Shit Eaters

You might think that when life presents somebody with a dung heap they'd demand more and strive for something better. Instead, most of them seem satisfied with their sorry lot or, worse, celebrate it and expect everybody else to follow them off the edge of the cliff. Look around at the various online guitar forums and you'll find perhaps half of the participants falling into one of the three following categories:

Those that are forced to eat shit;
Those that are satisfied with eating shit;
Those that love shit and think we should all be eating shit.

1. I do not despise the person who stays within their means and buys what they can afford. By all means, stay within your means. Do not go into debt to buy gear unless it is an actual investment -- i.e., you need it as capital in a money-making / for-profit venture. I've bought my share of budget gear when I was a broke college student (we all have to eat shit every now and then) but I knew there was better stuff to be had and that I was not doomed forever. This is not what drives me nuts. Cheap crap has its place: kids, the curious and the dabblers, light hobbyists, downtrodden peasants, the unemployed, and wards of the state, etc.

2. What I find mildly repulsive is the level of *satisfaction* with crap you find in so many people who are purportedly serious about what they're doing : they buy shit and are perfectly happy with it. They buy shit, it breaks down, and the look for more shit to replace the outgoing shit. These people are analogous to the herds of bio mass that line up at McDonalds every day for lunch and cannot grasp that they are eating garbage. They know there are finer things to consume but shit is just fine and dandy for them. These are the same kind of people that reality takes a dump on every day and they are content to 'keep on keeping on' as if repetition and patience will be rewarded if they stay the course. The tragedy is that instead of finding fault with a socioeconomic system that leaves them behind they make excuses for it and find faults with their selves instead: I ain't very good; I ain't a pro; I ain't no cork sniffer; I ain't this, I ain't that ... What's mildly repulsive about this is simply the revulsion I have toward people who are easily satisfied with the status quo, those dummies that always put a 'positive spin' on the current state of affairs. The true crazies, however, are those that gleefully wallow in shit.

3. Far worse than the passive lummox that patiently consumes the dung served to them is the *enthusiastic fan* of shit -- that moron that finds the current state of affairs to be a kind of paradise of worthlessness. These people actually perceive quantitative accumulation as a virtue. A guitar is a guitar and 2 guitars are better than 1. Their 'collection' multiplies but they're multiplying by zero all the while actually rejoicing in their practices. Like Mr. Satisfied they think the industry is doing them a favor but instead of downgrading their own abilities or worthiness they take it out on people who aim higher: not only should we all eat shit but we should also bash those that aspire to more than shit as being too big for their boots.

Ah, but it would be wrong to see this as only a psychological problem or simply a case of blaming the victim. I am not a psychologist and I subscribe to the concept that a lot of what comes out of the mouths of dummies is simply social structure and social forces 'speaking through' them.

It's pretty sad that employed adults not only cannot afford good instruments to support their passions but denigrate their selves and others in the shadow of the devastation of our manufacturing and craft traditions (alive to varying degrees in the 'boutique' end of the market). Somehow the notion of the 'American Dream' (full-time high-wage employment and upward class and status mobility) has been replaced by a satisfaction or even a zeal for worthless junk (often purchased on credit) as a kind of consolation prize.

In a nutshell, that's the big problem: people who actually believe they are benefiting from a race to the bottom. They cannot believe how lucky they are to be buying not one but two guitars (Woo Hoo!) whereas I cannot believe how happy they are as America drives headlong into a social-economic abyss.

I've spent a considerable amount of time looking at BLS data from the end of WWII to the present and it is undeniably the case that the US is headed for the ditch; we already have two tires off the road and in a generation or two the bus will be upside down and burning if we do not turn things around. Now, many people are dissatisfied with the status quo (whatever that is for them) and are willing to strive for a better life and demand that America live up to its promise as a land of opportunity for those willing to work hard for it. That more or less describes America from the end of WWII to almost 1970. Things began to change in the early 70s (Fordism gave way to the flexible accumulation logic of post-Fordism). Now, too many are satisfied to just take what is given to them (less and less as time goes by) as if they should feel lucky they have anything at all -- 'things could be worse' mentality (this 'things could be worse' is what critical social psychologists refer to as 'positive thinking' and, as we can see, 'positive thinking' is actually, paradoxically, the road to self-defeat).

But far worse than the simply satisfied are those that enthusiastically embrace the very institutions that contribute to our social and economic degradation. Neo-Liberalism (not that new and certainly not very 'liberal') has rendered a huge segment of our population as virtual surplus, plankton -- their jobs have been outsourced to peasants in Asia and yet they cheer like mad at the fantastic 'values' they're reaping on the budget guitar market as their credit cards meltdown trying to keep a household going while also supporting their musical hobbies.

What kind of idiot would enthusiastically cheer on and frantically consume the very manifestations of their own downfall? We should not be celebrating and supporting the $199 Strat copy but puzzling over why it is that employed adults can no longer afford to buy a good instrument made by their neighbor.

According to the BLS American workers earned their greatest share of GDP back in the 50s. Guitarists whine about the prices of American-made guitars but, in 'real dollars' (i.e., adjusted for inflation), US-made guitars are actually cheaper today than they were in the mid-50s. I'm not the biggest fan of Fender guitars per se but the Strat is not over-priced, believe it or not. Guitars are not more expensive today (except for Gibson); American workers just don't make very much money. Statistically speaking, it's very likely that your share of GDP pales in comparison to your dad's.

For 43 years wages flatlined and lifestyles were fueled by debt. The problem is that Average Joe is an economic loser compared to his father. Even Above Average Joe is screwed; I know guys who grew up in the 50s and 60s in households where, if you adjust for inflation, their fathers (sole breadwinner, professional white collar types) were pulling in over a quarter of a million in adjusted annual earnings; today, their kids (also white collar professional types) are in their 40s and 50s and, with every adult in their house working, earning 100K less than their fathers did, in terms of 'real dollars.'

Satisfaction or even enthusiasm with the state of the musical instrument industry is tantamount to being satisfied or enthusiastic over seeing 35 year old men stocking shelves at Target or former industrial operators turning to "landscape artists" after their local plant closes or armies of folks with PhDs earning 40-50K if they're lucky to land a tenured job and armies, literally armies, of young adults with advanced degrees making $15K per year. Would you be surprised if I told you that enthusiastic shit eaters are also the kind of lower middle class losers that believe wars are solutions (they're gung-ho on the military, though, oddly, they never actually served themselves), think Glenn Beck is a genius, hate unions, and get "all fired up" over some upcoming Tea Party rally where they'll jump up and down like excited pets over "personal responsibility" while blaming others for ruining their lives. Ah, the irony. But don't sweat it, shit-eating tools: the upside is that even though you lost your career, have seen your pay stagnate, had your hours cut, and your benefits eliminated, at least they're making guitars to fit your budget -- you can even afford to buy four or five at these prices. Open wide.