CAPITALISM IS HARSHING MY BUZZ
HOW REALISTIC IS MINDFULNESS IN A BURNING WORLD?
A 10 year-old blinks her false eyelashes at the arena. “I can’t wait to work,” she tells the crowd. Her sister and father, who created the motivational conference she’s speaking at, watch from offstage. She beckons the audience to repeat after her: “I am going to work more! I am going to do more!” In a separate YouTube video, the minor’s parents—both marketing consultants—say they consider success to be their third child.
I try to enjoy my dinner while acquaintances insist on listing the brands they’ve been working with, though I cannot fault their timing since, on some level, I exude an energy which makes people want to flex on me. At 5am, a tourist asks me how New Yorkers manage to find the energy to work so many jobs. I am confused by this question, as if hustle is ever fueled by anything other than a cocktail of financial anxiety and emotional inadequacy.
Capitalism continues to harsh my buzz.
A friend takes me to the micro-neighborhood du jour, one with a fake internet name where everyone has nice skin. On the street, she introduces me to a D-list actor she apparently knows. “He was in…” The actor’s sitting with people who’ve published my writing, but they don’t recognise me and I don’t say anything. As my friend clumsily networks, I consider which letter we’d be assigned. We’re not on any list, so I suggest a bar around the corner. I’m not sure why clout is still considered a currency, especially when the conversion rate varies so drastically depending on your zip code.
Another 5am, I text my ex while rolling my tits off on MDMA. Someone asks if I feel embarrassed in the morning. A different night, a girlfriend of a dear friend gets confronted for her shitty behaviour. She tells our friend she’d never been spoken to like that in her whole life and distances herself from the group entirely. A few months later, both of them have moved across the country.
I’m concerned with our diminishing capacity, in art and life, for stomaching natural emotions like anger or lust. That in prioritising niceness, we have pathologized imperfection. Our feeds encourage self-reflection and mindfulness in a burning world. Posters plastered across New York City read, ‘GO VEGAN’, but if suicide rates are any indication, society has never been further from inner-peace. I’ve been taking long walks to purge this L.A. state of mind…
My city’s glamour is fading or I’m getting older, it cannot be both. I keep thinking I see people I’ve fucked, but really we all just look alike. How a city’s foot traffic can expedite trends wasn’t something I had considered when I moved to New York, that and frozen dog shit. Looking and dressing like every other gay dude in town is not the idea of community I had in mind. The anemic distinction between online culture/culture online has made original thought tricky, or so I tell myself.
In a bookstore, my hand hovers over “Faggots” by Larry Kramer, but I figure it’s best not to play into the feeling.
Lately, I think social media has been making everyone weird.
At a party, someone’s Gen Z sister asks the room if they’ve seen the new Billie Eilish music video wherein she allegedly queer-baits. I ask, “What exactly is queer-baiting?” She explains; I’m not so convinced. “Sounds a little presumptuous on the queers’ part…” Only an hour before, she had listed the first names of different gay men from my hometown (of 2 million plus), inquiring if we knew one another. It’s interesting how we can be well-versed in the talking points of social justice, yet so clumsy in-person.
But I don’t cancel her, because she’s lovely. And maybe I do know Brad or Ryan.
Personally, I’ve been feeling the need to remind my digital network that I’m alive less and less, but ceasing to post altogether feels like a kind of suicide, which I was never able to commit to either. This dynamic depresses me, obviously. I recently found out my great uncle had a lobotomy: so true, bestie.
On a reality TV series, an expat from an ultra-orthodox Jewish community who now runs a modeling agency asks a client what her ‘brand’ would be. “Well, I’m Latina and a mother,” offers the model.
“Are you a single mom?”
“I am a single mom.”
“We would market that.”
“And my son is autistic.”
Later in the episode, a 20 year-old bisexual app designer kisses another girl with whom she shares little chemistry to assert her sexuality… agency? … brand?—it’s hard to tell the difference nowadays. Identities are leveraged like stock, not uncommonly by those who possess them. The identities, I mean. Or stock. Identity! Stock! Identity! Stock!
“You must ask yourself, How can I inject my identity into my brand?” an influencer advises an aspiring content creator, or so they’re called. This time, I am not watching but producing the segment. (Modern life is often humiliating.)
The creator, the influencer and his best friend who speaks like an agent then swap career tips, meanwhile I consider how it’s odd that no one calls anyone a “sell-out” anymore. In this town, talent without ambition is somehow frowned upon, while ambition without talent doesn’t seem to bother anyone. Some days capitalism victimises me, some days it’s a convenient excuse.
I used to think it was my job to understand the internet. I worked in media—whatever that means—a field convinced the cause of its financial failure is diminishing readership and not a collapse of the advertisement model. Consequently, the algorithms were misinterpreted as reader interest: magazine writers effectively became marketers, and like the host who asks are we having fun yet, the effect is usually awkward.
So I quit, realising I can’t revolutionise any industry (weak knees). Several friends followed suit, struggling to see the point of checking emails during a deadly pandemic, commenting on the weather in virtual meeting rooms, going through the motions of career—six years on the stuff before finally ditching the syringe of Boomer ambition. Maybe it was an aftershock of the Girlboss Years, which insisted empowerment dovetailed career. Others suggest we’re dealing with a global spiritual reckoning for, you know, fucking up the planet. Regardless, I stay up late and worry about my generation’s collective soul. I worry that our understanding of art is inextricably linked to commerce, and we’ve developed a digital Stockholm Syndrome. That these nerd apps have rewired us to think something is only worth doing if you can show it. That we think all the wrong things are cool.
These days, I’ve been favoring more organic opiates, like booze or sex or taking a walk.
A version of this essay originally appeared in Polyester Zine.
Jacob Seferian is a writer and editor living in New York City. His work has appeared in over 13 magazines, and he is the Editorial Director of CH-VOID.