While I’m waiting for the edit to come through on my next book I’ve been experimenting with a few side-projects. Including some spoken word stuff which I’ve been dabbling with today. More of a distraction than anything I’m not expecting a great audience for it but it’s nice to try some different mediums and see how the nature of a story changes in the vocal re-telling. Still in the dicking around stage at the moment and obviously I’m doing it on a shoestring budget so quality isn’t great but just to give you a sample here’s my reading of ‘Holy Squatter’, a story I wrote a few years back and which, out of the long list of them, got picked up for recording…
Sterility is one of the true markers of our time. As we live, try to understand and to create we repeatedly assume that to cleanse, to add a polished shine is to imbue quality in what we do.
In cities we gentrify, bringing order to urban chaos in the form of kit ready assemblies to be erected over the rubble of human growth. That same human growth suddenly dismissed as almost bacterial, disordered and messy. It’s judged as bad, while newly erected chains and cut to template homes are held as pure and good. A concerted effort to appease an imagined middle perhaps, where any number of fears, uncertainties and phobias can be soothed by uniformity regardless of how thin the slice of humanity is which requires such complete psychological security to exist.
In culture even the darkest and most honestly chaotic experiences, truths and ideas follow the same path. Without an ounce of realised hypocrisy or awareness the most fractured and incomprehensible portions of our human condition are buffed to a camera ready sheen where the words might survive unchanged but the force is disinfected away to aid the digestion of the now deified consumer. To do otherwise, to offer the unadorned and un-gilded without comforting context or a soft focus is to break the laws of appeal. An ironic requirement which means even the most unpleasant of subjects need to be sold to an audience by a ready set of tricks, tropes and focus grouped obligations. And even where art ignores those demands and tries to force forward with honesty there’s the whole industry of marketing waiting to insert itself and do the job in the creator’s place. An overwhelming process which can turn even the most determinedly transgressive rejection of the polished product into a marketable asset without the option to resist ever arising.
In our news the same occurs. Unending and unyielding stories are distilled down to bite sized packages, a war is the story of the week and forgotten with the weekend, natural disasters blossom up in live feeds and tragic set pieces before magically being healed in the viewer’s unconscious once the cameras stop rolling. Nothing is so bad, so inhuman or so crippling that it can’t be subsumed into the calm waters of cleansed presentation. An unnatural act, like a story cut off before the final act and one which leaves the audience to wonder why there’s some gnawing doubt digging into them. The news moves on, but humanity doesn’t, even if the outline of events is forgotten the feelings they inspire aren’t. They just add to a never ending pile of oppressive anxiety and insecurity which grows with every rotation of the news cycle. A more bare boned honesty would seldom offer much more by way of resolution but it might at least highlight the need for thought beyond the first hit of action rather than proclaiming the past passed and leaving the results of it to silently fester.
Maybe this is the evolution of human control at work. Perhaps the desire was always to sterilise what we saw and how we saw it. Perhaps this is just the first time in our history where so much force – political, capital and social has come together to give us what we want though. Where before the drive to not see was a desperate aspiration maybe it’s now become a readily offered boon from a society and media which is finally in a position to both offer and profit from it. If that’s so then it’s us who need to shake out of our own overstuffed comfort zone and seek some sense of humanist masochism. We need to start rejecting the comforts of a story, world or home which is marketed to us rather than grown and experienced by us. Or we just need to reject the snake oil salesman whose potion has proven itself, in a way, to work. And if this isn’t our natural desire carried through to artificial completion then why do we have it? Why is such simplicity and razor sharp definition of our world being forced onto us and what lies across the lines beyond which confusion is being partitioned off?
Either way the side-effects of our anti-bacterial fixation are going to keep on mounting up and, sooner or later, we’ll need to face them or let them take a toll on us no less devastating than the messy truth itself would.
Sometimes art struggles, even very good art. It emerges from the source with pure intent, hopeful that it contains some value, some message or potential to provoke thought that can and will make a difference even as it’s shared as a passive act of promotion. But then it falters, it finds an audience that circles and murmurs, offering praise or disdain with a detached separation, happy to admire or dismiss but still unaffected by the work. If that was always the case then it’s even more tangible now. Take something like The Wire, universally praised, endlessly discussed and held up as a totemic awareness of the state of the communities depicted. Brandished as whip for scouring the guilty conscience and framing the villains of the piece. The real people speak, actors give lectures, the producer meets the President, the whole enterprise becomes a watchword for the injustice of a system which even in itself bows down to take a measure of blame when confronted with the representation of it’s own actions.
But then nothing. The real people speak and nothing, the actors give lectures and nothing, the producer meets the President and nothing, guilt is recognised and even in its clarity continues to be ignored. The issue at the heart of it, the driving force of it, the message of it is marginalised and all that’s left is the circling curiosity of the crowd. We all get to enjoy the purchase of awareness, we all get to know what the problems are and add the understanding to the inventory of our possessions. Another act of ownership made abstract from problems which no one ever admits their share in, at least not enough to do anything about them. It’s defeating and not at all unique. Almost every book, film, show, exhibition or talk which contains any form of unspoken plea for action and change becomes muted into an artefact to be hoarded. A prize for those who mistake interest for concern and awareness for understanding. All the while leaving the same handful, the same struggling few to actually work towards solutions.
That’s understandable in most. After all from such an absolute distance what can be gleaned from artistic enlightenment other than a rarefied sense of awareness? The message exists exactly because the separation makes the truth so incomprehensible and blurred never mind the limitations of waking up every day and facing a world which, even before understanding it, seems already to be defeating our better selves. For others though that explanation can’t exist, any more than whatever value they see in their own indifferent, or at least shallow, understanding. There are those who can act and don’t, those who should be driven and aren’t, those who should beat themselves for their own culpability but instead do nothing but smilingly nod at their guilt. I suppose, if nothing else, the good art creates a hammer to use against them. A reminder that, even though they fail through their own lack of effort, they were warned, they were shown and there is no excuse for what came next. That’s a familiar outcome though, not much more. Anger is already the currency we have, resentment is already the comfort and at least once it’d be good to see those underdog attempts at levelling the field replaced by a positive passion for what can be done and what is allowed to be done. Otherwise the art that attempts to translate loses value and what comes next will be beyond culture, for better or worse.
The US is hard wired to a violent fixation. What other country since Rome can trace it’s own existence so clearly in flowing lines of physical conflict, oppression, panicked escape and reactionary vengeance? The earliest colonists were running from a continent riven by religious conflict and into a self-proclaimed new world where the borders were to be re-drawn by survivalist intent, the gun held not as a right but as a perceived necessity for existence. And like Rome the first boatloads become almost deified, an active denial of the eclectic nature of their intents – after all, no founding myth can be honest.
A nation was born by revolt, not for freedom – the US was never Haiti except in it’s own blurred and militant view of it’s self and it grew by genocide which was with every shot veiled with the comforting blankets of self-justification. Strength made it right, God made it right, civilisation made it right but an itchy trigger finger made it necessary above all else because the only identity to be had was one of force.
Slavery fuelled it, more righteous acts loudly proclaimed over the inhuman other shipped in to lend their blood and bones to the foundation of something that needed to exist because it needed to exist. Not towards some glorious end but because the violence had to be expressed. An export from an old world overflowing with it perhaps, a gladiator’s arena for the suddenly aloof excesses of a Europe obsessed since millennia before by the power of it’s own aggression.
A civil war fought to retain the right to stamped down human foundations for the land of the free and more and more violence. Ideas always secondary, concepts always divine only as far as they lent themselves to the ongoing quest to fight, oppress and expand.
More wars, endless wars, everywhere – no worse than any other continent or country but untempered, unsullied by the march of history which turned all other founding myths into functional self-perception. Rome slaughtered Gauls long enough ago for the violence to be honestly separated from the result by minds too young and too short lived to tie the two together. The Mongols who flooded through the great Empire were defined by that same impulse of the violent as the inescapable but they’re long gone too, subsumed into a far from peaceful history but one that has at least had time to assimilate it’s own fallacies of civility. Only the US stands in our working memory as a clear presentation of an earlier state, a flourishing human expression of cruelty born out of some necessity that but for kneejerk expressions met with tired horror we’ve come to abhor as alien no matter how common it may still be. Only the US is there to remind us of the megadeaths of history which brought us all to where we are, the Imperial equivalent of re-enactors spending a damp weekend in a field playing at being legionnaires or nomadic horsemen.
There’s no reflection here on the people of the country. Although from across the world we all search active shooters and twenty-four hour rolling murders for proof of who the inhabitants of the last conquering Empire are. People are people though, undefined by their country of origin when held alone, even if collectively the nature of the nation formed by all origins, all crimes and all acts does manifest into some sort of whole. A whole gone full circle now, revisiting the violent tendencies drained from the old world back upon it with smiling vengeance. Wars, music, film, art, games – the country founded by the necessary violence of it’s own existence reflects it all back on us. Daily trying to sanitise it, mythologise it and rationalise it – turning their own macro version of the Rape of the Sabine women into a blessing – looking for the victims to finally nod that yes, it was all for the best, or if they refuse demanding their silence in perpetuity. An easy desire to disdain if only we weren’t all as susceptible to it ourselves but for the jaded and comfortable ignorance blessed unto us by the dusty detachment of centuries.
What the US will be, what pedestal or grave it will elevate or entomb it’s vital sense of violence on to is now and for centuries to come unknown. All anyone can do is wait and see what lies history leads the giant to choose for itself and how bitter the truth beneath them will taste when the acrid burn of the first experience fades away.
How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways…
UOWN, founded by Shaan and Haaris Ahmed, is a brand new model for vulture landlordism.
I came across them by spotting one of their ads online and, feeling fairly certain I wouldn’t like it, clicking on through to see what they were about. The basic gist is that they use crowdfunding to act as surrogate landlords for anyone who fancies investing, or at least the (Ahmed) family business the Parklane Group does. So far so unsurprising, the UK housing market at the moment is dominated by profiteering investors whose only conception of their tenants is as figures jiggling about on a bank balance (or minor irritants, if there’s more money to be made by moving them on). What sets UOWN aside though, or at least what initially highlighted them from the rest, is the pawing theft of vaguely left wing phrasing they’re using to frame their get rich scheme. Their website spiel is loaded with terms like ‘city fat cats’ and calls to beat back those dastardly ‘privileged few’ in the name of the 99% – all by making yourself a low level imitation of those exact same people.
Investments potentially start at an affordable £20 which is, seemingly, just about the only point at which their sales pitch tallies with the reality of what they do although it’s a fairly safe bet that such low level investors aren’t going to be reaping much of the promised rewards. And it is all about the rewards after all, while they rattle off mantras of equality, power to the people and ‘democratising’ the process all it really boils down to is a quick shot for the greedy and the gullible to add a further dimension to the sticky fingered exploitation of the UK housing system.
Pretty much the sole mention I could find of tenants on their site was a vague allusion to a property management company that would fix ‘leaky pipes’ – a management company which I’m assuming is Parklane given the family links. And I’m fairly sure that anyone who’s lived in privately rented accommodation can vouch for how reliable agents can be, especially when there’s no direct landlord to talk to but a inaccessible mess of investors who’ll never know or care what happens with the property.
What you do get plenty of mentions of though is the potential returns, with payments guaranteed before a property is even purchased to be let out. And if there’s one thing you can have faith in it’s that tenants will be gouged to a profitable level regardless of all else.
These guys are far from a unique example of the property as detached investment trend and in the way they manage their holdings they may not even be that bad but that does nothing to negate the crappiness of their model. Their ‘for the people’ nonsense is a paper thin front for the company backing them whose profits run into the millions, their equality and democracy lines are a hollow boon to the basic model of greed that they’re operating on and the potential for further alienating and exploiting tenants inherent in it all is, throughout, a barely mentioned side note.
The ‘democratisation’ of housing doesn’t need to come from enabling more and more profiteers, it needs to come from opening up access to people who need it. What the Ahmed’s are doing isn’t serving any ‘99%’, it’s a cheap route for the greedy and the indifferent to try and shunt their way up to the 1% and with promises of returns in the background it’s only going to end as another stick to beat money out of people who just need somewhere to live. Stealing the language of people trying to fight against this sort of parasitism is just the icing on the cynical, greedy marketing cake.