On When Capitalism Is a Vast, Raging Sea on Which We Are Helplessly Adrift


In which The Gay Recluse dreams of snow.


On certain days, we are made aware that capitalism is a vast, raging sea on which we are helplessly adrift.


It’s not that this is exactly news; to the contrary, we have always known this, much the way the earth is round and the sun is many millions of miles away. But when we were younger — before we spent so many years on these turbulent waters — we didn’t understand the true expanse of this sea, and how one day it would threaten to swallow us up in its infinite depths.


Nor in our youth did we understand that picking the right boat would matter so much; that those others we mocked for being slow or stolid or inelegant would be the same ones toward which we would look with such longing in a storm, when it was no longer possible to board them.


We remember how beautiful our first boat locked on the dock — with its “wooden beams and dovetail joints,” the way its sails seemed to be woven with golden thread — and how quickly it sank as soon as we lost sight of the shore.


And how we swam to the point of exhaustion until, on the verge of drowning, we finally managed to crawl up on a second boat, which though not as striking as any we had ever imagined sailing, at least seemed to offer a certain stability for which we were grateful; it was old but sturdy on the water, and populated by seasoned hands who assured us that this vessel had crossed the ocean for hundreds of years and could expect to do the same for hundreds more.


But who could have anticipated the storms with which this boat would be confronted? Everyone felt seasick from the onslaught of the waves — each a mountain on an endless, mutating range — which never ceased to crash over the decks and rip holes in the sails. During any respite, we discussed the idea of designing something new — more buoyant and fleet — but our time was spent plugging holes below and mending the sails. Everyone looked at each other and shrugged: it was understood that a disaster was imminent, but what choice did we have but to make our way forward as best we could?


But the sea was not content to let us muddle along, and in fact — as if driven by vengeance — made a point to break our masts and blow us off course into even more unfamiliar waters, where nothing seemed to work; to catch even the most common fish was a strain, and all of our lines went slack.


Did you ever see that teevee movie in the seventies, when the ship sank and it gradually became apparent that not everyone would be allowed to remain on the lifeboat, and that some would have to be sacrificed for the good of the whole? And how everyone looked at each other with terror and understanding, knowing that they would have to implement this plan? Did you see that movie on teevee? And were you also terrified when the old married couple volunteered to be cast adrift, clinging to one another with their tired fingers? And then a single lady who was probably a lesbian because even back then everyone knew that gays were worth less than other people? And did you cry when they sent the dog overboard, because how could a dog ever understand that it wasn’t just going for a lil swim?


We never realized that this horrible movie could be a metaphor for so much.


And that one day we would be on a sinking lifeboat, living in terror at the idea of being cast off and feeling guilt for remaining behind (because we’re gay and always feel inherently less valuable).


Or that our dreams for a hundred nights running would be filled with nothing but stillness and snow.

7 Responses to “On When Capitalism Is a Vast, Raging Sea on Which We Are Helplessly Adrift”

  1. 1 BBNYC

    The tone of this post perfectly captures the terror I feel and would express if I had your gift of language.

  2. 2 c.


    I recall the ’64/’65 World’s Fair, and it’s cheery, automated capitalism, where “That Girl” hairdos, plastic houses, mod monorails, multi-national pavilions, and the gleaming Unisphere promised a future of perfect equality, universal access, infallible technology, inexhaustible resources, and colorful, Formica kitchens for all. It was a fun and groovy pastiche. I bought every bit of it, as children are wont to do in their respective childhood eras, and for awhile it seemed like something to believe in.

    Then I got older and noticed that although it is indeed A Small World After All (a popular attraction at the Fair), it’s also a mostly tribal one, with violent inequalities, intolerance, and incompatible convictions. When McDonald’s opened on the Champs Elysées, I realized that The World’s Fair was actually coming true – except that the utopian vision I’d originally wandered through, gleefully hand-in-hand with my mother, had been a fairy tale of American Corporate Domination and Homogeneity, rather than a humanistic, democratic appeal for progress.

    In that fairy tale, the ideal person is not an everyman who’s been educated, dignified, and woven into a societal tapestry, but an affluent, interchangeable conformist, American or any nationality, who serves the cause of perpetual consumerism. Naturally, as my own affluence (and, hence, societal relevance) has declined, from childhood-on, I’ve drifted further and further from this ideal. I’m not on a Futurama conveyor belt, gliding toward The World of Tomorrow; I’m on a lifeboat like yours, floating by you with a knowing stare, surrounded by empty sea.

    There’s no permanent-press-attired World’s Fair attendant standing by, ready with a patch should my raft spring a leak.

    My forty-five-year-old visions of the Fair’s sunny, capitalist fantasia seem now like the Fair itself came to be: forgotten, dismantled, a few ghostly, decaying remains lingering, unsupplanted by new illusions or better ideas.

  3. Never saw that tee-vee movie, Matt, but this post is a nice mix of politics, economics, gay identity, dreams and… snow. And C’s finding the ’64 World’s Fair his “fixture” of capitalism is interesting, too. For me that Fair helped solidify my ambivalent gayness, as I had only just entered my first building on the grounds when one of the earliest little booths I encountered, via some branch of the Catholic Church, had a group of men clad in what looked like Monk’s robes who were, I guess, preaching to the visitors. One of them, a short little fellow, called me — then a tall 24-year-old — over to the booth and began to preach a rather different line. We ended up having a sexual liaison or two over the next few days in his Manhattan seminary quarters, which ended due to my ambivalence about gaiety, sex, the Church — and even the Fair, I guess, as I remember almost nothing else about it, save the little “Monk” who came on to me so immediately and so strongly. Funny, how a post like yours get us going in such different, though somehow connected, directions….

  4. 4 c.

    Intriguing anecdote from JvM, especially apropos our culture’s interweaving of religion with capitalism, and the Church’s long-standing, underground/on-the-surface gayness. It’s always an (embarrassing, for me) shock to be reminded that gay life suffused our culture before Stonewall, through a childhood where I had no inkling of its existence — though it was obviously always nearer than imagined!

  5. 5 k

    this is my favorite post of yours.

  6. 6 orinink

    your writing and the reply’s touched me.I sometimes get very worried about these very thoughts.I do not think the ship is sinking though,i think america is expanding and there are going to be plenty of jobs to do in the green area,I think capitalism carefully controlled and infused with what actually worked from socialism will save the ship.as for us gays we have to get on the international human rights act and get off the marriage in the eyes of the lord thing ,its going to bring the rath of the masses on us,people in dire straits cling to there religion and there guns so expect an upswing in gay bashing.Kramer a couple of years ago reccomended a gay army,i dont disagree a group of socially responsible protectors of our community that work through the police dept and are gay,advocats who monitor and deter crimes against and within our community .changeing our approach will shift the whole argument if our rhetoric is that like black slaves who werent allowed to own property and marry our human rights are being denied,lets team up with the disenfranchised who are fighting for there jobs ,lets get out of the bars (draining us of possible good men),off the meth and coke,and lets leave the elitist ghettoe,because none of us can ever feel so secure that our freedom cannot be taken away if it has been specially bestowed on us but not our brothers and sisters,all that is is preferential treatment .

  7. 7 orinink

    often within our community we fight for the right to behave just like our oppressors,we mistake women and strieght families as our enemy when as allways we must first look at ourselves ,what am i doing that can be changed so that i can service the world,not just that cute dude over there but that elderly couple,or that single mother how do i get it across to them that i am living in there world as well as mine and that they are not so far apart.I actually think that before we can marry most of us should marry the community and i am almost certain at least i can speak for myself that most of us are more dedicated to our partners or finding one than we are to the community.This is the plain truth behind marriage ,we become an army of two against the world more often than two within it.As a result those not “fortunate” enough to live in that bubble spend there time in pursuit of that gold ring,while those inside often find themselves just as alone as when they were single.succesfull marriages are built on mutual attraction and mutual goals
    and the ability to find something intrigueing in what you have everyday.There is a japanese actor who has a series on tv and you tube where he is supposed to be a gay superheroe who goes out and does good for everyone,it is hysterical because he is forcing good deeds on total strangers,but what is great is that he is for better,we as gays have to have our own moral compass it cant be britney spears or carrie donovans it has to be ours
    with our history as its center we have to be sharper than our oppressors ,yet understand there desires and not live by materialist goals but by our own truths.

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