$ MAGIC DOLLAR $
Size: 508mm x 381mm" x 127mm (gusset)
Medium: Tote Bag; Hand screen printed cotton fabric
Object #: TO-31
This comes with TO-29 (Digital Prints)
During a visit to India in 2014, we were walking around Bombay scouting for visuals and objects for our archive. We saw a small stack of plastic bags hanging from the top of a snack stall. The bags had a 500 Dollar US Bill screen printed on them with the words “Magic Dollar” and “United States of America”. Looking back we really wish we had snapped a picture because the juxtaposition of the bags against their environment struck a chord with us. We purchased 2 bags as we sensed that they would be helpful for us down the line.
Now we are using this found object to start a conversation around the perception of US currency and the connotations conjured by this alluring phrase, “Magic Dollar”.
There are the various enticements associated with so-called “American Dream” which is commonly understood to mean (or “meant” because who really believes in this delusion?) to come to the United States and make a lot of money (to put it crassly). The ideal version of this “Dream” is the ability to acquire a bunch of things and if you’re an immigrant, to visit your native land and dazzle your relatives and friends with all that you’ve acquired. This “accumulation is a virtue” ethos was meant to show how correct the American model was in contrast to the often socialist-tinged policies of Nehruvian India (to refer to our specific context).
During the post-World War II boom across the Western World, the “Dream” was thought to be a reality for those who were willing to “work” for it. While this was the case, the mythology around the “Magic Dollar” could anecdotally sustain itself. As this “magic” fades in capitalism’s long recession, the dollar and its government still try to impose their will upon the world.
“The only thing wrong with Peace is that you can’t make no money from it.”
- Gil-Scott Heron
The “Magic Dollar” works through both soft power (USAID, NGOs) and the $934 billion dollar military budget (expended by the Department of Defense and various branches of the military, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines, and the brand new Space Force). Not even the supposed concerns regarding the “most dangerous President in American History” (egad!) can stop the growth of this system as we witnessed with Congress providing President Trump with the largest military budget ever. The economic force of the military-industrial complex and the political gains brought by “bringing jobs back home” are irresistible forces within the American political establishment.
The question of how to transition into a true peacetime economy is never seriously considered as be it the Soviets of yesteryear, the terrorists of earlier this century, or the current threats supposedly posed by Russia and China (& Iran, North Korea, Cuba, etc.), there is always some new threat on the horizon. The internal logic of this economy is perpetually constructing “monsters to destroy”. Even marginal attempts to cut the US defense budget by 10% can’t pass Congress with Kamala Harris and 23 other Democrats joining Republicans to thwart this measure.
The “Magic Dollar'' also functions through literally weaponizing “woke” rhetoric by celebrating the fact that many major military contractors were being run by women, CIA celebrating Pride, and the ballyhoo around the first African-American Secretary of “Defense” (at least there was truth in advertising back when they called it the War Department).
There is even a supposed progressive case for intervention, the Right to Protect (R2P), which is espoused by most of the leading Democratic Party foreign policy figures. Proponents of R2P argue that the US should not go to war for base material concerns as those neo-cons suggest, but to protect the human rights of others. In application, this tends to be used as a stick for perceived geopolitical threats and never appears in conversations with US allies who notoriously violate human rights.
The growth of the military-industrial complex abroad boomeranged back into the Homeland after the declaration of the “War on Crime” in the 1990s, the passage of the 1994 Crime Bill (the primary architect of which currently sits in the White House), and the various pieces “anti-terror” legislation. The 1033 Program, which first appeared in 1996, is an explicit example of this convergence between militarism within and without. This program was initiated by the 1997 Defense Authorization Act and allows for any unused Defense Department equipment to be sent to local authorities, who only have to pay for the shipping. This shows that any attempt to “Defund the Police” must include within it a call to “Defund the Military”.
During the Cold War (which was in fact a collection of “hot” wars fought primarily in the decolonizing world (prominent examples include the Vietnam War and US bombing of Laos)), the possibility of nuclear war and subsequent annihilation was at the forefront of many people’s minds. Arising out of the post-World War II New Left was the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament which sought to counter the somehow “sane” mainstream deterrent of MAD (mutually assured destruction). However, honestly speaking about or portraying the unique threat posed by nuclear warfare was not welcomed. Although Peter Watkins’ The War Game won an Oscar, its depiction of a nuclear attack on England was deemed far too real for the BBC which severely limited screenings of the film.
The nuclear arsenals remain. Although the Soviet Union/Russia and the United States have a treaty regime that calls for the gradual reduction of weapons , a fundamental tension remains between any attempt to disarm a particular sector of the weapons industry while the rest grows rapidly. We won’t be able to have (or imagine) a nuclear-free world until a broader peace/demilitarization movement has gained strength.