Beauty is Pain: Reflections on a Former Lover’s Suicide

Not so long ago I learned though a former lover, Krystal Layton, committed suicide. While fifteen years has passed since we were an item and in that time we’d drifted far apart, I still found myself profoundly affected by the news. Given the aims of #metoo and it’s importance for helping to initiate conversations that lead to policy solutions which stop the culture of rape in America, I decided to write a memoriam that would add to the conversation. Lest it seem I’m taking liberties with someone else story, I’ll point out I’m only speaking with the same openness that Krystal modeled in the descriptions of her struggles with mental and physical health and substance usage for years on her blog (NSFW) and on her social media accounts. What follows is thus a long format rendition of her #metoo story, from my perspective, that I hope will not only give evidence for the need for more action to be taken to prevent rape and give appropriate support to those that have been assaulted.

Shade Going Through the Field of Time

*

The first time I heard Krystal say the phase Beauty is pain to explain something to me was when we were getting ready to go out to a goth club.

We were together in her bedroom at her parent’s house. The door was open. I was 18, she 16. I helped her tie up a black, lacy imitation-whalebone corset. She said that in the context of explaining how my concern over drawing the strings tight that she have difficulty breathing was unnecessary. “Beauty is pain,” she half gasped half said due to the pressure, “and I want my bust to look it’s best for you tonight. Tighten it more. So I can barely breathe, that’s fine. My boobs will look banging.”

We’d then only been dating a few weeks, so at the time I thought that Beauty is Pain was merely a witty comment of hers. Krystal was quick, perceptive and had a way with words. But during our brief relationship I came to realize that there was something more to this phrase. She’d repeat it in a number of different contexts, like it was a mantra, like it was a logic ever present in making itself felt in human existence. That night, however, I didn’t pick up the fullness of what all she meant by it.

I was reminded of this all a few days after I’d learned of the news of her suicide. I tried logging into an old email account I hadn’t used in ages and, sure enough, was granted access. I re-read the pages and pages of emails – something that now seems strange to say in this texting age – and a flood of memories came back from when we were teenagers. Most of our epistles concerns the  stereotypical topics you’d expect of adolescents, but there was another current beyond the banal and the flowery phrases of adoration exchanged in the first stages of infatuation.

Silk, from personal notebook #3 2001

In those sections where we outlined the way we understood Spirit; the shapes of our fears and how to deal with them; the outlines of the larger things we longed for; all these showed the divide between our world-views. Krystal reflections about life seemed raw and dark. Bitter. For me, while always open to admit that that murk that exists, I always tried to aim for light. I’m not saying I knew then she would take her own life, merely that there was a difficult to negotiate divide and her penchant for darkness extended beyond fashion style.

Because of her appearance – my freshman-year college roommates told me with more than a hint of envy in their voice how she looked like a goth Victoria’s Secret model. That night that I tied her up and we went out? She wasn’t even carded by the same bouncer that closely scrutinized the one legal ID, mine.

We danced together and socialized. I wanted her to get to know my friends so didn’t dominate her presence. Whenever she wasn’t directly next to me in our small group, however, male strangers would try to talk to her. She was respectful, but when conversation turned to flirtation she would quickly quit them and come over to stand close to me to show who she was with. Feeling juvenile pride at their rejection and her selection of me, I fawned over her. One person in particular – a long blond haired older man (which for me at the time meant early 20s)  – caused her to draw me in especially close. Uncomfortably so. The pressure around my ribs didn’t make me worried they break, but the crush of bone against bone was no pleasant sensation.

At first I thought this might be an ex that I was unaware of. A little tipsy, I mentally prepared for a fight, but he just smiled and continued to walk on. I looked down at her face and saw an expression that I did not then and do not now know fully what it was, other than that it haunted me. I whispered in her ear “Who was that?” and she responded “No one, I’ll explain later.” When we got home, she shared her story with me.

Portrait 2012

Several weeks before her and I got started dating, she’d been raped by that man. At a party that he’d drove her too, he’d drugged her drink, cornered her and then forced himself upon her. The way she described it, she was in a murky haze due to whatever he’d dosed her with. She could see what was happening, but couldn’t her body move in the way her brain wanted to and thus couldn’t fend him off. This was why she was so affected – she’d just seen that man that had literally stolen her virginity.

I’d later learn that this same person had tried the same thing with two of my female friends. In my novel Unraveling the very graphic, violent scene towards such a person with similar physical features is a variant of the recurring fantasy that I had towards this person at this time.

Already prone to depression before, she explained, the traumatic experience had significant effects. She had recurring nightmares, felt anxious when around other people, took too cutting and became averse to most of her male friends. Beauty is pain, she explained, as it causes such strong desires in others that many people are willing to do unethical or immoral things to obtain or experience the object of their desires. She didn’t wholly despise her attractive visage, but felt it was like something that she didn’t entirely want either. A flood of what she was struggling with eternally came out and she ended it all with – and you’re the first person that I shared this all with. I felt pride that she trusted me so much, and also at a loss of how to take the fact that she just shared she was in a near constant state of fear.

Over the course of our relationship the bad dreams would lose their frequency and intensity. She stopped cutting as often, but communicated to me that she’d only stopped as I’d asked her to.  Beauty is pain and sometimes in order to keep it alive in your mind you must make sacrifices. She had a point, though I didn’t like that formulation in this instance. The lessening or disappearance of each particular symptom didn’t mean that she’d overcome the effects the event had had on her. New ones started popped up or came back. Like the panic attacks. Hearing her describe the horror she felt about going out both me my heart go out and my head go huh?! I’d never been in such a situation before and started to resent our relationship increasingly being occupied with issues related to her handling the rape trauma. Fifteen years down the road I feel ashamed at how I behaved in this and other ways, and could only explain it as a product of youth. I know how much she wanted to be rid of the cloud over her head and being optimistic, stayed. She was, after all trying to change herself so that she was less reactive .

“I’d Love To Break Your Heart”

She illicitly obtained anti-anxiety meds like Xanax. She was pleased with the way they made her feel vacant, and to me that was exactly why she shouldn’t take it. Beauty is pain, she said with a face that was both vacant and aggressive, you get what you wanted and then after a while you don’t want it anymore. I was 19. Like I said, I didn’t know how to appropriately react to all this. Especially as the two things that seemed to me that could “fix” all this – either me acting as an agent of justice myself or informing the blue-linnen’d authorities as to what happened – was off the table. She said the same thing that the women that have shared their rape accounts with me have said – the humiliating work that’ll go into making justice happen repels them from action. The drugs, though they shut up some the darker angels of her nature, didn’t provide genuine relief from the underlying issues.

“Discarded Broken Dreams”

Krystal later tried therapy to help with the myriad issues she struggled with. During one of our intermittent talks she expressed aversion to talk therapy. In her blog you can read of her talking about her struggles with depression and antipathy towards the psychiatrists that labeled her bipolar. The dynamic she protested then matched the dynamic that has so previously scarred her: a male older someone handing out drugs that impact the mind to deaden the senses. Whether or not this affected treatment, it seems to me that repetition compulsion in part explains the intermittent changes in medication and categorical disdain for the people she had to talk to in order for her to be provided with meds. After I completed my training at FICAM in 2013, she sent me an email expressing interest in doing bioenergetic therapy with me. I was happy at the thought of it as I was confident I could help her make some major inroads in releasing the energies she’d internalized, later proven true, but as she lived across the country this never happened.

My not knowing how to properly address the impact of the trauma was a major reason I ended our romance. At the time I hated myself for such a rationale. Now, however, I accept it as my having acted the best way I knew how.

Self-Portrait 2008

I know she knew this too at the time because things between us afterwards were amicable. We socialized amongst mutual friends on a not-so irregular basis and wrote each other intermittently for years thereafter. After I got engaged, she even wrote me a nice note saying she felt happy for me as she’d not ever seen me appear so consistently joyful in pictures.

“Faithful Only She”

Lest it seem like I’m turning a whole life into the effect of a single traumatic experience let me be clear: These memories aren’t the only things that I remember about Krystal. In fact it is far from the thing that defines her in my and other’s mind. Krystal was kind and smart and creative and an amazingly talented photographer with hustle. Hearing her talk with the passion that she had about the arts that she practiced always impressed and inspired me. Her self-made zine was an impressively put together outlet she curated from the creatives that were drawn to her. Her dark humor made some laugh and others squirm. She was an all around awesome girl and young woman. I’m detailing the long-lasting effects of the trauma as while I can’t honestly draw a straight line from that trauma to her choosing to kill herself, I also feel that had she not been sexually assaulted then she would likely still be alive.

“Creatures”

And it’s because of the fact that is far from an isolated incident that with effort could become less prevalent that I focus on Krystal’s rape when memorializing her art and life following her death. I’m writing this not just to exposit, but as a base for action.

Those of you that read this that her prints of her work, I’d ask that you send me  high-rendition scans of them. Presuming I get permission from her parents, I’d like to curate a collection of her work and sell the prints in a hardbound book with the profits going to RAINN. And you know, if you can, donate a little something to themanyways. I know this won’t stop such horrors as what she experienced from happening again, but hopefully it can help to initiate some cultural change.

#Metoo

Self-Portrait 2011

 

Racial Controversy in Advertising and How To Avoid The Need For Apologies

 

I was waiting for another “advertisement campaign gone wrong” news story to happen to contrast the way in which the messages in traditional magazine style graphic ads differ with what can be done with content marketing and sure enough Dove does me the favor of running an ad that many are calling racist and is now facing a boycott of their product.

In this article I’m not going to judge the intentions of the people involved in this Facebook-based advertising campaign, but I will defend their intentions by stating I believe the screen grabs below that spread like wildfire across Twitter misconstrue the nature of the ad – which isn’t nearly as direct in implications as this.

Instead, I’m going to show why it is that people claim it is racist; touch upon some of the ways in which a marketing messaging can be engaging and controversial but not offensive; and finally present a brief content marketing proposal that Dove could have instead done which would provide more value for their current and would be customers.

Racism in American Skin Care Marketing

   

Controversial marketing can be very effective, but if not done properly it can also lead to undesired press. Because of this it is important to always keep in mind the perspectives of the people being depicted or implicated in advertising.

One need not agree completely with all the views of prominent African American cultural commentator Ta-Nehisi Coates as to the power of whiteness to recognize that in the United States whiteness has been lauded as an definitive quality for culturally dominant standards of beauty and truth; legitimate political power and authority; etc. Additionally, one need not agree completely with Malcolm X to recognize that the media has a huge impact in how communities perceive themselves.

In this sense we can come to understand that the brouhaha is less about the manifest content – a skin cream that whitens – but the latent content, or social context, in which it is promoted.

To put it another way the issue at stake, pardon the pun, is not black and white but is specifically about what many people see as a culture that continuing to reinforce a social and economic order that denigrates and exploits black people. Because of this, these these types of advertisements are seen as ideologically supporting such a structure and why Proctor & Gamble’s ad is so celebrated for being the opposite.

Cultural Sensitivity in Polarized Times and What Stays With Consumers

   

Skin whitening creams aren’t the only type of product and services whose communications run the risk of being labelled racist and alienating customers.

Surf pulled a number of ads like the one above, which is especially ironic given criticism over roles and awards given to black actors in Hollywood films. In the wake of controversy over the defending hate groups prior to demonstrations in Charlotesville and their subsequent Twitter post shown above, the ACLU has changed their position on defending all groups right to free speech and apologized for their posting. State Farm’s Twitter account briefly became

What these and the Dove ads miss is cultural sensitivity that would allow them to see how how black people and their allies could feel that such marketing messaging contributes to a culture that denigrates blackness.

While not speaking on race but sexual preference, Dan Cathy of Chick-Fil-A’s reflection on the comments he’d made regarding gay marriage summaries provides a good insight in what companies should consider when approaching their messaging:

“Consumers want to do business with brands that they can interface with, that they can relate with. And it’s probably very wise from our standpoint to make sure that we present our brand in a compelling way that the consumer can relate to.”

If a consumer feels that a company is attacking them in their advertisement, intentional or not, it puts th consumer relationships at risk.

Great Content Marketing That Deals With Controversial Content

The problem with addressing or depicting controversy in advertisements is not necessarily that it gets attention, but what further message is then transmitted from it. Though many people purchase products such as bleaching creams or Surf detergent in order to get their skin or clothes whiter, the underlying message of “Darkness is undesirable” leads to wasted ad buys and time spent on handling criticisms. It’s for this reason that content marketing is particularly effective.

This is one of the reasons why Zillow and NerdWallet’s Content Marketing is doing such an amazing job. Not only are they both producing functional tools for people to used, but they are also coming out with reports like: Rising Rents, Stagnant Wages, And the Burden of Unstable Housing and Seeking Medical Debt Relief? Crowdfunding Rarely Pays Off the Bills.

Hiding Controversy in Plain Sight

   

Chances are as you read what my good examples of controversial choices for marketing content was you may have thought the following contentions:

  • These don’t deal with race.
  • These aren’t controversial.
  • I’m comparing apples and oranges.

Regarding the first point you are absolutely right. I will, however, provide an example of what good content marketing that deals with race looks like below so I hope you’ll overlook this. As for them not being controversial let me explain how they are.

Your friends, if they’re good friends, will certainly give sympathy for expressing anxiety and frustration over your income and how your daily struggles wouldn’t feel so burdensome if you just earned just a few percentage points in your salary and some level of support. Your employer, who holds the power in making such a determination, is less likely to be as welcoming to such expressions and less likely to offer support – though this is changing.

The future of health care in America is so highly contested by a variety of actors that have stakes in saving and losing money that protests and coordinated movements to sway legislators have erupted all over the country. Regardless of one’s view of what is to be done, information is power and this goes to show that private philanthropy is not doing nearly enough to prevent people from death or life-changing debt.

As for the third contention, that’s a partial truth as they are different in format but as they are at their root marketing messages such a distinction is spurious and only gives heft to the claim of many advertising professionals today that content marketing is king. Unlike the visual-only ads, these content marketing projects do not veil the conditions of American political economy but make unveiling it their purpose. The value-proposition of Zillow and NerdWallet’s content marketing is educational rather than mere single grahpic attention grab whose only message is: “This lotion will whiten your skin”.

What Could Dove Have Done to Raise Brand Awareness Instead of Publishing An Ad the Replicates Racist Tropes?

Like many other people,  I Feaking Love Science. Like many publishers, I also love survey based projects. Not wanting to go into too much details, it was with this in mind that I thought of some alternatives that Dove could have developed instead of the racially insensitive ads.

Were Dove to take a content marketing approach instead of the traditional single graphic ad for their campaign they would have had their marketing team produce content that educates about skin and race via an aesthetically engaging depiction and explanation of the science of skin color.

Were Dove to take a content marketing approach they could have presented the findings of a survey asking about perceptions of whiteness that combined analysis of their results with that of previous studies in an engaging manner. There a lot of them on race in relation to aspects of American society and such a study that examines original research (Legal, psychological, etc.) along with the number produced, their findings and analysis of other qualities over time would contribute to the national conversation instead of being seen as just more evidence for one position or another.

Controversial Content, But Without The Baggage

One of the reasons content marketing is such an amazing field is that the value it creates is not as ephemeral, being more than a mere image, but also as it can be continuously updated, and parts of it can be repurposed. Like solely visual advertisements it seeks to gain a consumer’s attention, but because of the format it is able to do so without the baggage and and in a more organic manner.

If you want to assure that your company’s time is not wasted by apologizing for an insensitive advertisement and are interested in learning more how controversial content can help your marketing, reach out to me, Ariel Sheen, and ask about how I can help build up on-site material or how I can build you a content marketing campaign.

Not only do I have a track record of successful content marketing campaigns, but my extensive studies in America’s history and culture means you won’t end up with lots of press about how you inadvertently promoted racially insensitivity.

New Translation of Pablo Neruda’s poem The Dead Woman

La Muerta, or The Dead Woman, was written by Pablo Neruda. I was reading a bilingual edition of this book at El Cafe de Otraparte and didn’t like the translation so have transcribed my own below on the right side, linked to where other translations are below and then explained why I think my translation is preferable to theirs.

Si de pronto no existes,
si de pronto no vives,
yo seguiré viviendo.No me atrevo,
no me atrevo a escribirlo,
si te mueres.Yo seguiré viviendo.Porque donde no tiene voz un hombre
allí, mi voz.

Donde los negros sean apaleados,
yo no puedo estar muerto.
Cuando entren en la cárcel mis hermanos
entraré yo con ellos.

Cuando la victoria,
no mi victoria,
sino la gran Victoria
llegue,
aunque esté mudo debo hablar:
yo la veré llegar aunque esté ciego.

No, perdóname.
Si tú no vives,
si tú, querida, amor mío, si tú
te has muerto,
todas las hojas caerán en mi pecho,
lloverá sobre mi alma noche y día,
la nieve quemará mi corazón,
andaré con frío y fuego
y muerte y nieve,
mis pies querrán marchar hacia donde tú duermes, pero seguiré vivo,
porque tú me quisiste sobre
todas las cosas indomable,
y, amor, porque tú sabes que soy no sólo un hombre
sino todos los hombres.

If suddenly you do not exist,
if suddenly you no longer live,
I shall live on.I do not dare,
I do not dare to write it,
if you die.I’ll keep living.For where a man has no voice,
there, my voice.

Where blacks are beaten,
I cannot be without energy.
When into prison my brothers go,
I am with them.

When victory,
not my victory,
but the great victory
comes,
even though I am mute I must speak;
I shall see it come
though I am blind.

No, forgive me.
If you don’t live,
if you, beloved, my love,
if you have died,
all the leaves will fall on my chest,
it will rain on my soul night and day,
the snow will burn my heart,
I shall walk with cold and fire and death and snow,
my feet will want to march to where you sleep, but
I’ll stay alive,
because you wanted me above all things indomitable,
and, my love, because you know that I am not only a man
but all humankind.

Why My Translation is Better

Where my translation differs from the other versions is as follows.

In the third stanza seguiré should read as a statement of commitment to life rather a phrase that a book with some sort of platitudinous title on coping with grief would tell you to repeat over and over again in a mirror until you start to feel that you are “back amongst the land of the living” and thus no longer “trapped in the past/in death”.

The fifth stanza I’ve changed for the following reasons. First, the other translators incorrectly attributed the Castilian meaning of the word rather than the Chilean. While generally sensible, any Spanish speaker that’s travelled know that there is a wide variety regional dialects and meanings. Here’s an screenshot of a Chilean Spanish Slang Dictionary:

If that’s not enough to convince you why my iteration is better, consider this – while “not being dead” may sounds poetic, it doesn’t imply the same sort of implication of commitment to ameliorating racial oppression that was a major component of Neruda’s politics. Pablo Neruda was an ardent Marxist, a member of the Communist Party and was a politician and diplomat under President Salvador Allende. The lines as they were slightly obfuscated something that Pablo Neruda would have been highly attuned.

As it was worded,
it suggested that the “I” of the poem – which is later on characterized as indomitable – respond to racial oppression merely by oneself not succumbing to death. Using a dictionary definition rather than an informal one thus loses the implied need for material commitment to oppressed peoples liberation evidenced in my rendition of “I cannot be without energy”. People in perilous situations that require great physical endurance to survive are able to exert themselves past the point they would normally collapse because of the importance of their actions. My rendition captures this, and for similar reasons the next two lines of the stanza is also lacking verisimilitude to what I believe to be Neruda’s intent.
Embed from Getty Images

As it was,  the “I” of the poem implied a commitment to revenge seeking or some kind of adventurism. That’s not, however, the case as Neruda would be very familiar with the concept of solidarity. Now I understand and even appreciate why it’s rendered that way, for the sake of sound, but I also think it’s important not to declaw the meaning behind the words of a poet who was assassinated by the government of General Pinochet with the assistance of the C.I.A.

Marchar en Chile

In the eight stanza I changed “breast” for “chest” as pecho is both and. Following that I think the translation is again playing fast and loose for the sake of sound. Neruda uses the word marchar, to march, and in the translation it’s replaced with walk, or caminar. While one certainly walks in a march, the collective sense implied in the Spanish word is lost in the old translation.

Lastly, I changed the last line from “all men” to “all humankind” as the gender specificity within Spanish nouns need not apply to the English rendition given the alternative which more accurately symbolizes socialism’s aspiration for universal solidarity.

“Don’t do with love, what a child does his balloon, that having ignored it, then loses it crying.”

Buy yourself a copy of Neruda.

The Struggle for Catalonian Independence and Art

82 years after the Asturias Revolt, and 78 years after the end of the Spanish Civil War Republican unrest is now mobilized enough again that politicians in Catalonia believe that independence from Madrid is a possibility. Spain has always had a special place in my heart and thus I’ve been closely following the events in Catalonia regarding their movement for independence. As a populist movement not only does it’s development lend itself to new forms of art, which I will briefly talk about below, but it also allowed President Maduro of Venezuela to troll Prime Minister Rajoy with the phrase, “Who’s the Dictator Now?” after Rajoy was critical Maduro’s response to U.S. backed attempts to destabilize the country and to bolster indigenous people’s attempts to create their own national governments, like in Kurdish Iraq. Massive Social Mobilization Across Catalonia These photos show the millions of participants in the protests that were part of the huelga general (general strike) called for by all the Catalan trade unions. According to the Catalan government the general strike was the largest economic paralyzation in the history of Catalonia. Reports I’ve read state how one of the many chants that  reverberated in dozens of cities across Catalonia, was “The streets will always be ours!” The reason for this stems from the fact that people were upset with Spanish state repression and police violence against the #CatalanReferendum, in which 90% of the voters voted for independence from Spain. Their claim that the streets belong to them reflects the fact that police from outside the region had to be brought in to control it.

Workers Against the State While the police were celebrated by small crowds in other regions for the oppression they would bring to their neighbors, Catalonian farmers blocked the ports to prevent more police officers from coming in, to prevent police vehicles from coming in and to otherwise hamper the movement of those that were already brought off shore to “reign in” the movement. The Huelga General, or General Strike, called by the Catalan unions is supposed to be the largest in history and has paralyzed commerce throughout the region.

The State Against Workers and Democracy 

“The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state, is a bourgeois cop, not a worker.” – Leon Trotsky

Not all social services workers were willing to fight for the status quo, here we see firefighters that are attempting to keep the police from preventing people from going to polling stations. Other powerful photos of what’s going on there depict ballot boxes connected by chains to large concrete blocks to prevent police from confiscating them. Reports from all outlets depict greater  90% of those that voted wanted independence.

Is History Repeating Itself?

Let’s clean them out! – 2017 Comrade Lenin is Cleaning the World of Scum – 1917

100 Years on from the Russian Revolution and it is still inspiring people around the world trying to get free from oppression and exploitation. While reading some Spanish language news media, I came across the above poster on the right and was tinkled pink (or is tinkled red more appropriate here?) as it is a variation of the famous Lenin poster that I placed on the right. While the forces driving Catalonian independence are nationalist and not anti-capitalist – the region’s history as a Libertarian Communist/Radical Republican stronghold during the Civil War are well documented.

Or is History Adapting to the Conditions of the Present?

While I found myself resonating with the Escombrem Los! image and the illustration above to the left as it combines a famous photo by Robert Capa called Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936  with a depiction of the current suppression – this is one of the examples where historically powerfully iconography is repackaged in a way that’s not really appropriate. The anti-monarchic sentiment may be the same and there is similar dissatisfaction with the government on it’s spending choices – it’s not an international revolutionary movement.

The Future is Unwritten, But Has Certain Limits Brexit, massive youth unemployment and brain drain to Germany, growing nationalist movements – the hopes for a united European Union is starting to unravel. Just like the Catalonian independence movement is not likely to become a clarion even for those disaffected with the neoliberal world order nor is it that Catalonia will again be a testing ground for new weapons. And yet these historical images are still being used by those on the ground now as a reference for understanding the present.

While this is to be expected, it’s worth recalling Karl Marx’s famous quote on the subject: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language.”

A More Appropriate Art of Protest

While there are certainly groups within the Catalan nationalist movement that wish to make the referendum for nationhood similarly a vote for socialism, this is a vocal but small group.

Because of this, I believe, a more appropriate aesthetic is less that which pulls from a revolutionary tradition and more one that sees it as solely a transfer of powers. It’s a lot less sexy, but a lot more accurate. It’s also a lot more dangerous, as continuing the state in this regard will not necessarily ameliorate the anxieties expressed in such social mobilization and opens up the way for new ones.

The Return of Fascistic Unity

Embed from Getty Images

Regardless of one’s position on Catalan independence, it’s worth noting the strong similarities with those against it and those that wish to make the United State a white ethno-state. It’s said that a picture says a thousands words, so notice the swastika tattoos on this anti-independence Catalan demonstrator at a National Unity rally in the centre of Barcelona during Catalonia National Day on September 1.

The struggles in the street over symbols, history and power will continue so long as profound dissatisfaction with the distribution of political and economic power continues. However, reliance upon old verities such as nationhood or race that once made people feel secure will not provide a genuine out for such problems. I hope that the electoral aspirations of the Catalonians are achieved, but also feel that should independence happen the hopes that they have will soon be lost given what will be their diminished power in the current world order.

Interview with Danielle Bregoli

I first met Boynton Beaches Danielle Bregoli outside of CJ’s Island Grill in Lake Worth during their annual Street Painting Festival. This was before she was involved in some fisticuffs at the adjacent location. A friend of mine that was bartending, Nicole Abelove, had just denied her request for service. I spoke to her briefly about my project of interviewing

Fast forward seven months later and I get an unknown number calling me. I pick up and it’s someone (named John, or James, Jared, or something else that was short and began with a J) introduced themselves as part of Danielle’s team.

I was rather surprised to be contacted by Danielle’s handlers. After all, I’m no major media outlet. I said as such to them, secretly wondering if this was a joke. But then he explained that he felt the interviews that she’d done with Maxim and Vice were purposefully shortened and edited to make her look bad and after reading the interviews I’d done with other South Florida musicians and artists (such as Kimmy Drake, Adam Sheetz, Niina Pollari) they felt that I would be a good person to sit down with Danielle and help “bring out a more thoughtful side” and give some context to music she was soon going to be releasing. Hearing about this “thoughtful side” of Bregoli was intriguing, as I’d honestly not seen anything that would make me think she had that, so I agreed to meet her to talk about her deal with Atlantic records and the controversy surrounding her being made into a star.

We met at one of my favorite coffee shops, SubCulture Delray Beach, and spoke there. The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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Ariel Sheen

Hello there.

Danielle Bregoli

Sup?

Ariel Sheen

So should I call you Danielle or Bhad Bhabie?

Danielle Bregoli

You can call me Danielle. Bhad Bhabie’s who I be when I’m behind a microphone.

Ariel Sheen

Got it, Danielle. So would you say that Bhad Bhabie is more of a stage persona then?

Danielle Bregoli

It’s more like me being me but put to a beat. Ya know? It adds layers to me, like lasagna.

Ariel Sheen

Gotcha. So, you just dropped some music yesterday. This is your first time appearing as a rapper – you want to tell me a little bit about it?

Danielle Bregoli

Well, after my appearance on Dr. Phil I had so many people trying to get a piece of me just because of who I am and how I am it was crazy. I’m more than just a meme, and this is my chance to show that.

Ariel Sheen

I bet you had a lot of people trying to get a piece of your shine! I saw quite a lot of memes related to you online after that show. People I knew that are nowhere near your normal demographic were quoting you and talking about you.

Danielle Bregoli

Not surprised, I got a lot of haters.

Ariel Sheen

Why do you think that you have so many haters?

Danielle

Culture wars, man. Old people think I should be acting some way and are pissed that I’m not. Young people know that most of the old people telling them what to do and how to act are full of shit. They either relate or hate because I’m doing better than them without following the high school, college, career path that they think will get them what they want.

Ariel Sheen

I agree with you to an extent, but as someone who’s worked for several years a teacher I know how detrimental such an attitude can be to oneself and others when at your age when your primary responsibility is schooling. I think of the beginning of XXXtentacion’s song Look At Me as a prime example of such irresponsible thinking and behavior. I’ve seen enough kids that went through my classroom to know that those that idolize such anti-social behavior don’t make it to where they think they will in life.

Danielle Bregoli

You honestly going to sit here and tell me that learning about the technological developments around the Fertile Crescent are going to be useful to any part of my life?

Ariel Sheen

Like I said, I agree with you to an extent. That’s a good example you gave and a point I am sympathetic to. Can you give me a little more detail about what you mean? This sounds like something you’ve thought a lot about.

Danielle Bregoli

Yeah, sure. Well, I’m home-schooled. Since I’ve been doing that I’ve been able to learn a lot more. The way I see it the one-size fits all approach to education is bullshit. I know that’s not how things are supposed to be, and yet I’ve seen how this imperative to differentiate curriculum for students wears out teachers. Look at Florida’s retention rates, it’s ridiculous!

Ariel Sheen

I’m still with you.

Danielle Bregoli

Well you’re told that if you do good in school you’ll go to a good college, but that’s not always true either. Legacies have a much better chance of getting into the colleges that will give you the connections you need to really succeed. Plus those who come from wealthier families can help their kids out by supporting them through an unpaid internship and can help them buy houses – a foundational requirement for growing personal wealth.

Ariel Sheen

I think you’re making a fair point there – but I’m not sure that alone merits the kind of wholescale rejection of the system that you seem to now be proposing.

Danielle Bregoli

Well the same goes for a lot of other things. Journalists are supposed to tell the truth about things, but you can’t trust them because they’re either owned by big corporations or are dependent upon them for advertising or need to follow the government line lest they lose the ability to get information and quotes. Look at the contrasting coverage on what’s going on in Catalonia now compared to Venezuela?! Or compare how media covers black compared to white crime and how that affects sentencing.

Ariel Sheen

It sounds like you have a lot to say about things that upset you about America, why aren’t you using the following you’ve created on social media to bring awareness to these things.

Danielle Bregoli

Cause I don’t want to deal with the FBI or CIA watching over me like they have so many other rappers. We know cause of Edward Snowden that they already have operations designed to surveil kids going on and thanks to some good reporting we know that local police departments would like to do the same.

Ariel Sheen

I mean, I get that, but do you really think they’d target you specifically?

Danielle Bregoli

The FBI and the CIA, well, they’re like the sheep dogs of American culture. They work to ensure that no author, artist or musician develops values outside the narrative that they’ve established – a narrative that perpetuates elite cultural values that helps engender antipathy towards lower class people in general and African Americans in particular. If some artist does step outside those lines, well, they either allow the wolves to get them, put them down themselves or get involved in their life to somehow harm them from continuing to produce such music.

 Ariel Sheen

That’s a perspective that has been voiced by other rappers in the past. Do you have any evidence to back that up, or have you been approached by people?

Danielle Bregoli

That’s a small question with a big answer. I think it best to approach it not necessarily by looking at history.

It’s well documented that the CIA was formed by anti-communists who held white supremacist views. Their bloody, sordid history in other countries is well known but people often forget they’ve operated domestically, contrary to legality, in a variety of ways.

During the Cold War, for instance, they sought to enlist American students in the crusade against communism. This, however, was just one of many intellectual and cultural fronts for the CIA. They actively engaged in the world of arts and letters, as well collaborating, funding and even help distributing television series and films that aligned with the world view that they wanted to be hegemonic.

Given their history of significant assistance to artists, intellectuals, and musicians in the past and the lack of government transparency in domestic affairs and its history I don’t think it’s that far-fetched. Now is it just them? No, I don’t think so.-There’s lots of political and economic affinities that draw people together to the message the government seeks to amplify about parts of the populace and profit off it.

I think this in part explains why myself, Kodak Black, XXXTentaction and Stitches and a number of others have been able to achieve a modicum of success despite having negligible talent and personal lives that leads people with positive social values to be repulsed by us. They ain’t the sole supporters, but they help behind the scenes.

Ariel Sheen

Wait, are you admitting that you, Kodak Black, XXXTentaction and Stitches are all supported, in part, by the FBI and CIA?!

Danielle Bregoli

I mean, I don’t have any definitive proof to provide, but I’d wager that in the future after certain documents are made public we’ll see that was the case. It is unusual, don’t you think, that my dad’s a police officer and so is Stitches step-father?

Ariel Sheen

It is, but I don’t know… It still seems a bit far-fetched.

Danielle Bregoli

Fair enough, let me give you an example. Have you seen Cardi B’s video for Bodak Yellow?

Ariel Sheen

Can’t say that I have.

Danielle Bregoli

Well first of all let me just say this. Cardi B looks like trash and raps like trash. Trust me, you know how people say real recognizes real? Well trash recognizes trash when they see it. I can’t imagine all the dicks she had to take in order to make it to where she at right now.

Anyway, putting aside that her lyrics are either banal or senseless, in the video Cardi B is, like, wearing this anarchist symbol along with all these punk rock symbols in one part of the video. Yet at the same time singing in the song: “I’m a boss, you a worker, bitch, I make bloody moves.” Like, think about that. Despite the fact that a lot of people were involved in her becoming famous she disregards their contribution and claims all fame for herself.

Then there’s Rihanna’s song Work, Brittney Spears song Work Bitch, Iggy Azelea’s song Work, Fifth Harmony’s song Work from Home… Compare all these songs that normalize work, praise the power of the lone individual over the collective and help perpetuate the American Dream myth with Nina Simone’s Work Song, and it’s world apart. Work there isn’t just some means to obtaining status symbols but a dreary enterprise force by economic necessity that has a social dimension, which if realized by the workers can be changed.

Ariel Sheen

Well I’ll be damned! So there’s a purposeful encouragement of an individualistic mindset whose hegemony benefits the ownership class because people see their struggles as personal rather than collective and their deprivation as a cause of insufficient energy exertion in the right manner rather than a symptom of American capitalism’s formation of economic and social institutions.

Danielle Bregoli

Precisely.

Ariel Sheen

I can understand now why your team wanted to have this interview with me – you have a much greater grasp of the relationships between music and society than I thought.

Danielle Bregoli

YUP! I might not be the best spokesperson for the undirected resentment for the establishment that most of the today’s youth feels – but that’s the point. Like Killer Mike says, you have to look at the man behind the man behind the man behind the throne… Once you’ve recognized that then you can see how everything else falls in to place. So long as what I say in one way or another helps prop up that order, I know I’m going to bank.

Ariel Sheen

Knowing all this, why do you still want to contribute through your behavior to the alienation of people that follow you?

Danielle Bregoli

Yo, the whole point is I’m getting fucking paid! I don’t give a fuck about anybody unless they giving me money – and even then I only care about them cause they giving me money. I don’t care how I gets it so long as how I gets it. My possibilities for upward mobility in this country outside of what I’m doing now are incredibly limited, so I want to sell out and make as much as possible.

Ariel Sheen

Is that why you are looking to get a reality T.V. show?

Danielle Bregoli

Yup! It’s something that people without talent, like me, can do to make money. It’s cultural schadenfreude.

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If you enjoyed this entirely fictional interview, check out my equally insightful 2015 interview with Stitches.