Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Shamans of Mammon

I've always been partial to the idea of the shaman, that peculiar, wild entity who moves through the shadows of the tribe.  The shaman is the storyteller, the speaker of arcane mysteries, the one who bears the identity of a people out into the wildness and returns to give savor to the tribe with the taste of wildness.

Seminary, honestly, doesn't quite cut it on that front, which may be one of the challenges facing institutional Christianity.  The soul-searing fires of truly untamed places bear little resemblance to the infant-seat trigger-warning-label ethos of academe these days.

But engaging the powers doesn't mean that a shaman is the bearer of a good truth, or the carrier of a healing grace.  Sometimes, they're just nuts, their mind blasted into fragments by the merciless desert sun.  Other times, they've encountered a reality that has consumed their soul, rendering them a servant of some outer darkness.

The shaman is no more inherently good than any other cleric.  Just 'cause you're in touch with the primal chaos doesn't mean you're good, as any book-and-dice Dungeons and Dragons player could tell you.

I was reminded of this recently after doing some sermon research, during which I encountered a bizarre little article on the Guardian, which tends towards the peculiar and the left.  It was a reflection on the part of Camille Henrot, a French artist, who articulated in a very arty way her awe at the wonder that was Nicki Minaj.

Nicki Minaj, in the event you're as marginally clued in to popular culture as I am, is a rapper/starlet/hiphop person.  Her music, which seems to demand quote marks around it, is like the "music" of Kei$ha or Iggy Azalea.  It's hypersexual, radically consumerist, aggressively profane, and airbrush/surgeried/polished to a high gloss by the folks at Corporate.

For Henrot, Nicki Minaj is a "feminist icon," who is "radical" and "majestic."  She's "challenging archetypes" and demanding that we abandon our repression of female sexuality.  Her music and performances...which you can watch here, if you so choose...are nothing more than the expressions of a "wild woman" and a "shaman."

On the one hand, this kind of abstraction is why feminism is failing as a movement.  As it has moved from the practicality of empowerment to the existential distance of academic discourse, it has become less and less capable of critiquing power, of assessing the impact of capitalist semiotics on both action and worldview.

It's not that she's in touch with the primal power of a wild woman's sexuality.  There are rappers who do that, dangerously, in a way that's real.  There are artists who exist on the margins, drawing their power from their connection to the Wild.  That is not Nicki Minaj.  She lies at the heart of economic power.

Nicki Minaj is a brand.  Nicki Minaj is a product.  She's a creature of consumerist objectification.  Her sexuality has been marketized and commodified by corporate power.  But to observe this radiantly obvious reality?  It's "slut-shaming."  It's denigrating the integrity of "sex work."

Capitalism, quite frankly, has no beef with academic feminism, because popularized lumpenfeminism has created an ethos in which capitalism can thrive.  Corporate capitalism quite happily adapts to the ethos of moral and cultural relativism, to a worldview that breaks humanity up into endlessly smaller categories.  Who's to say anyone has the right to judge anyone else's actions?  If I define my empowerment by my Bentley and my G4, and use my sexuality to sell myself, what right to you have to go hatin'?

And the alphabet soup of gender studies?  Gay?  Lesbian? Trans? Genderqueer? Cis?  When you get right down to it, they're all just target demographics, baby.  It's Marketing 101.  Just keep 'em arguing on twitter, and fangrrling about entertainment product, and we're looking at another profitable quarter.

And on the other hand, something about Henrot's observation resonated, if I was honest with myself.

Perhaps, I think, perhaps she is right.  Particularly about the shaman thing.

All those musicians who sing the joys of loveless commodified sexuality, of the endless grasping hunger that makes others into objects to be used?  Those artists who have been subsumed into the power of the Market, where art serves the fierce power of Wealth?  They stand in encounter with that fire, and they have been changed by it.

Perhaps they are the shamanic power of Mammon, being ridden like a malevolent orisha riding a babalao, bearers of the primal churning hunger of concupiscent samsara.  Or, to be more accurate, ConcupiSamsara, Inc.

Because there are powers out there in the wildness, and they need someone to sing their songs and tell their stories.