[News] Notes from Technotopia

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jul 6 10:15:52 EDT 2015


Notes From Technotopia:On The Cruelty Of Indifference


An anti-gentrification philosophical tantrum
by Guillermo Gómez-Peña, 2015
*https://docs.google.com/document/d/1v-nwi3b0OC0CAfHMbBpp8soGQ8M_HefUKrjz6DsyFYU/edit*


(In his most recent philosophical tantrum, performance artist and poet 
Gómez-Peña reflects on the dangers of the ultimate “creative city,” and 
what it means to become a foreigner in his own neighborhood, waiting for 
the much touted eviction notice.)


Dear Ex-local artist, writer, activist, bohemian, street eccentric, 
and/or protector of difference...


Imagine a city, your city and your former “hip” neighborhood,being 
handed over by greedy politicians and re/developers to the crème de la 
crèmeof the tech industry. This includes the 7 most powerful tech 
companies in the world. I don’t need to list them: their names have 
become verbs in lingua franca;their sandbox is the city you used to call 
your own.


Their Faustian iDeal involves radically transforming your city within a 
few years into an unprecedented “creative city,” a bohemian theme park 
for the young techies and “hipsters” who constitute their Darwinian work 
force. It comes with dormitories, food courts with catchy theme bars and 
entertainment centers. Sounds like science fiction, que no?

Imagine that during the reconstruction process,the rent - your rent - 
increases by two or three hundred percent overnight. The artists and the 
working class at large can no longer pay it. You are being forced to 
leave, at best to a nearby city, at worst back to your original 
hometown. The more intimate history you have with the old city, the more 
painful it is to accept this displacement. You have no choice.

While you hang on by a thread waiting for the eviction notice,every day 
you continue to lose old friends and colleagues you might never see 
again. They were less lucky than you and got evicted earlier. 
Heartbroken and exhausted, you spend a large part of your civic time 
attending anti-gentrification demonstrations and collaborating with 
other artists and activists in anti-eviction actions and techno-artivist 
projects, but still it only gets worse by the day. The number of 
dramatic eviction cases increases constantly and both the diminished 
politicized citizenry and the progressive media begin to experience 
compassion fatigue.


As your community rapidly shrinks, so does your sense of belonging to a 
city that no longer seems to like you. You begin to feel like a 
foreigner and internal exile: freaky Alice in techno-Wonderlandia; the 
Alien Caterpillar who inhaled. Unless you own your home and studio, as a 
renter, your hours “here” are numbered and you carry this feeling of 
imminent orphanhood like a very tight and stylish noose around your 
neck. After all, you perceive yourself as a dandy.

Imagine that all the classic and familiar places in your hoodincluding 
funky, decades-old Latino restaurants and immigrant bars full of 
memories and ghosts, barber & specialty shops, bohemian sex clubs, 
experimental art galleries, indie theaters and bookstores –yes, shops 
where bound books are sold, -- the emotional spaces which have been your 
main source of inspiration, creativity and community -- are also forced 
to close because the pinchegreedy landlord tripled the rent overnight or 
some millionaire bought the building or the entire block to rent out 
micro-units to airbnb. And all the new laws and acts protect him. Your 
imagination becomes a painful exercise in forced tolerance and 
providential acceptance.

In a few months, these wonderful places that for decades provided the 
city with a strong cultural identity are destroyed and reopened as (get 
ready) homogeneous “live/work/play” spaces, “micro-condominium” 
buildings and tech plazas in the works. Coño! The new city begins to 
look like a generic global metropolis imagined by Italo Calvino. To make 
the lives of the transient work force somewhat pleasant, hundreds of 
similar smart cafes, trendoid restaurants, overpriced “eateries” and 
“celebrity bars” open up in each neighborhood. Even the last standing 
old-school dive bars are being “discovered” (a euphemism for taken over) 
by the transplants via their Yelp or Foursquare mobile app.

But you, no matter how long you lived here or how much you have paid in 
rent – even if it is enough to own your hipster remodeled Victorian 
upper unit - You are not welcome.


You hit the streets again: What you used to call an average priced 
dinner is way above your price range now. Your sacred $4 night cocktail, 
now served by an aloof “celebrity bartender,” costs $15 and your daily 
jugosand licuados, now called “cold pressed gluten-free organic 
cleansing juices,” go for $12 in a “recyclable sustainable” bottle. But 
don’t worry: Remember that this is just a perverse exercise of radical 
imagination, or rather, a psychomagic challenge to deliver your daily 
dose of survival humor.


Imagine that your own building, a legendary (ex) artist buildingis now 
just another revolving airb&b miniunit for zombie techies who make well 
over $200 grand a year, but behave not unlike obnoxious teenage frat 
boys. If you are the only one of 3 Mexican tenants left, when you open 
the front door for a new neighbor, they either perceive you as the 
building's janitor or report you to the manager as a “suspicious 
character.” And yes, in Technotopia: your new identity is that of 
“suspicious character.”

The nightmare unfolds: Full of Maseratis, Ferraris, Porsches and 
Mercedes Benzes, the private parking lot is now protected with barbed 
wire fences and a digital display keypad encoded by microchips; and so 
are the “vintage bike” racks and trash containers. Video surveillance 
cameras are omnipresent. The new management wishes to keep the homeless, 
the day laborers and the “scary” young “people of color” at a 
distance…that is, before the cops get them. They are unpleasant memories 
of the old city of sin and compassion; kids from former distasteful and 
economically disadvantaged, at-risk neighborhoods.

The newly empowered cops drive around the hood looking for (criminal) 
“difference.”The homeless and the “gang bangers” aren’t the only ones 
being removed from the streets to make them safe for the new dot.com 
<http://dot.com> cadre. With them go the poets, the performance artists, 
the experimental musicians, the frail transvestites, the politicized sex 
workers, the gallant mariachis, the cool low-riders, the urban 
primitives, the angry punks, the defiant radical feminists and the very 
activists who used to protect us all from the greedy landlords and 
politicians who conceived of this macabre project.

It’s the latest American version of ethnic and cultural cleansing. It’s 
invisible to the newcomers, and highly visible to those of us who knew 
the old city. The press labels it “the post-gentrification era.”


“Prehistory is only 7 years old and nostalgia is pure style, a bad 
selfie of a fictional memory.”—Anonymous tweet.

There are suspicious fires happening constantly,in apartment buildings 
and homes inhabited by mostly Latino and black working class families. 
And you cannot help but to wonder if landlords and redevelopers are 
setting these fires? “Is there a secret garden of violence in the heart 
of techno-bohemian paradise?”-Anonymous tweet.

You also begin to wonder, who are these random people and newly evasive 
neighbors taking over your neighborhood?Metaphysically speaking, where 
did they really come from? And how long will they stay? Are they merely 
browsing in the mythological backyard of Technotopia? Will they return 
to the suburbs when the Chicano intifada begins?

Day after day, allured by the new digital bonanza, hundreds, thousands 
of new people arrive, unfamiliar people, without manners or style, 
social or historical consciousness; mostly middle and upper class white 
people from the suburbs and small cities from throughout the country, 
along with some wealthy foreign entrepreneurs and programmers from 
similarly upwardly mobile techno cultures. Undistinguishable from 
tourists, so many of them look like they were just dropped here by a UFO 
straight out of a Minneapolis or a Houston suburb, complete with their 
yoga mat, mobile gym and tech gear bearing the logo of the company they 
work for; their designer dogwear and strollers, all glued to their 
smartphones to the point where they can’t even acknowledge your presence 
as you pass them on the street.


Soon, these normative looking humans will destroy their very object of 
bohemian desire; the multicultural fetishes which attracted them “here” 
in the first place. And they will one day wake up to an ocean of 
unbearable sameness. The good thing is, they don’t know it yet, and they 
probably wouldn’t notice anyway. And if a few of them know it, let’s 
face it, they don’t give a shit. They’re all “comfortable” and exalted. 
The whole city is catering to their desires. Besides, they’ve got 25 
posts per day on their digital agenda and hundreds of superficial tweets 
to write.


What these cyber-adventurers have in common is that they are in a hurry, 
determined to make lots of money…mañana! Their neo-colonial dreams must 
be attained instantly. It’s the latest San Francisco Gold Rush, the 
2nddigital bonanza, a true new Wild West. It’s definitely the last 
chapter in savage capitalism, and they wish to be cast in the biggest, 
hippest reality show ever!

…But dear reader/audience member, don’t take it personally, you are 
always an exception to the rule. You are somewhat different. –Tweet.

Upon their arrival they are willing to take any job on their way to a 
better one, displacing the working class, which made the city function 
for decades. They are even willing to be waiters, gardeners (as long as 
they are referred to as ‘landscape designers’), house cleaners (or 
rather ‘facilities personnel’) and even nannies & dog walkers to the 
rich and famous. The difference between then and now is they charge 3 
times as much, and have no sense of labor ethics or a culture of 
service. After all, it’s just a temporary job on their way to Utopia 5.0.

Their dream begins to come true as they ascend in the instant 
socio-economic pyramid of the new city. They hit the jackpot. They get 
their official membership card to the bohemian theme park on an app and 
they begin to share in a post human culture.

“In this imaginary city, we no longer have citizens: we have 
self-involved ‘consumers’ with the latest gadgets in hand.” --Tweet.

It’s a virtual mob, not an informed citizenry, and they are slowly 
taking over every square inch of space and oxygen. Their navigation and 
communication devices are installed in their iPhone or iPad. And so are 
their identities, hollow dreams, “real” experiences; their 
nuvo-families, and all of their fictional memories.

You have seen these strangers: they seem to belong to micro-communities 
of 2 to 5 people.When they are not at work, they go to smart cafes…to 
work more. They rarely make eye contact with anyone. They walk staring 
at their mobile communication devices in search for an anxious, 
“spontaneous” human connection by following a GPS map to their next 
appointment. They also stare at the screen while having dinner with 
colleagues because they’re “checking in”, messaging someone on Facebook, 
or taking a selfie with a famous person they will never see again. They 
even do this while listening to live music at a club. When driving, they 
have no etiquette. They get easily irritated by the unbearable traffic 
they themselves created and behave like the bad drivers they imagine 
reside in the Third World.


They rarely attend artistic activities. They’d rather go to exciting 
themed events and parties sponsored by companies. And they go to 
network, not to make friends, flirt, or find a lover. With the exception 
of sporadic online speed dating on Tindr or Ok Cupid, their sexual life 
is “frugal” for the lack of a meaner word…On their wildest nights, 
nothing ever happens out of the ordinary. Their most exciting days are 
Pride, Dia de los Muertos and Burning Man, where they get to be extreme 
tourists.

”But dear reader/audience member, don’t take it personally, you are 
always an exception to the rule.” – Tweet

For the poetic record: They are mostly “white,” (meaning gender or race 
illiterate). 70% are male and have absolutely no sense of the history of 
the streets they are beginning to walk on. In the way they behave, they 
make you wonder if they know, geographically and culturally speaking, 
where they are located and if they are even aware of the profound impact 
of their presence in the lives of the older inhabitants? Last night at a 
bar one of them felt compelled to confess to me he was angered by a 
“racist poster” he saw outside: The photo of a handsome mariachi with a 
gun: “Gringas si; gringos no.”I felt sorry for his lack of humor.


“In the way these vatos behave you begin to wonder if they exist in the 
same city you are or in a parallel quantum reality you are making 
up?”-Tweet


In fact, they are easily annoyed by “difference” and have no problem 
letting you know or confessing it online. Verbigratia: “Don’t believe 
the hype: This neighborhood is not a safe place! There’s still way too 
many Mexicans, hookers, lesbians & street freaks. Don’t come to live 
here!”  In the “creative city”, racism, sexism, homophobia and classism 
are passé…

I continue citing my poetic field notes:“These techno-vatos have no 
sense of philanthropy. Their savings are to be spent in gourmet food, 
gadgets, clubbing, fancy apartments and very expensive puppies, like 
French bull dogs, Italian Greyhounds, and Pomeranians … It’s a 
solipsistic frontier economy. And if you are mildly politicized you 
cannot help but to wonder, If each one of them prosperous locos would 
donate 5 % of their income to a social cause, we could improve housing, 
social services and schools for the poor, and the yearly art budget for 
the Arts Commission…but in this Darwinian age, that would be considered 
old-school communism, not venture capitalism…”Here”, the future will 
come in a few days and the money they make must be spent in the 
immediate process of getting there. But ‘there’ is actually nowhere”—Tweet.

Besides, the mandate of the city fathers, in cahoots with the developers 
and new entrepreneurs is to create by any means necessary a city for the 
white rich. Our ex-major Willie Brown, paradoxically a black 
“progressive democrat” put it succinctly once: “we want to create the 
Monaco of the U.S., and if you can’t afford it, you can leave!” Thanks, 
Brother Willie!

Well, it already happened…and yes we, the holders and perpetrators of 
cultural difference, “can’t afford it” but here’s the thing: We are 
doing everything possible to stay and remain a nuisance to the new 
urbanites and the greedy landlords and politicians who invited them.

By now,I am clearly experiencing philosophical vertigo and political 
despair.The symptoms are devastating questions in my diary:


“Are we the artists and activists left, merely stubborn? Are we 
delusional and engaged in a losing battle? Are we waiting for the San 
Andreas Fault to open up or for the Mission shamans to conjure up the 
collapse of the new economy? But what if all the Mission shamans have 
already been evicted? Will the city get so unbearably expensive that the 
leaders of the tech industry themselves will decide to relocate to 
another place? If only we stick around a little longer… Is it too late 
to talk about this? Is someone somewhere online reading my words?... Hello?


(…)


3 pages later my questions continue: “Should I attend tomorrow’s 
anti-gentrification march or is it time to finally pack up and go back 
to Mexico City? I wonder what is worse, overt organized crime or the 
gentler forms of organized crime in Technotopia? What is more violent: 
the menacing gaze of a homeboy or the absolute indifference of a techie? 
Dangerous difference or dangerous sameness?”

During the revision of the final draft, I become fully aware of my 
poetic subjectivity. I know that my words are somewhat careless, 
partially unfair and devastating but I can’t help them. I am not a 
journalist. I am a performance artist and a poet, and my city has been 
taken away from me. It really hurts to walk the new streets of my 
refurbished ex-bohemian city. What can I say? I am deeply affected by 
the cruelty of indifference of its new population and I get sad when I 
stare at this unbearable ocean of cultural sameness and boring 
techno-normativity. I miss the grit, the funk, the unexpected, my dozens 
of close friends who have left for good. Am I repeating myself? Do I 
need to add a dictionary?

Dictionary (in progress):

Creative: A euphemism for successful

Here: Nothingness

Hipster: No one really knows. You just think you know. If you think you 
know, you most definitely are not one.

Local: Someone who used to live “here” when here was a place

Eviction: A euphemism for the eradication of difference

Google bus: A travelling gas-guzzling half-full office with chairs and 
no cubicles

Networking: A safe alternative to making actual conversation

Radical: An adjective for a franchise

Technotopia: San Francisco sans difference//A-critical techno-utopia

Underground: Another franchise

Vintage: 2ndhand object or a previously worn item of clothing sold for 
over $100

White: A bizarre state of mind that makes you attribute race to others 
with darker skin


(I wish to thank Balitronica, Emma Tramposch and Anastasia Herold for 
helping me to prepare the first version of this manuscript)




-- 
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org


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