-class background (this is a 2022 study in the uk). Of course so few write in the straight-forward manner of, say, famous working-class texts, when they want to be taken seriously by a group with a barrier of entry provided by post-graduate language.

Shit like this makes me think of an old interview on NPR with country music star Jason Isbell. Host Terry Gross makes a fool of herself talking about a line in his near-perfect tune “Outfit”

GROSS: And don’t ever say your car is broke?
ISBELL: Right. You should know what’s wrong with it.
GROSS: I suppose that’s as opposed to broken? Oh. Oh. Oh.
ISBELL: No. No. No.

Gross couldn’t wrap her liberal mind around the idea that the lyric—“Don’t call what you’re wearing an outfit / and don’t ever say your car is broke”—was earnest sentiment and not grammatical scolding, even though the entire song is a love letter from father to son. (Isbell, college-educated with a degree in fiction, doesn’t speak down to his southern roots the way certain northeastern media types might.)

It’s the exact kind of academic sentiment that distances the ‘educated’ from the idea art can be made by ‘everyday people.’ To my mind, that is the crisis art is facing right now, and exactly why books like this can’t offer any idea on how to solve it.