The Party's Over
This exhibition took place, in a "one night only format," at FrontierSpace in Missoula, MT, February of 2014.
From the gold rush in the Black Hills of South Dakota to the copper boom in Butte to the natural gas boom that North Dakota is currently experiencing, Americans have been pouring west, pillaging and plundering the land for its resources in the pursuit of life, liberty, happiness and that most important of American virtues, affluence.
However, in between all of the “strike it rich” chest beating and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” pandering, there are two inherent problems within boom and bust culture. One, not everyone is going to strike it rich. In fact, 9 out of 10 who head out west in pursuit of a better life will end up broke, busted, beaten or dead. That is just as true today in North Dakota as it was on the 19th century frontier. Two, eventually that bust part of the phenomenon will rear its head and it will take all of the trappings associated with the boom with it, forsaking the remaining populace to an existence of idly occupying a ghost town.
In many ways, these instances of boom and bust culture could be described as a Horatio Alger story gone horribly wrong. The foundation of these populist stories is rooted in the noble ideals of individualism and egalitarianism and has informed our notions, both past and present, of that strangely optimistic and cliquish singularity that we refer to as American Exceptionalism. However, this foundation is one that is terribly decrepit, similar to the hastily built “man camps” that litter the landscape of North Dakota at the moment.
Let me speak quite plainly…If you head up to the North Dakota fields you will not strike it rich. You will not find a better life. The companies that just might hire you do not care about you. You are an expendable tool for the corporations operating there. This how it always has been and how it always will be.
This fantasy of an American Dream that never truly existed should be put to rest next to the bones of Horatio Alger.
The party’s over.