Friday, April 13, 2007

Sirens in the Ether(net), Or Tax Time Blues

Couldn't resist such a title for the late Mr. Vonnegut.

Lately my thoughts have gone to location. It isn't a
strange idea, here in Kansas. Especially around April,
when both my federal and state government compel
me to pay my dues.

I've lived in a lot of places and in varied income brackets.
It seems that the sure way to end up paying an inordinate
amount this time of year is an easy recipe: Add
one part the lowest survivable income and mix in two
cups of undesirable locale. I shouldn't be too unfair, being
both a native Kansan and a resident of the one town
in said state which boasts a few cosmopolitan benefits. That
being said, the idea that a place like Kansas would have
a very high state tax in relation to neighboring Missouri
(our roads are much better, though) or Texas or a number
of states which any U.S. resident would easily prefer to
reside causes a person to lose sleep.

The purpose of this transmission is not to throw a screed
out into the maelstrom about those 1040 forms. I will
close the topic with my unceasing wonder at all of the
returns received by wealthy folks I know. This leads
me to some conclusions vis a vis Eastern philosophy:

1. Karma must not be separated from caste;
2. It wasn't too hard for Siddhartha, considering he
always had his royalty to fall back on; &/or
3. Devising a logical system of ethics based on
the realities in a predatory market system is less
sage than it seems.

Getting back to location.

It has always been the same in the arts as in real estate.
Talent and perseverance help, but where you pay rent
has a lot to do with your potential to succeed.

As a sometime writer, arguably lacking in the three
aforementioned departments, and musician, I've
frequently looked to the new "hot" location. They
differ based on music or poetry, but there is often
a confluence.

In a recent mood of defeat, a friend and I discussed
just where the new land of milk and honey might
be. We came to the consensus that it could be wherever
you are. Much has been said of the decentralizing
aspect of the Internet. With a few keystrokes and clicks,
billions of people can be introduced to your writing,
music, paintings, etc. In the world of journalism,
sites like Counter Punch and The Huffington Post have
successfully done an end-run around the "filter" as
our president likes to call it.

This seemingly democratizing quality gives a person
hope, even in Kansas. There's only one catch: the big
web sites, to paraphrase Ginsberg, are a mad mirror
image of the big papers, publishers, and entertainment
concerns. Huffington has been high profile for years
and has a megaphone through old venues like television
and radio. Cockburn was, after all, in the employ of
The Wall Street Journal and is still read weekly in
The Nation. I know a few people in my neck of the woods
that spend a great deal of time and energy on their
own indymedia projects. Their efforts strike me as
quixotic.

On my end, I've put up somewhere in the area of 30
songs on various sites. I haven't really attempted to
publicize them (not that I would know how) but the
net result is pretty much that those I am in contact
with are usually the ones who see the sites. The great
benefit is, essentially, that I don't have the overhead
cost of printing CD's to sell at a bar gig. The potential
audience remains close to the same.

Let's say one is enterprising enough to build an online
audience of some size. It can be done, even if you
aren't a respected author or waffling heiress. The
problem remains that without the support of the vast
network (of four companies or so) and resources
of the arts & entertainment industry you aren't likely
to make any money. In a perfect world, this could
result in paying no taxes on no income. There is the
problem of rent, though.

In the net publishing world, there are some positive
signs. Again, there ain't no money in that particular
poetry. An even bigger issue is that, without print,
a writer's words fail to receive the requisite heft. Anybody
can have a website.

So this magical medium becomes just another tool
to catch the attention of the firms that have a hand
in every till, whether it is epic poetry, dance music,
public opinion or public utilities. A means rather than an
end. I don't have an answer here, and welcome
suggestions or contrary opinions to this conclusion, as
the conclusion ends us with a dire prognosis for the
Kulchur.

Wherever you go, it's where you're at.