Monday, 19 February 2007

raging at capitalist jokers

Raging at capitalist jokers

Ok, before I start this rant I have to assure you folks that I am not a socialist. I think socialism is not an answer, and I have never agreed with the idea that it was all Stalin’s fault, as if it was such a rip roaring success under Mao.
But that doesn’t mean I am a capitalist and recently an annoying trend has been happening in the world of capitalist advertising that I feel compelled to comment upon.
It all began last year when I was happily reading ‘The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas’ (great that, really touching and funny, particularly when she says ‘and we all thought the futurists were very dull’) when a booming voice from the television announced to me that ‘car is a car is a car’.
As I am sure you are aware, what it should be is:

Rose is a rose is a rose is a roseLoveliness extreme.Extra gaiters,Loveliness extreme.Sweetest ice-cream.Pages ages page ages page ages.

It is one of the loveliest modernist poems really. Really it is! It is about love, and nature, and how things are and how things are seen and how things seem.
What it isn’t about is FAST CARS!!!!
After I had recovered my initial anger at the blatant misuse and misrepresentation of Stein’s work, I started to ponder what the purpose of rewriting the poem was. Was it to try and associate the car with great art, classic works, making the car seem great and classic in its association with literary masterpiece? Trying to make a product great by association is nothing new, that is surely the purpose of celebrity endorsement, and careful choice of background music (Devendra! Joanna! Why the sell-out to Orange!!??)
But to actually take someone’s art and twist it to new purpose was something that I had not heard before.
I began to wonder whether a further interpretation could be that this is a big joke on people who actually care about art and the meaning behind it. Stein was a radical lesbian proponent of the modernist movement. Her influence helped create Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Djuna Barnes, HD and all the right on women who lived in 1920s Paris, and a good few of the men too. By appropriating her work in to advertising, it is condensing her radical achievements in to the confines of how it can be used to sell a product. It is reductive.
But the amount I was pissed off at cars raping Stein, was nothing against the anger I felt at egg credit cards! Egg credit cards!
First of all, I found the whole egg concept of gay guinea pigs pretty offensive, not to say weird. But my real problem lies in what they have done to Barbara Kruger.

(there should be photo here of 'your body is a battle ground' but i couldn't get it to work, stupid computers)

Egg credit cars have taken a Barbara Kruger illustration and reworked it so that the text is about credit cards! Fucking credit cards! Barbara Kruger as an artist attacks the establishment, exposes it for what lies beneath, speaks the truth fro women, for the oppressed, and makes powerful bold statements in strong angry colours that make you sit up and notice and think. I bet she doesn’t even have a credit card.
Anyway. Enough of the explanations. What really matters is the reason behind all this advertising appropriation.
It seems to me that the makers of these ads, and the companies that engage them, want to neutralize the radical to make it weak and impotent. Take the Kruger advert. The idea of the female body being a battleground is dangerous and frightening in its honesty. Turn it in to an attractive rate for your credit card to go and buy the items that make the female body in to that battle ground – the statement is twisted to become meaningless. A poem about creation becomes a slogan about status symbols. It is similar to the trend of beauty product adverts to use feminist slogans ‘take control’ ‘feel liberated’ to sell products that, as Wolf suggests, continue to repress women. Their idea of taking control of your life and your body loses its power when applied to your ‘sagging skin’.
It is all a big joke I feel. Like, the people who use this in their adverts are laughing at every attempt to subvert, radicalize or be honest. Try as hard as you like, they say, we’ll still twist your work to the benefit of our product. All explosive art and politics therefore becomes centralized, softened and rendered as putty in the hands of exploitative industry. They take what is important and render it meaningless, and therefore put an abrupt stop to statements of change. And they laugh and laugh and laugh. It is the continuing destruction of beautiful and radical art in to sound and vision bites that twists and denigrates their meaning. As it continues, the radical becomes central and the industry takes away its credit as a statement, making it an afterthought of a society that becomes more concerned with immediate comfort than the change that great art can bring to people.

1 comment:

Chris Heppell said...

Hi Sian, firstly I really liked this post. Latter day capitalism is always looking for new frontiers and ways of swallowing up or corrupting anything remotely radical. I had a similar reaction when I heard Janis' "Mercedes Benz" on a Mercedes Benz advert, and I don't even want to think about Dylan's I-pod tragedy. The snake eats its own tail.

On a more positive note, here are 2 quotes from the "Innocent when you Dream" collection of interviews with Tom Waits. Waits has fought to prevent his music being used for advertising, saying he's never sell out for "a corn chip sermon" and winning a court case, claiming "voice misaapropriation and false endorsement" when a Doritos company used a Wait's impersonator to cover one of his songs.


"Its amazing,when i look at those artists. I find it unbelieveable that they
finally broke into the fascinating and lucrative world of advertising after
years on the road,making albums,and living in crummy appartments.Finally
advertising opened up and gave them a chance for what they realy wanted to
do,which was salute and support a major American product,and have that name
blinking over their head as they sing.
I think its wonderful what advertising has done,giving them these opportunities
to be spokesmen for Chevrolet,pepsi,etc,etc

MUSICIAN: Do you ever get approached by major advertisers?

WAITS: I get it all the time, and they offer people a whole lot of money.
Unfortunately I don't want to get on the bandwagon. You know, when a guy is
singing to me about toilet paper - you may need the money but, I mean, rob a
7-11! Do something with dignity and save us all the trouble of peeing on your
grave. I don't want to rail at length here, but it's like a fistula for me. If
you subscribe to your personal mythology, to the point where you do your own
work, and then somebody puts decals over it, it no longer carries the same
weight. I have been offered money and all that, and then there's the people that
imitate me too. I really am against people who allow their music to be nothing
more than a jingle for jeans or Bud. But I say, "Good, okay, now I know who you
are." 'Cause it's always money. There have been tours endorsed, encouraged and
financed by Miller, and I say, "Why don't you just get an office at Miller?
Start really workin' for the guy." I just hate it.

MUSICIAN: It's especially offensive if, as you say, you see music as something

WAITS: The advertisers are banking on your credibility, but the problem is it's
no longer yours. Videos did a lot of that because they created pictures and that
style was immediately adopted, or aborted, by advertising. They didn't even wait
for it to grow up. And it's funny, but they're banking on the fact that people
won't really notice. So they should be exposed. They should be fined! [bangs his
fist on the table] I hate all of the people that do it! All of you guys! You're