On Culture Pollution
In 1962 Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring was released in a nation with no Environmental Protection Agency. At the time harmful and persistent chemicals were essentially blanketing the nation via numerous avenues of “pest control.” These chemicals were being used to rid the nation of “problematic” life forms that are essential to the balance of our vast and interconnected ecosystems. Ultimately, these chemicals were all tools of capitalism intended to increase profits with no consideration of their effect on future generations. Corporations were burning out targeted elements of the ecosystem, by bathing the countryside in corrosive compounds formed in clandestine industrial laboratories.
But they weren’t just burning out their targets, they had also ignited essential threads of the ecosystem that are woven into the fiber of our existence. And although these threads burned slowly, invisibly, and silently, humans of the past eventually saw themselves severed from their future by way of cancer, and other auto-immune disorders. Those humans were also severed from their surroundings as pesticides killed or mutated birds, fish, amphibians, and myriad non-insect lifeforms. As it turns out, the same chemicals that brought more fruit to harvest, also ensured that whoever ate that fruit would not be able to reproduce healthy offspring. And if you did manage to produce healthy offspring, they’d be born into a world of drastically diminished biodiversity. Terrifying stuff–truly.
It didn’t take long for Carson’s work to usher in a new epoch in human history: one in which consumers must consider capitalism’s long-term effects on the environment, and ourselves. Before this era the effects of capitalism were largely invisible, or wholly obstructed from consumer consciousness. But once Carson’s work came to light in mainstream culture, it ushered in a new era. One in which pollution, and ecology became integral elements of every responsible consumer’s life. I say all that to say this: there was a time, when environmental pollution was an irrelevant, and even laughable concept to the American public. The American public who laughed at DDT was also consuming DDT.
In hindsight it’s plain to see how the vicious circles of capitalism circumvent the perspective of the people trapped by those circles. But when you’re in the midst of those vicious circles, they’re just as easy to recognize for their mythic symmetry. We all know that if something seems too good to be true, then that’s because it is. But somehow, in the midst of things being “too good to be true”, most of us will ignore the writing on the wall, and instead focus on what could be. Pesticides were too good to be true, but people didn’t want to pause and think about it. How could there be a spray that kills off pests, and has no effects on anything else? Show me an example of something similar in nature, and I’ll show you something that exists in such nominal quantities, that it could never be compared to the widespread application of pesticides. The truth is, people weren’t looking at the big picture when they were using DDT. They were looking at right now, the slim portion of institutionalized perception that covers what is after the last thing and before the next thing. But pesticides don’t evaporate after right now. Pesticides either go into insects, animals, plants, ground, or water. And so, pollution can only take place in a society that doesn’t consider the future in a realistic capacity.
Fortunately people have become more aware of the correlations between consumer behaviors, and our collective impact on the environment. Younger generations are more and more aware that our decisions as consumers have a tremendous impact on the environment, but we still have a long way to go. Unfortunately though, we’ve created a whole host of other pollutants that are even more insidious than pesticides. These pollutants move through our data channels and emerge in our homes, our cars, our workplaces, the places we go to shop, the places we go for leisure, and most importantly: our phones. Culture pollution is an irrelevant concept to people, and the most guilty perpetrators–the ones who are profiting from it–will vehemently deny the validity of this concept. But if you want to understand Creative League, and what we’re doing, then you have to know, that much of what we are doing is intended to combat culture pollution. But why “culture” pollution, and not “cultural” pollution? Because culture pollution is not actually culture, it is sociopathy and capitalism masquerading as culture. Something that is not culture cannot be cultural.
So what is culture pollution? Culture pollution happens when culture spaces, and social avenues for the dissemination and consumption of culture, are utilized by individuals and enterprises that do not prioritize Culture. This can range from record industry plants such as Post Malone dressing up in black face minus the shoe polish; to someone who posts banal details of their mundane existence multiple times a day on instagram; to someone who traces easily-replicated drawings of cartoon characters–such as the simpsons, spongebob, or garfield–and makes pins and patches in China and calls themself an artist; to a fraudulent social justice advocate using an urgent public dialog as a platform to seek confirmation for their ego. Culture pollution is taking place at an alarming rate, and unless we can stop society’s incessant need to self-actualize through consumerism; self-aggrandize by making a “brand” and printing a bullshit logo on a sweatshop t-shirt, and a dad hat made in a factory where women and children are abused; and self-apotheosize by promoting a false brand on social media, then we’re fucked.
It won’t take more than 2 generations for all of Human Culture to be destroyed in these circumstances. Imagine how hard it’s gonna be for someone–20 years from now–to make sense of 2007 - 2017. Before the internet there was little to no noise in culture, because you had to be in the top 1% of culture to be recognized by the rest of the world. 99% of the people involved in painting pictures, writing graffiti, making songs, drawing characters, shooting photos, writing stories, etc. were only recognized by other culture people. Things endured, and it was not uncommon for culture to go ignored, and later re-emerge and be truly celebrated and appreciated by people who weren’t born when that culture was created. Today that once pristine hall of cultural artifacts and accomplishments is littered with trash and dust. And if you want to make sense of what’s going on today in culture you have to be able to sift through an endless amount of noise created by posers and fraud who are seeking approval or money in the spaces and channels of Culture. It is going to take us hundreds of years to sift through evrything that has been created in the last 10 years, and yet, the last 10 years were no more bountiful for Culture than any previous years. The sum total of Culture remains the same, but the amount of people who claim to speak for culture has increased exponentially.
“What’s the big deal? Why is culture even important?” Culture is important because it is the only thing that connects us to hundreds of thousands of years of vital human wisdom. Sure, some people believe that reading a history book can get you all the essential human wisdom you need to know, but those people are shortsighted, and they live boring lives. When ancient human beings realized that their voices couldn’t produce the sounds that they wanted to make, they carved flutes from bone. And even though humans living today never heard the songs that whistled through those primordial woodwinds, we all know them. Those songs rest at the bottom of a heap of human achievements, and piled high over thousands of years of slowly building on that first bone flute melody, is that new Migos single that everyone is so crazy for. That’s cause you’re not just crazy for Migos. You’re crazy for the hundreds of thousands of years of human relevance that Migos rests atop. And all it takes is 2 generations for all of that vital wisdom–that is holding up everything we love–to be erased.
Culture is composed of a series of ecosystems, just like our environment. Cultural concepts and their respective spheres of influence exist across vast incomprehensible swathes of time. They swirl and stream overhead, beyond our influence, much like clouds. These cultural concepts overlap, repel, intermingle, and ultimately render the topography of society in any given moment. The more robust our cultural atmosphere, the more diverse our social customs. And conversely, the less robust the cultural atmosphere, the more monophonic the social narrative. We can’t control culture, and truthfully we don’t even have a comprehensive knowledge of it. Much like the weather it is an invisible system that human beings have a 2-way relationship with: we can affect it, and it can affect us. In any given moment our entire notion of existence is based on a complex relationship with culture that shapes how we perceive the world, how we conceive of the world as a malleable object in our minds, and what we know is possible in the world. Culture is the interface for our nervous system, it is the computer that lets us connect to the internet.
How posers sell “art” today:
- Trace a Simpsons character on your ipad.
- Source a manufacturer by googling “pin manufacturer”.
- Upload your digital trace to a pin manufacturer’s website.
- Use your paycheck that your employer gives you for basically sitting in a seat and pressing a button all day, to pay a company in China to manufacture your pin.
- Your shitty pin shows up at your doorstep.
- Photogrpah your pin in a lightbox that you bought off an instagram ad.
- Post your pin on a big cartel shop.
- Pay for instagram ads that target people who buy bootleg Simpsons pins.
It’s easy to pollute, but it takes a lot of effort to make something worthwhile and useful. That’s because the popularization of the artist as a consumer category has created an excess of access, and tools. This plethora of means has not been coupled with an increase in cultural awareness. Today, the average artist is no more informed about art history than the average consumer. The result is a lot of art that claims to represent the height of culture, but that art is made by people who are ignorant of art, and haven’t made it past the parking lot of culture. It’s very easy to use photoshop to make a graphic on your computer, and then post that graphic on social media, and then post that graphic on society 6 so someone can print it on a shower curtain. There’s apps for all of that. There are normalized cultural narratives for all of that. It makes you COOL if you do those things. But the truth is, it’s all pollution. It’s easy to do all that. Too easy. It’s so easy that you can bet it’s also the source of huge negatives, just like those harmful pesticides. After all, what do you think it takes to: harvest the raw materials, process the raw materials into plastic, and print your image on that plastic? How many women in third world countries are getting cancer in plastic factories every year so you can sell a shower curtain with your “digital collage” on it?
It’s difficult to be informed about art history, and the contemporary world of people making art. It’s difficult to do the research required to ensure that you’re creating something that isn’t entirely underwhelming, overtrod, or just plain bobo. It’s difficult to live a life outside of the conventions of society and not go crazy, and even more difficult to temper that life in a manner that renders transcendental art objects from subjective dissonance. But that’s being an artist. Great art is not something that you can make. Great art is the expertly-tempered residue of a life lived in a brilliant fashion. It’s not enough to practice a craft, become proficient, and master a style. There’s no difference between your life and your work when you’re an artist. If your work doesn’t have some type of immediately positive effect on the communities that you move through in your daily life, if your art can’t change the people that you share the Earth with, then it’s not really art.
The essence of art is not the object, but the experience. Culture pollution only further obscures the truth, and makes it seem that the object is the essential element of the practice of making art. But any artist who has sold their work, and any collector who has purchased the work of a great artist can tell you: the exchange relies on the object to create a context, but what’s really being bought and sold is the experience. When you sell a piece of art, and someone enjoys that art, they’re not enjoying the picture, instead they’re enjoying the experience of looking at the picture. When the buyer looks at the picture they SEE an image, but they FEEL a connection to the artist. And that feeling provides access to a world that transcends the buyer’s reality. Owning someone else’s art is palpable proof that your life can be whatever you want it to be, no matter who you are, but that’s what happens when you’re dealing with genuine Culture. That kind of culture is the work of a transcendental juggernaut plowing through the labyrinthine walls of the oppressive circuits of society; obliterating the compartmentalization of the institution's imposed social order; leaving behind no wreckage, only transcendental experiences and objects; and freeing people’s minds. And much of what is being presented as culture today is not only incapable of such feats, it is also making it more difficult for the public to experience genuine Culture. Instead, people are connecting with pollutants who employ social media marketing tactics to prioritize the exposure of their capitalist dreck masquerading as art.
Culture pollution is real. And it is imperative that we all start thinking long and hard about what we’re doing, and how it affects the rest of the world for the rest of time. 10 years from now when people are looking back do you really want to be singled out as someone who abused capitalism, wasted natural resources to create meaningless crap, and contributed to the detriment of the world? And for what? Some likes from strangers and 10% of the profits? These people will all be ridiculed in the future, or if we’re lucky they’ll be prosecuted. But for now, it’s up to us to do whatever we can to stop Culture pollution.