Archive for February, 2009

The Racists Monkey Around

February 21, 2009

People are no doubt aware of the controversy over the New York Post cartoon. For my part, I find it impossible to believe that the editors weren’t aware of the racist associations the image would have. I grew up in a small town full of right-wing Republicans. I know how these people think. The notion that Black people are somehow similar to apes is near and dear to their hearts. Also, I used to read the New York Post when I lived in the Big Apple. (Not that I ever paid for it, mind you. I would find discarded copies on the subway or in the break room where I worked.) I know what a sleazy newspaper it is. The only thing I find surprising is that something like this didn’t happen before.

This reminds of something that once happened to me a long time ago. After I left that hellish small town, I moved to Boston, where I naively assumed that people would be more enlightened. One night I was having some drinks with a friend of mine. He was a comedy writer. He wrote jokes for some of the local comedians, and he sometimes did stand-up himself. At one point, he told me of a joke he had written for another comedian. It involved Roxbury, a predominately Black neighborhood of Boston. It went something like this: “Roxbury has announced its new plan for public transportation. They’re going to move the trees closer together.” This baffled me. What do trees have to do with public transportation? I repeatedly asked my friend to explain the joke to me, but he just looked blankly at me, as though he couldn’t conceive of the possibility that someone might not understand it. Finally, he explained it to me. The underlying assumption is that Black people swing from tree to tree, the way some apes supposedly do. My friend sold this joke to a white comedian, who told it to white audiences, who apparently didn’t need to have it explained to them.

By the way, my friend was Black.

Poetic Justice

February 19, 2009


I don’t know about you, but I see some poetic justice in the fact that while the University of Oregon is building the most expensive basketball arena in the country, its men’s basketball team is 6-19 (0-13 in the Pac-10). To paraphrase Winston Churchill, never before has so much been spent on so little. They could have simply renovated McArthur Court, but that wasn’t good enough for Phil Knight. He simply had to have a monument to his resplendent glory. After all, he needs to do something with all that money he made off sweatshop labor. Of course, Phil could easily afford to pay for the entire arena out of his own pocket, but he doesn’t want to be presumptuous, so the University will borrow the money to pay for finishing the project. (This is at a a time when the state is making cuts in education spending.) Phil has modestly asked that the arena be named after his son instead of him. What a guy. Of course, when people hear the name “Knight Arena”, they will assume it was named after Phil. That’s not Phil’s fault, of course.

A little late in the game, some people have started to have second thoughts about this whole new arena business. They recently learned that they will have to pay higher prices for tickets. This is a surprise? Building a new arena always means a rise in ticket prices. People in L.A. learned this when the Staples Center was built. Life-long Lakers fans suddenly found they could no longer afford tickets. Of course, to gain something, you may have to lose something. To get a new arena, you may have to stop going to the games. Phil doesn’t have to worry about this, of course.

I’m waiting for the day when UO president, Dave Frohnmeyer, issues a directive that all students must have the Nike swoosh tattooed on their foreheads.

Just do it!

Shepard Fairey

February 15, 2009


I suppose people have heard about Shepard Fairey. He is the graphic designer and street artist who designed the “Hope” image of Barack Obama, which is now ubiquitous. This image is said to have played a role in Obama’s election. One would think that the US ruling class would richly reward Fairey for the service he has done for them. Instead, Associated Press is suing Fairey, claiming copyright infringement. That’s gratitude for you.

Personally, I don’t think the AP has a case. Fairey does not actually use the AP photograph in his work. Rather, he constructed the image based on the photograph. If AP wins this case, it could have a chilling effect on artistic expression in this country.

I was all set to sympathize with Fairey until I read his biography in Wikipidia. There, I read this:

    Fairey has come under criticism for appropriating others’ artwork into his own while failing to provide attribution for the work used. However, he has threatened to sue artists for the same technique. Austin, Texas graphic designer Baxter Orr did his own take on Fairey’s work in a piece called Protect, with the iconic Obey Giant face covered by a respiratory mask. He started selling prints through his website marketed as his own work. On April 23, 2008 Orr received a signed cease-and-desist order from Fairey’s attorneys, telling him to pull Protect from sale because they alleged it violated Fairey’s trademark. Fairey threatened to sue, calling the designer a “parasite”.

Does the h-word come to mind here? Part of the aesthetic of street art is the free appropriation of imagery. Apparently, nobody explained this to Fairey. Not surprisingly, Wikipedia notes that some people don’t consider Fairey to be a street artist. The article includes a photograph of Fairey wearing a business suit.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine spray-painting graffiti while wearing a Brooks Brothers suit.