What Fair Trade/Sustainable Art Means to Me
The existence of fair trade and sustainable art predates our current economic system. The economic system we live under now did not naturally arise. We created it to serve a purpose and over the centuries forgot what we had done and now see it as the normal way for our lives to work.
A long time ago and not so far away, in the middle ages, farmers, coopers, wheelwrights, blacksmiths, shoemakers, cloth weavers—most of whom we would call artisans today— peasants generally, gathered to trade in fairs or bazaars—an idea brought back from the crusades. An expanded market for trading goods and services greatly expanded the quality of life for the majority of people in European countries. Europe experienced one of the most rapid economic expansions in history. This was a peer-to-peer economy where human relationships and reputations promoted better business. Competition and interdependence maintained a high quality of goods and services. Value existed in what people produced and in people themselves through the skills they possessed. Local currencies sprang up for purchasing items. No one considered accumulating these currencies as they were only worth something when circulated.
This all came to an end as the aristocracy and royalty realized they had lost their monopoly on value creation. By taxing the fairs, outlawing local currencies, creating monopolies for selected companies to have exclusive control over their industries, the peer-to-peer economy all but disappeared. A central currency, “coin of the realm,” and a central banking system became critical to displacing free trade. This forced craftspeople to seek employment rather than create and trade. Instead of creating their wares, people sold their time. Rather than hire skilled labor, business owners quickly learned that unskilled, easily replaced labor could be paid far less and be fired if they complained about the terrible work conditions. This is called industrialization.
Creating manufacturing processes that removed the need for skilled labor is what drove the industrial revolution. Industrialization was about the aristocracy taking back their power while reducing the value and price of human laborers. Industrialization did not increase efficiency overall, nor increase the quality of life for people. It did quite the opposite. The costs of industrialization are enormous. You may also notice from what our new president says about global warming, those costs need to remain hidden by those who benefit from it the most. In fact rather than a benefit to humanity, industrialization has become an extinction level event.
In modern society everything is designed to provide a constantly growing return on investment for people dedicated to the accumulation of wealth. Today they are the equivalent of the medieval aristocracy. They are parasites living off the majority of humans for the sole purpose of accumulating wealth. Like parasites they will, in time, kill the host. Using up our resources, our land, having more and more people working harder for less and less jobs for less and less money cannot continue forever.
In this system you are worth nothing if your time cannot make money for other people and that money is the measure of your worth—the thing you create itself is actually worth nothing. As a human being you are worth nothing in our society. Your only “real” worth is monetized. We pay lip service to the value of human life as valuable in and of itself, because to do otherwise would lower revenues. If this were not so we would not allow thousands of people a year to die by gunshot so the gun manufacturing industry can continue expanding their markets, we would not allow ourselves to make the planet uninhabitable through global warming to keep the oil and coal industry to continuously expand, we would not have the threat of nuclear war hanging over our heads in support of a multi-billion dollar nuclear arms industry.
How artists are treated in our culture further illustrates what we value. If an artist does not provide a solid return on investment, she is not worth anything in dollars. Artists are only valued in America if they are part of a corporate structure where they provide investors with a sustainable growth revenue. If there is no revenue for investors, an artist has little access to even earning a basic living. There is a reason so little diversity exists in mainstream entertainment and art. Diversity exists in the “long tail” of marketing and as long as it does not provide a sustainable growth revenue for banks and investors they will not support it.
This lack of diversity in mainstream art and the singling out of artists as unworthy of healthcare, retirement planning, and short term disability exist because independent artists pose a grave threat to that small group of parasites. What if people valued themselves, each other, and what they created, such as art, rather than the accumulation of wealth? If that happened, all those ones and zeros accumulating on bank hard drives would be of no value to anyone. A singularly terrifying situation for our parasites.
Within the realm of our current set of values, human beings may go extinct, or at best survive at a far reduced level. This only makes sense, considering that who we are as human beings and what we create is ultimately of no value to our society as it exists now.
None of this has to be this way. None of it arose naturally. We created it. We have brainwashed ourselves, bamboozled, lied to ourselves; we are credulous, lack skepticism, dumbed ourselves down, made ourselves numb―overwhelmed, we live lives of quiet desperation, frightened that if we are unable to pay our bills, we’ll end up in the street. We must carry our own weight. The ultimate plan for any artist’s survival is to break down and get a job, get paid for making someone else money—then we’ll be worth something.
We have particular skills and talents that we alone possess, that no machine can duplicate, that make us irreplaceable and worth something in and of ourselves. By our existence we constantly point to the fact that humans and our interactions are the real source of human value. We impact other people by what we do in unforeseen and unpredictable ways. That poses a grave threat to the system, the establishment, the man, the matrix, to them.
However, in reality there is no us and them, that is a lie perpetrated by those of us who desire the accumulation of wealth over everything else. There is only us, several billion people on a little blue marble in space. As it regards us artists, it boils down to the question, what do we value?
Be skeptical, incredulous, particularly about what I am saying here. Make your own inquiries and research. Band together. Support each other. Create fair trade. Sustain your art. Look beyond the box you are living in and make a living at what you love to do. What you do as an artist could put value creation back in the hands of artisans and out of the hands of the parasites. What you do as an artist could transform human beings into a race that possesses a real measure of humanity.
Cover image “Written & Directed” by Flickr user Marco Nürnberger. CC-BY-2.0
Pop quiz: how many female movie directors can you name?
I can name less than a half-dozen, and the only reason that number is so high is because I’ve been watching female-directed features recently for review on my other blog, Dorkadia. My list includes:
Sam Taylor-Johnson (50 Shades of Grey)
Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle)
Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight)
Drew Barrymore (Whip It)
Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)
See the pattern? With the exception of The Hurt Locker, famous female directors seem confined to romantic thrillers and rom-coms. These isolated incidents either. Animated features, rom-coms, and romantic thrillers dominate this list of the top movies directed by women. The lone exception? Disaster movie Deep Impact, which was the highest-grossing live-action movie directed by a woman until Twilight. Accolades don’t seem to help in women’s’ favor either when it comes to finding work. Since winning the Best Director Oscar for 2008’s The Hurt Locker, Bigelow has only directed two other features.
While diversity in entertainment may not match tech’s horrible numbers, the data shows that Hollywood is still very much a man’s world. In 2013 the New York Film Academy released a sobering infographic on the statistics of gender inequality in film. In front of the camera, only 10.7% of all movies featured a balanced, representative cast. Women are also shoehorned into specific film genres. Women are more than twice as likely to direct documentaries than narrative films, for example. Or take the previously mentioned list of the highest-grossing female directors, whose output consisted of mainly romantic movies.
More recent data agrees with the New York Film Academy’s claims. According to the 2016 Celluloid Ceiling Report, women make up only 17% of behind-the-camera job titles. When examining the top 250 domestic grossing movies of last year, only 17% are cinematographers, directors, editors, executive producers, producers, or writers. This is 2% down from last year and essentially flat with statistics from 1998. And 1998 was considered a high point.
In the face of such disparity, what can be done to increase representation both in front of and behind the camera? Here’s several suggestions.
Recognize how diversity contributes to the bottom line. Adding more women to the mix isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s profitable for studios. Women currently purchase half of all movie tickets sold in the United States. The more representation on screen, the more tickets can be sold as people see themselves represented in pop culture. This goes for women, people of color, or anyone else different from the norm.
Take advantage of the pipeline. Women are both out there making movies and preparing for careers in film. Gender parity exists at several prestigious film schools, according to the Huffington Post. Meanwhile, sites like The Director List maintain a database of women in film with proven track records. Women are out there; they just need their voices to be heard. Which can be done by:
Fund female-centric films. The past few years has seen renewed interest in funding movies written or directed by women. Both Vimeo and the National Film Board of Canada have made pledges to increase funding for female-centric movies. The more women have access to funding, the more movies women will be able to release. More female-driven movies won’t add up to much; however, without:
Support for female-centric films as a moviegoer. This whole blog post coalesced in part thanks to my recent rewatch and review of 2008’s Twilight over at Dorkadia. While Twilight may never make anyone’s list of Earth-shattering films, it’s very female-driven, with a woman writing the source material, adapting the material for the screen, and directing. While Twilight’s domestic gross only puts it in the top 200 of highest-grossing movies of all time, it struck a chord with many people around the world. Certainly the increased tourism it brought changed Forks, Washington for the better. Women did that. Women changed the cultural zeitgeist. And more women can do the same, if given the chance.
I’ve been writing for longer than I’d like to admit. I joke about being thrown off of my father’s computer when I was six years old for typing rude words. While that did happen, I’m not certain that particular novel was ever going to come to anything. In reality I’ve been pursuing writing professionally for about ten years now with only one real gap.
That gap lasted almost a year, and it came from one major misunderstanding on my part; I was trying to be a good writer. I‘d heard that a good writer sits down every day to work. I‘d heard that a good writer edits and edits until all of the evil is driven from their manuscript, leaving only shining golden prose.
The first one led me to quit writing for a year, the second stopped me from getting my work published for almost a decade.
Write Every Day
In a perfect world I’d be free to sit down at the computer each morning and write to my heart’s content. I’m getting closer to the goal of becoming a full-time author with every book I get published, but it will still be a few years of hard work yet. Before I get to write for myself, I still have to spend about eight hours each day writing for other people to pay the bills. Back when I quit, I was working twelve hours a day in an unrelated job. Sometimes more. I had no time for hobbies. I had no time for much of anything except sleeping, then heading back to work. Writing was one straw too many. I wasn’t getting anything written even when I did sit down to do it. I was exhausted.
Unfortunately, I had to eat. I had to put a roof over my head. Like most writers in the modern era, I didn’t have rich parents or patrons to lean on. I had to work.
Writing requires energy, something that all of us only have a limited supply of. I was all out. Even now that I’m in a much more comfortable position I sometimes look at that expanse of blank white on the screen and it is too much.
The most important lesson that I’ve learned about writing is that most of the work happens long before I put my fingers to the keys. That’s why I can cheerfully churn out a novella in a weekend but writing sprints like NaNoWriMo are a nightmare to me. (The first year that I attempted it nearly prompted me to quit writing all over again, and the month long depression brought me as close as I have ever been to divorce.)
So I am a bad writer. Some days when I’m struggling I just don’t bother. I understand myself well enough to know that I’ll make up for lost time on those good days when inspiration strikes and I have the energy. When I’m working out how long a project is going to take, I average the up and downs.
Refine to Perfection
While banging my head against the wall of having no energy and no idea what I’m working on may have derailed me once or twice over the years, the idea that I could make my writing perfect by coming back to it over and over is what nearly ruins me on a daily basis.
There is an old adage that no work of art is ever completed; only abandoned. My problem is that I just can’t quite pry my fingers off of them. I’ve held onto short stories for years before submitting them. I have a folder of abandoned stories that didn’t even get that far. Too imperfect to even come to fruition. One particular story has gone through the grind of edits and revisions so many times I’ve lost count; comparing the latest draft to the very first, one is clearly inferior to the other. The writing is more grammatically correct perhaps, but the edited version has lost all the passion the first one held.
I know that I’m meant to edit in passes, the first one to put the story structure in order, the second to fix the prose, the third to fix the dialogue and the fourth to fix descriptions. That’s the way I was taught to work by older and more experienced authors when I was first starting out. As it turns out, the correct number of editorial passes for every novel that I have actually sold is one; to pick up any typos.
So I am a bad writer. I don’t edit my work before sending it off, and it is much better for it. Of course, I get pages and pages of notes and changes back from my editors but from what I understand, the situation would be the same regardless of how long I review and revise.
Be a Bad Writer
Writing is an art rather than a science; there is no “right” way to be a writer, only a cacophony of conflicting advice coming at you from all directions. Writing every day does not make you a writer any more than swimming every day makes you a fish.
It has taken me years of practice to get to the stage where I believe my work is good enough to be published. Years in which I took classes, studied the craft of writing, and read extensively.
Being a “good” writer made me miserable. Being a “bad” writer made me successful. If you can call someone who still has to eat Ramen for every other meal successful.
G D Penman writes Speculative Fiction. He lives in Scotland with his partner and children, some of whom are human. He is a firm believer in the axiom that any story is made better by dragons. His beard has won an award. If you have ever read a story with Kaiju and queer people, it was probably one of his. In those few precious moments that he isn’t parenting or writing he likes to watch cartoons, play video and tabletop games, read more books than are entirely feasible and continues his quest to eat the flesh of every living species. He is the author of over a dozen books including; The Year of the Knife, Motherland, Call Your Steel and Heart of Winter.
Her name was Jeanie, at least I think it was. She came to live with us when I was about eleven years old. I remember washing the dishes with her after dinner one evening, she was washing and I was rinsing. She accidentally splashed water on her belly. She started to giggle and told me that meant she would marry a drunk, and she laughed. I don’t know how my face responded, but inside I was astonished. Really? How could dishwater splashed onto someone’s belly mean that? What was a drunk anyway? Someone who drank alcohol, I am sure! Oh no, so will I, I have done that many times! I took everything so damn literally when I was younger.
My mother left my father when I was eleven years old. We went from poor-to poorer. My mother was pregnant with her seventh child. She moved us into a very big rental house and took in three women with “problems”. I don’t know what all their problems were, but one of the ladies, her name was Connie, she cried a lot, uncontrollably. Jeanie, I remember, was more light-hearted, at least sometimes. She could be giggly and fun, but she could also be sullen and somber. I liked her. The third woman was an old lady we called Aunt Bee. She had dementia. She wandered off a lot and my brother and I had to get on our bikes and ride around town looking for her. One day the ladies left, they were just gone. Well, except Aunt Bee, she died in her sleep one night. It was weird, I remember feeling panicked at first, but my mother was very calm. I don’t know if I ever knew what happened to Connie and Jeanie.
Many years passed before I ever thought of them again. Then one day while washing the dishes, a bunch of water splashed out of the sink and soaked my belly, and I had the thought, “I am going to marry a drunk”! I stood frozen as the memories played out like a short film. When I came back, I chuckled and thought (possibly out loud), I’d not only married a drunk, I’d become one.
I have thought of Jeanie and her little superstition (or maybe it was her way of laughing something terrible off) every time I splash water on my belly while washing the dishes, and I wonder about her, I wonder what went so wrong in her life that she needed to live in a home to be looked after. Perhaps she and Connie both suffered from depression, I suppose that makes the most sense. I think of how potentially bad things could have gone. I think of my mother pregnant, supporting six other children. The desperation she must have felt, the desperation all the women must have felt. I think of the pain and the fear. I can see Jeanie’s face and see the two of us in that moment by the sink. I can hear her words, her giggle, and my heart breaks.
Phaedra Kimball is a full-time Sociology major. After living in Los Angeles, CA. for 20 years pursuing the life of an actor, and artist, she and her small family moved to a quieter life in Montana. Phaedra is passionate about politics, societal issues, learning, new art forms, and having new adventures.