At 9:11 a.m. on Sunday, November 19, 2023, YouTube user Tommy C’s Cat posted the following comment on my video “Video Hippos—Live at Whartscape 2007”:
“Doesn't make sense that this was 16 years ago. I think of all the people that moved on, started families, kids, mortgages, corporate 9 to 5's, etc... At first I get jealous and quite sad. Then I remember that I'm exactly where I should be at in life, for me, for now. As for the rest of the world, I can't say I'm impressed. Over these last 16 years, I've been disheartened by the state of DIY arts. Faux-radical activism, strict mono-partisan propaganda, racial pandering that encourages discrimination, intolerance of others' beliefs and opinions, no rules twisted into demands of rule adherence, social credit systems that condemn under the guise of inclusion, freedom of expression handcuffed to avoid being "canceled," inspiration crushed by fears of labels like appropriation, frugality, exploration and restoration abandoned for fears of labels like gentrification... Concepts like true freedom of art (including speech,) tolerance, compromise and unexpected collaboration have been replaced by authoritarianism and a rigid form of Marxism. Dada, nihilism and compromise have become taboo. Personally, I believe the power tripping started with aggressive non-smoking. It was easier to outright ban than rather than create designated areas. Rather than work with a principal of compromise to protect someone else's freedom, people used bullying tactics, lobbyist propaganda and faux-outrage to ban, ban, ban. I never smoked, but I knew a slippery slope effect was inevitable. I was right. Anyway, 2007/2008 were good times to create art. Better than 1966/1967 and 1989 through 1997? Maybe. Unfortunately, most that remember have "grown up" and moved on. Will free-form communal DIY art scenes and spaces make a comeback? My guess is a hard NO. Social media demands that we hate ourselves to fit in, trading expression for the quest for validation”
The comment is dense. I do not know who wrote it, but reading it felt like being beaten to the ground. I shared the comment on Twitter and Instagram on Sunday night, and a surprising number of people reacted and wrote to me about it, asking who it was, telling me not to get down, that this person was part of the problem and cultural turn they were describing themselves. But even more people laughed off the commenter’s rant, a mini-manifesto written with remarkable verve and clarity, if not coherence; mocking the author rather than reckoning with what they wrote.
What did they write?
To my mind, there are only two indisputably wrong points: that banning smoking indoors was bad, and that DIY art and shows aren’t happening anymore. The rest of the comment must be broken down.
The first five sentences are personal despair over the passage of time and roads not taken.
The author then moves onto the state of DIY arts and its many enemies within and without: “Faux-radical activism” and “strict mono-partisan propaganda” have, in my eyes, damaged DIY arts and American society at large. What upset me so much was how many people proved this bitter crank’s point: every conversation is shut down, sabotaged, made impossible by the ambient hostility in the air even among friends and “comrades.”
Despite the never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, George W. Bush riding out a second term, and the imminent global financial collapse, there was never this much fear in the air among artists, at any of the shows or festivals or years this person is referring to. I was there. My friend Obie Feldi is right to call the commenter a “loser” because Obie is 22, and just performed an octaphonic piece for automobiles in the parking lot of an abandoned CVS two blocks away from the Splice Today office. Obie’s living proof that this person is wrong.
At the same time, the amount of people I knew back then, and in years since, who’ve similarly dismissed it as the work of a “right-wing troll,” is enormously discouraging. It clearly struck a nerve, and my response is exactly this. I’m writing this to you, Tommy C’s Cat, and I hope you’ll read the film zine that I edit and publish with Leigh Ann Josephine sometime. It’s called The Servant and you can pick it up for free at Beyond Video, right around the corner from the parking lot where Obie made CVS sing.
Anyone with a word processor, a printer, paper, a stapler, and ink can make a zine. So what are you going to do, lay down and die? Not me.
—Follow Nicky Smith on Twitter: @nickyotissmith