Monday, August 28, 2006

Jon Benet's Reflection

Try to avoid garish and crude American trash mags if you can; fact is, you can't. We can't escape the horrible display of the exploitation of the murder of little JonBenet Ramsey. Since the spotlight has shined on an alleged killer, this story is impossible to avoid. It's everywhere. The question that comes to mind is; Why?

The child was murdered. The same media that serve to sexualize children, to exploit them, are all agog now over the arrest of her alleged killer. But it is not JonBenet Ramsey they are concerned with. It is the murder of, as they say, the little "beauty queen". The real JonBenet was a little girl with all the same attributes of any. Naturally, she went along with the attention and the demands that she performed for the adults around her. She naturally and innocently found direction from the adults in her world. She had no way of knowing that she was being shamelessly exploited as a child sex object. Underneath all the grotesque tack, she was a real child who trusted the adults around her. Erase the tack, the paint and make-up, and we would naturally find a wonderful little girl.

We can't blame everything on capitalism; not everything. But the exploitation of JonBenet Ramsey as well as the exploitation of her murder is married to capitalism. More generally, we can blame the cult of personality, the worship of tacky idols, and the drive to turn children into plastic people and to sexualize them for a buck. How capitalism owns the blame may not be as straighforward as we may think. It may be a little deeper, a little more complex, than the simple drive to make money.

The Alienated Identity

It's a fairly safe assumption to suggest that the child would have grown, had she not been murdered, to learn to value herself as a commodity.

To make the point, let's consider two opposing social poles. First, let's consider small hunter gatherer societies. We can also think of family, local community, or any intimate social grouping. In hunter-gatherer societies, human beings are valued for their intrinsic humanness. There may be small pecking orders of authority and so on, but even individuals that provide little or no product or services maintain value simply for being who they are. Just 'being' is qualification enough to be valued. The same is true of families. Babys and the old are given loving care and attention with no expectation of reciprocity. Human nature on its own is truly an honourable and compassionate phenomena.

On the other end of that spectrum is capitalism.

How humans are valued within the world of capitalist culture is rooted in the process of developing capital. From the get-go, all participants and processes are mere means to the end, which is profit. And in the process, humans learn to value only that which contributes to the acquisition of money.

If we consider money itself, we may notice that it is without any tangible value. Its value is completely abstract. It has only exchange value and no use value. It is of the world of phantoms and illusions. It is not part of the tangible world of things and people.

The relationship between money and identity and status is complex and it begins in the process of the manufacture of commodities. As commodities themselves are valued within this context for their potential to make profit - money, so too is the worker him or herself valued and commodified for exactly the same reason. To the extent that we accept this identity, we become alienated from ourselves. We also become alienated from other people and from the tangible world of things, family, and community.

The aspect of the individual that is 'worker' is constrained, owned, exploited, and enslaved. But it is through this psychological construct that the human individual is most valued. He or she may or may not have a good credit rating, or a lot of money, or be poor. The difference has perhaps the greatest impact on who we are, how we get along, and especially, how we are valued in capitalist society. The worker has no choice but to sell his or her labour and time to an owner who has immense control over the workers life.

Beyond that, the individual accepts and owns this key aspect as a defining characteristic of who he or she is. The worker is a cop, a plummer, a teacher, or a lawyer. It has tremendous impact on the identity of the individual. Aside from mere psychological affect, the role of the worker and his or her status in capitalist society has more tangible aspects. That is, depending on how much we make will mean whether we can do things and have things - or not. To be with money in capitalist society means that we are secure, free, and valued. People treat us well if we have money and display status symbols such as jewelry and expensive cars. On the other hand, if we are without it, the state will demand to know the intimate details of our lives and demand to know them in order to grant subsistence for ourselves and our children. There is no freedom for people that must rely on the dole in capitalist society. Poverty in modern capitalist society is brutal.

There is a price we must pay for status; for buying into the face and role that capitalism has provided for us. That price is alienation.

Like the ethereal phantom that money is, so is the identity that emanates from it. It is alienated from the world of human emotion, compassion, and human value. This identity is at odds with human value and will act in the interests of profit to the point actually harming or murdering people to that end. Unfortunately, there is no need to point out examples. We see them every day.

The Rich

Workers strive, in many cases, to shed worker identities and to get real. Look behind the scenes in any workplace and you will see the phony face of 'thank you ma'am' and 'can I take your order' replaced with swearing, comical antics, and human revelry. It is an alien and imposed facade and imposed by a force that is explicitly in control and demanding. It isn't much wonder workers resent it.

But then there is little JonBenet Ramsey.

JonBenet was being fitted with the workers cloak before she could read. She was to be exploited like a sideshow clown.

But there is a big difference. The clown suit and face paint was never to come off. It was aimed at actually becoming her. JonBenet would eventually contort her desires, habits, and behaviour, to meet the most unnatural of standards. Her future was to actually become that beauty queen. As a female in that world, she would eventually be a coveted prize that rich men would bid for so they could have a status symbol with them at dinner parties. She would become a human Porche or Rolex watch. The plastic smile that was being carved into her face would have to stay, no matter how torn up, confused, and alienated she actually felt inside.

From that, she would find no escape. There would be no back room antics where she could let her hair down. She would eventually assimilate the characture into who she actually is. And like all rich people, she would learn to value others based soley on their status and wealth.

She would find, in this world, the strange irony of having the freedom to buy and own what she wants and at the same time, experience no freedom at all. Trapped she would have been in a world of vulgar values, overt pretense, and deceit. Strange it is that this is coveted by workers and non workers in the very human world of the lower classes. Stranger still is the desire for working classes to clamour for details of the hidden lives of these human aberrations. Perhaps it is the betrayal of the of the mirage of the gods of capitalism that sells. The media fascination of the rich has much to do with the fact that media is owned by them. But there is also the appetite within the lower classes to see them, to be close to them, and the desire to become one of them.

The rich are living embodiments of that strangest of all commodities; money. Their personalities and their grotesque facades are just as ethereal and paradoxically, as powerful, as money.

If we are proletariat, we may think the wealthy classes are rife with happy inhabitants. After all, they are rich. But then, when we read those contemptible rags, filled to the brim with stories about Donald Trump, Michael Jackson, or any rich person that they uncover, it doesn't look so un-human or plastic. In reality, they are all exactly the same as the rest of us. Their human-ness will never go away; try as they may. They will be lonely, they feel pain, and they will all die. Reality is inescapable. And for those that aim to distance themselves from reality, we may assume that their lives are marked with tremendous suffering. Their foe (reality) never loses and it always wins.

And in reality this little girl was murdered. Not a beauty queen. And it is likely her vulgar sexualized and imposed facade had something to do with it. In reality, some monster thought he was killing a beauty queen. But he killed an innocent little girl.

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