Giving the Finger to Passing the Buck

Jun 30, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

You know, there's a lot of hateful, divisive rhetoric in this country right now, and I personally like to blame Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. They, of course, blame President Obama for being a socialist. Republicans blame the unemployed for unemployment and liberals blame capitalism for financial inequity. Global warming is blamed on the lifestyles of past generations, who still blame sex, drugs and rock and roll for ruining this country. Google "blame" and you're going to get about fifty million search results in your browser window. While we may be in disagreement about who is to blame for what, one thing is certain - we all find someone or something to blame in our lives and in our world.

Pointing fingers is normal human reactionary behavior. Unevolved, perhaps, but not incomprehensible. Why do we blame others for the things that go wrong in our lives? Is it denial, pride, fear or instinct for self-preservation? Didn't Adam blame Eve for the original sin? I'm pretty sure it happened that way. When we make a mistake, the feeling of shame that overtakes us is decidedly unpleasant. We need to get rid of it, and pass accountability for the screw up on to someone else. If to err is human, then to blame is humanity at its most primal.

But shouldn't our brains have grown up a bit by now? Enter the Blame Accountants Carla Repice and Geoffrey Cunningham. They're not CPAs or therapists - they are artists, interventionists and conversationalists. They engage people in unscripted, free-flowing conversation about something most of us would just rather not talk about - blame. The Office of Blame Accountability has in fact been set up on street corners and public spaces everywhere solely to deal with this very concept. The paperwork collected by the Office of Blame is now being released in a new book published this month by LoudMouth Press out of Brooklyn, NY. Depending on your perspective, the book can come off like serious conceptual art or a hilarious novelty title. But according to the Blame Accountants, it's neither. This is just life.

The message? Blame can be a crutch. To be free we need to find forgiveness and take accountability for our own lives and responsibility for creating our own realities. This would be overly simplistic and ineffectual were it presented as a self-help book. It is however, completely compelling as an anthropological artifact. As you read the blame forms, filled out and filed anonymously by the American public, you begin to get sucked in to a collective unconsciousness of buck passing. Some of the forms are ridiculous, many are hilarious and some are devastating. While you may pick the book up thinking "what the hell is this?", it won't take long for your thoughts to turn to "hey, do I know this guy?"

The rhythm is sometimes jolting. The forms may blame Obama, then Fox News followed by Corporate Bankers. And you think OK this book is political - very political. But then you come across forms stating: "I blame Myself"; "I blame My Ex-girlfriend" or "I blame My Therapist" -- and you realize how incredibly personal these documents are.

As a reader you become a voyeur into a stranger's psyche - into dozens of strangers' psyches. The book itself looks like it could be some therapist's notebook, or maybe something you might find in your own desk drawer. You half expect it to be blank inside before opening it up for a flip-through. Indeed it is designed with enough blank pages to encourage the reader to actually write in it. This is a book, but also a shared experience and you are asked to be a part of it.

No matter how weird, tragic or hilarious the blame forms are, they are ultimately human. There will doubtless be more than one that you could have filled out yourself. The Office of Blame invites you to watch others be judgmental, harsh, childish, and petty; and then sort through the emotional mess to find some form of personal responsibility. What is your role in these scenarios? Somewhere, someone's grandfather once said: "when one finger points at the other guy, there are four more pointing back at yourself." The tendency to blame isn't going anywhere, so why not take a moment to stop by the Office, drop off a stack of Blame, figure out your role and leave with an official receipt. Think of it as filing taxes for self-awareness.

Gregory Chambless Ayres is an educator, writer and publisher living in Brooklyn, NY.