Monday, February 14, 2011

Turf Feinz: 'R.I.P June'

James Baldwin wrote that the idea of happiness, in the American experience, is a post-war, tragic illusion. The pursuit of happiness, a small phrase which has been turned into a hegemonic ideal, is, for him, the pursuit of a life without pain, without discord, distinguished only by the steady accumulation of wealth.

Joy, however, is a very real thing, an effervescent eruption that can occur in the most apocalyptic of circumstances. The young men in the video come from one of the most violent parts of the United States. Dancing on the corner where their friend was shot to death, one is wearing the suit he wore to the funeral. They've just witnessed, once more, one of the most glaring contradictions of the American dream, one of the greatest failures of capitalism. But the most sinister question on their minds, the question which they try to ignore, is does capitalism rely, for its smooth operation, on the murder of their friends?

Privatization, globalization, neoliberalism, late capitalism: all of these processes operate by means of what Bataille called the restricted economy. The restricted economy restricts flows of capital even as it persistently expands flows of people and resources. It agglomerates by mobilizing mechanisms of deprivation: there is no privation without deprivation. These images were taken in one of the most deprived places in the First World, because East Oakland has suffered not only from a paranoid white flight but also from a recent black flight, so that those left behind are only those who are forced to stay.

There is no happiness in East Oakland. It would be stupid to call its inhabits 'happy,' on the whole. But there is a joy which bubbles and boils over in moments of art such as these and in its vibrant musical sensibility.

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