Really Want the Red Pill?

By Stacy Davies

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Posted February 11, 2010 in Arts & Culture

Probably the last thing anyone feels like doing these days is sitting through a lecture on capitalism. After all, that’s the system we have, and it usually sounds more appealing than socialism or communism—which always bring to mind soiled headscarves and digging up potatoes from dawn till dusk alongside a mule. 

When capitalism is called “free market,” it sounds even better—free is good, and who doesn’t like to shop? Besides, we have other things to think about—we’re all under-employed (if not unemployed), in debt and have ineffective or zero health care. The problem can’t be capitalism, because capitalism is good, it means growth. We keep being told that growth is returning and that the only way for us all to be happy is to grow—basically, to produce more stuff so we can buy more stuff so that more people can be hired to make that stuff.

Capitalism sounds great, it makes sense, and yet, something has gone awry. Could it be our own sacred cow? And if we dare to question capitalism, or even suggest modification, must we really hop the first plane to Siberia? There is an unsettling truth behind our predicament—a host of them—but the question is, do we want to know, or would we rather self-medicate and wait for it to pass?

It was with the hope that some of us might actually get off our couches, switch off our TiVos and pry open our noggins for a few hours that Dan Segal, director of the Munroe Center for Social Inquiry at Pitzer College decided on this year’s theme for the series. Segal teaches about capitalism and its trappings on a daily basis, but when the only people being exploited by capitalism are factory workers in the Dominican Republic—or in Michigan—well, who really cares? Of course, when you get canned, and your parents lose their retirement and a dozen houses on your block get repo-ed, well, maybe you’re more apt to pay attention.

Segal and his creative team have therefore assembled a wealth of events over the next two months that can ease you into understanding the world that we live in, the world that we’ve built, and one that (don’t worry, patriots) is not trying to be smashed into oblivion by commie intellectuals.

During the course of the series, the Nichols gallery will house an exhibit on some of the consumer perils of capitalism. Gallery director Ciara Ennis specifically sees a connection between art being pimped out by corporations and artists needing such prostitution to stay afloat, and the pieces in the show, guest curated by Daniel Martinez, run the gamut of exploitation.

Ian Arenas’ exposé on baseball and steroids takes an overwrought subject and foregoes typical soapbox grandstanding on the corruption of “America’s favorite pastime.” Basic imagery lays plain the context: a simple game, created in 1845 (the 10 original rules are printed on a banner) that has since become a profit-driven capitalist enterprise eschewing morality and fair play for “juiced” performances and commercial engineering, perverting organic sport and camaraderie with nary a cry from over-amped, spectacle-hungry fans. A photo of Barry Bonds (the Judas of baseball?) and an encased ball seem to represent the divinity of the beast.

Matthew Brandt’s photos remind of us of that snazzy DeLorean space car—the futuristic brainchild of CEO John DeLorean, whose demise directly resulted from the faulty business models driven by greed and excess that have come to characterize and destroy America’s modern auto-industry. And there’s much more to see.

In addition to the exhibit, the CIQ series offers lectures and events in a variety of disciplines. Ellen Harper, who has an extensive background in the folk music scene (and who spawned renowned folk-rocker Ben) and U.S. history scholar Stu McConnell will present an evening of “Songs of Work and Resistance,” and Sherry Ortner will discuss the representation of social economic problems in independent film. Other speakers include Juliet Schor, author of Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture and Mother Jones co-founder, economist Richard Parker and many more.

Of course, none of these events will give you the sugar high that an evening of The Biggest Loser might, but then, you never know when you’ll wake up and the show you’re watching will actually be all about you. Perhaps it already is, Neo.

“Capitalism in Question (Because It Is)” at various locations at Pitzer College, 1050 N. Mills Ave., Claremont, (909) 607-3143; www.pitzer.edu/mcsi. Thru May 3.


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