You’re Dead Now Dance.

belkm04pic1.jpg HOORAY for the British Airways ground crews that walked off the job last week! Hooray for the Lothian bus workers who pulled a wildcat and finally got their contract, and service, back online. THREE CHEERS for anybody who stands up to the corporations.

Thank you, dear readers. I just had to get that off my chest. It’s been there for a long time – a smoldering resentment I’ve carried from the foothills of North Carolina to the sidewalks of New York City, to the sea side of Scotland. A resentment for the slow, deliberate spread of corporate bullying and extreme neglect of customers and workers. YOU and ME. I’ve watched Giuliani do it to New York, Bush do it to America, and corporations like BA do it to all of us. It’s about time folks started standing up.

Sad thing is, across the pond, the US Government has made it almost completely impossible and illegal to take labor action. Basically, if you organize, strike or stand up to your employer they can throw you in jail. They hide behind new laws that have made everyone a ‘salaried’ employee, so that when folks work 70 hours per week they get paid for 38. The CEOs, political action committees, ad agencies and politicians pocket the rest. This is not new. What is new, is that the average human being is, in places, becoming more and more resilient in opposition. Some choose to do with less, or do without, to avoid the corporate slave chains.

So what of the actions at Heathrow? Well, I reckon some poor, pitiful vacationers and holiday makers have been delayed. And some salesman missed a presentation. And a junior high school orchestra missed a recital. Pity. Now, I suppose BA will tighten the shackles on its ground crew, and the UK Government will roll out the dole to the 600 who were sacked by Gate Gourmet. So who loses? Follow the money. (Customers, workers and the government).

The problem can’t be all them. I think a lot of the corporate slave trading and abuse has occurred because of our belkm04pic2.jpg collective complacency in the west. In the US there’s plenty of talk about Enron, but nothing’s really going to be done about it. Americans are more interested in the Michael Jackson case, and they nailed Martha Stewart so that’s enough right? And one of my biggest concerns is that the UK and the European Union will ultimately follow suit in letting the pop machine dictate the cultural, social, and political agenda to such an extent that it becomes unreachable to any real opposition. The BBC reported on August 12th that ‘The Financial Services Authority said mortgage lenders or brokers breached regulations during 45 out of 82 [recent inspection] visits.’ On 10 August we get a BBC news flash: ‘The stark reality is that living in poverty more often than not leads to poor diet and people dying younger.’ DOH! Ya think? It’s starting to smell a lot like Wall Street. Excuse me please, while I download my crazy frog ringtone.

We, meaning freethinking westerners, have shamefully fallen short of challenging corporate arrogance. A good example of this is in the entertainment industry (big surprise). Just turn on MTV or some other self-appointed cultural authority machine and observe the presenters closely. In the US we get Carson Daly, in the UK, Simon Amstell. The most recent example of this I’ve seen billowing from the corporate smugstacks was in the Live8 coverage hosted by Amstell.

When folks like Amstell aren’t talking about themselves, they introduce and interview their guests with the same ambivalence as their CEOs, who watch via satellite from their Cayman Island estates. La maison jerks. These presenters are not ‘witty’ as some say. They’re simply condescending and try to pass off ‘deadpan’ as ‘cool’ – a good indication of what corporations think about me, us, you and your neighbor. They think you’re dead, and want you to dance. Jump? How High?

belkm04pic3.jpg I watched Amstell’s interview with Moby (among others) at Live8, wishing I had a pie cannon. For some reason, Amstell found it necessary to attack an otherwise soft-spoken individual – WHY? – just because he could. Did anybody give Amstell the memo stating that Moby et al were performing for free, for a charity event, and it wasn’t the time for an ego trip? With the Dalys and Amstells it’s not about the performers or you, the viewer – it’s not about anybody but THEM because, as we all know, they’re the real stars. Let’s hear it for the exciting Mr Nobodys! Why are they cool? Because MTV says so!!

These guys could be introducing the most talented performers in the world, and they’d still try to pull off a sublime face, under the pretense of it being ‘grassroots’ or ‘street’ or ‘chill’. These guys don’t have to excite you, or show any respect, nor do they owe you anything. Just like belkm04pic6.jpg with the music industry; you know when they claim Britney or whatever current set of boobs they prop up sold 1 million records last week? It’s a lie. The sales figures are wholesale, which means record stores made advance purchases of 1 million copies which might make their way into homes, or sit until chucked into the sale bins. Funny, how some artists used to sell 1 million records in a week because people simply heard the music and liked it. It’s not about you.

It’s not about you when the woman on your bank customer service line talks up to you – yes sir, no sir, thank you sir, thank you, no thank you, no really thank you. Or when paying bills on an internet site, and the activation buttons have words on them like ‘please submit’, ‘yes please’ and ‘no thanks’ – and you have no choice but to press them. It’s not about you.

It’s not about you when a filmmaker takes someone’s written work and completely changes the story just to make a salacious movie. The film I mentioned in my last column comes to mind. After being moved by the dramatic film, I read Patrick Galvin’s book – guess what? There was no murder of Liam Mercier. Yes, beatings, but no murder. And the criminal priest was never exiled to Africa. And the heroic teacher didn’t intervene, nor did he stay behind to help the poor wretched boys. What Patrick Galvin put down in Song for a Raggy Boy was a more subtle, engrained cultural reference, but obviously this wasn’t good enough for the filmmaker, who needed a Hollywood ending.

Fun stuff ey? Maybe we’ll call it, for the purposes of our little article here, corporate arrotainment. We choke on their arrogance, they tell us it’s entertainment. Very evident in a few popular TV shows… oh, say, like Desperate Housewives, Sex and the City, Queer as Folk (the US version). Has anyone really paid close attention to the omniscient narration going on in these things?? Engineered feelings, reactions, spending decisions. They tell us when we are lonely, happy, angry and jealous. And what to do or buy to make it all better like Mommy’s kiss on a skint knee. And from their prompting, we throw open our wallets.

While scanning an Edinburgh Fringe Festival catalog, I ran across a listing for a play surrounding the Nazi holocaust. And while I don’t wish to be critical of the play as I have not seen it, it’s the promotional copy that makes me weary, describing the murder of the Jews as ‘the worst atrocity the world has ever known…‘ Excuse me while I choke on my own saliva, worst ever known??? Surely, a deplorable atrocity on every front, but how does it compare to the machete slaughter in Africa, Stalin’s murder machine, Hiroshima, Palestine or Bosnia? Why would anyone dare to make such a comparison? Why do we need to? And did anyone stop to think that over 100,000 gay people of all races died with the WWII Jews?

This is precisely where I’d further suggest part of our cultural unraveling takes place – the fight for the bottom. If the corporate machine and deadpan celebrities of the world dictate what is Best, everything and everybody left over is relegated to scrambling for Worst Place. Hence, we buy into the whole master plan.

belkm04pic4.jpg The answer to a fight with Goliath or the perception of Gotham does not lie in being ‘worst’, ‘poorest’ or ‘neediest’. I think the answers lie in empowerment and education. Let me break down these broad terms to fit my soap box:

Empowerment, starting with the power we, as individuals, already posses. Spending power, thinking power, the power to say no. No one wants to say ‘no’ anymore, it’s too unfashionable, even where absolutely necessary…

Education, as in teaching said empowerment. Forget algebraic melancholy and biology bliss – between MTV and Holly Oaks our young people don’t know who they are. A clear example is with young gays, where the suicide rates are alarmingly high. And for the rest of western society – what are binge drinking, overextended credit, and unfulfilled living but symptoms of the slow taking of one’s own life? Pharaoh doesn’t need whips anymore ladies and gentleman.

The good news is that a groundswell of like-minds has begun. I like the idea of commercial-free satellite radio, if (and only if) they allow the medium to develop on its own. And there are internet ventures like, which delivers music directly from artists, is actually good, and harbors a healthy contempt of the music industry. So maybe there is hope for a world obsessed with sex offenders and pedophiles, which harbors a media machine that tells us what to think, turns our very young into whores and tells us it’s cool. And hats off to the fine folks down at Heathrow who had the guts to say no last week, proving there’s a strategy to be had other than downward mobility.

belkm04pic5.jpg Martin Belk is a writer, performer and producer. He relocated to Edinburgh from New York City to pursue a master’s degree in creative writing. His credits include producer for Squeezebox!, the notorious New York rock venue where Blondie reunited, Hedwig and the Angry Inch debuted and the first-ever live, global webcast - Live InConcert starring Deborah Harry took place. In addition, Belk is a Multimedia Application of the Year award winner from the ITCA for Will Europe Work? – the first live, global conference of the European Union.

He is in the process of completing his first novel, an autochronicle of Squeezebox! the infamous NYC rock venue. In addition, he is developing creative writing and facilitated theatre courses to enable outreach to at-risk youth. He is co-editor of One magazine.

If you want to contact Martin, his email address can be found on the Textualities homepage.

Martin’s new word watch:

autochronicle 31/7/2005

arrotainment 17/8/2005

…increasing his rhetoric for your reading pleasure.

© Martin Belk 2005


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>