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Jul. 26 2010 — 3:22 pm | 1,088 views | 0 recommendations | 5 comments

Altered States: Times Square Billboard Crowdsources Content, Disrupts Reality

In the halcyon days of advertising, digital billboards would have been viewed as grotesque and intrusive, an affront to the delicate sensibilities of American consumers — an audience that once held great sway in the minds of corporate leadership. Madison Avenue’s elite creative minds were, for a fleeting moment, above such shenanigans. Today, however, eyeballs — and more so attention spans — are at a greater premium than ever before. And like the claustrophobic city scenes from Neo Tokyo or the dystopian Los Angeles portrayed in Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner, attracting the eyes of a targeted demographic now requires the ability to powerfully disrupt the public space.

One example of such wholesale public disruption can be seen in Times Square, where youth clothing brand Forever 21 (which now inhabits the old Virgin Megastore) has transformed its billboard into a crowdsourced sideshow. With technical/creative direction from Space 150, the billboard employs the use of high-tech surveillance cameras, computer vision technology, and a playful female model that interacts with the massive crowds, essentially creating a steroid-infused social media platform in the tourist core of Manhattan: continue »

Jul. 26 2010 — 9:50 am | 408 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

The United States of Basil Marceaux Dot Com

In an age where political upstarts use every tool available to gain exposure, Basil Marceaux is decidedly lo-fi — despite the Web 1.0 “Dot Com” in his name. As one of the Republican candidates for governor in Tennessee’s upcoming mid-term elections, Mr. Marceaux is a curious case. In a recent televised address aired on WSMV-TV, it’s hard to tell — on first look — whether Marceaux is nervous, had recently been beaten about the head and face with a sack of old doorknobs, or perhaps a little bit of both. The resulting public address is equal parts terror and amusement.

While much will be written about Marceaux in the next few days (as he quickly burns his way through a Minor Internet Celebrity Famecycle), mainly fueled by a bored American workforce spreading OMGs and LOLs among friends, there’s something to admire in the man’s apparent buffoonery. He’s rather honestly asserted himself, however haphazardly, into a political process permeated with cynicism and contempt. It appears Marceaux means well, if only in his own mind. But given his abysmally scatterbrained platform — I’m gonna remove all goldfinch flags from the state! — good intentions (that only make sense to him) don’t amount to much of anything.

Jul. 23 2010 — 12:06 pm | 715 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

Dogtown Redux: ‘Cannonball’ Examines the Ills and Opportunities of The Great Recession

Cannonball is a short film focused on a very specific side effect of The Great Recession: A glut of foreclosed homes in Fresno, California, and tons of empty swimming pools that have attracted legions of the city’s skateboarders. Armed with sump pumps and skate decks, the subjects in Cannonball provide a unique look at the nationwide fallout of the economic crisis. Instead of seeing the country through the eyes of those who have lost so much, we instead see the opportunities these losses have created.

It’s impossible to watch this film and not be reminded of the exploits of the Z-Boys (Tony Alva, Jay Adams, Stacy Peralta, etc.) skate crew, who took great advantage of the Los Angeles drought of the 1970s — as residents were forced to drain their pools — and subsequently invented/pioneered modern skateboarding culture. Produced by the gentlemen at California is a Place (Drea Cooper and Zackary Canepari), Cannonball manages to tackle the tough subject of economic hardship in a compelling (and visually stunning) format. It’s a reminder of how important storytelling can be.

Jul. 19 2010 — 12:42 pm | 203 views | 0 recommendations | 4 comments

M.I.A. Talks BP Oil Spill, Arizona Immigration Law, and Other Stuff

Last week M.I.A. was interviewed by DJ Skeet on the KIIS FM morning show out of Los Angeles. They talked about stuff, important stuff. And when he wasn’t fawning over her, Skeet even managed to eek out a question or two, mainly focusing on how she’s known for being controversial and political and outspoken, and other stuff like that.

When asked about her thoughts on stuff like the Arizona immigration law, M.I.A. quickly illuminated the issue for KIIS listeners:

“I don’t want to say fucked-up shit, but I feel like Obama should just step in and, you know…. you can’t have that kind of stuff in your backyard. It just seems so backwards to me. And I think, being an immigrant and stuff, I feel it. You know, when ‘Born Free’ came out, and everybody was freaking out and stuff, and two weeks later they shot this kid, you know. To see something that you make up and was fictional, to it actually being a real story that’s actually supported by governments and stuff.  It’s really weird to me (Skeet: it’s crazy), yeah it’s crazy, because actually the immigrants do support this state and are the pillar of it and actually.”

With immigration reform in Arizona succinctly analyzed, Skeet and M.I.A. moved on to other stuff, namely the BP oil spill, which appeared to be a sensitive topic for the outspoken songstress:

Yeah, I don’t want to really, like, I left my controversial coat at home today (laughter from Skeet). No, it’s just weird because Obam’s like, slap on the wrist to the BP guys. But at the same time he OK’d more drilling. And, in fact, it was the U.S. who authorized more sort of offshore drilling and stuff. Um, nothing’s happened about that.

And like that, more stuff talked about in such detail that no other questions can possibly remain. When I attempted to watch the remainder of this video, I feared the experience might induce a seizure. So I opted out. There’s only so much learnin’ one can handle in a single session, and stuff.

Jul. 12 2010 — 12:46 pm | 4,101 views | 0 recommendations | 3 comments

‘Porn in the U.S.A.’: Turning Sarah Palin, Tiger Woods Into Cold Hard Cash

Jonathan Yeo's NSFW portrait of Sarah Palin. (click to enlarge)

For the better part of the last year, bloggers have frantically attempted to wring every possible cent from keyword-rich stories covering Sarah Palin, Tiger woods (see above headline for proof), and a dozen other celebrity names coveted like gold in The Often Trifling Age of Pageview Journalism. It’s become a weekly, if not daily, ritual. It’s shameless, like so much of the Internet these days. But what really makes it so heartbreaking, or perhaps just downright sad, is that it means writers have essentially become the ditch diggers of the Internet, eternally filling bottomless content holes with disposable stories that nobody will remember in two days, or more realistically, two minutes.

It turns out though that writers are not alone in this scheme. Artists are complicit too.

This notion — the delicate relationship between art and commerce — struck me while reading a brief about artist Jonathan Yeo’s latest exhibition, “Porn in the U.S.A,” which opened at Lazarides Gallery in Los Angeles last Thursday. While the title is suggestive, and a semi-clever pun (two things that definitely don’t fly for journalism in the days of search engine optimization), it’s also intended to stoke controversy — like all of his work.

Yeo, as some may know, is known for creating collage-like portraits assembled using clippings from glossy porno magazines. “I try to make collages that don’t look like collages, and I think I’m really kind of painting with the porn,” Yeo has said of his work. “I don’t want to sound pretentious about it, but the process is more like painting in terms of the compositional decisions you make.”

He’s probably best known for his porntrait portrait of Paris Hilton (complete with penis thumb… NSFW) from his debut show at Lazarides in 2008, a piece that was famously purchased by Damien Hirst. The name recognition of Yeo’s subjects, and the attention he draws by using porn as his medium, feels a bit like artworld hucksterism.

Jonathan Yeo's NSFW portrait of Tiger Woods. (click to enlarge)

“It was important to do a couple of eye-catching ones where people would get the joke as a way of leading people into it,” Yeo told Artinfo.com about his latest show. “But hopefully they’ll come in and find there’s all sorts of things they weren’t expecting. There are two potential audiences: the knowing art world people — people who will come down because they have an idea of what’s going on — and the people who come by because of the massive walk-by pedestrian traffic.”

That last thing that Yeo says, the notion that a percentage of those who view his work will be uninformed gawkers attracted by the mere sight of a large crowd, is telling. His porn and celebrity sales pitch are far from unheard of. In fact, the two topics are tried and true public attention grabbers. Yeo’s particular choice to cast Palin in porn is a not-so-subtle exploitation of her often sexually-charged image. Just as his decision is to give Tiger Woods the same treatment (NSFW: View here). When Yeo’s portrait of Palin makes its round on the Internet — ‘painted’ in pubic hair and clean-shaven vaginas, erect penises and glistening seamen-drenched skin — conservatives will be outraged and progressives will feign disgust. And Yeo will walk away with fistfuls of cash.

It begs the question, how much interest in art these days — whether visual art, music, writing, etc. — is driven by hype? And how often does the art itself live up to the expectation of how it was marketed or sold? Back in the pre-Internet world, consumers would cry fowl of such disregard for quality control, claiming bait-and-switch tactics when disappointed by the end product. But today things are different for some reason. Perhaps expectations are at an all-time low, or maybe most of us have just stopped caring.

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    About Me

    I am a writer, editor, and blogger who lives and works in the once-decaying heart of America's Rust Belt (i.e. Pittsburgh, PA). My work focuses on subculture, crime, mental health, race, class, and creativity.

    My writing appears in Spin, Good, XLR8R, Next American City, RaceWire, and Swindle, among other print and online publications. I have reported on the decline of sampling in hip-hop; interviewed artists and musicians who survived Cambodia’s killing fields; investigated the struggles of U.S. military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder; and shadowed graffiti writers, coaxing candid confessions about their obsession with illegal art.

    If you have story ideas or tips, please email me at mr.newton@gmail.com. You can also follow me on Twitter at newtonmatthew. And I've recently launched a companion site to my blog here at True/Slant. You can check it out here.

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