terre thaemlitz writings

Helping Without Recompense
Against Music and Art Fundraisers
- Terre Thaemlitz

Originally posted on comatonse.com March 22, 2011.


As Japan's threefold ecological disasters of earthquakes, tsunami and radiation are starting to come into perspective, I have begun receiving requests to contribute works to earthquake relief fundraisers. I wish to clarify the reasons I will not participate in any of them, as well as to urge you to find more direct ways to contribute assistance.

Many musicians, artists and other media producers love fundraisers. It allows them to feel the exchange of commodities around which we build our lives is an appropriate means for social transformation. Concerts, CD compilations, T-shirts, and visual artworks are some of their typical responses to disaster. Even though we are assured all profits will go to "charity" (the exact organization generally remaining unspecified), the majority of these activities involve the manufacturing of goods. This means that at some point, some industry at some level is receiving their normal wholesale manufacturing fees, in effect doing business as a result of disaster. Typical points at which "charity" gives way to "business-as-usual" may be a CD manufacturer, a printer, an art supply store, an internet service provider hosting charity websites, etc. Although these profits are generally incidental, and not bearing the malicious intent one typically associates with "profiteering," this chain of relations disgusts me all the same. Furthermore, the manner in which we as producers are pressured to accept the fact that "we need to give people something to get them to donate" strikes me as nothing but a sign of our capitulation to the most shallow of capitalist philosophies, and a sign of the loss of that very humanity we wish to believe our charity productions exemplify.

Similarly, many music fans, art collectors and other consumers love fundraisers. It allows them to feel the consumption of commodities around which we build our lives is an appropriate means for social transformation. This is lazy, if not irresponsible. To be blunt, if you don't care enough to help directly, but would have otherwise bought some charity CD or other object, this absolutely makes you a shallow and indifferent person. Your only consolation is the fact that what you do with that revelation is more important than the revelation itself.

If you truly wish to help those in desperate need, and are in a position to help, I urge you to contribute time and/or funds directly and without any recompense in the form of commodities or entertainment. For those of us in Japan, your local town hall (Kuyakusho or Shiyakusho) is one simple place to inquire about how you can assist in this time of need. For those outside of Japan, do some research and make your entire donation count. Emergency service providers and charities already have enough unavoidable overhead costs to dilute the power of your donation. Don't waste half or more of your donation to cover the manufacture of some CD or other object that only exists to feed our collective vanity.

In an emergency, the rules change. Let's momentarily think outside of standard commerce systems. In general, if you care about something enough to offer assistance, begin by making the initial effort to see how you can ensure as much of your contribution as possible gets to the people you wish to help!

Never fear, you can always go later to the mall and buy yourself a present for being such a wonderful human being, proudly telling all your family and friends, "These are the Air Jordan's I bought myself after helping earthquake survivors in Japan." Does that seem too sarcastic? Would boasting like that make you feel embarassed or foolish? Would your bragging be degrading to your more direct efforts at helping people? Would any present you got yourself seem utterly tangential to the real issues at hand? If you think so, then you know how I feel when I see objects being sold for charity, and why I do not contribute my own works to them. I'm sorry to sound so bitter, but I am really offended by these incoming offers. As someone with manufacturing experience, I instantly imagine all the various layers of industry, marketing and distribution set into motion by our charitable good intentions, creating all kinds of useless movements when we could be helping in more direct ways.

Good intentions are incredibly cheap and easy to satisfy. The proof of this is that a simple, worthless prayer is enough to satiate most peoples' need to express compassion. (Unfortunately, cultural leadership from this shallow ideological base is how we find ourselves governed by people like the racist, xenophobic, mysoginist, sexist, homophobic, old money sack of shit Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, who publicly stated he believes the recent tsunami was "divine punishment.")

True help takes effort. It takes people focussing on people. It takes people focussing on real, urgent, immediate needs.

...Not focussing on prayers to imaginary spirits in the sky. Not focussing on beaming "good vibes" into the atmosphere. Not focussing on creating collectable commodities for people outside the areas of devastation. Not focussing on the production and sale of music or art. These latter things may be misguided ways to manage grief, but they should never be mistaken for actual ways to help.

- Terre Thaemlitz, March 22, 2011