Saturday, September 30, 2006

Typography: NYC Trash Can Identification

Stenciled spray paint


Information Design: Golden Gate Bridge Suicides

Golden Gate Bridge Suicides by location.

Human Directionals

I just listened to a piece called: 'Human Directionals' Twirling for Your Attention on NPR.

In one of its many forms, it is literally the use of people holding arrows and, gesturing frantically to get passerby attention and drive traffic to a business. They are becoming increasing popular in the real estate business.

Here is a link to a video called Street Moves about one such "active advertiser".

Here is a link to information about "human directionals" from a company called 1-800-great-ad.

The human-as-sign concept goes back at least as far as the 1800's.

Was reinterpreted by Yahoo in the early 2000's

and is NOT UN-RELATED to the practice of using mascots

rodeo clowns (to draw away attention)

and giant rats (to knaw through reason)

Friday, September 29, 2006

Characters and the Cult of Personality

Great characters are symbols, metaphors that relate to larger truths and broader concepts.

For Example:
Frankenstein: Promethian tale and cautionary warning about overstepping.
Darth Vadar: His half-man, half-machine existence symbolizes his "less human", loss of self.
Dracula: a complex set of metaphors about disease, damnation and sexuality.
Satan: Metaphor for evil and another tale of overreaching.
The Hulk: Methapor for the duality of man's rational/primitive nature.

The use of character's in advertising used to be very common and popular.
Aunit Jemima was the first branded package product, her character is the embodiement of "southern hospitality".

Everytime I think about anything that seperates strategic command from executional function I think of the Master-Blaster from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

We seem to be living in a time when we are either not good or not comfortable in creating new characters.

The depiction of characters requires an earnest depiction of an ideal and we have become far to ironic and cynical for ideals. The media characterization of anyone with serious spiritual beliefs is almost always that of someone who is"out-there" or a "Jesus freak" (Flanders from The Simpsons) as opposed to a moral being or person of principle.

Irony and cynicism so ingrained and pervasive that our portrayals of characters from the past often revert to camp. We can't do it with a straight face. No one with serious beliefs is taken seriously.

Characters, as depictions of ideals, have given way to a culture of celebrity and pecking-order death-matches that serve as competitions for focus of public attention. Even in the advertising of children's cereal characters have been replaced by "phoned-in" appearance by Spongebob and Dora the Explorer.

When is the last time there was a really great character on Saturday Night Live? Instead, dreadful skit after skit lampoons the People Magazine A-listers.

Save Vegas (kill the hoax marketing site ideas)

The shelf-life for novelty in the digital space isn't very long. The shelf-life for novel marketing approaches is even shorter.

I was looking at pictures of really, really fat cats on neatorama when I saw an interesting banner ad for something called "Save Vegas", I clicked on it and was taken to a site that was supposedly set up to raise awareness of suspicious goings-on in Las Vegas.

It's purpose, it claims "is to alert elements of United States counter-terror forces, specifically the elite team that may be known as "Rainbow", to unusual events that I am monitoring in the city of Las Vegas, Nevada. It is my belief that their help will be needed in the coming days."

I knew that it must be a marketing site for "something". Real sites like that don't use banner ads to promote themselves. I watched one of the clips on the site but my interest was diminishing pretty quickly so I googled "Save Vegas" to cut to the chase and find out what was what. Sure enough I found a site that confirmed that it's marketing for some video game that is coming out.

Besides the lazy use of bannner ads to drive traffic and destroy the concepts credibility and fun factor (it's not a hoax if no one is fooled) the other problem with the site is that the internet hoax approach is really wearing thin. It was cool when it was done for Beta 7 and Mini 2 or 3 years ago, but it's getting tired. So often it just isn't well done.

Lonleygirl is a good case in point. They videos were amusing and they had a good thing going but ultimately it didn't "go" anywhere. (They should have had her run off to have an abortion and never come back. That way people would have dug a little to uncover the truth. Instead they just came forward one day and said "guess what? we're wankers!) The anticlimactic ending to the Lonelygirl saga was a total let-down. It was just poor theater, I can't believe it garnered them deals.

The way that the creators of Lost have blurred the lines between reality and fantasy is great theater. There's your benchmark.

I did dig the way that the navigation device slide down the page as you scrolled, but that too is not in keeping with the kind of site it was supposed to be. (Poor theater once again.)

It's a little messed up that the most memorable parts of Save Vegas are the design of the banner ads (which do look cool) and the site navigation device.

Check out the fat cats on neatorama, they really are something to behold.

David Blaine is a little girl

This is a stunt. Evel Knievel at Caesar's Palace.

Chinese Trifecta

Let's make it a Chinese Trifecta with this video on the Human Organ Industry in China.
Given the fact that the other two posts in this series were on Penis Eating and Mobile Exectution Vans I'm feeling sick.

Mobile Execution Vans

In China they dispatch death in these mobile units.
USA Today story on Mobile Execution Vans

Marketing power play: Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen)

I enjoy the Ali G show but had only mild interest in seeing Sacha Baron Cohen's "Borat movie". That is until this week. Sacha Cohen's ability to draw the government of Kazakhstan and the Bush administration into his hijinx is just amazing.

Borat The Movie trailer:

Here is a link to a speech Borat just gave in Washington.

"Kazakhstan placed four-page advertising inserts this week in the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune to spread the word about the misunderstood ex-Soviet country." (It might as well have been a four page ad for the movie.)

"Authorities said the move was meant coincide with President Nursultan Nazarbayev's visit to the United States — where he was to meet President George W. Bush on Friday. But it also came as the creator of the fictional Kazakh reporter — British comic Sacha Baron Cohen — was launching a full-length movie based on the character.

The homophobic, misogynistic, English-mangling Borat — who has presented Kazakhs as addicted to horse urine, fond of shooting dogs, and viewing rape and incest as respectable hobbies — has mortified the government of the Central Asian nation."

The timing of it all couldn't be better. From BBC News:
US nurtures ties with Kazakhstan.

AP video News Story.

Cohen has always done a brilliant job of drawing the real world, particularly that of politics (national level politics at that) but he has really managed to escalte the game this time.

Here is Ali G, f'in it it up Gore Vidal.

One of my favorite Borat episodes, at a dating service.

Penis. The Other White Meat.

Penis. It's what's for dinner.

From BBC News:

There are many thousands of Chinese restaurants around in the UK and everyone has their favourite dish, but only in China itself do chefs specialise in a range of slightly more unusual delicacies.

Many of the restaurant's guests are wealthy businessmen

The dish in front of me is grey and shiny.

"Russian dog," says my waitress Nancy.

"Big dog," I reply.

"Yes," she says. "Big dog's penis..."

We are in a cosy restaurant in a dark street in Beijing but my appetite seems to have gone for a stroll outside.

Nancy has brought out a whole selection of delicacies.

They are draped awkwardly across a huge platter, with a crocodile carved out of a carrot as the centrepiece.

Nestling beside the dog's penis are its clammy testicles, and beside that a giant salami-shaped object.

"Donkey," says Nancy. "Good for the skin..."

She guides me round the penis platter.

"Snake. Very potent. They have two penises each."

I did not know that.

Deer-blood cocktail

"Sheep... horse... ox... seal - excellent for the circulation."

She points to three dark, shrivelled lumps which look like liquorice allsorts - a special treat apparently - reindeer, from Manchuria.

Government officials... two of them... they're having the penis hotpot

The Guolizhuang restaurant claims to be China's only speciality penis emporium, and no, it is not a joke.

The atmosphere is more exotic spa than boozy night-out.

Nancy describes herself as a nutritionist.

"We don't call them waiters here. And we don't serve much alcohol," she says. "Only common people come here to get drunk and laugh."

But she does offer me a deer-blood and vodka cocktail, which I decide to skip.

Medicinal purposes

The restaurant's gristly menu was dreamt up by a man called Mr Guo.

The Chinese believe that eating penis can enhance your virility

He is 81 now and retired.

After fleeing China's civil war back in 1949, he moved to Taiwan, and then to Atlanta, Georgia, where he began to look deeper into traditional Chinese medicine, and experiment on the appendages of man's best friend.

Apparently, they are low in cholesterol and good, not just for boosting the male sex drive, but for treating all sorts of ailments.

Laughter trickles through the walls of our dining room.

"Government officials," says Nancy. "Two of them upstairs. They're having the penis hotpot."

Most of the restaurant's guests are either wealthy businessmen or government bureaucrats who, as Nancy puts it, have been brought here by people who want their help.

What better way to secure a contract than over a steaming penis fondue.

Discretion is assured as all the tables are in private rooms.

The glitziest one has gold dishes.

"Some like their food served raw," says Nancy, "like sushi. But we can cook it anyway you like."

Read the article in its entirety: Beijing's penis emporium

Culture, Cruelty & Contradiction: My post on horsemeat food legislation and the sausage of culture.

Revolve Evolove

See the fine work of Jake Parker on Agent 44

Thursday, September 28, 2006

My Heart Belongs to Data

My Heart Belongs to Data, an experimental film by Mark Kenneth Wooods I came across while aimlessly browsing today.

The Poetry of Destruction

When I grow up I want to be a Dodder Vine

Some flowers release a pleasing fragrance. Other plants smell. And then there's the parasitic dodder vine, which has the remarkable ability to sniff out its victims.

Farmers have placed the dodder –- aka "Strangleweed," "Devil Guts," and "Witches Shoelaces" -– on a ten most-wanted list of weeds.

Swarthmore College biology professor Colin Purrington says the vine starts out as just a tiny tendril with no roots or leaves. It then has about a week to find a host plant it can wrap itself around. The vampire-like dodder then sinks its fangs into its victim and starts drinking.

"It's probably one of the creepiest plants I know," says Purrington. "It's a horrible existence for the host plant. If plants could scream, they'd have the loudest screams when they had dodder attached."

Researchers didn't know how the dodder attached to its host victims. They speculated that the vine might be attracted to water vapor or the refractive light off a potential host.

But three researchers at Pennsylvania State University discovered that the dodder follows the scent of its victims.

Plant biologist Consuelo M. De Moraes says when they wafted odors in the direction of a dodder seedling, the tendril almost always began to creep toward the smell.

"It's really amazing to watch this plant having this almost animal-like behavior," she says. "It's really very sophisticated and surprising."

The study showed dodder also prefers certain odors. Given a choice of tomato or wheat, the dodder picks the tomato. Wheat may give off a chemical that repels the vines, which could mean good news for farmers.

"The fact that there are these repellant compounds suggest that you might be able to create a repellant or deterrent effect that would allow you to protect a crop against infestation," says Mark Mesker, a researcher at Penn State.

Details of the dodder's olfactory talents appear in the current issue of the journal Science.

From NPR

Doomed Creative Project Categories

Former creative partner in crime and "Friend of the Foundation" Jason English has created a series of 3 cards to describe categories of doomed creative projects.

He encourages you to print them out and use them. I think we need stickers.

I can think of a few others.
• "The Russian Front"
• "Christian Scientist with Severed Artery"
• "A Willie Horton Weekend"
• "Death March"
• "Metasticization"

Liquid Sculpture

Liquid Sculture gallery of highspeed imagery.

Part 6. Amateur / Professional

This is Part 6 in a multi-post series on the topics of Participatory Media and Consumer Generated Content.

• • •

You hear, as one might expect, dismissals and criticisms of social media and "amateur" content by professionals that work within the traditional media establsihment. The 3 biggest are:

1. Amateur content just can't compete with professional.
2. People will always prefer slick, professionally produced content.
3. Amateurs may be capable of one-off hits, but the entertainment industry "machine" is necessary to produced serialized, quality content on a regular basis.

The terms amateur and professional are becoming less and less meaningful for me. This seems to be another instance where, beyond describing content that has been monetized and is expected to make money, "professional" means very little. At the end of the day I don't think that people care very much if a huge industry act or a kid in his basement made a song they are listening to. It's either a good song or it's not.

The place a piece of content occupies within the shared cultural experience IS an important factor. As I've described in previous posts in this series, one of primary functions of cultural content is to give us a sense of connectedness to one another, to bind us into tribes of like-minded people. A professionally produced piece of content is more likely to achieve a bigger position on the cultural radar, to have more shared value, but that is a very different issue than whether or not a piece of content had "professional", corporately backed origins.

Corporate structures used to play a very important and much needed role. The creation of content was too complex and expensive to be done without the level of organization and financing they provided. Not only is this no longer true, but I believe that in the drive to realize more and more profit they have seriously erroded their ability to function effectively as generators of content that has meaningful value.

Take a survey of the output of media companies over the last 3 years.

The movie industry is capable of producing very little that isn't based on content that has a proven track record. The big franchises are all based on remakes and classic comic characters. The movie industry used to look down its nose at television, today, old hit series are one of the biggest sources of ideas for studio movies. Even rehashed Broadway revivals are a primary source of ideas.

Broadway itself doesn't seem capable of producing much original content. One of the few show show I've enjoyed in the last 5 years was Urinetown, which originated as a Fringe Festival Piece. What can you expect from Broadway this season? The Grinch, a remake of a much loved and very old cartoon.

Televison has knuckled-up in the last couple of years but it is still primarily sitcoms of the archaic, formulaic variety and reality shows. If it were not for the example set and pressure applied from cable programming we probably would not have shows like 24 and Lost. I still can't figure out why, with so many channels showing "nothing" or re-runs why a show like "Arrested Development" would be cancelled. Can someone explain this to me?

"500 channels and nothing on" is a cliche, but it's true. In fact, a lot of what is on those channels I don't consider to be content at all, I call it the "display of data". Real estate listings, stock prices and weather information are not communicative content, it is the display of data.

I have a friend that, after purchasing a massive, flat-panael television realized that he spends most of his time "watching the wall". He explained that most of the time he is watching shows and movies that he has already seen and he might as well be staring at the wall.

This is all going to change. The means of production continue to drop and continue to get more and more sophisticated. New models of creation and distribution are begining to emerge. This really is just the begining. The truth is, the bloated corporate entities that were once relied on to produce content have become too expensive to themselves to be effective at generating content. It's no wonder, and it should be no surprise that YouTube has become so popular so quickly.

The drive to maximize profit beyond reasonable expectations has been destructive in other American industries as well. Advertising and automobile manufacturing are good examples. One of the ways that the automobile industry created efficiencies was to create shared vehicle platforms. The basic idea here is the creation of underlying parts that can be repurposed on a number of vehicles. Taken too far this has resulted in vehicles that all look the same and a lack of differentiation accross brands. Ford is no longer the #2 automaker and soon GM won't be number one.

Re-runabouts. The Ford Expedition and Mercury Navigator. Are they really that different?

In the quest to squeeze out a little bit more and a little bit more they're chocking the geese that lay the golden eggs. You can't squeeze much more than shit out of a dead goose, and that is exactly what's happening.

• • •

On Participatory Media and User Generated Content. A multi-post series.

Part 1. Talking to Ourselves
It's what people do!

Part 2. What Are We Talking About?
Defining the terms and context.

Part 3. Its Gotten Personal
The points of connection are now directly to, and between, individuals.

Part 4. The Relative Value of Content (is Dropping)

Part 5. Distortions in Truth & Reality and a Crisis of Credibility

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Meet The World

Icaro Doria is Brazilian, 25 and has been working for the magazine Grande Reportagem, in Lisbon, Portugal, for the last 3 years. He was the author of the flags campaign "Meet the World".

Jackson Pollock


Monday, September 25, 2006

Cover Story

The above image was posted on BS Alert under the heading: Why The American Media Sucks: In Four Simple Pictures. Well done.

Typography in the Wild

I love walking around NY and checking out all the wild postings. I spend so much time in front of a screen that seeing typography, large and in print resolution really is a treat for the eyes. I've seen lots of b&w, constructivist inspired things lately. There are a few in the roundup below.

Wanted and Missing are 2 very different categories.

The milk I purchased today featured a "wanted poster" for The Grinch.
(Its really an ad for yet another Broadway re-hash)

I'm probably over-thinking it but in my opinion "innocence lost" is a better theme than "sourpuss at large" given milk's maternal associations.

Radio Spot?

When I heard this on NPR I thought I was listening to a long-form radio spot for the Toyota Prius. I went to the NPR and searched and found that it was Brian Ungers column, The Unger Report. It sure feels a lot more like a long radio spot (with balls) than a journalist's column.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

On Color/Off Color: Object Orange

A group of artists in Detroit known as "Object Orange" have been painting abandon building emergency orange in the middle of the night. The goal of the group is to get the city government to demolish some of 7,000 abandoned buildings.

Detroit Free Press

Breathing Earth

Breathing Earth. An exceptionally well done digital infographic that shows a real-time simulation of the CO2 emission rates, birth rates and death rates of every country in the world.

Space has a smell

It smells like... burned almond cookies.

Anousheh Ansari's Sept 23 blog post from space.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Stefane Monzon


Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Frankenstein Aesthetic: Cut n' Paste

Cut n' Paste. It goes by many names but the strategy has become one of the most pervasive forces in our culture.

Developed by Cubists.
Wielded as a powerful device by Surrealists.
It transformed pop music in the 80s in the form of sampling.
In Web 2.0 parlance its progeny go by the moniker of mash-up.
In The Simpsons you can see its influenced in the richly layered references and quotationalism of the writing.

The Surrealists had a game they called "exquisite corpse". From Wikipedia: "The technique was invented by Surrealists in 1925, and is based on[citation needed] an old parlour game called Consequences in which players write in turn on a sheet of paper, fold it to conceal part of the writing, and then pass it to the next player for a further contribution." (Drawings were produced this way as well.) The name comes from the first surrealist example: "The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine.

If you look around you see the handiwork of cut n' paste everywhere. Even the elemental visual constructs we call icons have been spliced and sutured. Here is an example I snapped off at Yoyomart in the meatpacking district (before they told me not to take pictures in their store).

Skulls are (have been for a few years) the new smiley face. Irony has festered deeply into our cultural consciousness.

Tangent: I was listening to an interview with Isaac Mizrahi yesterday and he was talking about (the death of) earnestness in fashion, about how people don't or won't wear the type of "perfect" outfits like they did in the 50's. There always has to be an element of irony, a glitch, a wrinkle, something that throws it off. You can see this lack of earnestness and irony hard at work in the use of skulls as a decorative motif, as the new smiley face we hide behind.)

A t-shirt with this image was given to me a few years ago. I love the broken heart, bat-winged skull. Incredibly simple and complex at the same time.

Picasso created his grotesque figures by placing things in the wrong spot.

In "Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic" Daniel Harris writes about the link between the aesthetic of cute and the grotesque:

"Cuteness is not an aesthetic in the ordinary sense of the word and must not be mistaken for the physically appealing, the attractive. In fact, it is closely linked to the grotesque, the malformed. The grotesque is cute because the grotesque is pitiable, and pity is the primary emotion of this seductive and manipulative aesthetic."

He uses the So Shy Sherri dolls as an example.

The doll is in fact an anatomical disaster. Here head is too big, her legs are swollen and her finger look as if they have been amputated at the knuckle.

Mr. Winkle is the posterchild for the cute and deformed.

Marty Feldman, who played igor in Young Frankenstein, had the same sort of bulging eyes as Mr. Winkle and many "cute dolls".

Betty Davis had strange eyes to.

When I was a kid I used to walk around singing the Kim Carnes song "Betty Davis Eyes" but change the words to "She's got Marty Feldman Eyes". The song is a opens with a beautiful sense of DETACHMENT and features a wonderful use of the S&M clap.

I fear this post has spiraled out of control and into a mess of tangential references so I will leave you in the clapping hands of Miss Carnes.