A couple of years ago you got the sense that something was wrong with me. A couple of years is a huge span of time for a kid under ten. It wasn’t clear to me how best to explain it. The best I could come up with was to say that I had a sickness that prevented me from feeling happy. An oversimplification, but a digestible single sentence.
Among other things I’ve done to address that problem, I’ve been using ketamine for about two years. I’ll get around to talking about drugs at greater length at some point in the future.
Sometimes I think about dying when I’m on ketamine. That usually feels very sad, but it’s still worth thinking about. Death is the ticket price of life and grief is the ticket price of love. Most of the time I think they’re worth the cost of admission.
Wombat was reaching the end of her life last Friday, and so death and dying were on my mind.
After I take ketamine I’m pretty useless. I’m a little dizzy and often nauseous and so I lie on the couch and challenge America to entertain me and usually it answers the call. After this particular session I watched a show called Somebody, Somewhere and I felt very connected to the story because the lead character was grieving a loss in a very relatable and believable way, and more than anything I found the loss believable and relatable because the characters were… not conventionally attractive, and that got me thinking about some other stuff.
People spend a great deal of time trying to be pretty. This has probably been the case forever, and there’s good anthropological evidence to support that, but as with all things under capitalism it’s reached an insane fever pitch in 2022, but this is another discussion for another time. It’s enough to say that in almost any artistic medium (aside from stand-up comedy) even the ugly people are beautiful.
I think it is frequently the case that we associate ugliness with poverty, and that we confuse beauty with dignity.
My first real understanding of this developed while visiting a museum of photography. I didn’t know what the exhibit was going to be, but I was living in a new place, had no friends and was both bored and lonely. It was free, and on my route home, so I went in.
It was a retrospective of the work of a man named Milton Rogovin. He was an optometrist from Buffalo, New York, who was an amateur photographer. Among his better known projects were triptychs of people in Buffalo’s Lower West side.
I’ve only been to Buffalo once. The first word that comes to mind when I think about it is ‘rough’. It was painfully cold and crumbling, and that shitty word ‘ugly’ is the second adjective that pops into my head when I think of Buffalo.
These photographs make other points about Buffalo, and it makes other points about how we look at people. A photographer with a respectful lens invited his subjects to choose their clothing, the site in which they would be photographed, and how they would relate to each other in the pictures, and over the course of twenty years revealed their dynamic and complicated lives. I was able to see that their connections kept their lives and neighborhoods from dissolving into chaos.
It is context that dictates beauty. Angles, buildings, light… that’s all composition. Then there’s the relationships expressed between the two or more people; or between the people and the buildings, or the garbage on the ground- all of it speaks to history and on and on to the entire world. That’s context.
Being beautiful, in the conventional sense, costs money. It requires gym memberships, dental care, healthy food, the right amount of time in the sun, haircuts, clothes, and time to dedicate to all of that. It requires an absence of violence and a presence of hope and ease.
And more than that, it needs expensive cameras, lighting design, someone very good at photoshop to touch it all up, and a company willing to pay to have the beautiful person that they created pasted somewhere you’ll see it so that you’ll buy something.
Maybe beauty is an unspoken negative, which is to say maybe beauty is a shadow. Maybe beauty is a cult.
I’ve been digging on Cola Boyy for a while now. He’s pretty awesome. If anti-capitalists had been more willing to play disco and dance music (shout out to Chumbawumba) it’s possible we’d all be living in a worker’s democracy instead of this untenable catastrophe, and it took Cola Boyy to convince me of this.
A thing that’s going to jump out at you when you watch this video is that Cola Boyy looks different than lots of other people. It might surprise you. It surprised me. When we see people on screens it’s usually the case that if they look different they have been made to look different.
Not Cola Boyy. It’s not a decision, but it is something he owns. He wears awesome clothes, he struts, and he walks around with the people featured in the video like they’re old friends, and it is the case that they are old friends. Cola Boyy was born and raised in Oxnard, California, a working-class, largely Latino community, and he loves his town and the people who make it.
I think this video is a lot like those Rogovin pictures from Buffalo. The world doesn’t look at everyday people a lot of the time, and when it does, it’s not reliably respectful. In this video we get to see their depth. They’re three dimensional, in spaces they’ve created, and they are showing who they are.
So, if you’ve got nunchuks, swing those nunchucks. If you’ve got a big ol’ ass, shake that ass.
And I think this is what I want to communicate to you. You need to see the ways that people get made to feel ugly, and you need to understand that making people feel ashamed is an important part of manipulating them.
The inverse is true as well: Helping people feel beautiful and proud is an important part of lifting them up.
Train your eyes to see dignity and you’ll have an easier time understanding beauty. Understand beauty and you’ll be able to understand ugliness.
It doesn’t work the other way around.