Friday, February 02, 2007

They Are Not Heroes.

Sorry my blog is a day late, but I live in Boston and right now, we are a town under siege.

Now, here’s where I’d like to launch into a carefully crafted absurdity about how the mooninites are a real threat that our bomb squads must meet while burdened in their heaviest kevlar armor, but I can’t quite bring myself to treat the matter with such dignity. However, at the same time, I can’t not write about it—it’s that kind of idiocy.

Beneath all the foolishness there is a genuine threat, and no, I’m not talking about our post-911 culture’s ability to turn a simple prank into a national news item. I’m talking about the incredibly bullshit idiocy of guerrilla marketing in service of international corporations.

Now, I like Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and I praise the folks whop created it and made it shine because they are living the dream: they have taken a thing from their imagination, sold it to the world, and now don’t have to go to a design job, or bartend, or temp, or walk dogs, or any of the terrible, terrible things millions other creative people have to do every day to keep their heads above water because so far, no one wants to pay enough for the things we pull out of our imagination.

But the guys who did this little stunt, who conceived, orchestrated, and executed the ‘put dozens of small glowing moonintes all over the city’ are not praiseworthy. They are tools. They are marketing a product owned by Turner Broadcasting in the hopes of increasing awareness of that product so as to make more money for the stockholders. They are taking their own creativity, their own abilities, and whoring them out in the worst possible way: these selfish, shortsighted idiots are selling out, not just themselves, but the language of the disenfranchised, of the genuine artist, of the person with no other outlet but that which they can carve from the resisting world.

Guerrilla marketing used to be just that— guerrilla. It was an attempt by some penniless, powerless person or group to get the word out. It was a rejection of the standard means of publicity, either due to cost considerations or a rejection of the whole idea that self expression should be regulated or cost money. Also, putting small bits of carefully created crap all over town used to sometimes be called something else- not marketing, but art. That’s right, we used to have a thing called guerrilla art, which wasn’t a way to market a thing, but was the thing itself. It was illegal and dangerous and itself a rejection of galleries or publishing and based in a belief that art should be made, seen and shown in the real world where people actually live.

Peter Tork of the Monkees—that’s right, Peter fuckin’ Tork- once said that ‘The hippy culture will never produce anything of lasting significance because once a movement begins to grow it is co-opted by the system.’ That shabby paycheck-cashing pre-fab Paul McCartney was right on because now the biggest companies on the world are hiring reckless young idiots and training their raw creativity, daring and disrespect for society in ways to make those corporations more money.

Yes, the guys picked up for the gag can give their bullshit press statements and flaunt their oh-so non-conformist dreadlocks but they did this not for an idea or a concept or principle, they did it for a product. They did it for a paycheck. Those two fuckers could have made their statement in the gowns of last year’s Oscar winners for best actress and it wouldn’t change the fact that they are just like everyone else: they get up in the morning and go to work on a thing they didn’t create in the service of powerful men. They are in-harness, and their job is to take the canvas of installation artists, graffiti artists, guerilla artists, and make it palatable for Turner Broadcasting. To use public property to promote a movie made by a company that took in billions last year.

Face it: if it had been Exxon or McDonalds or Haliburton instead of Comedy Central, ‘Hip, young Bostonians’ wouldn’t be laughing about it. They’d be pissed off. But it's clear now that if you hide what you are doing behind a pile of foul-mouthed pixels, it’s okay—your target demographic will give you a pass to shit where real guerrilla artists eat.

As for me, I’ll be pissed whenever I see some odd object that might be some sincere artist’s attempt at injecting some wonder into our lives, to challenge us and make us think about space and use and urban design and whatever else, because I’ll have that doubt that the thing I’m seeing, the out-of-place expression of creativity that has been illegally placed on a landmark or overpass or train station, is just a commercial.

Thanks a lot, fuckers. I hope the city fines your asses into oblivion.



Lucien said...

Huzzah, Gregory, huzzah!

I think you have a little gypsy anarchist geek in you, m'boy.

You will do well at here at BBT!

ArsGeek said...


I've been trying to muster some sympathy for these folks for some time now and I just can't do it.

Yeah they're artists but you are correct when you say that they're doing this *just* for the paycheck.


Law Geek said...

You fling about the term for a paycheck as if it immediately quashes any possibility that what they did was also art. Does the involvement of money remove any cultural value an item once had as immediately and as automatically as you make it appear in your post?

There is a wide gap between Jeff Konnz and Rene Iatba, and in between are a whole host of people earning money from their art without quite "selling out". There is a reason these two made money this way, instead of just flipping burgers. There were a host of things they could have done for money, and they chose this. Is it really impossible that they did so because they saw some value in it?

It cannot be so quickly concluded that the LEDs did nothing for the public; some have even commented that when they first saw them, they were glad Boston was finally developing an underground art scene.

ATHF might be owned by Turner, but it is still a product of Adult Swim, it is still a creation that is decidedly outside of the mainstream. Even counter-cultural.

Now if they were merely hanging posters for Norbit, it would be a different matter.

Gregory Adams said...

As a graduate of Massachusetts College of Art's Studio for Interrelated Media with a degree in performance art and a Boston resident for nearly 20 years, I can say with some assurance that 1) We have an kick-ass underground art scene, and have had one for years and years and years, and 2) I think it's a mistake to confuse the guys making adult swim- the creators of Tom Meets the Mayor, Squidbillies, what have you, with the guys getting paychecks from NYC to go around sticking homemade litebrights to public and private property. The guys who made the shows created them and then sold them. The guys making the litebrights were hired to make litebrights and hang them. True they both get paid but the difference is huge. It's like comparing Ronald McDonald to a real clown- sure, they both wear the big shoes, but come on.

Pete said...

THIS, however, is fun to watch:

I have trouble getting my hackles up over this business properly. I'm pretty peaceful when it comes to considering things "art" or "not art," because I see way too many discussions about it that lead to such nitpicking of details, it's down there with questions like "how many angels dance on the head of a pin?" and "how many adverbs before I'm Dan Brown?"

Those things were up in Chicago, LA, New York, and lots of other places. THey were up for WEEKS. And then suddenly, someone in Chicago goes "Eeek, omigod, bomb!" and suddenly, it's a big news story.

In Minneapolis and St. Paul, up until this year, there were statues of Snoopy painted funny and put up all over town, for years and years and years. No one hatefully declared them Not Art, or called them people Whoring Out Charles Schultz for a few bucks. Nah. It was just fun, and cool, and eccentric.

(It wasn't advertising anything, I realize, which is why it's not quite a rock solid analogy; it's good enough for me)

For the Sony PS3, they put up ads that said something like "Jump into the future." Pretty normal, right? Except that they put them up in SUBWAY STATIONS right next to the tracks. People threw a fit.

People throw lots of fits. It's a national pasttime. We are the chief exporter of fit-throwing. If we could chop Righteous Indignation into cubes, we could sell it as cheap building material.


All of this (lengthy) commentary makes me sound like I've got a stance on this issue. Mostly, I don't. I chuckled when I read about the Mooninites being up around towns, I laughed when someone declared them Terrorist Bombs!! and I cackled my way through that video up there. And then mostly, I got on with my life.

Gregory Adams said...


We had giant painted cows here in Boston recently, and I think we had giant codfish another year. Those citywide installations are great stuff and Snoopy is the perfect choice for 'ol Sparky's hometown. But as these exhibits are commissioned by the cities themselves, they are a poor analogy for the mooninites deal.

Sigh. I'm such a Cassandra for the dread future this episode presents--Boston's crazed reaction aside.

To me, the real issue is that somewhere in the recent past, men in suits sat in a boardroom and said 'How do we market our new film?' Someone suggested an illegal ad campaign that incorporated public and private property that the studio would not pay to rent and would not file permits to use. The suits considered the pros and cons and went ahead with it anyway.

Of course, this studio could afford to buy any number of billboards or print ads and no doubt will do so when the film's release come closer, but they are so out of ideas that they are stealing ideas from college kids whose adverting budgets are limited to 75 photocopies and a roll of transparent tape.

(I know that hanging shit advertising your gig on public property is illegal because once the City of Brookline called me up and made me take all my posters down. Thank god my posters didn't blink!)

Then the guys in the suits hire some artists who think using their guerrilla art skillset to promote a major studio cartoon somehow makes them Abbie Hoffman, when really, it doesn't even make them Andy Kaufman, but again, the real issue here is, they were being paid to break the law to promote a movie.

I think for my next movie I'll hire people to piss on the windshields of cars stopped at stoplights and then affix a postcard about the film to the steaming urine.

But that's not the worst scenario for where this trend is headed.

Flash forward 15 years: Your kid is walking to school and a bunch of 'artists' pile out of a van and using one of those new laser-gobel tattoo guns quickly stencils 'El Kabong 2-17-22' on your child's forehead in permanent glowing laser-ink.

Sure, it's illegal. But it gets the word out about the new live-action El Kabong movie, which will be completely awesome.

And that's what really matters.


Pete said...

I do see what you're saying, Greg. Honest. I think I'm just really bad at building myself up into a dismal view of the future. I'm the dumb schmuck who thinks that this next generation of kids are going to be some of the smartest -- and most LITERATE -- since before the hippies invaded. See what a moron I am?

IF, however, they ever make an El Kabong live action movie, I'm going to go find a cave to spend the rest of my days, and I'll throw rocks at anyone who approaches (including Lucien, coming to ask me why I'm six years late on my next blog post..)

Lucien said...

I think the most disturbing thing with regard to artistic integrity about this is not the question of what is art (Andy Warhol helped us along with that, thanks), or whether a purely commercial endeavor can even fall under the category of art (one of my favorite artists, Maxfield Parrish, used to illustrate orange crate labels), or even the co-opting of a guerrilla art movement by a big company (if BBT Magazine were big, we would probably market in alternative ways, too), but it's the question of product placement, and the creation of pseudo-hipster catchphrases to make that product placement seem OK to Geek-culture at large. (Viral Marketing? Gimme a fucking break... Remember when that was called "word of mouth?")

The product placement is increasingly necessary to ad companies to pitch us crap. I'm reading Lisey's Story right now, by Stephen King, and there's a scene in there where she opens a Motorola phone. Not a cell phone, but a Motorola phone. Now I don't think this is product placement, for one thing I like to think he wouldn't do that, but what if?

How long before product placement shows up in books?It's already under bridges. How am I suppose to bang hookers, or drink Blackberry Night Train in peace if I have to stare up at an ad all night long?

I think the subversive ads started in the '70's, though. Remember this:

"We've switched Frank's regular brewed coffee with Maxwell House... Let's see if he notices the difference"

Damn Maxwell House.

Pete said...

"How long before product placement shows up in books?It's already under bridges."


It's already in books too. It has been for ages. In Romance and Western novels, sci-fi novels, fantasy novels, you-name-it-novels, there are ads placed in the middle of the book. There are ads inserted into the text.

Sometimes, this is for a good cause, like when Neil Gaiman auctioned the name of a cruise ship in "Anansi Boys" for charity.

Sometimes, as in the case of the German editions of a couple of Terry Pratchett Discworld fantasy novels, they changed a vague mention of soup to a specific brand name. Or else the book will stop, there will be a space, there will be a paragraph that says "By this point, Frodo and Sam probably wish they had hot bowls of...CHUNKY CHILI" and then another space and the story continues.

So in-book-marketing has been around for ages.

(with Steve King using Motorola, I suspect it was just him picking the brand name to use. If you read Cell, it has all sorts of modern references. Most of his books do.)

As for viral marketing...I think it's a little dodgy when companies try to set it up, because it very rarely works properly. You can't FORCE word of mouth. You can pretend to be your own fans and tout your own work, but it will work less well than enthusiastic people who are genuinely plugging your stuff.