Product Displacement: A Manifesto

By Joshua Furst.

September 13, 2010.

Originally published by Mischief and Mayhem.

For decades now—since I was ten, and through a series of improbable happenstances, found myself cast as the Boy in a college production of Waiting for Godot—I’ve been a believer in the possibilities, the value, the uses of art. Catharsis and contemplation. Emotional, existential recognition. The transformations and radicalizations, philosophical, political, all that. Our shared humanity, blah, blah, blah.

The fact is I’ve wasted my life on art. I didn’t realize this until recently, but now that I have, I can’t see my way around this reality.

Why wasted? Because I lived under the impression that my belief, laughably impractical, rose from a universally agreed upon truth: that art was a necessary component in what it meant to be human, that it created an ever expanding community around it—thus society, thus civilization. In its profane way, art was holy.

It’s not…or not often. Art can do and be these things. It’s capable of them. But first and foremost, it’s a commodity. The stuff that truly attains has slipped through by mistake.

Artists—painters, writers, filmmakers, musicians, it doesn’t matter what form of art they practice—aren’t encouraged to look for the far reaches of the human; they’re not given an incentive to reach toward the hand of God. No, they’re asked—if they want to succeed in this world—to manufacture easily digestible goods. This is how it’s always been and this is how it always will be. All that talk of genius, all that reverence for the artist, it’s just part of the pitch. I’m not saying that all writers, filmmakers, et al, are guilty of corrupt intentions. What I mean is that they—we—and the work we create are compromised by the imperatives of the market. We either twist our work into a complicit form and try to sneak in as much of value as we can get away with, or we find a way to make the work itself—its relative success or failure as art—irrelevant, to sell an image of ourselves as artists.

This may, to you seem self-evident. If so, you’re better for it. I didn’t realize it—except in the abstract—until I encountered the mechanics of the Art Industry firsthand, first while writing and directing plays, then while writing and publishing novels and short stories. I’ve struggled to deny these brutal truths, to find a way around these unseemly pressures. To do so requires great ignorance or great power. I have neither. What I have is a willful refusal to give up my naivety regarding the transactional nature of capitalism. Also, I’m lucky enough to have been selected by one of the very few editors in the publishing industry with enough power to ignore these imperatives, and thus I’ve been cushioned from the most brutal of these truths. Many of the artists I respect most haven’t been so fortunate.

I don’t think we’re alone. I suspect there’s an army of people like us out there clinging to the swampy butt-crack of capital. My hope is that this website might be place where we can find each other.

Below, you’ll find a partial—and partially true—statement of my beliefs and my reasons for joining Mischief and Mayhem:

Because we beg to differ,

Because we remember how the 80s tried to warp our souls, and in the 90s we watched our friends grow complacent, and for the past decade the market mind police have taught us to love our captors, but we continue to struggle against the totalitarianism of mediocrity,

Because bureaucracy neuters dissent every time,

Because we never learned how to stop asking why,

Because we yearn for those long late night conversations about everything and nothing, those plans for insurrection we made so many years ago, before we knew better—they blew our minds, man, they really mattered,

Because revolt is never the rational option,

Because we don’t know what real is and neither do they,

Because their condescension doesn’t mask their fear,

Because you know, without our telling you, exactly who they are.

Because when we hit the air we tend to combust, our flames burning in various shades of blue, blue about the primacy of comfort over content, of content over craft; blue about the timidity, the lack of aesthetic, political and moral conviction (that trinity without which art is just industry) that the marketplace has requested of us; blue about the lies we’ve been asked to tell and the lies we’ve been asked to embody,

Because we refuse to beg for their approval, but also, we refuse to cede the fortress to them,

We will continue, against our best interest, to waste our lives in pursuit of art.

We, like Melville and Woolf and Ferlinghetti and others before us, must take matters into our own hands. Like Tom Paine, Abbie Hoffman and Ian McKay, like every idealist squeezed by capital’s sphincter, we are heartbroken and unable to yield.

(The original Mischief and Mayhem post of this piece is viewable at