Currency and Power

Joanne Artman Gallery
May 31, 2018 10:26PM

Maceration of Money, ca. 1900

Currency at the most basic level is defined as a system or medium of exchange. The physical symbols of this power that are used for exchange - coins, paper money, etc., - hold no intrinsic value, it is only the sustainment of our belief in them, as well as in the systems that create them - the banks, the social institutions, the government -  that gives currency its value. In a big way, social power has long been an established form of currency, as much as material wealth, with the two inexorably interlinked in numerous ways, especially in the political realm.

Roseanne Barr’s recent racist remarks via Twitter, and the follow-up response around them present a particularly illuminating example around the idea of power as a social currency. Though her show was almost immediately dropped by ABC, this action did not do much other than bolster the network’s own PC status in the eyes of many. Much like its star’s own political standpoint, the rebooted show presented a favorable stance on the current administration, and had astonishingly high ratings. Though the conversation on the show seemed to steer towards a bipartisan dialogue, that illusion was shattered with Barr’s remarks. Though these remarks seem stunningly foolhardy in retrospect, the social currency that Barr has amassed during her reign as a prime-time favorite has acted as a safety net as well as raised her appeal in the eyes of those who agree with her racist point of view. This type of support in turn raises the validity of her remarks in terms of currency as more traction is given to the story by the media - propelling it to a national stage. Though her show may be gone, it will continue to live on in dialogue.

By even giving Barr a chance at a reboot of her show ABC knowingly participated in a kind of self-destruction, as the actress is no stranger to Twitter, and has long been known for her racist, Islamophobic and misogynistic statements. Perhaps they were banking on Barr’s social currency to propel the show, perhaps they did not expect her to become as much of a liability. Either way, it is not an unexpected decision in the toxic environment of the current administration and a social climate where cultural norms seem to have shifted dramatically towards a normalized acceptance of a palatable racism.

The situation as it stands, as Lindy West states in her recent op-ed in the New York Times, is that there is a collective responsibility, and it is within reach to utilize our cultural power as our greatest asset in making this country as great as it deserves to be. We have the right to say no. It is not just political correctness, it is the responsibility of all of us to recognize that which dehumanizes, and to take a stance against this type of corrosion, even when someone says it was “just a joke.”

                                Writen by JoAnne Artman Gallery  ||

Joanne Artman Gallery