It’s no secret why Mark Fisher ended up killing himself. Sure, he was “depressed.” But why do you think a mind like that would be? He knew, in the end, there actually was no alternative to capitalist realism. A question he asked in the title of his seminal work, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? It would appear not. And, after exploring the many facets of a term he defines as “the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it,” Fisher punched his own ticket early. The year was 2017 and he hung himself, as is the male signature.
He had already stated in the aforementioned tome, by way of paraphrasing, that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. A prophecy that will, indeed, be fulfilled sooner rather than later the way things keep going. Of course, the “end” won’t come for all. Just for those whose bodies don’t adapt to extreme heat, oh, instantaneously. Or those who can’t further compound the issue of climate change by flitting away on their private jet when the conditions in one place become unfavorable, so they hop on over to somewhere else. Though soon, as Elon seems to know, that somewhere else for the rich will have to be space.
So perhaps instead of waiting for the world’s end, Fisher ended himself. A delicate spirit can only take so much, and it’s hard to imagine Fisher much caring for the events that have followed his 2017 suicide. Though many would have loved to hear his thoughts on COVID-19 and its aftermath. Which everyone has already seemed to have conveniently forgotten about in their bid to ignore the reality that things don’t stop falling apart just because one refuses to acknowledge it. With outbreaks of monkeypox, Marburg virus and, obviously, more mutant strains of coronavirus, it feels like contagion is “the new normal”—a phrase people (especially politicians) enjoy using as a means to further lower the bar on what the masses can expect out of life. And “normal” temperatures are part of that standard-lowering. No, we’ve got “new normal” temperatures now, with this season being ominously and “ironically” referred to as “the last cool summer.” At 104-106 degrees in most Western European countries, that’s a harrowing thought.
And while the poor continue to be seared off the planet’s face, the rich keep directing the policies of their corporations, ones that will feed the consumer’s (whatever remains of them, anyway) “desires” until this whole Earth melts into oblivion. Maybe even signaling a new Ice Age. That brings us to the genesis of a much-talked about word tee from Vetements’ Spring/Summer 2023 collection. No, not the one that read, “I’m not doing shit today” with a box checked off underneath it next to the words, “Mission Accomplished” (a signature Bushism, by the way). But that sentiment does go hand in hand with the real standout message from the show: “Stop Being Rich.”
This plays into the ouroboros of confusion many people have about the original message on the tank top Paris Hilton wore for a 2005 fashion show in Las Vegas (for Nicky Hilton’s clothing line, Chick). One that read: “Stop Being Desperate.” Somewhere along the line, a person with a deft Photoshop hand altered it to say, “Stop Being Poor” and it’s been an internet meme staple ever since. Particularly in dragging Republican policies on, well, just about anything. And yet, once upon a time, there was no denying that not only was being Republican “acceptable,” it wasn’t so outright laughable. Even when it was. But in the times of, say, Ronald Reagan—the beginning of the end—there was far more of a stigma to openly making fun of the yuppies who served as that president’s acolytes. In point of fact, not wanting to be part of the yuppie cult made you some kind of “freak” back in the day. And even now, being “anti-capitalist” (though such a feat is essentially impossible unless one retreats to a hand-crafted shack in the woods) isn’t exactly embraced. What’s acceptable instead is being a “Social Democrat”—a.k.a. being up Bernie Sanders’ and AOC’s ass.
After a “liberal” blip in the 90s that Clinton ruined with his penile meanderings, conservative reign returned in the 00s under the Bush/Cheney administration, an almost decade-long assault on anything “pinko.” Hence, the flourishing of a brand like Abercrombie & Fitch, which was basically a front for neo-Nazi “philosophy.” And shockingly geared toward the “heteronormative” despite being homoerotic as fuck. Hilton was more partial to Juicy Couture despite existing in the same heyday as A&F. Perhaps she would’ve worn Vetements, too—if it had existed at the time. Alas, brothers Demna and Guram Gvasalia’s company wasn’t founded until 2014. Incidentally, the Gvaslias were born in the Soviet Union and had to flee during the Russo-Georgian War. That could be part of the reason why they went in the complete opposite direction in terms of embracing everything Russia does not stand for: a free market. And maybe they wanted to get Paris to wear one of their garments for sure by paying such overt homage to her. Now that we live in an era wherein the script has flipped since “Stop Being Poor” was the more widely-wielded ideology in the 00s, and it’s presently chicer to belittle the rich rather than the broke (everyone else). But “call-out” (better known as cancel) culture was never Fisher’s cup of tea. He preferred that people use that kind of energy toward something more constructive. Like creating a grassroots movement for tangible political change. But maybe his awareness of human apathy and pettiness made him slightly cynical about whether that could ever actually happen (again, another reason for suicide).
That we’ve come to the point where we can all feel good about telling the one-percent to just “stop” being rich (even though it’s likely that none of their “riches” are liquid) speaks to what Fisher said all along about capitalism’s insidiousness. That even talking shit about it has become commodifiable in order to sustain it (his own books were further proof of that). To boot, we’re all going to “stop being” entirely for the sake of sporting our world views in clothing format. Because every time a piece of clothing is manufactured, Mother Nature loses some of her wings.
Using the example of Wall-E to make his point about anti-capitalism merely fueling capitalism, Fisher wrote,
After all, and as Žižek has provocatively pointed out, anti-capitalism is widely disseminated in capitalism. Time after time, the villain in Hollywood films will turn out to be the ‘evil corporation.’ Far from undermining capitalist realism, this gestural anti-capitalism actually reinforces it. Take Disney/Pixar’s Wall-E (2008). The film shows an earth so despoiled that human beings are no longer capable of inhabiting it. We’re left in no doubt that consumer capitalism and corporations—or rather one mega-corporation, Buy n Large—is responsible for this depredation; and when we eventually see the human beings in off-world exile, they are infantile and obese, interacting via screen interfaces, carried around in large motorized chairs, and supping indeterminate slop from cups. What we have here is a vision of control and communication much as Jean Baudrillard understood it, in which subjugation no longer takes the form of a subordination to an extrinsic spectacle, but rather invites us to interact and participate. It seems that the cinema audience is itself the object of this satire, which prompted some right-wing observers to recoil in disgust, condemning Disney/Pixar for attacking its own audience. But this kind of irony feeds rather than challenges capitalist realism. A film like Wall-E exemplifies what Robert Pfaller has called ‘interpassivity’: the film performs our anti-capitalism for us, allowing us to continue to consume with impunity.”
And consume with impunity we have. No objective bystander (read: extraterrestrial) watching this all play out from afar on some other planet would say that we weren’t entirely responsible for our downfall. That we haven’t all been complicit in Earth’s slow-burn (literally) demise via the pursuit of our “little needs” and “impulse buys.” In truth, you could say impulse control issues have been humanity’s Achilles’ heel since the dawn of Creation. But so long as we keep condemning capitalism whilst shrugging our shoulders about it, we’ve exonerated ourselves. Cast our position as that of the fatally-doomed-no-matter-what character in any tragedy.
Fisher adds to his Wall-E example that the collective defeatist cynicism about this “system” only makes us more culpable, illuminating,
The role of capitalist ideology is not to make an explicit case for something in the way that propaganda does, but to conceal the fact that the operations of capital do not depend on any sort of subjectively assumed belief. It is impossible to conceive of fascism or Stalinism without propaganda—but capitalism can proceed perfectly well, in some ways better, without anyone making a case for it. Žižek’s counsel here remains invaluable. ‘If the concept of ideology is the classic one in which the illusion is located in knowledge,’ he argues, then today’s society must appear post-ideological: the prevailing ideology is that of cynicism; people no longer believe in ideological truth; they do not take ideological propositions seriously. The fundamental level of ideology, however, is not of an illusion masking the real state of things but that of an (unconscious) fantasy structuring our social reality itself. And at this level, we are of course far from being a post-ideological society. Cynical distance is just one way… to blind ourselves to the structural power of ideological fantasy: even if we do not take things seriously, even if we keep an ironical distance, we are still doing them.”
That is to say, still doing nothing with nihilistic flair. Still allowing politicians to dictate “the rules” about integral climate change policies, still emitting our fossil fuels without any other recourse (we say), still buying till we kill ourselves. In that last regard, Fisher was one step ahead. Kill your own hypocrisy lest it kills you. But that’s the thing, innit? Everyone’s a hypocrite, and no one really wants to make a change in their own life about how they conduct their day-to-day affairs. We’re all like that guy in mid-orgasm while masturbating, about to be caught by his mother but needing to finish getting his rocks off anyway. Except, in this case, it’s Mother Nature who has caught us all with our dicks out, getting our pathetic, ephemeral pleasures. And it doesn’t just hurt her—in the end, it will be most detrimental to humans. Mother Earth has shouldered on time and time again through various species’ extinctions. She’ll be just fine without us, likely better. In the meantime, it often feels like everyone is acting out that Don Draper line from the first episode of Mad Men: “I’m living like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t one.”
So why not buy the shirt? If you’re rich enough, of course. For the standard Vetements word top is about five hundred dollars. Here proving yet again that the corporation would sell the rope to hang itself, as is the case if every Vetements customer took the advice to stop being rich. In any event, the shirt is just another token way to pat oneself on the back for being anti-capitalist while still being Capitalism’s bitch [Cynical Defeatism drops mic].
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