Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Lego's "Girl Problem" Hasn't Changed, It's Multiplied.

Viral ad campaign by Lego didn't do much to comfort those put of by Lego Friends.

I got in a bit of a dust up on twitter this week, which caught me off guard, because not only was I not looking for a fight, I wasn't disagreeing. But some subjects are thorny, they invite misunderstanding and defensiveness. Gender roles is one of those subjects. Lego's "girl problem." The problem is an old one: Lego can't figure out how to sell to girls; 90% of their toys sales are to/for boys - and I bet that that number is low. It's a problem for Lego because they have saturated half their market and can't break into the other other half - until recently, and that's where the new girl problem starts. A couple years ago Lego released a pink-washed line of doll-house themed building sets called Lego Friends, and according to NPR, has tripled their sales to girls. The source of yesterday's misunderstanding, was that I hadn't realized the "girl problem" had morphed from a question of how to get girls to play with Legos to one of how to get girl to stop playing with pink toys. But to my mind the original "problem" remains. Three times almost nothing does not a market share make. My guess the sales of the pink-washed Lego Friends sets don't reflect numbers of girls playing with the toys now that they are pink, but rather they reflect the fact that aunts, uncles, grandmothers, mothers, fathers, and girls themselves feel comfortable buying a toy for a girl that looks unambiguously like a girl's toy and comes from one of the most respected toy companies in the world. To my thinking, any marketing scheme built around structured-narrative sets (ie sets that come with instructions intended to build a specific narratives of firemen, spacemen, housewives or veterinarians) are going to be gendered, but they are also going to continue to fail with the girls and "outlier" boys who aren't playing with them now.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Art As War

Dr Strangelove (1964)
From time to time, as tensions rise in one part of the world of another, someone will bring up the idea replacing war with art. I had a friend who took that idea and ran with it. He wanted to top ICBMs with "art-heads." So for instance, his suggestion was that when diplomacy broke down, and it was time for action, that a group of artists would be at the ready to sculpt, paint, code, cook, whatever - a response, calculated to shaping events. Their art, rather than atomic payloads, would then be loaded onto missiles that would be fired into the enemy combatants. Culture "artwar," fought by means of conceptual bunker busters, new aesthetic daisy cutters, and social practice fat man and little boys. My friend's idea was absurd but attractive. An actualization of artistic avant-gardist pretension. Artists as actual shock troops. It occurred to me today, remembering my friends idea, thinking of Crimea, Syria, Afghanistan, et al, that we are already fighting wars by means of art; that intercontinental missiles, loaded with cultural content are flying over head. Movies are the nukes - weapons of mass-illumination. Music is another artistic weapon of mass-reproduction. Contemporary visual art, is a wholly conventional form of artfare - targeted mostly at elites.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Art, Then Disruptive Technology.

A year or so ago, right around the time of the Armory art fair, I began to think of the international art fairs in a new way,  rather than market strategies or some such, I began to imagine them as a "disruptive technology." We tend to think of technology as discrete gadgets. Smartphones are technologies. Driverless automobiles are technologies. The internet is a technology. Art fairs are too; they are a cultural technology, and they are upending the artworld. But BE WARNED: This is most definitely NOT another screed about how money is destroying art. If art has a single attribute that separates it from all other commodities, it is that it is the "ultimate commodity." Art has no upward price limit; that men (it's always men) will spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a piece of cloth dabbed with paint, by some guy who lived in a coal miner's hut is amazing - but it is not the subject of this post. The wackiness of the secondary market has been with us long enough that I it no longer fits under the definition of technology as "everything that doesn't work yet." Art Fairs don't work yet.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Critical Analytics: Show Us The Territory, And We Will Find Our Own Way.

Ed Winkleman (looking for leadership?); William Powhida, Turning in Circles (2014) detail
"Truth emerges more readily from error than from confusion." - Francis Bacon
I avoid the academic practice of starting essays with a quote from a great thinker because more often than not the quote is obscure and it does less to illuminate the topic of the essay it hangs above, and more to reflect glory from the great thinker,on to the less-great author of the essay. But that Francis Bacon quote goes a long way to sum up my reaction to a post the gallerist Ed Winkleman wrote on his blog called, "Looking for Leaders..." Ed argues that the flood of speculative cash has thrown the artworld is in a "death spiral" and its up to artists to lead us out of the trap. I Liked Ed's post a lot, even though I found myself strongly disagreeing with its key points. First, that the source of the artworld's problems are auctions, and second, that artists can lead the way to fixing those problems. "Someone will chime in to suggest all we need is enough idealistic dealers who dig in their heels" Ed predicted, "show quality work without compromising, and they'll begin to change how things are heading." But so far, all the responses I've seen have been along the lines that everyone needs to do their part. I don't agree with that either. Right now we are at least twice removed from truth; probably the most we should hope for is to move to an environment of error from the state of confusion we inhabit. Ed's post is a move in that direction. But I don't think leadership is what we lack at all, artists need good data.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Future of Sport is not Team America

Putin on the Ritz via Dru
Watching the ceremony this week, I looked at all the people - almost every nation of the world represented - and I felt proud to be an American, proud to identify with such an excellent people. My friend Sandra had invited me to share the moment that she became a US citizen along with more than 200 others in a Brooklyn Federal court; and if the Judge is to be believed, those new citizens represent almost as many nations as marched into the stadium at Sochi. An average morning for the Brooklyn swearing in ceremony. I wish I felt as proud of our role in the Olympics, but I don't. I feel ashamed.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

2H2K - June 2050 - Visual Remediation

Daniel Libeskind, “Leakage,” from Micromegas Drawing Series, (1979) 

“I hate my job.” Cory wasn’t talking to anyone, not that anyone around her would know. They’d assume she was “on the phone.” What does that phrase mean? she wondered. Telephone language is so strange. Why isn't my phone on me? She was idly twisting her pRime, worn on her left ring-finger, as an engagement ring. Shouldn't I be "in" the phone or "over" the phone? She looked down at her pRime, as slim gold band, its polished surface broken by a series tiny rectangular apertures and a thin stem. Like a tiny erection. It was her "phone" her "computer" her "camera"  ...my "secRetary." She pinched the band as hard as she could, almost as if she meant to bend it. Its everything to me, she thought with a flush of something like shame, or maybe pride. She pushed the feeling away, thought again about being on the phone - wondered how that had come to function as a statement of distanced speaking. The experience of being two places at once - "Hi, this is Cory. Where Are you?" - A physical problem solved by language.  She started to compose a queRy, knowing she'd be able to find a dozen scholarly papers and probably some good lectures on the history, theory, and comparative linguistics of "telephone language" - but then stopped herself. Stay in the moment.

2H2K - June 2050 - Bohème Rule: An Introduction

Luke Wilson in Idiocracy (2006) 

Last Monday I was getting on the elevator with my neighbor (an older artist), her daughter (a ballet dancer), and her grandson (a toddler). I asked after their Thanks Giving holiday, and my neighbor said it was great, that because her daughter took charge of cooking she had time to relax and "get some work done." It made me laugh, and I told her that she sounded like every artist I've ever met - a joke she and her daughter both understood. Unlike most worker who, Marx rightly pointed out, are "alienate from their labor" - who work in order to afford time to do things other than work -  artists work to afford to work. Marx argued that "It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.” But I am not concerned with what artists make as individuals, but how and why they work as a class. And what it would mean if the Bohème became societies new Middle Class.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Friday, November 29, 2013

2H2K - May 2050 - JailbiRd

Eastern State Penitentiary (1829-1971) via Wikipedia
[This is the fifth short story in a series, the 1st story is here, the 2nd is here, the 3rd is here, the 4th here.] 
The subway car was packed with campers heading for a day beach. The kids were rowdy, moving back and forth, yelling at one another in their excitement. Dean had gotten a seat at the end of the row closest to the door. This meant his back was against the side of the subway car, which was fine. But it also meant the the two boys to his right, whose seats were facing the back of the car, were crowding him with their knees. The boys were playing some sort of game that had them both slouched, jerking unpredictably, and waving their hands almost constantly.

2H2K - May 2050 - Decayed Roués Robots: An Introduction

Lumpenproletariat according to Akira Kurosawa and The Economist
Years ago I went with a group of mostly french friends to see a performance of Charles Aznavour, a French crooner of Armenian extraction who is best described as the French Frank Sinatra. One of the guys with us that night was from the Armenian consulate and when Aznavour announced he was going to sing about his homeland, our Armenian friend stood and with the other Armenians in the audience, went wild. Not to be out done, when Aznavour introduced a song about Paris my expat Parisian friend, and the other displaced Parisians filling the hall, stood and sent up a great cheer. A little while later Aznavour explained that his next song was about "the love that dare not speak its name" - and a gay couple in our row stood and loudly cheered. Everyone smiled. Finally Aznavour announced that he would sing his song La Bohème about struggling artists, and I stood, all alone and cheered. My friends, the gay guys, and everyone around us looked at me like I was a little nuts. Which was just about right. We have always been a marginal group at best, but as we look forward to the "end of work" - or as it is more recently been dubbed, "the end of jobs" - the Bohème may become a force for change - not as a heroic avant-guard leading the Proletariat to violent revolution against their Capitalist overlords, but something more akin to the growth of the Petite Bourgeoisie consumer class - aka the middle class - during the Post War years.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

New Ideas Need Tall Buildings: Gentrification vs Integration - Flying Wedges vs Rooted Anchors

Alfredo Brillembourg presenting Torre David at this year's CTsummit

Last week I wrote a post for ArtFCity titled "A Look at The Creative Time Summit: Gentrification, Gentrification, and Gentrification." I was asked to do something relatively short and straightforward but managed to write myself into a corner, turning the post into something long, difficult, even a little scary. "Gentrification" is an umbrella term that covers a constellation of assumptions and biases - the great majority of which I find wrong-headed and vexing. According to Wikipedia, the term "gentrification" was coined by the British sociologist Ruth Glass in 1964. That it is a derivative of "gentry," itself, clearly signals that ownership was core to its original meaning. It was used by Glass to refer to the threat posed to lower-class worker residents, who depended on public housing, by the then fast-growing middle-class residents who, increasingly, could afford to own housing. Gentrification names a brand of class conflict, not an invasion of a bourgeois horde. But not surprisingly Americans have ever used the word gentrification the way the Brits originally intended. In the US race has always been a stand in for class. So US speakers use "gentrification" as a coded way to say "white people" much the same way they use "urban" as a coded way to speak of "black people." And like all coded language, the term "gentrification" obscures and disguises more than in communicates.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Zombie Popularity

Sears launches Zombie Shopping Department. via Laughing Squid

I was interviewed about The Political Economy of Zombies today and was asked why I thought zombies are so popular now. I suppose I should have been prepared for that question, but it's not something I tried to explain in my essay (or the intro), It didn't even occur to me explain it to myself - I was more concerned with what it meant, not why it was happening - and I think those are two different things. Zombies are grotesque, morbid, and in-and-of -themselves, dull (one might say lifeless). So asking why they are so popular is seems worth thinking about.