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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.

 

 

Sanrio: Friendship Characters

Ah, Sanrio. The company behind Hello Kitty and all those other Japanese kawaii characters. Everyone knows who Hello Kitty is, however I may have had a slightly different experience with Sanrio characters because I spent every summer of my childhood in Hawaii. Hawaii has a very large Japanese population, and Sanrio is a very Japanese phenomenon which became wildly popular among children in America, but especially children in Hawaii. I, like all other children in Hawaii, owned numerous items covered with images of these characters. I remember loving my Keroppi lunch container and taking it to school with me every day, using my Hello Kitty chopsticks and plastic-ware often at dinner, wearing my Pochacco shirt to summer camp, writing in my Little Twin Stars notebook, and drinking out of my Chococat mug. Every drugstore in Hawaii has an entire aisle devoted to Sanrio characters. I remember whenever I would go with my mom to the store, I would spend the entire time walking down the Sanrio aisle and begging my mom to buy me a toy or some new item with a Sanrio character printed on it. There was an entire Sanrio store in every mall and I would visit it with every mall excursion. Even when I got older, I still looked upon the Sanrio characters with a smile because they reminded me of summer and my childhood.

Sanrio products similar to ones I owned in the 90's

According to Sanrio’s website, the company “was founded in 1960’s Japan by Shintaro Tsuji, whose simple dream of bringing smiles to people’s faces, grew into the brand’s ‘small gift, big smile’ philosophy”. An online company history of Sanrio states that the company launched the Hello Kitty character in 1974, originally aimed toward girls too young for barbies or similar toys. This spread beyond the intended age group partially because it tapped into the Japanese ‘kawaii’ trend, the obsession with cuteness. They sell anything from tiny toys, erasers, and candies to big things like suitcases, golf clubs and TVs, all with an image of a character and the brand-name pasted on each item. In 1976 the company set up a base in San Jose CA as a result of growing popularity in the U.S. and set up licensing agreements which brought Sanrio characters into toys included in McDonalds children’s meals. In 1988 Sanrio came out with its first boy character, Keroppi the frog, whose success caused the creation of new gender-neutral characters to bring boys into the market. In the early 90’s, two theme parks were built to keep up with the craze: Puroland and Harmonyland. Sanrio also created TV shows in the 90’s based on Hello Kitty and friends.

I never knew the friendship stories behind the characters, and I never watched the TV shows that accompanied them, but I still loved the characters anyhow. Sanrio characters play into the idea of the PLC, or “program-length commercial” mentioned in the Spinning Out of Control (Gary Cross) reading. Cross says, “These programs were ‘originally conceived as a vehicle from providing product exposure to the child audience’” (295). by providing an extensive story and extra characters around the Hello Kitty trend, the TV series surrounding Sanrio characters served just to market more toys and items with the brand to children. Cross also talks about the problem this causes for parents: “PLCs stacked the deck against parents by manipulating young children into wanting a particular toy while ostensibly entertaining them” (296). The Sanrio characters also show the idea of how toymakers “also shaped little girls’ play around licensed characters and fairytale story lines” (299).  In these characters and storylines, most of the time characters “worked together for the common good and did so in a world largely free of adult authority” (300). The Sanrio characters seem to follow the trend of Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears, Herself the Elf, and other ‘friendship’ characters of this kind of formula.

Giga Pets

In the Gary Cross reading he begins saying that, “By the 1980’s play was divorced from the constraints of parents and the real worlds …The dolls and playsets that encouraged girls to act out their mothers’ roles were replaced by Barbie’s fantasies of personal consumptions.” (290) However, my favorite toy from childhood combined elements of fantasy and “playing mom,” I’m referring to the pop culture phenomenon of the 1990’s, the “Giga Pet.”

Giga Pets were launched by Tiger Electronics in 1997, and were the “it” gift that holiday season.  Luckily, they were rather affordable at just $9.99 and kids from all socioeconomic backgrounds could afford them. You would care for virtual pet on a knuckle-sized screen that was connected to a keychain. You were responsible for feeding your pet, making sure it slept, and playing with it.  If you could not fulfill these responsibilities then your pet died.

I often wondered if my mom was as obsessed with me as I was with my Giga Pet dog.  I remembered I was almost eight years old when I received my first one, and the following day I went to the zoo. I didn’t notice a single animal though, neither did my two cousins, sister, or the two neighbors we went with as we all were looking down at our virtual pet key chains the entire time. Finally at lunchtime my dad and my uncle confiscated our “toys” as they were annoyed they had paid for us to come to the zoo to play with fake pets when live animals surrounded us.  I felt like someone had kidnapped my child and I should call the police.  What if my dog died while in my dad’s pocket for the next few hours?! When we got back to the car my dad handed back our pets, and they were all safe and sleeping. A week later I lost my Giga Pet and was on the next thing.  So, Gary Cross while toys might change, one thing doesn’t, kids will always lose their toys.


Giga Pets Commercial by TheDlisted

Coca-Cola Soccer Kit

The year was 2001, and I was 9 years old. My dad had come across a pair of tickets to a home game for Honduras’s national football team against Mexico, and asked me whether I wanted to come along with him. I’ve heard that every man at some point during his life takes, as a wife, one sport. While he may be unfaithful at times by engaging in other sports, it is to this sport to which he will be permanently bound for the remainder of his life. My father’s sport was baseball. That probably explains why, unlike every other child in Honduras, I lacked any sort of familiarity on football and did not partake in the religious fervor that its fans tend to engage. That all changed on a chilly October day in 2001. Out of pure curiosity for the event my school friends had been ranting about for the last month or so, I agreed to go with my dad (mostly because I wanted to know what made football more interesting than Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, which despite my high praise had somehow failed to elicit anything more than a “whatever” from my friends). Once at the stadium, a wave of excitement drifted over me and I ran ahead of my dad so that I could see where the deafening noise was coming from. Then I saw it. The green pitch, the chanting fans, the waving flags. They say when you meet the love of your life time stops, and that’s true. I felt like I stood there for an entire lifetime before my dad snapped me out of it and walked me to our seats. There isn’t enough space in this post to describe how I felt during that game, but suffice to say Honduras won by three goals, and I had fallen in love for the first time in my life.

Following the game, and to advertise Honduras’s campaign towards reaching the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan, Coca-Cola (the national team’s main sponsor) released a kit that included a soccer ball and the two small goals. You could not buy the ball in stores- it could only be purchased by redeeming 12 proof of purchase stamps from qualifying products. To promote the kit, Coca-Cola aired commercials showing the national team’s players doing tricks with the ball and scoring into the goals. The day after the game my friends (not a single one surprised at my overnight transition from indifferent to obsessed about football) and I consumed more Coca-Cola than should be humanly possible and redeemed our purchases to the nearest distribution center. Every week one of us would get to keep our new found treasure at their house, with possession changing hands on Fridays. Every Friday we would set up the goals on somebody’s street, place the ball in the center of our “field”, and a metamorphosis would occur. The walls around us turned to fans. The asphalt beneath us turned to beautiful grass. We were no longer children, but instead became our idols. Afterwards we refreshed ourselves with (big surprise!) ice-cold Coca-Colas.

Thinking back, this is a perfect illustration of the phenomena described by Howard Chudacoff in Children at Play:

Advertisers quickly learned that they could merge a “backstory” of fantasy with a product to create a meaningful relationship between product and child. The licensing from movies, television programs, and sports gave toys a very explicit significance… most children understood the product in a way that most adults did not. (Course Packet page 180)

In Honduras the vast majority of children (especially boys) loved Honduras’s national team, regardless of whether or not they liked football. It was a way we all bonded, came together, existed as one. There were no boys and girls, no kids and adults, no rich and poor. For 90 minutes, we were all just Honduran. Coca-Cola used that indescribable (at least to children) feeling of belonging, of unison, to advertise their product. By merging the national team and Coca-Cola products, the line between them became blurred. We saw Coca-Cola as the moment when a player made an extraordinary dribble, or as the feeling when all the crowd roared and danced when Honduras would score a goal. Coca-Cola became pure, unfiltered happiness. I saw anyone that chose Pepsi over Coca-Cola as hating the very core of being Honduran, of conspiring to deprive us all of the joy of qualifying for the World Cup. Many of my friends shared those sentiments. The kit Coca-Cola provided took it all a step further. After watching their commercials, we all wanted to use the same ball that the players used, and to score goals into the same posts that they did. We wanted to dribble the same, and shoot the same. We came to believe that the “magic” the players had was a product of the Coca-Cola ball itself. The ball and goals became mystical figures, items that when in our possession made our skill-set limitless. We were capable of any trick, could score any goal, and would eventually make our way into the national team to play alongside our idols. My parents and many adults did not and could not understand why we felt so strongly about these kits. How could they, after all? They were too old to play on the national team, so we figured they would never understand. Those days we existed for one ideal- “Joga Bonito”, play beautifully…

Coca-Cola Ball, courtesy of the Coca-Cola Store

Honduras National Team sponsored by, you guessed it, Coca-Cola. Courtesy of ElHeraldo.hn

Christmas: Capitalism At Its Best

Christmas shopping for most Americans

Growing up, I remember Christmas being the most exciting time of the year. As I’ve gotten older and have become responsible for purchasing gifts for other people myself, I have come to associate the holiday with frenzy and anxiety. Thorstein Veblen was undoubtedly correct to refer to Christmas as a time of vicarious consumption. Christmas is literally referred to as “the season of giving” and if you are not giving you may be seen as cheap or a scrooge. As we have learned in our readings, one of parents’ biggest fears is having bored children. Parents also want to ensure their children do not feel left out or disappointed. With the growing emphasis on the importance of material items in the U.S., parents feel obligated to stretch their wallets  at this time of year to ensure their children aren’t left out. This is because we have been socialized to believe that when you wake up on  Christmas morning, there should be a towering mountain of gifts under the tree with your name on them. The main goal for many children is bragging rights. They want to be able to go to school the next day and compare who got the better presents.

“When compared to the average family budget, the Christmas gift budget makes up 1.3% of all average family spending. It is more than what the average family will spend on reading materials ($110/year) and alcoholic beverages ($435/year) put together.”

In the article “Modern Childhood, Modern Toys”, Gary Cross says, “But in the nineteenth century these celebrations of indulgence were increasingly focused on the family, in parents pampering children. The shower of gifts became a way of demonstrating personal affluence” (59). Essentially, families are going out of their way to buy their children’s happiness. The blame can in many instances be placed on advertising. Companies make it a point, especially at this time of year, to advertise their most expensive, sought after products while basically telling viewers how much they need it. Children see their friends playing with the best new toy and many advertisements lead them to feel like they aren’t “cool” if they don’t have that great toy too. Advertisements only solidify parents’ fear that they will disappoint their children.

The Oscars

The Academy Awards were last night and the results were nothing short of exciting.  For the first time since 1929 a silent film won best picture.  The Artist took the film world by a storm this year, and rightfully so.   For those of you who have never seen a silent film, this is a perfect place to start.  The Artist takes us back to the beginning of Hollywood and the transition from silent films to talkies.  Sure sometimes we just want to watch robots beat the hell out of each other, but The Artist brings us back to why we fell in love with movies in the first place.  It is truly a work of art that has sadly been forsaken by the society that we live in today.  Martin Scorsese’s film Hugo also deals with this time period.   Taking a break from his traditional gangster films, Marty took us on a journey to Paris.  Hugo is a film about George Milies, who was a wonderful director, filmmaker, and visionary.   It was through this wonderful film that Marty reignited “movie magic” which has been lost for sometime now.    These two films made a huge, and significant, impact on the film industry this year.  The Artist left an impact on the Academy Awards winning three of the top awards which were best picture, best leading male actor, and best director.  Michel Hazanavicius, the director of The Artist, actually beat Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen for this award.  So hopefully the film industry will stop remaking movies from the 80′s and start making genuine films.

Goosebumps

A "Goosebumps" series favorite among readers.

 

The Goosebumps book series is a mammoth collection of children’s horror novels published by youth literature giant Scholastic and written by author R. L. Stine (real name Jovial Bob Stine) between 1992 and 1997. The series rocketed to popularity and inspired a few spin-off book series as well as a TV show that had me glued to the set in the same vein of programs like Are You Afraid of the Dark and So Weird. While the series is supposedly intended for middle school readers (or older readers in terms of some of the spin-offs), I seem to recall there being a certain pride and competition in comparing the number of Goosebumps books in your repertoire early in elementary school while cautiously avoiding the eyes of disapproving teachers.

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