In his book, Two Cheers For Anarchism, author and philosopher James C. Scott argues in favor of small acts of rebellion. If we’re not prepared to take small risks or instigate tiny acts of anarchy, then we won’t be prepared when we’re called upon to take huge risks or join larger (nonviolent) rebellions against the oppressive forces at work in modern society.
From history, he presents examples of how anarchist principles were used to foster societal change through labor strikes, work slowdowns or stoppages, sabotage, marches, and other forms of protest.
On a personal level, he tells of a visit he made to a small village in Sweden where, at the end of the workday, everyone waits at the town’s single traffic light to cross the street even though the landscape is flat, the villagers can see for miles in either direction, and cars hardly ever appear. One day he decides to cross the street when the light is red, prompting admonitions from the other villagers. He was breaking the law, not following the rules, thumbing his nose (and feet) at prescribed order of things. Which was precisely his point. By exercising his “anarchist muscle” he tells us, he’ll be better prepared when he has to take a stand for something really important.
I think we should follow Professor Scott’s lead and act out whenever we can, if only in small ways. Watching independent surf films in my dining room didn’t feel quite as good as when I marched on Washington in the Eighties, protesting Contra Aid and Ollie North and flipping off Reagan. But it was damn close.
Last night, I hung a crumpled white sheet in the doorway that separates my dining room from our small cluttered sun porch. Using a borrowed projector, I watched some short surf films I found on the great DIY surfing website Korduroy.com. I was all alone; the wife was out with friends and the kids were asleep. The house was dark and silent except for the holy light shining from the humming projector and the tinny postmodern samba music coming from my laptop’s speakers. I felt like God at the dawn of creation. There’s something incredibly rebellious about projecting a moving image on a flat surface. There’s a guerrilla aspect, a hit-and-run feeling, that it gives you. You’re tossing a Day-Glo metaphoric grenade into the mass media groupthink trenches and then booking it back into the jungle before The Man drops a huge net on your ass.
I was reminded why filmmakers have always been some of our truest rebels. Watching a film shimmering on a flat canvas in a dark room or summertime backyard is a giant fuck you to the small-screen, small-minded television executives and Madison Avenue Febreeze salesmen. Big Brother can’t find you here. The box that you turn down but never turn off is shunned. You’ve invited Art with a capital “A” into your life, and it feels like the coolest, sweetest, most life-giving water you’ve ever tasted.
I’m reading Rachel Kushner‘s novel The Flamethrowers right now. It tells the story of a young female filmmaker who becomes romantically involved with a sexy Italian artist during the 70’s New York art scene. I’m only about 100 pages in, and so far not many flames have been thrown, but she captures the youthful yearning for rebellion perfectly. There’s also a lot of motorcycle riding, racing, and talk. Many of the characters in the novel use their motorcycles as means of escape, rebellion, and, I’m hoping, salvation.
Surfing is also act of rebellion. And hopefully, salvation. Of moving beyond the reach of society’s grasp. Hanging that sheet in my dining room was my own act of rebellion and salvation. The heavenly light and music floating from my networked machines, as sweet as the angels’ harps.
We need to bring Art into our lives. To absorb it and to practice it. Painting, photography, printmaking, beekeeping, writing, blogging, even Instagramming; it can all be a means to our liberation. Clandestine sidewalk chalking, anonymous postering, yarn-bombing, motel-pool skinny-dipping, water-gun ambushing; almost nothing is off-limits.
So do some crazy shit each day. Stay sane. And remember what this garbage can outside of Renys told me: