by Art Chantry
last night i again watched one of of my favorite director’s (john carpenter) best movies – THEY LIVE! when it was first released in 1988, it was reviewed as the first “anti-yuppie” movie of the reagan era. the uniformity of culture and blind pursuit of pleasure and material gain that was the hallmark sentiment of the conservative revolution was first pilloried blatently in this snarky movie. it’s sorta brilliant, really. it’s a benchmark of agit-prop cinema.
rather than go into a long description of the film plot, i’m just going to point out one little wonderful detail that haunts all of us to this day: “OBEY!” the hero (pro-wrassler “rowdy” roddy piper) puts on a special pair of sunglasses and it reveals to him the REAL messages behind all of the advertising and propaganda around us (in stark ‘generic packaging’ black and white). this image i show you is the first billboard ad he first sees when he dons those special shades. turns out it’s all part of an alien invasion that happened long ago and enslaved earth as a ‘vacation paradise’ for the the “yuppie” aliens. these special snazzy shades allow us to see the TRUTH.
shepard fairey has said in interviews that this is where he got the idea for his “OBEY!” product empire. it began with the street smart ‘andre the giant’ stickers (just a face he grabbed because it interested him), and the ‘obey’ thing was floating around in his skatepunk brain since he saw that movie. he just put 2+2 together and started street stickering – just like any other punk kid back then. in fact, in the interview i read, he really didn’t remember what movie it was or much else about it. but, he remembered the revealed ‘truth’ in the thing – OBEY! that’s really hard for any of us to forget. it literally stuck in our craw. john carpernter had literally revealed the truth of our real lives to us in this clever manner.
now, a lot of you haters out there will simply see this as more evidence that shep is a rip-off artist who stole every idea he ever used. that attitude is totally blind to our current reality. we live in a postmodernist culture that uses appropriation as it’s primary creative/communication tool (we tend to call it “retro” – because, it has fewer syllables). the reality behind our personal special sunglasses is that we ALL do exactly the same thing – there is no more creative “originality” in our culture. or, at least, we currently don’t play that game (discuss that dialog) because we CAN’T. it’s like asking 13 year old babysitters to converse in fluent swahili.
shep is simply doing what every artist, designer, writer, punk kid has done since WW2 – copycat. we are immersed in this crazy visual language tsunami around us and we learn to “speak” in this same language. it moves so much faster than our own understanding, that it takes us ages to intellectually realize that we’re speaking this language. when we encounter one of our brethren speaking in this language, we don’t say, “he stole those words.” we usually say, “huh. look at that. that’s kinda interesting.”
when shep lifted these “words” (aka, phrases, images, visual ‘words’) out of our shared popular culture visual language and re-presented them in new contexts (“sentences” and “paragraphs”), he’s simply speaking the same language of all of us. to argue for ‘originality’ as a ‘wholly new idea’ is to be ignorant of the past that we suck off. after 45 years of intense study of graphic language, i can usually show you the source idea behind everything i see called “original” – and it usually predates that new “original idea” by 100 years. it’s just the facts at this point. we live in a cultural construct that looks backwards. and our own hubris doesn’t let us see that.
this notion of originality and copyright are legal terms to protect monied (power) interests, not ours. it’s not really about the individuals at all. whenever i encounter somebody who thinks integrity and originality are the same thing, i think they’re not very bright or very observant. every time i see those same “original” folks ‘create’ something (just like all of the rest of us) it is so derivative and copycat that it destroys any high-minded self-righteous position they take immediately. we’re all bozos on this bus.
AC:which brings me to that fully original genius named ‘banksy”. now THERE’s a total fraud. i can show you where he ripped off every single idea he’s ever had. i imagine all of you love him, too. go figger, eh?…i don’t much care for it , either. don’t think it’s very smart and i don’t think it’s very good. but, that’s no reason to condemn him as a thief and a liar. well, unless we’re fair about it and go after banksy, damien hirst, jeff koons, bruce nauman, andy warhol, robert rauschenburg, roy lichtenstein, mel ramos, joseph cornell, j
r johns, etc. etc. etc. how far back do i have to go? do i have to go back and argue who came up with cubism first, picasso or braque?…i mean, get real. this “pop” stoning of shep is so silly. it’s like a modern witch hunt over nothing….or, is it the fact that shep knows how to make money? hell, he’s from LA! in it’s the blood down there. it’s CULTURAL….
all of you who get all huffy about appropriation are hypocrites. put those sunglasses on and look around you.