To Do December 10 in NYC: “Infiltrating The Underground”

That’s the title of a 30-minute documentary from  Paper Tiger Television and Anne Elizabeth Moore. Sorry marketing pros: It’s not a how-to.

This video collaboration will look at how big business is chipping away at democracy through underground cultures — and how underground cultures willingly participate.

The program will examine how and why anticorporate culture and independent media have been co-opted by corporate advertising and the profit-making agenda, examining instances where the government and big business collude to silence independent voices — and concerns for social justice.

A follow-up to Moore’s 2007 New Press book, Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing, and the Erosion of Integrity, the video Infiltrating the Underground investigates what happens when the underground becomes just another market, and what independent artists
and media makers can do about it.

Infiltrating the Underground: The Corporatization of Underground Culture airs Wednesday, December 10th at 3 and 11 p.m. on Brooklyn Community Access Television, and at 8 p.m. on Manhattan Neighborhood Network. I gather previews will be posted on the Paper Tiger blog. Copies of the video can be purchased  “for classroom use or to air on local community access stations,” from Paper Tiger.

Earlier: Murketing Q&A with Anne Elizabeth Moore about Unmarketable.

To Do in NYC [??]

Actually I have no idea what this is, really. But I gather it’s tonight. I guess. Or something.

If I were in the area I’d have made an effort to find out. But I’m not, so I didn’t. If you go, or whatever, let me know.

Madfits: A confusing case of remixing and value

Here’s an interesting case of … something.

I was interested to see a BoingBoing post about spotting this T in the East Village:

While it’s suggested this Misfits/Alfred E. Neuman graphic mashup is something new and mysterious, I recognized as a design from aNYthing, from a couple of years ago. (At the time, aNYthing was the brand of Aaron Bondaroff, and was part of the Brand Underground article that appeared in the NYT, some of which I used in Buying In; as discussed in the book, Bondaroff is no longer associated with aNYthing. You can actually spot this graphic in the opening spread of the magazine story.)

I monitored the comments to see if somebody would point this out. Soon someone did, noting that the “Madfits” T has been “out of print for a couple of years.” Then there was a comment from someone who identified himself as Seemen Spermz, and who I guess might be Bondaroff, though it might also be a friend/associate who worked with him for aNYthing — in any case the person says he did the original design. He links to this site, which is pretty much information-free.


Meanwhile I checked the site of Bondaroff’s new project, Off Bowery. The current clothing selections include some variations on the Madfits character — on some caps, a T, and a long-sleeve T. As you can see, the Madfits icon now sits a top a modified Mickey Mouse body, giving the finger.

And finally, checking back to the BoingBoing post’s comments, someone chimed in to say: “You can either call me a hero or a villain, but I took the time to recreate this. It can be found in sizes Adult Small through Adult XXL at my Etsy store.” And indeed, here it is:

The listing says: “THE ALFRED E. MISFITS SHIRT: As seen on Boing-Boing. … You would have to be MAD not to want one!” It’s $12.95.

Both Seemen Spermz and the Etsy seller joke about where to direct lawsuits. I assume it’s the case that Warner Bros., which owns Mad, would rather other people not make money off Alfred E. Neuman’s image. I’m also not sure that The Misfits would be into this, but who knows, maybe they wouldn’t care.

Interesting, though, to see this particular remix take this extra step: It’s not clear to me whether the Madfits image would belong to Bondaroff, or aNYthing, and what either would make of the idea that some third party has come along to reproduce and sell the image —  “as seen on BoingBoing.”

And then there’s the question of value. Assuming you like this graphic, you’d probably see some value in having one of the original T-shirts from 2006. But would you find the same value in a copied version by someone else? Would the fact that it’s been made BoingBoing-famous in the meantime help or hurt? And if you already own one of the original T’s, has it just gained value, or lost value?

I’m not really expecting answers to those questions, of course. (I mean, you can answer if you want to.) Just something to think about.

Just Do It (Yourself?)

I’m happy that the Beautiful Losers documentary is getting plenty of attention, and I look forward to seeing it. I’m a fan of many of the artists who I gather are in it, and I both like and respect Aaron Rose. He is interviewed in the current issue of Complex talking about a spinoff project: “Make Something!! Workshops,” and I like the sound of these, too. The film’s site says:

Working with public school art programs and youth mentoring programs, MAKE SOMETHING!! will invite local children to participate in creative workshops such as sign painting, photography, skateboard graphic design, toy design, filmmaking, tattoo art, footwear design and zine making.

Workshops will be hosted by renowned artists from the Beautiful Losers “do-it-yourself” art subculture, which include Ed Templeton, Tobin Yelland, Geoff McFetridge, Shepard Fairey, Mike Mills, Todd James, Cheryl Dunn, Kaws, Mr. Cartoon and Aaron Rose. The work created in each location will form a continually evolving exhibition, which will be open to the public to view.

Sounds good.

And yet … despite all my good vibes about this … I must say that my reaction to the version of the movie poster above was: What’s the swoosh doing on there?

These workshops, apparently, are courtesy of Nike. Was that really necessary? “Make something” is obviously a fine message — but to me the whole idea of doing-it-yourself kind of loses its oomph if the doing has to happen under the auspices of the almighty swoosh. After all, did the various artists and creators celebrated in the film have to rely on a multinational to learn to express themselves? I think not. On the film’s site, the tab for this project is simply “Nike Workshops.” Ew.

I think this a bad move on Nike’s part — if Swoosh Inc. wants to do something good for the kids, then just do it (to borrow a phrase) and for once keep your logo to yourself.

I also just think it’s, you know, a general all-around bummer.

Not that any of this will stop me from seeing the doc. In fact I wish I could make it to the U.S. premier, in New York City, tonight.

In The New York Times Magazine: KAWS

New Looks
An established art entrepreneur makes his way into a new realm — the art world.

This week in Consumed, Brian Donnelly, a/k/a KAWS, and the relationship between art, markets, and value.

At 33, Brian Donnelly is enjoying a successful art career. Working out of a studio in Brooklyn, he has sold paintings to Pharrell Williams, the rapper and producer; Nigo, the designer-entrepreneur; and Takashi Murakami, the international art star, among others. He has also created a variety of products including toys, apparel and even pillows — and indeed he has his own store, Original Fake, in Tokyo. He has also been widely known in the “street art” world for years; one of his early altered-phone-booth-ad posters recently traded hands on eBay for $22,000. One thing Donnelly had not done until lately, however, is forge a relationship with a dealer or art gallery. This wasn’t because he shunned or had a problem with the traditional gallery system. He says it’s just that “nobody asked.”

[Now he has a bunch of gallery shows and relationship with a gallerist who] figures there’s another market for his work. “I think it needs to get out there in the art world,” she says.

Read the whole column in the August 3, 2008, issue of The New York Times Magazine, or right here.

Additional links*: KAWS site; Donnelly’s blog; Edward Winkleman’s blog; John Jay’s blog; Gering & López Gallery site.

Consumed archive is here, and FAQ is here. Consumed Facebook page is here.

[*QUESTION: I used to do this “additional links” thing all the time, then I stopped. Is it useful? Do you want it? Please let me know.]

Nike to “homage” brand Mike: Cease and desist

A while back (January 29, 2006) I did a column on a small New York-based brand called Mike, created by Scott Nelson. As I noted at the time, much about Mike’s design referenced Nike. I wrote:

Nelson is not trying to pass off his clothing as Nike goods, in the manner of a Canal Street counterfeiter. Nor is he engaging in some kind of subversive satire, like AdBusters magazine’s famous twisting of Joe Camel into a dying and bedridden Joe Chemo. “I’m strictly paying homage,” he says, adding that he doesn’t expect any trouble. He did talk to a lawyer first and says he believes he has tweaked everything enough to be on the right side of the law, but that’s not the real reason he’s confident. “If anything,” he says, “I’m helping their brands.”

My interest in Mike — or rather Mike 23 Inc. — was precisely this unusual thing – it was a kind of tribute brand, and I’d not seen anything quite like that before.

And for about two years following that column, it seemed that Nelson was correct in not worrying about trouble from Nike, because none was forthcoming.

Recently, however, Nelson got in touch to tell me that this has changed. Nike has sent him a cease and desist. Read more

In The New York Times Magazine: KRINK

A specialty ink with a graffiti past aims for the broader market.

Back in the 1990s, graffiti writer KR invented his own ink. Over time, KR’s ink has become KRINK, a brand of inks and markers (and T-shirts sold at places like Colette and Alife.)

Of course KR, now known as Craig Costello, isn’t positioning KRINK as vandal supplies, but rather as a creative tool. For one thing, the market for the street art aesthetic and influence is a lot bigger than the market of actual street artists.

Read the column in the February 24, 2008 issue of The New York Times Magazine, or right here.

Consumed archive is here, and FAQ is here. Consumed Facebook page is here.

Shoes, lifestyle, and the absurd

I think is really absurd for a sneaker to represent a lifestyle, it is really absurd to me. Somehow, these shoe companies have managed to insert themselves into people’s identity through repetition, through sponsorship deals, where they really hammer it down that shoes are a status symbol. But at some point in time people are going to realize that that is the most absurd thing.

So says Ian MacKaye, in this long interview with a site called Black Lodges. He talks about the Nike/Minor Threat stuff, and also about running Dischord, and more broadly about the “lifestyle” idea (which he makes quite clear doesn’t interest him in the least).

I came upon it by way of The Hundreds’ blog, where Bobby Hundreds briefly recounts approaching MacKay for his blessing on a Fugazi-lyric-inspired T-shirt, which evidently MacKaye begged off on giving, and so I guess there will be no such shirt.

Related previous items: Q&A with Anne Elizabeth Moore about her book Unmarketable, in which MacKaye and the Nike/Minor Threat incident figures prominently; Minor Threat Hot Sauce; “Brand Underground” article in which The Hundreds figure prominently, as does the idea of “representing a lifestyle.”

New merch for Nike metafans

NikeTalk, the massive sneakerhead chat community (claiming 64,000+ registered users), is finally selling branded merch, Freshnessmag reports. So if it’s not enough for you to express your Nike fandom by wearing Nike products, or by communicating with others about Nike products, you might want to get a product that commemorates your participation in communication about Nike products. In other words, you will be not simply fan, but a fan of  the form of fandom in which you are participating. A metafan.

In other news, Freshness also notes the new round of Nike T’s commemorating all things Dunk-y. Maybe it’s just me, but they seem pretty weak.

Nike and the brand underground in the WSJ

Yes, as a matter of fact, the Wall Street Journal’s front-page story today on Nike “tapping influencers” is several years late. But it’s still worth reading. (And at least they got it. While I’ve mentioned things like Futura and Mr. Cartoon, to name two examples in the piece, doing Nike stuff in the past, my own attempts to get an interview with Mark Parker a couple of years ago were totally stonewalled. Oh well.) In particular I liked this bit:

Not everyone is so anxious to see Nike roll into new turf. Recently, designer Steve “Birdo” Guisinger, owner of a small but influential Santa Cruz, Calif., retailer called Consolidated Skateboards, painted three wheel-less skateboard “decks” with images that lampooned Nike’s attempts to craft a more street-smart image. The board depicting Mr. Parker shows him in a T-shirt with flame tattoos running up one arm and a chauffeured white limousine waiting behind him.

Mr. Guisinger says the parody was meant to “raise awareness,” about the “behind the scenes jockeying that was going on with [Nike’s] attempt to enter the skateboard industry.”

Nike’s response was characteristically in-your-face. Global design head Sandy Bodecker — shown on one of the boards with a sales projection chart and a brown nose — purchased them on eBay and recently displayed them proudly in a prototype for a Nike retail concept store. “I personally was very pleased to be in such august company” he says.


There’s also some material about Os Gêmeos. I was sort of pitched about Os Gêmeos at one point, but my interest was entirely in the role that Nike played in basically establishing them in the U.S. scene, and I was told that nobody involved was really interested in talking to me about that angle. But you get a decent sense of it here — Parker introduced them to the Deitch gallery, etc. So, again, the broad theme of the piece isn’t going to surprise anyone who’s been paying attention, but they got some facts.

Ghetto Grocery T: Funny?

Freshness recently offered a look at the latest from Upper Playground, including the T above. I’m not sure what to think about it.

aNYthing update

I heard something about this a month or so ago but had not had time to confirm:

It’s official: Aaron Bondaroff aka A-Ron, no longer has anything to do with aNYthing, the very brand he created and that was profiled extensively in both the New York Times Magazine and the Post, not to mention numerous magazines and blogs. The ‘Downtown Don’ apparently didn’t have any kind of deal ironed out and somehow managed to hand his entire company over to an investor he took on.

See the Complex post for a bit more, including talk of a trademark infringement lawsuit.

A-Ron’s new(ish) online home is The New York Glob.

I’ll try to get a bit more on all this in the weeks ahead.

Q&A: Indie branding, the thesis

A few months back I got an interesting email from a graduate student at the Savannah College of Art and Design, Greta Ackerman. She was working on her thesis show, “The Ironic Brand.” It centered on the indie clothing brand Barking Irons, which she’d read about in the brand underground story last year.

Surprised as I was to hear this (I’ve had articles cited in academic papers and articles and books and so on, but this was a new one for me), she was even more surprised to learn that I live in Savannah. So I was quite happy to chat with her at the time, and to check out her actual thesis show here last month. It was impressively comprehensive, exploring print ads, online material, outdoor, even direct mail. The over-arching theme was how an underground brand can sell more without selling out.

Ms. Ackerman was of course at the opening, too — but she had to come in from out of town. She’s now a designer for Merkley i.D., a division of Merkley + Partners in New York. I decided to pester her with a few quick questions about the thesis project, and she graciously obliged.

Q: Let’s start with the obvious: Why this thesis subject, and why this brand?

I’m a fine art student-turned-advertising-designer, so I’ve spent a lot of time toggling between art for art’s sake and art with a commercial purpose. People, especially design students struggling to find a voice, often harp on designers who have “sold out,” applying their design skills or their artistic vision to a corporation to help them draw a profit.

The way I see it, there’s no shame in making a living, but there’s a lot about big business and the way it advertises and brands itself that turns me off. I was attracted by a group of brands on a mission to sell without being perceived as sell-outs, who had a greater purpose than simply profit (although some profit would be nice). I wanted to find out if that was even possible, and if so, how advertising could play a role, even a nontraditional role, in that process.

Barking Irons spoke to me as a brand trying to grow without losing its integrity, but it stood out against some of its fellow indie brands because of its old aesthetic. Read more

Q&A: The Hundreds, a year later

I’ve been meaning for a while to catch up with The Hundreds, one of the subjects of the brand underground article I did for the NYT Magazine a while back. At that time, founders Ben and Bobby Hundreds were just starting to venture beyond T-shirts. Now they regularly produce jeans, button-down shirts, shorts, and so on. They have a spinoff brand for women called Tens. They’ve opened up their own store (on Rosewood near Fairfax in Los Angeles), and have about 10 employees, plus part-timers and interns. Of course, they also still make T-shirts, both their own and with collaborators like Shalom and others. Bobby Hundreds still finds time to write thoughtful stuff on the brand’s blog — and to answer Q’s from me. Here goes.

Q: I think it’s been a good year for The Hundreds — new brands, new store, etc. But before we get to that, what’s been the biggest disappointment, frustration, or surprising challenge of the past year?

I guess the most surprising thing is that we have virtually no complaints! We’re kinda wrapped up in our own world, so we pay no mind to gossiping, politics or negativity that seems to circle the scene. We love what we do, just as much if not more as when we first started. We’re surrounded with a strong, positive crew of friends and employees who are passionate about the brand. And most importantly, we have a loyal following of supporters worldwide who are dedicated to The Hundreds. So how can I be disappointed or frustrated by anything?

If I remember right, you were financing the Hundreds completely on its own profits — that is, no loans and no investors. Have you kept that business structure or have you gotten financing of some kind?

I am very happy to say that as of date, we have still yet to receive backing from an investor or loan institution. The Hundreds is still being operated completely off of our own initial funds from our personal bank accounts.

We really did start the brand off of $200 from each of our pockets, which should be a testament that you don’t need a greedy corporation behind you to make a name for yourself in this industry. Read more

To Do in Savannah, GA tonight

Reception for Greta Ackerman Advertising Design M.F.A. Exhibition: “The Ironic Brand.” Monday, 6-8 p.m., Alexander Hall Gallery, 668 Indian St., Savannah, Ga.

Savannah College of Art and Design advertising design M.F.A. candidate Greta Ackerman’s thesis exhibition is an experiment in brand communication and advertising design. Ackerman seeks to express how one anti-mainstream brand, Barking Irons, can engage in self-promotion without sacrificing edgy authenticity.

You will of course recall that Barking Irons was one of the subjects of the Brand Underground article from last summer, so I’m quite keen to see this. For those of you who can’t make it to Savannah tonight, I’ll report back here later this week.