Sensibilities

The spousal unit signed me up for Cards Against Humanity’s Eight Sensible Gifts for Hanukkah and now that it’s done, I am feeling conflicted.

That was not the case earlier in the process. Cards Against Humanity has gotten flack as a problematic game, and I understand the company’s been at least somewhat responsive to those criticisms. (I’m adjacent to better-informed people, but haven’t picked their brains on the subject. My non-exhaustive knowledge is due in large part to my impression that playing CAH would feel similar to Apples to Apples, just with a different color scheme, so I had no need to engage with the “will this purchase make me feel bad?” question.)

Most of the gifts were entertainingly silly. I wore a pair of socks to work one day during actual Hanukkah, and the investment was very much part of the theme. I happily filled out decrees for my brief reign over an Irish castle next year. I haven’t engaged with the puzzle aspect at all.

I was somewhat surprised by the WBEZ membership—I was not expecting actual warm fuzzies—and very surprised by the vacation for factory workers in China. That’s both good on the individual level—an actual, tangible benefit for real people—and on the macro level of talking (however briefly) about working conditions.

But night seven leaves a bad taste in my mouth: voting on whether a Picasso linocut, Tête de Faune​, should be destroyed (with all Sensible Gifts subscribers to receive a laser-cut scrap) or donated to the Art Institute of Chicago.

The effect is similar to that described by some critics of the card game: everything is fine until you’re blindsided with something that isn’t. So perhaps this, too, is appropriate given the source.

It’s Milgram, except with an object instead of people. The fact that it strikes me as worse is, perhaps, worthy of examination. Is it the irrevocable nature of destruction? The fact that the work, if monetized, could be a source of social good? Am I privileging cultural value constructed by very flawed social systems? Am I reacting against the perceived failings of perceived non-elites (even though anybody who is voting in an online poll after receiving a gag gift is, kind of by definition, an individual among the most social/economic/technocratic elite in human history)?

So I had my moment of introspection, which perhaps lasted longer than my moment of introspection about the effects of globalization (which I will contemplate when, for instance, glancing at the label in my clothes). And I come back around to the pointless meanness. If a sufficient percentage of 150,000 people opt not to destroy a Picasso, does that actually say something positive about humanity? If they vote to destroy it, does that say anything new or insightful? I think the answer to both is no. The real problem is that anything and everything can be monetized—that the value ascribed is skewed by systems that are frequently toxic—and that the choice of what to do with cultural objects and (by extension) institutions is formed by the whims of a narrow range of individuals. And my fellow 149,999 Sensible Gift subscribers should not be under any illusion that they belong to that group.

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