(T)he price one pays for pursuing any profession, or calling, is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side.
James Baldwin, The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy, 1961
A couple of years ago, I encountered Fredric Jameson’s idea that, too simply put, the worlds we build in science fiction are the worlds we’ve built and will thus inevitably build; science fiction doesn’t predict but rather is the blueprint for the inconceivable present and the subsequent, unavoidable future. For two years, I’ve been bothered by this idea.
I prefer dystopian science fiction because other types strike me as avoidant or Pollyanna. I do not want the Hunger Games, but I like the movie The Hunger Games1 because I believe that this society will – heck, does – set its children one against the other in a televised ritual death match.2 Before Jameson, I’d said, ‘Yup, that’s where we’re headed,’ believing it could get worse. After Jameson, I see that it is already as bad as The Hunger Games – and it can get worse. If this isn’t what we want, then it is incumbent upon storytellers of all kinds to craft from this world entirely different stories that are neither treacle nor terror. To do so, we must look unflinching at what was, what is, and then find and dream – with care, wisdom, breadth, and depth – more of what is/can be honest and nurturing, healthy.
The rich are dreaming. They dream of hundred thousand dollar beds and multi-million dollar paintings. They like to hear things articulated by profoundly educated burghers – but only to the extent that their own experiences, their own conceptualizations of the world are reinforced. For the rich, Miami Art Week is the continuation of a present/future of their design, and they don’t mind the rest of us trotting after them gaping at the best (or, at least, Tier 1b) wares that their money will buy because the only skin they have in this game is status, status that is reinforced when we hordes pay for a $25 day pass to see what our thinking, our labor, and our service have wrought.
Which is why I go to all of the art everything I can; we make the culture, not them. We have to engage with life to live. Those of us who, for whatever reason, decide that we will share the things we’ve seen or come up with along the way, we artists should never forget that we and our other-that-wealthy counterparts give our work meaning in the world. Our survival – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual – is on the line, and what we make to that end is amazing. We think the thoughts, we write the narratives, we craft the tools, we paint the paintings, we make the music and we dance, and we share, that is, we love, because we must.
As much as the powerful try to convince us that we are mindless consumers, if Miami Art Week is proof of anything, it’s that they are hoarders. Art is ours. It tells us who we were, who we are, who we will be. They collect those pasts, presents, and futures, shut them away or put them on display at our expense or for a tax break. They try to tell us that art is a luxury or what art means, when what it really is is a reflection of who we are not who they are… Although, it might reflect what they are…
Look, really look. It’s clear: those whose power depends on any type of subjugation are hollow.
What to do?
For my part, I think of going to Miami Art Week like… that scene in a post-apocalyptic movie where a band of young adventurers leave the new, bereft encampment to trek to the site of the Old City and pick through debris to find bits and pieces of the old stories that got their ancestors through enough of the past to make their present possible. Picking through the rows of gallery booths, I find the ideas and objects that show me how the people in my past – and my peers and I – conceived/conceive/will conceive of and made/make/will make it through life.