Wednesday, November 02, 2005

another whore at the capitalist gang-bang

Claire Fauset is a performance poet of such talent and power that she commonly has audience members in tears. When I first went to her blog, there was a link saying simply 'God'. I had to click it. It took me to the site of Taylor Mali.

I'm largely unfamiliar with slam poetry, but Claire and all others I know of who are involved talk of Mali in these awed, untouchable tones. He wins national poetry slams in America year after year.

Not knowing much about him, my first click was naturally enough to the biog page. It told me how he makes his living these days as a voiceover artist, and was the voice of Burger King.

What? A poet of such passion, honesty, idealism and clear vision as Claire Fauset is in awe of a Burger King voiceover guy? Not just that, but one who is so proud of it that he believes it warrants a mention given a few short paragraphs to describe himself?

Despite Mali's enormous talent and unarguable prowess as a poet and performer, what does it mean if he willingly dresses himself in puppet strings? How can we believe anything he ever says? Not only will he say anything he's paid to say with just as much conviction as he delivers his poetry, but what if he had a point to make that conflicted with the interests of his corporate paymasters? Would you trust him to speak up?

Trust is the real issue here. His voice is not trustworthy. When he so readily says things he doesn't believe, who's to say what parts of what he says can be trusted?

Mali's poems talk of his dayjob as a teacher, proudly declaring

So I finally taught somebody something,
namely, how to change her mind.
And learned in the process that if I ever change the world
it's going to be one eighth grader at a time


Then he goes out, one entire nation of kids at a time, and changes their minds. Any work he may have done about getting people to think for themselves or to sharpen their intelligence is undone millions of times over as he makes them buy junk food, stuff that - as we've seen in Supersize Me - literally makes its consumers stupid.

He talks of how, when challenged by a lawyer to say what he makes, he replies that he 'makes a difference'. He certainly does. He makes people buy things they don't want by lying to them.

Oh, but surely he doesn't make them buy things. They have a choice, don't they?

Burger King, and Mali's other employers, know they will sell a lot more of their product if he does the voiceover. If that were not the case, they would not employ him in the first place. His powers of persuasion, honed on the from-the-heart slam poet stage, are very strong. He does indeed make the audience buy the products he's selling.

He is, his biog says, a 'voiceover artist'. What is the art in 'voiceover artist'? It's the art of sounding enthused, authoritative, knowing, wise, cool or passionate about something when you're really not. It is the art of lying. Not lying for any greater good, but lying to people so they give your paymaster their money and you get a tiny cut of the take.

He says you have to 'speak with authority', but what does it mean if that power and conviction is the same voice that he uses to sell us superfluous consumer goods that we don't need to enrich people we don't like?

Someone who says whatever the corporation pays them to is no longer an artist, they are a billboard. Whatever is paid to be pasted up is what goes up, they have abdicated their believability. The real origin of what they say is not in their heart, but in the advertising executives offices.

Mali does a poem addressing his voiceover work. It is a clever ratatat collage of snippets but it offers no explanation of why he does it, or even much meaning beyond 'I do this because I can'.

In 'What Teachers Make' Mali says ‘if you got this [taps head] then you follow this [taps chest]’.

To the untrained observer, it may seem like the latter gesture indicates the heart. To those who know what Mali does with his time, it’s clear he’s indicating the inside pocket of his jacket where he keeps his wallet.

He's proud of teaching in private schools. Private schools will always find good teachers. If he really wanted to 'make a difference' he'd put a teacher of his enthusiasm and commitment in a public school. Poor kids have as much potential as the rich kids he teaches, but they are offered less motivation and less opportunity. Light is needed where it's darkest, and just one torch can light up a vast darkness.

Taking the easy money of doing adverts is symptomatic of a deeper malaise in an established artist. By surrendering to the pressure to become just another brand, just a saleable commodity, or - less even than that - a mere sales tool for vacuous or actively destructive commodities, they tell us a lot about themselves.

They tell us their work is not paramount to them any longer; their view of the original reasons for doing their work has become obscured; their conscience is gagged; they don't mean enough to themselves any more.

That being so, how can they mean anything to us?


= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

‘Here’s the deal, folks. You do a commercial, you’re off the Artistic Roll-Call forever. End of story, OK? You’re another corporate fucking shill, you’re another whore at the capitalist gang-bang, and if you do a commercial there’s a price on your head, everything you say is suspect and every word that comes out of your mouth is now like a turd falling into my drink.’
- Bill Hicks

2 comments:

Curious Nick said...

Go to the Taylor Mali site, and run your mouse down the menu bar.
As your cursor travels from the 'Bio' link down to the 'Links and Journal' link watch in awe as Taylor takes his shades off in the photos on the left.
This effect is so utterly, bloodboilingly irritating I can harly bear it. You can almost hear him announcing 'I call this one Smug Egowank Me Me Me. Look mommy, a whole website all about me! I'm going to change America forever! As soon as the Burger King cheque clears anyway. God I love me. I wish you loved me mommy.I wish just once you had told me you loved me...'

If this is God, bring on Satan...

radical supergirly said...

look the 'god' thing was supposed to be a bit ironic. I never thought it would get me into so much trouble! no-one ready my blog anyway! merrick are you trying to make me look like a silly sycophantic girlie - I guess i'm managing that by myself? :-) ps gave TM a copy of this post at a poetry slam last week xxx