Monthly Archives: November 2009

Sweat Pays Off

Lauren Reskin has slaved for several years now making Sweat Records a true gathering point for the independent arts in Miami. She has been awarded for her dedication with a Knight Arts Foundation grant. It really could not have gone to a more deserving place. Congrats Lolo!

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AOL Lets Popularity Determine News

I’m not sure if this is a more sophisticated version of the kind of consumer polling that already drives newsrooms, or a sign of the apocalypse: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/pda/2009/nov/30/digital-media-aol.

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Shepard Fairey Copes With Hope

When I visited street-artist-made-good Shepard Fairey at his Echo Park studio recently, he seemed slightly defensive. Who could blame him, given the kinds of attack his fame as the maker of the Obama Hope poster has brought on. He’s unveiling new works at Art Basel Miami Beach this week; here’s the article I wrote for The Miami Herald.

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Song of the South 2.0

The Walt Disney Company has not left stereotypes behind; they have sunk as deep into their muck as ever.

Disney should get some sort of credit for having an African-American princess  — it only took them 72 years. But The Princess and the Frog’s retrograde animation style, sexual politics, and ugly caricature of rural Southerners undo any possible positive effects of affirmative action, and derail the film’s effort to culturally resuscitate a once-great American city.

The Princess and the Frog is largely a paean to New Orleans. In the wake of the misery and hatred that Hurricane Katrina unleashed, that mission is perhaps even more important than giving black girls their very own icon of impossible hyper-femininity. But once outside the city, the film portrays rural denizens of the Mississippi Delta region as stupid, toothless, overbreeding insects. As anyone who’s ever eaten jambalaya or danced to Beausoleil knows, Cajuns provide some of the most rich and interesting culture in America. By making this group of people, symbolized by their distinctive accent, seem like so many redneck hillbillies, Disney puts the time machine in reverse and then hits the gas.

The Princess and the Frog is one of the most appallingly ugly movies since the days of Dumbo (with its minstrel crows) and The Song of the South (Walt’s woefully misguided attempt at “multiculturalism”). It’s really hard to know what the company was thinking — and how such seemingly smarter than that Louisianans as Randy Newman and Dr. John, who provide some of the film’s admittedly great music — let themselves get associated with such grotesque caricatures.

Also, I thought we were all over this Princess-Prince Charming fairytale crap. Wasn’t the whole glorious point of Shrek that it’s better to be an ogre than a phony? Okay, I know, princess culture is bigger than ever. But I’ll always root for the Fionas of the world.

The Princess is drawn in the sort of color-saturated dreamlike style of the Technicolor movies of yore — as if stop-animation, 3D, or Pixar in general had never happened. It’s as if Disney took one big gamble — okaywe’llhaveablackprincesstherewesaidit — and then backpedaled furiously on the last few decades of political, technical and aesthetic progress. Plus, it’s not very funny, or well-written.

Cole and I went to a screening of the film at Disney’s Burbank headquarters. I was truly excited to take my son to his first film studio, with its promised interactive event afterward. On the way into the theater, just when I was about to be frisked to make sure I wasn’t sneaking in a movie camera, the tip of Cole’s shoelace got stuck in a floor vent, and he went crashing into the hard metal knee first. (Bootleggers: This is an excellent diversion tactic. Just bring your own Band-Aids.) The small army of smiling greeters who had carefully pointed us from the parking lot to the theater down the not-to-be-veered-from path seemed suddenly stunned by this unscripted freak accident. Noone offered to help me get Cole up; they took about 15 minutes to find a Band-Aid (people, you’ve invited hundreds of kids onto your property; have some first aid ready!); and he never got ice.

The interactive event consisted primarily of photo ops with actors dressed as various Disney princesses. The free popcorn was great and Cole had a good time once his knee stopped hurting. But now I have to figure out how to restore the dignity of the bayou in his impressionable little mind. Heading over to iTunes now for some Michael Doucet and Buckwheat Zydeco.

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Alt-rock for kids in the LA Times

I got to talk to Karen O about composing the Where the Wild Things Are soundtrack, and take Cole to Sippy Cups, Milkshake and Peter Himmelman shows, for a story in today’s Los Angeles Times.

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Shepard Fairey Talks About Art, Obama and the AP

Being the poster child (so to speak) for street urchins’/artists’ fight against the Man has not  dampened Shepard Fairey’s sense of humor, much. At his Visions and Voices conversation with Annenberg School professor Sarah Benet-Weiser November 4, the creator of the most widely seen piece of art in recent history — the Barack Obama Hope poster — was not afraid to crack jokes at the expense of the Associated Press, his corporate combatant in an increasingly nasty legal battle that’s testing the parameters of copyright law. When a Fairey handler tried to tamp down the artist’s response to a question about the mutual AP suits, he pointed out that anyone could find the points about fair use that he was trying to make: “You can go on Google, like I did to get the image.” The crowd chuckled warmly at the jester’s mask of guilelessness.

Being the next Napster-like leader in the new media war against old media has made Fairey a bit of a rock star. Fans showed up to the overbooked Annenberg Auditorium clutching posters and conspiracy theories, like so many badges of subversion. Relaxed in an armchair with his chiseled profile, like the overgrown skater boi he is, Fairey both ate up and deflected the attention. He was funnily and charmingly self-aware. “I might be at the tail end of the hipster cycle now,” he said, after having spent about an hour discussing slides showing his evolution from the sticker mania of Andre the Giant and Obey through his anti-Bush Constructivist propaganda to the thoroughly and unapologetically un-ironic 2008 campaign posters.

Fairey did get a bit tongue-tied when he tried to explain why he lied about his original source for the Obama posters, the subject of his litigation battle with the AP. As political as his work can be, there’s always been a certain moral ambiguity in its tactics — some would say that ambiguity is another word for hypocrisy. But there still can’t seem to be little doubt that, as he argued, the Hope poster meet the criteria for fair use. Certainly, it seems very Goliath/NARAS-like for the MSM to be picking on a punk rocker from South Carolina in this way. They’re making Fairey a martyred spokesperson; his Annenberg appearance showed that given the right jury, he could easily persuade them of his righteousness. Plus, he makes some pretty damn good art. If he didn’t, no one would bother messing with him.

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