PM Pick

The gift economy

It might be useful to contrast Bataille's vision of potlatch expenditure, of competitive destructive waste, with the "gift economy," production by technology-assisted volunteers rather than paid labor -- open-source projects, shared amateur entertainment, Wikipedia, etc. Justin Fox has an article in Time about this phenomenon, pondering what sort of alternative it presents to capitalism's assumptions of rational self-interest. We assume that people behave rationally by getting paid what they are worth -- by making every marginal unit of effort or expenditure yield the most additional utility, however we construe that. Bataille seemed to want to imagine an escape from the prison of rational calculation with behavior so destructive it could yield no such utility, but utility can ultimately be rehabilitated to capture that desire to escape from it. As Jameson notes in Postmodernism, the idea of the market ("Leviathan in sheep's clothing") exerts a totalizing force, with economists such as Gary Becker explaining how any possible desire, conscious or unconscious, can be configured to conform to production functions -- mathematical models of inputs and outcomes -- and thus be rendered rational. Jameson sees this as a desperate attempt to salvage the promises of freedom and equality capitalism rests on but never can deliver. In his view, spontaneous order is an expression of despair at how individuals are never really free in the sense of being able to intervene in their destiny, which remains governed by motives dispersed throughout the system and directed by no one. Instead "cynical reason" (Peter Sloterdijk's term for "enlightened false consciousness") in the form of semi-ironic consumerism reigns as the only freedom we know, and we accept it as compensatory.

But does the gift economy, productive volunteerism, do anything to disturb that analysis? Is there an alternative form of freedom from market rationality in working hours for free on a Linux patch or in distributing your fan fiction online? Or has the compensation changed from money to attention or recognition. (if this is true, what does it say about the devaluation of money, which can no longer secure a fundamental human need such as community recognition?) Fox talks to Yoachi Benkler, author of The Wealth of Networks, who posits a sweet spot between exploitation and cooperation whereby corporations can capitalize on this outpouring of volunteer labor: "The key, Benkler says, is 'managing the marriage of money and nonmoney without making nonmoney feel like a sucker.' " His view is opposed by Nicholas Carr, who argues the market will eventually co-opt volunteer labor by learning how to value it and price it. It seems like work being done for free is either being subsidized elsewhere (as perhaps with Benkler's book; he's a Yale professor and may have been paid by the university to research and write the book) or is pleasurable in its own right, the way most work is markedly not -- we do it on our own time, with our own goals in mind and via methods we've improvised that make us feel most engaged.

But does the gift economy recuperate Bataille's notion of expenditure -- does it serve as a refutation that any act can truly be nonproductive? Also, does it refute the strange notion that true freedom is incompatible with production, that it must consist in some free play that yields only abjection? It seems more likely that people enjoy being useful but have that natural impulse perverted by a market system that insists that gratifying that impulse alone is not enough. The market encourages to suspend that impulse and pursue profitable but personally meaningless activities. Then we rescue the impulse in our private hobbies. The wealth of networks lies in bringing to account all that energy expended in hobbies without corrupting it with the taint of market-driven thinking that makes the work seem inadequate in itself.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11
Amazon
iTunes

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image