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Posts tagged ‘exploitation’

Graffiti: Opportunities For Young Artists To Become Successful

In the last few years, there has been lots of news about graffiti artists showing in galleries and museums because currently there is a new visibility, respect, and cool factor to the art form. For example, a recent article from the Huffington Post tells all about a project in the Bronx of New York City in which “a block-long limestone mansion originally built as a welfare hotel for the retiring rich invites streetwise graffiti artists and others to gild its decayed rooms”. In 1915 a NY millionaire named Andrew Freedman died and left his money to build a mansion for the former wealthy to live in when they become poor so they could still have a wealthy lifestyle. The space is about twice the size of the white house, and since becoming a landmark in ’84 has been decaying and falling apart, which is ironic because the once lavish home of the disadvantaged wealthy has become the crumbling venue of street artists to display their work.

sneak peek at a room from the "This Side of Paradise" show

“At the same time in the late 70s and early 80s when this home’s original purpose was failing you had the rise of Bronx graffiti,” says Keith Schweitzer, the curator of the show.

"Wildstyle" Graffiti, 1983

Part of the idea behind this show is to “revitalize the community” and the show is called This Side of Paradise. “With a few heavyweight street art and graffiti names bringing these rooms to life, it’s interesting to see their role as one of contributing in a positive way here where the emergence of a global ‘Wildstyle’ graffiti first blossomed while entire neighborhoods burned.”

The project makes a funny kind of reversal of classes and time: “the role of the artist rising from the ashes of the burned-out neighborhoods then and an art show in the decay of this home now”.

Although this article makes no mention of minorities or youth, it does talk about class lines and how graffiti art, an art of the lower classes, can transcend that line. I would like to reference another article from PBS News which reviews a new book about the history of American graffiti. This article says that contemporary American graffiti really had its start in the early 70’s when kids started tagging city walls. It has always been a movement grounded in youth culture, especially teenage. “Young people were the key players in shaping the contemporary graffiti movement” says Neelon, one of the authors of the book. He goes on to say that graffiti is “by definition a defiant and public exhibition” and “there’s an earned respect and craft to graffiti work done outside in the streets”. This can be a problem for moving this kind of work from the outside to a gallery because often it will not translate well into a different setting. However, Neelon says that “artists who master the craft of painting on the street can create perhaps even greater work in studio settings, where they have more time, resources and don’t have to worry about the weather or the police. What they might lose is the volume of people who see their work on a regular basis”. Because of the current popularity of street art, many museums and organizations are trying to develop niches for bringing the art into a new space. I think the abandoned house graffiti project is a really great idea of a way to bring graffiti art into the high art world because it remains authentic, does not get lost in translation, allows the artists to have time and resources, allows them to spread to other mediums, and is run by a museum so it attracts a high art crowd but is in an abandoned building so also attracts the public.

A piece by Basquiat, titled "Baptism", 1982

Robin Kelley mentions that young graffiti artists in the 70s were also sometimes able to sell their work to local merchants and community organizations, “and a handful enjoyed fleeting success in the Soho art scene” (418). He goes on to talk about graffiti organizations serving to expose young artists to galleries and dealers, but “those who tried to branch out beyond graffiti were often discouraged, and gallery and museum directors who invited them to show their work tended to treat them in an incredibly disrespectful manner” (418). I would argue with this in the present because galleries today are really trying to be respectful of street art, one example being the project in the first article which shows graffiti artists branching out to other mediums and exhibiting their work through an organization while keeping it in a public space. Kelley also says that “ ‘high art’ critics viewed graffiti as the embodiment of an aggressive masculine street culture” and I think that was perhaps half true in the 70’s with artists such as Basquiat (who was really only marginally graffiti artist) but is not true today… in my opinion current graffiti art (at least what has become popular to the public) has a softer quality than what Kelley refers to, it is more design-based than aggressive (419). Kelley goes on to say “the overnight success of these major artists, especially Basquiat, gave hope to some writers that the visual arts might ofer a lucrative alternative to low-wage labor and an opportunity to live off their own creativity” (419). He later says however that graffiti loses its appeal and value when removed from its site of origin and rarely generates much money for the creator, and loses its authenticity when it is not created illegally, and he says that basketball is different because it doesn’t lose authenticity when players go pro (420). I think graffiti artists today are trying to keep that authenticity by remaining anonymous, or doing paid work out in public areas rather than in galleries. When they do show in galleries, I think they can bring the voice of their experiences to a different group of people. Also I would say that currently there is more of a chance to get money and fame from street art than there is to become a pro basketball player.

Graffiti as an art form has an amazing ability to give a voice to the anonymous/unheard, and at the same time transcend the lines of race and class and has the power to send its creators from the poor neighborhoods of the inner city to the success of the museum/gallery/downtown scene. The Robin Kelley article was written in 1997, talks about the brief popularity of graffiti art in the 70’s, but with the new popularity and visibility of street art today, I believe it has more of a power to catapult artists to the world of success and fame.



Lou Vs. the Lorax

Lou Dobbs Attacks Dr. Suess For ‘Indoctrinating’ Children

In this recent installment of the popular Fox News segment “The Unmentionables”, pundit Lou Dobbs attempts to convince viewers that Hollywood-produced children’s movies of recent times, specifically The Secret World of Arietty (based on the British, mid-century children’s novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton)and The Lorax (based on the picture book by Dr. Seuss), are rife with “liberal media bias”. Dobbs makes the argument that The Secret World of Arietty, whose story revolves around a miniature family scavenging the leftovers of full-sized “human beans” to create and sustain a secret world within our world, implicitly supports a sort of communistic mentality of involuntary wealth redistribution. He even draws a direct correlation between the animated film and the Occupy Wall Street movement, which he seems to view as an insidious coalition, though the protests associated with Occupy have largely pushed broader contemporary issues of governmental corruption in lieu of any well-defined agenda. Dobbs goes on to criticize the second children’s film, The Lorax, for extolling the virtues of environmental awareness in the attitude that this message is anti-business and thus counter-conservative.
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Kiddin’ Hollywood

The “Baby Burlesk” I chose was called “Kiddin’ Hollywood”, which is a play on words meant to represent both the actuality of the film (kids acting in Hollywood) as well as the critique of Hollywood’s fickleness which is the short’s underlying theme. In the film, a beauty pageant winner named Morelegs Sweetrick is rejected during a casting call for a Hollywood movie. She instead finds work scrubbing the floors around the stage. Her big chance appears when the prissy, diva of a leading female in the film- Freta Snobbo- refuses to come on the set. Morelegs lands the role, and impresses her castmates and director with her performance. Fame gets to her head too quickly though, and after wrapping up filming she rejects the advances of her budding costar in search of a “Rolls Royce and a maid”. She went from being a humble floor cleaner to Freta Snobbo herself. The movie, however, is a complete bust, and Sweetrick finds her aspiring film career grounded prior to takeoff. While wallowing in her own failure, her previously rejected costar returns for her, confesses his enduring love, and takes her hand in marriage.

The film does not satirize a prior work, rather instead choosing to satirize individual prominent figures in Hollywood at the time. Freta Snobbo is meant to represent actress Greta Garbo, who was renown at the time as being an odd figure, who frequently caused problems on movie sets because of her disdain for crowds and preference for being constantly alone. This made her come off as “snobbish”, hence the joke. Morelegs Sweetrick is meant to satirize actress Marlene Dietrich, who was known to pursue roles with an unheard of ferocity. If there was a role she desired, she would do everything in her power to get it.

This particular burlesque is a prime example of what John Kasson mentions in his text “Behind Shirley Temple’s Smile”: 

“Shirley Temple’s early roles were perched ambiguously on the cusp between innocence and flirtatiousness.” (course packet, page 197).

The attire that Temple dons as “Morelegs Sweetrick” is meant to simulate that of a high class mistress. The name “Morelegs” is a reference to Temple’s legs, which is very inappropriate when used to refer to a child but would be much more common if used to refer to a woman of questionable morals in an adult film. The word “trick” is often used to describe sexual favors performed by a prostitute, and in combination with the word “sweet” the name as a whole was meant to be highly suggestive and an inside joke among adults. There is also the matter of the kiss; a long passionate kiss that, while appearing innocent between children, would be much considered much more risque among an older crowd. Finally, there is the matter of Sweetrick becoming a materialistic girl interested in the fancy things in life. This is evident when she flirts with her director after the closing of the film because in him she sees the possibility of a “Rolls Royce and a maid”. Love for money, a concept that is very adult.


Disturbing Baby Burlesks

The “Baby Burklesk” video, “Polly Tix in Washington” is the perfect example of what John Kasson is speaking about when he says that Shirley Temple’s early roles were, “perched ambiguously on the cusp between innocence and flirtatiousness.” (Kasson, 131) In the satire Shirley plays an expensive call girl hired to seduce a new congressman into voting for a new bill on Castor Oil.  She is shown prancing around in a lace bra and expensive jewelry, and offering the baby congressman cake to persuade him. However, she winds up falling in love and almost getting herself killed until the baby congressman fights for her honor.

The video definitely makes a mockery of the children and their innocence.  In the final scene, Shirley tells the only black child featured in the film, that prosperity is just around the corner, and the film concludes with him running around the corners of the street searching for it.  It is also mildly disturbing that at an age where boys and girls typically think each other to have “cooties” they are playing prostitutes and fighting for love.

In class we spoke of contemporary examples of videos such as these, that use children to play roles they do not fully understand or ones pushed upon them by adults.  One example we spoke of was “Pearl the Landlord,” and I was immediately reminded of the parodies done by children who reenact episodes of The Hills, Jersey Shore, and The Real Housewives of New Jersey.  After watching these recent mockeries acted out by children, the ones Shirley Temple played in seemed slightly less disturbing.


Kids Act out “The Hills”

Kids Act out “Jersey Shore”

Kids Act out “Real Housewives of New Jersey”

How Shirley Temple Civilized Africa

Shirley Temple being taken by Cannibals in "Kid in Africa"

A part of the “Baby Burlesk” series, the ten minute short, “Kid in Africa,” released in 1933, parodies the “Tarzan the Ape Man” movies by telling the story of a young girl, played by Madame Cradlebait, who is determined to civilize cannibals in Africa. Starring Shirley Temple as a missionary, Madame Cradlebait, the short opens with the arrival of the young blonde followed by several young black children who play the role of her servants and carry her luggage (which reads, “Civilize the Cannibals or Bust!”). Shortly after finding a place to nap, Cradlebait and her servants are attacked by a group of cannibals, portrayed by more young black children wearing face paint, who eventually capture the missionary and put her into a giant pot to prepare her for supper. Luckily, the heroic Diaperzan hears Cradlebait’s cries for help and summons his elephant to ride to her rescue. Diaperzan scares off the cannibals and saves the missionary. Soon after, the jungle has been civilized and a town has blossomed, complete with a traffic controller and a filling station. Wearing dressy clothes, Diaperzan says he will play golf this afternoon, but Madame Cradlebait reminds him he must wash the dishes. The short ends with Cradlebait having civilized Diaperzan as well, as he wears a frilly, pink apron while being subservient to her.

Opposed to other “Baby Burlesk” shorts, Shirley Temple’s role in “Kid in Africa” is a lot less flirtatious, as John Kasson describes the parts she frequently plays. The only thing that stuck out in my mind as coming close to crossing that boundary was the costume that Temple wears, her khaki “diaper” is very short and shows a lot of leg. Other than that, “Kid in Africa” is very tame in regards to flirtatiousness.

I did, however, find evidence to support Kasson’s claim that the humor of these shorts relies on adult knowledge playing against childhood innocence. A young cannibal calls another to come eat the missionary, to which the line, “if there’s anything I love, it’s true missionary,” is said. I believe that this line is a reference to the sexual position by the same name, and would be a joke that only an adult audience would be able to understand. The humor lies at the child not knowing what he is saying.

Toddlers and Tiaras

What is the worst thing you have ever seen on television?  If you asked me, or Charlotte Trigg’s from People Magazine, it would have to be TLC’s Toddlers and Tiara’s.  This television series follows the behind the scenes action of what really goes on in a child’s beauty pageant.  In the pageants there are girls of all ages.  You are never left wondering when the next temper tantrum is going to be because the show is full of them. Even though, if I were four years old I’m sure I’d be throwing a temper tantrum the size of these poor girls hair as well.  Prepping and preparing for these pageants are a full time job for mothers and daughters alike.  The girls spend hours practicing routines and singing songs to get them ready for the big day.  They are also put through the ringer with the amount of make up and hair appointments the mothers drag them along to.  What I find most disturbing is the mothers that whiten their daughters teeth, or take the daughters to get waxed.  Why anyone in their right mind would take a four year old to get their eyebrows waxed is completely insane.  To me, a great example of the type of exploitation of kids is in the case of Shirley Temple; whose parents exploited her talents and cuteness to captivate the country during the Great Depression.  Shirley was forced to spend long hours on set, nearly seven days a week filming, so that her parents could reap millions.  In John Kasson’s “Behind Shirley Temple’s Smile” he states how one of her directors scolded her for playing, saying “This isn’t play time, kids,” and later Temple recalls him saying “it’s work.” As a child, what is important is just having fun and being a kid, not being on set all day trying to please their parents by making them look good, or by making money with their acting.  How do we expect our kids to grow up, if they are not spending time with other kids, learning and developing their minds to become adults.  This type of exploitation has to stop because it’s not doing anyone any favors.