You are the Product

Living an ordinary life in a wealthy society now means living within an extractive system, a system that causes pain. Look closely at almost every aspect of your daily life – how you travel, your devices, your home, your food and water – and you’ll find a story of exploitation and extermination. Though the pain of reluctant acquiescence is not the same as acute suffering, to know that you are a part of these structures, without knowing how to exit or shut them down, is itself painful. Recently, someone on the anglophone internet used a new term to describe this experience of slow pain or chronic distress: Kuebiko.

In Japan, the word Kuebiko is not new. Kuebiko is a Shinto kami (or deity) of knowledge and agriculture, a scarecrow who has a comprehensive awareness but cannot move. From Kuebiko’s position, tethered in a field, she can see everything that passes over, under, or around her, but she can’t alter any of it. Now, her name has a new meaning and context, drawn into English, to describe not the passive acceptance of suffering, but the feeling that this acceptance brings about: a distinct contemporary form of pain.

Kuebiko has been lifted from Japan as a Shinto deity and transplanted to English as a millennial emotion. As such, it is an example, as well as a description, of the experiences that arise from a culture of extraction. here’s a soulful japanese word for the news-generated sadness you’re probably feeling, reads a story about Kuebiko on one US news site. It’s a headline that mirrors colonial enterprise and demonstrates a type of thinking in which soulfulness is ascribed to non-Western perspectives. The anglophone world, we have to infer, has run out of words for its own feelings. Kuebiko, though mute and static, has something to say in this place where the vocabulary is emptied out. She can communicate in situations where the old words won’t work.

This is something that is true of all scarecrows – at least, of any scarecrow that does its job. A scarecrow is a means of expression between human and crow, and if she doesn’t communicate across this divide then she isn’t a scarecrow at all – she’s just a broom handle and a cast-off parka in the middle of a field, with birds pulling up the seedlings around her. The scarecrow, then, only comes into existence when the human who made her has succeeded in seeing how the crow sees: she is only a scarecrow when the crows are scared.

I first came across Kuebiko through the work of Lauren Gault, an artist who uses agricultural forms and materials, and has made works that reference scarecrows, bird scarers, and other wildlife deterrents including a solar-powered robot wolf that was designed to ward off bears in rural Hokkaido in 2023.

These works, which materialize a complex of entangled livelihoods, made me think differently about how scarecrows work in and on an environment. I thought of Gault thinking of a farmer thinking about what a bird can see, and then making something. I thought about how the internet is habitually described as an echo chamber. The bewildered morality of social media rides on waves of pain, moving from the felt to the vicarious, and back, and voicing what it thinks it hears until something new rebounds. In contrast to these infinite, frightened diversions, pained by the pains that are caused by causing pain, a scarecrow could be physical evidence of a kind of applied empathy: her presence alters the world that surrounds her.


Image © USGS

The post You are the Product appeared first on Granta.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top