September 07, 2003

Creativity Yesterday (and..)

Spent the better part of yesterday at Tokion Magazine's Creativity Now Conference. The short? Well I'm writing this rather then attending today... No it's not really that bad, just not feeling today's line up much yesterday was actually pretty good.

Highlight was definitely "Branding America to the Muslim World" with Abderrahim Foukara of Al-Jazeera and Robert Tappan of the US Office of Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy. First off I have to respect Tappan for walking straight into enemy territory, he didn't have to do this panel. And part of him seems to actually have some good ideas, he genuinely is aware of the need for dialogue between the muslim and western worlds. And then? Utter failure. Be showed about 10 minutes of the propaganda our country is trying to push into Muslim countries, and god it was awful. No one's buying this product...

What really made Tappan the fool was his defensiveness. He could have just admitted the product was crap and obviously propaganda, but instead he tried to justify, does he truly think that this shit is authentic? The bulk of the videos were real footage, shot of Muslims in America, none of who will be movie stars anytime soon. But really who cares is a dozen Muslims like living in America, we know there is a serious discrimination issue in this country, and our actions in the Middle East speak for themselves...

Abderrahim Foukara on the other hand, was quite a treat. A rare bridge between the west and the "Arab street". He spoke of the schizophrenic nature of people's relation to America, the simultaneous embracing and rejection of culture and technology. Not to mention Israel, and tone deaf actions of the American government has lead so many in the Arab world as seeing it as pro-Israel, and more importantly anti-Arab. As for solutions as a journalist he offered none, not a happy answer.

Perhaps most interesting of all was talking to him about the disjunction between the Al-Jazeera reporters in America and the Al-Jazeera broadcast image. Obviously there was a lot he couldn't say as an employee, but the implications were clear. Al-Jazeera as a network shades anti-American as a selling point. It brings in the viewers. But it also seemed clear that he and the other Al-Jazeera reporters in the west took a much more moderated view of America. Is this the same tension we see in US newsrooms, or a larger cultural issue?

Highlight 2 was on a different tip. Can't say I had high expectations of Peter Saville's talk, he's got a cavalier rep and apparently was awful last time round NY. But he shined this time, not nearly as much as a prick as he's made out to be, although there is some rock star their. But he came with stories from the frontlines and they were worth listening too. Sure sounds like he caught a couple lucky breaks, but what successful person hasn't?

The most interesting of his observations was that design has over taken British culture, its replacing advertising as a way to sell product. Ads are now humorous entertainment, while design is what moves the products off the shelf. Didn't go into the ramifications, but I can think of both good and bad from this.

The other interesting point was on the difference in corporate vs street design in the US and UK. His take on the UK has design being mainly consumer driven, the people want it and get it (in both senses of the phrase). Big business on the other hand is somewhat behind the curve (although that insidious BP logo indicates otherwise to me.)

In the US Saville argues (or maybe just muses), it is the corporations that understand the power of design, while on the street we just put up and put up with any old crap. Case to point perhaps is that the BP logo was actually designed by the SF office of Landor Associates. But we digress, the main point of Saville's talk was that being a rock start designer sounds pretty damn fun. Someday...

Speaking of fun, highlight 3 was the hip hop history lession with Kool Herc, Melle Mel and Phase 2. Nothing new here kids, but its always good to here the legends speak, even if they were the token minorities in a otherwise white day...

And on the white side of things, who the fuck decided to put 5 white men on stage for a panel entitled "The Commodification of Street Art"? Not that it was a bad panel, its certainly had its moments. But damn it could have been a lot better. For one, a real moderator would have helped, future conference organizers please take note, its best to have a separate moderator for each panel, one who really knows their shit preferably.

The big issue with this panel though was that there was no dissenting voice, Ryan McGinness tried for a second, but he was on the wrong panel (he really should have been switched with ESPO who is on a pop icon panel today). McGinness does get props for shouting out Wooster Collective on stage, holla! Jeffrey Deitch and Wieden + Kennedy's John Jay both are seriously sharp men, with a lot to say. But they where kicking pitches, not exploring the issue.

Deitch got the deepest, talking about how artists in the 70's where able to subvert the museum system with the work they placed into it, and called on artists today to subvert the advertising system with the work they inject into it. A nice sentiment... but seriously I want to hear about tactics.

Jay being an ad man, and very successful one, had the fullest pitch. He came across as genuinely committed to building strong working relationships with artists in an ad context. And the Skwerm/Nike video he showed was indeed some sick shit. I tend to agree with him up to a point, there certainly are situations where corporate cash handled by the right people, can help out the art world and their are certainly worse places that cash can go. But its situational not sustainable. It reminds me a bit of music biz. The right relation between A&R, marketing and the artist can be amazing for all involved. But 9 times out of 10 it doesn't happen. With results a bit like say Electric Moyo...

Which brings us to the tragedy of the day, Shepard "Obey Giant" Fairey. Let me start out by saying I've met Shep a few times, and even had the good fortune to go out on a pasting run with him, and can easily say he's one of the more genuine people I've ever encountered. But the sense I'm getting is that he's in over his head, and watching him tread water on stage was not a pleasant experience. More then anything Shep seemed to be trying to justify his actions to himself. Bottom line when he needs the cash he does the work. And honestly Shep seems to have more issues with it then me and I think most of the audience. But by blurring the lines between his work for money, and personally work he's created a giant trap for himself. And make no mistake of it odds are Shep was almost certainly out on the streets last night risking life, limb and arrest to put up more Obey posters. Believe me I've seen him climb, he's truly putting his life on the line to do this. There is no questioning his devotion (obsession?) to his art work. If the issue is authenticity then no amount of bad ads will diminish the authenticity of what Shep does.

When you dance with the devil its best to learn some of his moves. And unfortunately when Shep is making money he's dancing with some real devils. Marketing to minors, it ain't pretty shit. And when Shep admitted on stage to being a consultant on Nissan's awful Electric Moyo campaign I was pretty shocked. The campaign is so bad I refuse to link to it, and I certainly never would have pictured Shep being involved in such crap. His honesty is admirable for sure, but if he's going to keep dealing with corporations, be better learn to play the game. I didn't need to hear that info...

Thank god for Shep the conference organizers weren't smart enough to get a real counterpoint voice on the stage. Would have been great for the audience though. This was a discussion just crying out for a critical dialogue. I'm no fan of Naomi Klein, but damn it would have been nice to have her perspective in the mix...

As for the rest of the conference, only thing of note was Vice's Suroosh Alvi description of his business model: "punk rock capitalism". Lets think about that one a bit...

Posted by William Blaze at September 7, 2003 03:20 PM | TrackBack

" we know there is a serious discrimination issue in this country..."

Discriminations in this country against Muslims/Arabs?

I don't think so. At least certainly not any more than against black Americans and that's hardly news. And the USA can hold up its heada against any country --- Japan for example --- in its awareness and self-correctiong actions with regard to racism.

No, I think this post assumes that everyone else assumes the worst about the USA. I was disappointed.

Posted by: David Sucher on September 7, 2003 06:18 PM

whoa... slow down, wtf?

"At least certainly not any more than against black Americans and that's hardly news."

What in the world does something being "news" have to do with its seriousness? There are extremely serious issues of racism against blacks in this country, and the fact that they are not news only makes them more serious. Take a look at what was happening in northern Florida during the 2000 presidential election. It was way bigger news then the butterfly ballot, and had more impact on Bush winning the state then those geriatric votes in retirement country. But because discrimination against african americans is "hardly news" it didn't get reported.

So now you are trying to say we should ignore discrimination against muslims because its not really any worse then the foul institutional racism against black americans that you've internalized? Can't believe this is written on my site, by someone who in my limited experience seems quite intelligent.

David seriously, that's a deeply racist comment you just made, and the worst bit is you don't seem to be aware of the fact. I sincerely hope its not an indication of a broader internalized racism, although it sure seems to be.

You're disappointed about my assumptions about the US? They just got a lot fucking darker because of your writing my friend.

Damn, I haven't been this disturbed and upset in a long time.

Posted by: Abe on September 9, 2003 09:48 AM

"But by blurring the lines between his work for money, and personally work he's created a giant trap for himself. "

No pun intended, presumably. : . )

Posted by: AG on September 9, 2003 11:35 AM

"But by blurring the lines between his work for money, and personally work he's created a giant trap for himself. "

No pun intended, presumably. : . )

Posted by: AG on September 9, 2003 11:41 AM

Time out. I think you are misinterpreting.

American response to Arabs and Muslims who are living/visiting the USA since 9-11 has been exemplary and largely free of interpersonal violence. The FBI crime statistics bear this out without question.

Are there people who don't like Arabs, Muslims? And discriminate against them? Of course. Just as there are people who don't like blacks but I do not believe that the former problem is anywhere near as serious as is the latter.

And I was not condoning either but simply indicating that we are all aware of American racism and it is not a new issue. And on further reflection, I am not aware that it is now or has ever been as serious as our black/white problems.

So yes I disagree with the statement that there is a serious discrimination problem in the USA with regard to Muslims/Arabs. American behavior towards Arabs and Muslims in the USA has been incredibly and blessedly restrained.

Posted by: David Sucher on September 9, 2003 07:49 PM

Yes, you are right, did misinterpret a bit, although I still disagree with you. I read that "hardly news" bit as black/white racism as hardly being an issue of concern, and that upset me deeply. I don't think that's what you went, although I'm not quite sure what to make of that sentence.

I'd agree with you that Arab/Muslim discrimination could certainly be much worse, and its not as bad as the deeply entrenched black/white racism + economics coupling.

But you said: "Discriminations in this country against Muslims/Arabs?

I don't think so."

and that's just wrong. I certainly wouldn't want to be an Arab in an airport, would you? Especially one of the ones who get stripped searched every time, or one of the several who got kicked off planes at the gate because some other customer requested they be removed. And we don't really need to get into the thousands detained by the INS without any due process for months after 9-11. Or one of the numerous Muslims who have just disappeared over the past few years, many of whom apparently fled the country out of fear and mistreatment.

Then there are the many currently detained in Cuba as enemy combatants in total disregard to the Geneva Convention. They make the issues of the kids who get called "towelheads" in school seem trivial. And its tempting to treat the casual racism towards arab you can witness in any Freeper gathering hole as a joke. But its not, its racism and all indications are its growing. Thankfully its not as bad as it could be, but it damn sure exists.

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