The Monday Hangover 03/01

by | Mar 2, 2010 | POLITICS

The bastards are closing in. All of them. Debt collectors, landlords, city politicians with puritanical noise ordinances, senators with bureaucratic guillotines falling with nauseous rapidity towards the tensing neck of our state arts funding, and the Westboro Baptist Church wheeling into town with all the senseless venom of unreasonable hate stabling on the putrid lips of their despicable rhetoric. I’m feeling the hate, RVA.


The bastards are closing in. All of them. Debt collectors, landlords, city politicians with puritanical noise ordinances, senators with bureaucratic guillotines falling with nauseous rapidity towards the tensing neck of our state arts funding, and the Westboro Baptist Church wheeling into town with all the senseless venom of unreasonable hate stabling on the putrid lips of their despicable rhetoric. I’m feeling the hate, RVA.

And yet as I meandered around the 14 person art show, Not Real People, at gallery and studio space 101 Addison on Saturday night, I had a sense of something more than hopelessness. What general nutjob but occasionally insightful Alex Jones referred to as “creativity and the dynamic human spirit that refuses to submit” in cult film Waking Life, seemed to take on a concrete form as the crowds wafted through the gallery and back out onto the sidewalk, where you could still see baristas ambling through their closing duties in the dimmed light and upturned chairs of the Lamplighter Roasting Company across the street. No matter how unviable a life of artistry in this economy seems, no matter how fervently our society attempts to drown out the still rising flames of the human spirit with convoluted arguments for false progress, the creative class persists in reaffirming their unapologetic existence. We’re not going anywhere.

We’re going everywhere. In my nearly 8 years as a Richmonder, I’ve been enamored with, and plagued by, the nature of the underground culture here. At times a vibrant and celebratory community of local visionaries and bohemian lust for unabated collective and individual expression, full of optimism and unflinching ambition (much like the remarkably diverse show at 101 Addison), Richmond cultivated within me a sense of endless possibility, a romantic voice made slightly smoky with the burnt ends of a turbulent history and Southern languor. And perhaps it’s this sense of regional immobility that leads to the vicious apathy that characterizes the other, less inspiring portion of our artistic demographic.

There is in this town an endemic frustration, a popular and furious animosity that stamps its feet when whatever is going on is not good enough, and for some, it never is. It is the tendency to articulate this perspective without any apparent effort to combat the perceived cultural impotence that widens the fissures in the foundations of our artistic community. We can’t seem to agree on a common vision, and as such there are many who would rather go about the systematic vandalism of others’ efforts than compromise arrogance and unify against the forces of Old and Evil which seek to render us ineffective. We can’t afford this. Not now.

With all the digital bickering over how best to address the impending intrusion of the WBC, I’m starting to question the potential of this city that nurtured my own evolving identity. We have here an enemy of unquestionable vileness (I’m not opposing their right to demonstrate, for I believe that freedom of speech is inalienable). I don’t want the government to silence them. I want us to silence them. We have a responsibility to stifle their hate with a society of love, to exhibit our indomitable empathy and unwavering unity, to be mutually supportive in the terrible and ancient face of racism. Because of our slave-owning past, because of our visions of the future, and because it is the nature of the marketplace of ideas to be poisoned by unchecked hostility, we need to stand together as a community. If we have one.

I’ve heard that the opposite of love isn’t hate, but fear. And we seem to be paralyzed by it. Afraid of not being heard, of being misunderstood, afraid of the future, of the past, of being the scorned ghosts of our generations, of rejection, mistakes, death and failure, economies and unfulfilled destinies, we’re frozen in the inarticulate terror of unknowable possibility, uttering insults from the spiritless safety of snark, because if we are always resorting to criticism, it makes us harder to criticize. We all want to be the rightest motherfucker.

If we can’t unify against the WBC, stop the slaughtering of our arts funding, or halt a bill that impedes upon our basic constitutional right to have a life after dark, however will we reach consensus on how to go about such a precarious business as the creation of a radically inclusive arts city, where we are validated by each other, where criticism is constructive rather than squeezed out through the white knuckles of baseless resentment and needless competition? Scary, I know.

It was these thoughts that reflected in my wineglass as I sat around a fire later Saturday night, watching my friends spin poi in the moon-scarred electricity of the coming spring. Conversations fell silently like ash in the rusted metal of the fire pit, the warping of dance music collapsing and reconstructing itself in the flames. As I retreated further into the tannic introspection of the moments that surround midnight like some lunar aura, I started to laugh. I’d allowed myself to become bitter about bitterness, rendered hopeless by hopelessness and lazy indifference. I had, in a moment, lost. I let them get too close with contagious spite, and became the disease. It was that easy. And it will happen again, because self-awareness in this world is necessarily a constant pursuit.

But it won’t stop those of us with hope, if not faith, in ourselves and this strange place we share, from trying to manifest a more ideal space. We will not be the lingering echo of fate that toils under the weight of paper and finally collapses like infantry into the metal breast of our enemy. We will not be war. We will not be peace. We will be laughing into the confounding nothingness of righteous morality and death, shouting “Is that all you got, motherfucker?” cause it ain’t got nothing on the Sabbath of our words, and the things we’ll be but never leave behind.

R. Anthony Harris

R. Anthony Harris

I created Richmond, Virginia’s culture publication RVA Magazine and brought the first Richmond Mural Project to town. Designed the first brand for the Richmond’s First Fridays Artwalk and promoted the citywide “RVA” brand before the city adopted it as the official moniker. I threw a bunch of parties. Printed a lot of magazines. Met so many fantastic people in the process. Professional work: www.majormajor.me




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