Last month, I decided to track down the subway dancers in the hope of filming them. After weeks of calls, I managed to book an afternoon shoot with some of the men, who call themselves the W.A.F.F.L.E. (We Are Family for Life Entertainment) crew: J-Black, Goofy, Boy Aero, Lex Aero, John-O and Sonic. I focused my lens on their hands seizing poles and feet fluttering in the air. As I zoomed in, I noticed that these self-taught artists are not just part of an underground subculture; their graceful moves also evoke a classical ballet.
Unsurprisingly, financial security makes one able to consider artistic desires more fully, without worrying about food on the table. While the grand plans are still there, for now many of us would settle for being able to pay the rent.
One of the most compelling cultures Graeber profiles is the Tiv of West Africa, who have very particular rules about exchange. For starters, they believe that bringing an economic transaction to full completion is essentially immoral, or at least frowned upon, because it implies that one party doesn’t want anything to do with the other in the future. If a Tiv man or woman gives you a gift, you are supposed to respond with another gift of slightly greater or lesser value. The outstanding debt between the two of you is a signal that your relationship is going to continue. To respond with a gift of equal value would be to say implicitly that you wish to even things out and draw your relationship to a close.