The Politics of Popularity
I have this great friend who lives in LA and works in the entertainment industry with her husband. They are the coolest, most decent people I have ever met, people who possess these characteristics consistently without ever giving pause, without ever revealing a side of themselves that makes you question your assessment about the integrity of their characters. Seriously. They are model human citizens and if more people were like them, this world would blossom into a loving, peaceful, and productive planet wherein fairness and personal integrity served as the highest ideals.
Besides being awesome in every way, my friends are also quite savvy about entertainment technology, the latest trends, and success and failure in the world of commodified creativity. Since she knows so much about this area, my mama friend has been encouraging me for some time to start making NFTs. She’s been watching this world develop and grow for some time and she keeps insisting that my work is so “sick” that it would do well if I made the effort to get my work “out there.” The pair of them have always loved my work and I love giving them my paintings because they appreciate and love them so much. But selling my work has never been a priority for me, and I have seldom excelled at cultivating the kind of psychospiritual focus required for this kind of achievement. It takes a certain type of consciousness — a wealth-seeking one — to foster the motivation needed for attaining certain plateaus that always deal with popularity in one form or another. This “popularity and attention-seeking” consciousness seems to be a prerequisite for success on these newer platforms but it’s a type of mentality that I find abhorrent, so I can’t seem to get with the program despite being “talented” enough to qualify for “success.” I prefer to follow the example of Marcel Duchamp who would sneak off to Paris the night before one of his big exhibitions opened in New York, exasperating collectors and curators alike. He would do it the other way around, too, he would escape to New York on the eve of a big opening in Paris. He despised the fake and phony adoration of the “it” crowd and I find myself in deep sympathy with that overall impulse.
Despite my reservations, I decided to follow my friend’s advice and after watching a couple of YouTube tutorials, I managed to “mint” my first NFT. I went through my web pages and removed the artwork since this piece was now to become a one-of-a-kind digital reality. Afterward, I browsed through this website, Rarible, and saw some of the other artworks for sale. The website prominently features those pieces/artists who are “smashing” and “killing” it, which is what we say now about people who are acquiring enormous sums of money, clearly and openly equating our disgusting financial greed with the processes of violence and death, which irony is then totally lost on most of us.
What I noticed was a glaring similarity between this NFT website and others where attention and money-seeking behaviors are the primary currency, namely, Likes and Clicks and Follows and Shares and the ever-expanding universe of childish inanities known as memes, Gifs, and emojis.
This website, Rarible, did not force me to part with any money to mint my NFT. It said that the buyer would pay the “gas fee,” so I could mint as many images as I wanted. But other websites force you to buy a cryptocurrency called Etherium each time you create an NFT. This gas fee is based upon your asking price of one, two, or five Etherium, the exchange rate being quite high so that one Etherium equates to over four thousand dollars. They want you to pay into the system by absorbing ahead of time the 2.5% fee assessed by the website in advance of any potential sale. So Open Sea, for example, wanted me to pay a little over three hundred dollars to mint an NFT. I have not checked all the other NFT websites yet, but you can already see a secret emanation, the vibration of a human behavioral area known as “gambling” at work in this new game. It’s a lot like following a gold rush craze, right? You are told over and over that you can strike gold and make it rich and all you have to do is buy into the system by parting with some of your hard-earned money. You have to spend money to make money, that is the motto of the corporate consciousness to which so many of us are unconsciously yoked. But few are forewarned about the nebulous internal dynamics — the politics of popularity — that play a role in the way the gold-rush cookie crumbles.
It is not enough to mint an NFT. You must also get in there and hobnob with the “community.” You must seek attention, you must seek likes and clicks and shares (which require you to continually express yourself in bite-sized inanities), you must try to piggyback on the popularity of someone bigger than you, you must spend all your time being obsessed with attention and popularity and money and fame. Only this kind of artist “succeeds” and becomes a banner citizen on the front page of NFT websites, boasting about their millions and managing to keep a straight face while images of their dancing cartoon frogs flash across the screen. These internal dynamics of popularity-seeking play a huge role in the way things turn out for you as an artist. It is the same set of dynamics at work on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Mailchimp Squarespace, and Soundcloud, to name a few. Anywhere you turn, you are invited to seek attention, more and more and more attention. But what happens to genuine introverts and societal freaks who do not thrive in a digital universe where being a disembodied, phony, over-enthusiastic avatar is seen as the highest ideal? Perhaps our role is to be like the Greek cynics standing in the back the room watching the horrendous play unfold while shouting out hilarious mocking statements every now and then.
I had to chuckle a little as these dark thoughts about the internal workings of the global consumerism psychosis swirled through my mind this morning. In my birth chart, there is a very tight square between Saturn and the Sun. So I am very good at noticing the dark side of all events, very good at identifying where the falseness lies, and even better at imagining the countless ways in which the phoniness results in dashed hopes and misplaced desires. Saturn is the planet that takes zero shit from anyone. It does not compromise but demands the highest form of integrity in all endeavors or it will bring the roof down on your head. In our world, being a shallow money-grubber is rewarded. If you become a woman with billions, say, they will fawn all over you as if you answered the problem of existence and reversed the catastrophic psychospiritual consequences of the Fall and scientific materialism all at once. But for me, with my hefty Sun-Saturn square, these kinds of preoccupations always bring disaster. The only way that I can work as an artist and maintain the peace and dignity of my immortal soul is to do my work for god and leave it at that without seeking anything in return for any of my efforts.
I do have to pay the rent and eat, I have a dog and she needs care, so I do need money. But I don’t need more than I need, and I don’t slavishly and greedily seek more than I need. This gives me freedom, which to me is the most precious commodity in the universe. For most people on planet earth, genuine psychospiritual freedom is made of Unobtainium, the same material that certain vinyl records are made of, incidentally. This currency is so rare, not even the most powerful billionaires can get their hands on it. Haha, the joke is on them! To be richer than the richest billionaires, we just need to have the wildly productive currency of Unobtainium flowing through our blood but we can only access this currency by letting go of our foolish greed and our socially-induced delusions.
So I have decided to keep “minting” NFTs on Rarible, leaving the doorway open to receiving the money I need to pay the rent with, but not worrying about the results of what will happen or not happen. I think my work is “sick,” and there are people in the world who, like my awesome friends in LA, can truly appreciate the many complexities in a beautifully arrayed work of art, which is, after all, nothing more than a picture of a piece of the psyche — a piece of living consciousness. A work of art is, in my view, none other than a portrait of the person looking at it, for we are all made of the same stuff so a picture of my face and a picture of your face is the same picture. So it is with art, so it is with music. This is why we can recognize beauty, why we can recognize sorrow, and why we can recognize humor. Having just made this statement, I must now also raise the disturbing question: what kind of psyche is it whose face resembles a dancing cartoon frog or a vomiting rainbow?
But I digress. I must be careful about my Sun-Saturn, I don’t want to come off as a Luddite, because I’m not one of those, I love the wild madness and creativity of the world. I just prefer to question the politics of popularity that play such a huge role in our definitions of success, politics which in turn fuel the overall perception of value and meaning. Greed is driving us over the cliff and wisdom would suggest that we stop valuing it so much. Then again, I’m a bona fide hermit, and if I could grow a long beard and live in a distant cave in the wilderness I probably would. Some would say this is an escapist fantasy, but as my rich and successful boss back in Maui was fond of reminding me, being antisocial is an expression of high intelligence in a world filled with crazed greedy zombies.