Capitalism vs Art: Atlantas Teddy Perkins and Michael Jackson,Is Suffering The Only way To be Great?
The reason I create any type of art is for complete expression. I want to express the truth of myself and my life and in turn give my audience a glimpse into themselves as well. I genuinely believe that’s the basis of all art. We see ourselves in art. It gives us all a glimpse into how we feel and how we see the world. Which is why many artists believe that making money from Art is frowned upon. It’s the same idea as “there’s no such thing as a selfless good act because you feel good doing the deed” So? It’s okay to feel good because you do good. It’s also okay to be rewarded for beautifying the world, giving people entertainment and informing them. I don’t know why we fetishize suffering at the cost of each other. You don’t have to feel like shit so someone can be happy.
Capitalism has reinforced the idea of loss for the sake of reward. How we trade goods is by sacrificing our time to corporations and being compensated with tickets that can get you stuff. It’s wired our brains to see sacrifice as a necessity of reward. There’s an idea that a good deed is only good if you get a bad deal from a situation. It’s the same idea that romanticizes and fetishizes poverty. There’s an idea in our societies that poverty is associated more closely to righteousness. I know some evil broke people. Good and bad aren’t class traits, they’re human traits. Everyone can be bad and good. I think all of these things were created by psychopaths in order to control people. It’s okay to feel good once you do something good, you don’t need to sacrifice your wellness in order to gain.
Artists have historically been screwed out of lucrative deals where everyone makes money except for the artist himself. All because of this idea that the artist shouldn’t even ask for money. People are laughed at for wanting to pursue any career in the arts but those same people that laugh, indulge in hours and hours of art as entertainment. But every artist is supposed to be Jesus or something. We’re all just supposed to be unpaid carpenters in a world that requires money to survive.
But I understand the concept of selling out. Capitalism does incentivize clones which is the antithesis of creativity. Every time something is successful, regardless of what it is, people will try to copy it. It can be a movie, song, painting or even a business. If people see a successful model they’ll inevitably copy it while creativity needs you to be unique and original. People are scared of being unique and original because they are afraid of being ridiculed and humiliated publicly which is a valid fear. Any type of creativity is a leap of faith. You’re jumping into uncharted territory with very little information at first and an overwhelming likelihood of failure in the beginning. And a lot of people aren’t willing to take those risks understandably. Which is why when people see a successful model they’ll copy it to lessen the chance of failure. But the concept of selling out means that you have become inauthentic and unoriginal for the sake of monetary compensation. And that ruins the purity of the creation which ruins the point of creating which is creativity. Creativity is the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work. So you have to be original, it’s part of the definition.
And to sell out would be to express something that is not your original idea and dishonest for the sake of monetary compensation and only that. It’s to be contrived and generic, but it’s not to be rich. Being rich doesn’t necessarily mean that an artist has sold out. There’s plenty of artists that create extremely original work and get paid a lot for it. But there are people that look for the formula so they can make a quick dollar and I guess that’s when you’ve sold out. And a lot of how any art industry works right now is basically human trafficking. You’re always buying into the artist and their likeness, it’s never just the art itself. You’re buying the whole brand. And the whole brand becomes controlled by multiple corporations with vested interest in acquiring capital and making more money. So the artist will be limited in their expression in exchange for money to massage the relationships of the people that bought into a brand. Or being mass produced and being asked to tone down your content to appease a mainstream audience. Or even a corporation buying into the brand ends up changing your opinion on something you fundamentally disagree with for the sake of monetary compensation. So if you started your career against the exploitation of people but you also have a Nike deal for shoes made by sweatshops, then you’ve sold out.
But if you’re able to maintain your integrity, fundamental beliefs and express in the most honest way there’s no reason why you should feel ashamed for being compensated for your work. The arts are placed at the bottom of the barrel in levels of importance yet everything in our daily lives circulates around art, and always has. There’s also this romanticization of the tragic artist story. We love the story of the starving artist, we also love dead artists. That’s why every work of Art someone has ever made while alive multiplies in ungodly amounts of notoriety after an artist dies. It’s because we don’t appreciate stuff until it’s scarce. We love rare and limited things. That’s why brands like supreme use scarcity marketing to get you to buy their products for higher prices. It’s exclusive and makes you feel better than someone because you possess it and people want it but are unable to acquire it, which ultimately raises its price.
But all art and artists are rare and should be treated as such. We shouldn’t fetishize an artist's suffering and we should instead empower them. But it all stems back to that belief that associates righteousness with negative circumstances. This philosophy was explored in an episode of Donald Glover's FX show ‘Atlanta’. The episode was the 6th episode of the second season titled “Teddy Perkins'' after the character the episode revolves around with the same name. Darius finding an ad on Craigslist for a piano with multicolored keys goes on a journey to the home of the brothers Benny Hope and Teddy Perkins both retired jazz piano players. Teddy's unnatural appearance and weird personality unnerves Darius but he stays in hope of acquiring his piano. A series of weird and creepy things happen at the home of these two jazz musicians leaving Darius with possibly his first regret in life. Teddy Perkins was basically Donald Glover's best interpretation of Michael Jackson. Donald Glover wears multiple layers of white makeup and plastic to play the Ghoulish Teddy Perkins. The episode explored various themes such as fame, the entertainment industry, child entertainers and the costs of greatness. This exploration was laid out in further detail when Teddy showed Darius his gift shop that he ran from inside of his house.
Teddy explained that he was trying to turn his home into a museum and insisted that Darius sees a part of the room that he felt Darius would love. So Teddy takes Darius into a dark room, closes the door and turns on a spotlight in the centre of the room. The spotlight shines brightly over a suit on a mannequin and Teddy explains that the mannequin was supposed to be his father. Teddy says that he was the reason for “all this''. Teddy explains that his father had a very strict and rigorous Jazz training regiment which included testing and then he would physically abuse them if they fell short of what he believed was greatness. Darius asked “So your dad beat you so you could be good at piano” and Benny responded angrily “To be good at life! We were his sacrifice”. Benny explains that most people wouldn’t understand but he believed that “to make an omelette you gotta crack a few eggs''.
Teddy said he was grateful for his father and always maintained the belief that his father was a great father and he believed that “great things come from great pain”. He went on to say that he wanted to dedicate that wing of the museum to great father’s referencing Joe Jackson, Tiger Woods father, Serena and Venus Williams father and Marvin Gaye Sr, all of which are known for being very strict on their extraordinary children. Teddy believed that all great things require great pain and that his suffering during his upbringing is what made him and very few people like him, extraordinary. There’s no denying that many great things do come from great pain but romanticizing the pain and suffering makes us put people through suffering so we can get the product of that suffering. It’s the same reason why Joe Jackson and all those parents did actually physically and verbally abuse their kids, to see them progress and be great. And that’s why the art world is highly competitive with very few individuals at the top of the field reaping the majority of the rewards because in capitalism the market breeds competition for profit. So we’re forced to compete and copy or suffer, but that suffering is romanticized and people expect something great to come out of that suffering. We almost justify human suffering because it produces great human achievements.
It’s true that great things have come from great suffering and it’s an idea worth exploring. Many great feats of human achievements have included a vast amount of human suffering. Things like the great pyramids in Egypt that required unprecedented amounts of slave labour or the Europeans traversing the entire continent of North America by getting Asian immigrants and African slaves to create the infrastructure for the richest and most military secure country of all time. The greatness of Michael Jackson as a performer could easily be linked to the amount of pressure his abusive father put on him that created that diamond performer, but it also created a deeply troubled and strange adult. I’m personally a fan of Michael Jackson the musician. He created timeless music and successfully became the most popular human being on Earth after growing up in the public eye and being a musical prodigy as the lead singer in the Jackson 5 starting at age 5. I personally don’t believe that Michael Jackson ever harmed a kid but I do think he had a strange obsession with children because he wanted to be a child. His childhood was stolen from him by his father, fame, capitalism and the entertainment industry. And now he had all the money he could ever need but he still needed that which he missed out on. Which is why his house was called ‘Neverland Ranch’. He saw himself as Peter Pan who would be that eternal kid. But he wasn’t a kid. Behind those flashing lights and shiny gloves he was just a troubled grown man. He was groomed into becoming the perfect performer but a strange man. Michael Jackson is one of many child celebrities that go off the rails after losing their childhood to celebrity. It’s an interesting exploration because some don’t see Michael's life as a tragedy. You could see it as the dream life. Michael Jackson was and still is undeniable greatness. Since he was 5 years old he wowed the world, dropped multiple classic albums and reached heights no artist before or since have been able to reach. He was beloved by billions and when he died the entire world froze and mourned him. And he’s remembered in generally high regard to this day. But that would be leaving out Michael the human. And that’s what we do with a lot of artists.
Van Gogh cutting off his ear due to loneliness just makes him more eccentric, nobody gives a fuck about your suffering if you produce great pieces of work. People even encourage people to suffer so they can create good content. The Weeknd's fans are always wishing he would break up with his significant other before he makes music so he can make a sad album. Artists' suffering is almost a prerequisite so people can enjoy their art. And that’s why we’re forced to compete and compare and copy and why we’re left unoriginal which makes society suffer as a whole. Creatives are the people who revitalize entire communities and their economies by beautifying them and those are the same neighborhoods that gentrify the creatives that aren’t able to sustain a living in that neighborhood after their beautification process made the property value rise. People can’t sustain a living from creating art but everyone else makes money from the art, especially after the artist dies.
But regardless of capitalism I try to find that kernel of truth that I need to express within me. I have to live within capitalism and it’s difficult to see from outside of it but there’s still truth that I need to be expressed that I try to find to express. I always try to report on how I feel at the exact moment in time regardless of what I’m doing. If I’m making music I have to create what I’m feeling and if I’m writing it’s the same thing. Regardless of what creative task I’m taking on at hand I have to stray away from the algorithm I’m accustomed to, and find the truth of the process. Every artistic task I embark on is a self discovery journey. Even if I don’t know it at the moment I’ll look at it a month later and understand completely where I was in my life during that creation, how I was feeling and what I needed.
If I don’t stray from the algorithm then I’ll start thinking about money and create what I believe to be what will make me reap rewards quicker. That’s why a lot of music today sounds similar. It’s why a lot of artists in the 60's had the “Motown sound”. When I’m following the algorithm of what’s hot on streaming services or Instagram it tells me to make a trap beat if I wanna be successful. And that’s why a lot of these artists sound the same until someone breaks the mold. Those are the artists that are heralded in the long run. People that create something fresh, original and authentic. Those are the architects of tomorrow. Artists are responsible for shaping our global perspective and the only way to do that is through ultimate expression even within capitalism.
My goal is to be as authentic and dope as I can while reaping the rewards and benefits of my creative work. And I won’t feel bad about gaining the maximum level of exposure and profit from doing something I love to do. But I’m not willing to get beat like Michael Jackson or sacrifice my fundamental morals for the sake of compensation. And that’s the line many creatives I speak to don’t even want to approach. A lot of people I’ve spoken to are adamant about the evils of capitalism and don’t believe in any profits being reaped from a creative work and I can see that part too. And I’m not blind to the pitfalls of capitalism, of course there are many. But I physically can’t not create and my talents happen to be profitable and enjoyable. So if I have to live in a capitalistic world I’m gonna make the best world I can be a part of in every single way. And that includes doing something I love and getting paid for it. What do you think? Is Teddy Perkins right? Is great sacrifice the only way to greatness?