Flicker Interlude

Maryland State Fair – 2008, originally uploaded by Alan Barr.

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In The New York Times Magazine: TapouT


This week in Consumed, a look at TapouT and other brands that “speak to the mixed-martial arts lifestyle.”

The vague term “lifestyle” is particularly vexing in this context. Perhaps clothing lines associated with surfing or hip-hop or Ralph Lauren suggest such a thing. But what “lifestyle” might we associate with one person kicking another in the face?

Read the column in the August 31, 2008, issue of The New York Times Magazine, or here.

–> Murketing readers will recall that I floated this subject here a few weeks ago and got some great comments that both convinced me this was worth pursuing as a column, and offered me a lot of excellent guidance in doing so. Thank you!

Consumed archive is here, and FAQ is here. The Times‘ Consumed RSS feed is here. Consumed Facebook page is here.

AntiFriday: Your weekly compendium of backlashes, dissent & critiques

First, just for the record, I’d like to express my disappointment that not one of you took me to task for publishing last week’s AntiFriday … on Thursday.

Okay let’s get on with it.

*. Via BB, a T shirt that riffs on the PBR logo, and also riffs off the various Christian T-shirts that riff off brand logos in general. (Examples of those here on Purgatorio.) Parody of parody, I guess.

*. Sex & The City wins the Film Whore award, for most brand placements, per The Independent: “The film, which declares in the opening scenes that life is all about ‘love and labels,’ features 25 fashion designers, eight shops, seven electronics brands, seven publications, seven food and drinks brands, five cosmetics companies, three car companies, and one airline.”

*. Amusing summation of flaws in Sears gamer ad: Kid is playing “a PlayStation 3 game, with an Xbox 360 controller”

*. Speaking of Banksy, Debbie Millman shares the street artist’s thoughts regarding the ad industry, here. Once again, I note in passing that my opinion of Banksy as a supposed King of Anti-ness and Artistic Purity is colored by having been approached some years ago by his publicist.

*. Accusation: Republican ad subliminally includes the word “hang” in the  background of an Obama clip.

*. PSFK points out the Urban Prankster blog.

*. WFMU’s Beware of the Blog links to a video in which “Capitalism takes a trip on the NYC subway.” I don’t really get it as anything beyond absurdity, but, here you go:

Flickr Interlude

Techno, originally uploaded by .BWJ..

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Hip-hop album cover aesthetics follow-up

In my recent writeup on the aesthetics that I associate with Cash Money records in New Orleans in the early 2000s, I was a little hasty  — and, as revealed in the comments to that post, a little sloppy.

Peter pointed out that the No Limit records also had the look, and that the look in many cases came from Pen & Pixel, a design firm in Houston. And Tree Frog passed along this Pen & Pixel retrospective from earlier this year, in which Not A Blogger declares the firm to be “the John Waters of the Hip Hop album art world.”

Apparently Pen & Pixel’s founder himself weighed in to that retrospective, to say that while that company is still around, he and other originals are gone, and now have a firm called Rapid Design Concepts.

He also says:

The company at its peak (1998-2001) was billing almost 6 million dollars a year and was producing more that 23 covers per week. Yes, some were cheesy, some were insane and some were amazing…but the main thing to remember was PPG was a business enterprise, its function was to please the customers…we had thousands of maverick ideas that would have pushed and developed Hip-hop graphics further and faster…but the clients demand for the “same ol’ Bling Bling, Ho’s and cars kept the monster fed.

Then other comments started coming in, many with questions about how particular covers were put together — what was intentionally “less finished” looking, etc. Pretty interesting.

One last bit from another of the P&P founder’s comments, speaking rather directly to the aesthetics issues that interest me:

I also find it funny when people comment on how terrible the covers were, yet these are the same covers that helped the largest hip-hop artists make Billions! (not millions) And are now featured in museums and galleries. The same covers that set a time period in musical history. So we were doing something right!

Thanks for the comments, Peter & Tree Frog.

Imaginary brand market gets more crowded

There were reports a while back that the imaginary brand Booty Sweat, a prop (so I read) in the Ben Stiller movie Tropic Thunder, would be released as a real product — like Brawndo (May 4, 2008 Consumed subject) — and supposedly in two different packages, one for the “urban” market, one for the “rural” market. (I don’t know about suburbs, exurbs, etc.)

I’ve now seen a few things suggesting it’s actually in stores, at least in some places. It’s made by Boston America, a novelty-manufacturer that does a lot of licensed goods, and it sounds to me more like a straight-up promotional proposition (given away at screenings). But it does seem to exist, for now at least. If you have encountered it and have thoughts, let me know.

Here is the loud and annoying Web site for the drink, where you are invited to bother your friends by telling them about Booty Sweat.

[For a roundup of other, non-imaginary brands appearing in Tropic Thunder, see Brand Channel’s Brand Cameo, which notes: “TiVo and Diet Coke are the true brandcameo stars of this movie that mocks not just movie stars, but every aspect of the film industry—even product placements.”]

Banksy vs. New Orleans’ top bomber?

Coudal links to a set of Flickr images apparently showing new work by Banksy, in New Orleans.

Of interest to me are this one and this one. These allude to something you may have noticed if you’ve spent time in New Orleans: Lots of squarish blocks of gray rolled-on paint, all over the place, blotting out what used to be graffiti or street art. The guy behind this is Fred Radtke, a/k/a The Gray Ghost: Basically an anti-graf zealot who rides around town and paints over every tag or other street art manifestation he sees, Radtke is a much-reviled figure among N.O. graffiti types.

This image below is not one of the ones linked above; it was taken some time later:

Originally uploaded by toaminorplace.

The earlier version had the guy painting over a flower; now the whole flower has been rollered out. By Radtke? Hard to say. Seems difficult to believe he would take the care evident here — but maybe he was flattered or amused by this.

Personally, I’ve always found Radkte to be perversely impressive. E and I were last in New Orleans in December (actually she’s been back since then), and the Gray Ghost’s blobby “work” was everywhere. I like his quote in this old article: “I know them all and they know me, absolutely,” he says of N.O. graffiti writers, and he knows they hate him. “But they understand,” he adds, “that I take out everything.” And it’s true: The guy is basically the king of kings in N.O. — the ultimate bomber.

Technology, lies, and your brain

Some time back PSFK linked to this essay, The Participatory Decepticon, which I’ve only now gotten around to reading. Basically, Jamais Cascio muses on the possibilities that arise from not just ubiquitous video technology — but also increasingly ubiquitous video-manipulation technology: “The crafting of political videos documenting candidate insults and errors that never happened.”

There are more than enough audio recordings out there of most major political candidates to allow political pranksters/”dirty tricksters” to make that candidate say just about anything; the cameraphone and flash video media offer insufficient clarity to be able to see if a candidate’s mouth is truly saying the words he or she seems to be saying.

Imagine a faked “Macaca Moment,” for instance.

“Such a deception wouldn’t stand for very long,” Cascio writes, “but would almost certainly last long enough set off a wave of furious blog posts and mainstream media attention.”

This reminded me of an NYT op-ed piece not so long ago titled “Your Brain Lies to You,” on the subject of “source amnesia,” and why it is that 10 percent of Americans somehow still believe that Barack Obama is Muslim. “Even when a lie is presented with a disclaimer,” the authors write, “people often later remember it as true.”

A false statement from a noncredible source that is at first not believed can gain credibility during the months it takes to reprocess memories from short-term hippocampal storage to longer-term cortical storage. As the source is forgotten, the message and its implications gain strength. This could explain why, during the 2004 presidential campaign, it took some weeks for the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign against Senator John Kerry to have an effect on his standing in the polls.

Even if they do not understand the neuroscience behind source amnesia, campaign strategists can exploit it to spread misinformation. They know that if their message is initially memorable, its impression will persist long after it is debunked. In repeating a falsehood, someone may back it up with an opening line like “I think I read somewhere” or even with a reference to a specific source.

In other words, if it does turn out that someone manages to get a phony video “out there,” debunking it might be more problematic that we’d assume.

And while I generally take a dim view of predictions, when I think about this one, it’s hard to imagine that it won’t happen before too long.

Signed ‘Buying In’ from Politics & Prose

dialogue, originally uploaded by drhaddow.

After the event at Politics & Prose earlier this month, I “signed stock,” meaning I signed some copies of the book for them to sell after I was gone etc. If you’re interested in a signed copy, you can buy one from them even if you don’t live in DC, online. Just specify in the comments field that you’re looking for a signed copy, and if they have any, you’ll get one. [Thanks again Becca & Mike.]

If you’ve missed the latest reviews & interviews, (USA Today, Harvard Business Review, etc.), go here.

[Image from the Murketing Flickr group]

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.

Milkvertising: Good? Bad? Both?

I’m on a deadline today and both too busy and too cranky to come up with something current and original. So meanwhile, this: Some months ago I bookmarked this item (via Commercial Alert):

Build-A Bear Workshop is teaming up with Milk Rocks to feature its virtual world, BuildaBearville.com, on 120 million milk cartons in 95,000 elementary schools.

Each milk carton will include facts about the site and a code for a free virtual milk carton….

The campaign is designed to be a fun way to promote health and nutrition and to encourage kids to drink milk, Build-A-Bear Workshop said….


It caught my eye because I once wrote about Build-A-Bear, and have written about virtual worlds several times. But I bookmarked it because I was curious about Milk Rocks. This seems to be an offshoot of Milk Media, which bills itself as “a pioneer in communicating with elementary, middle, and high school students.”

According to its about page, it started 10 years ago. Back then, dairies were using “self-created characters” on their packaging for the school market to promote their “pro-milk messages.” Milk Media “introduced the concept of branded cartons to forge relationships between sponsors who had characters that kids really cared about as a more effective tactic to make milk ‘Cool for Kids’.” The company says milk consumption in schools using its carts with characters such as Batman and Disney’s Doug is up 34%.

Next up came Milk Rocks, which involves a lot of pop celebrity tie-ins, and this video-loaded website, but which I frankly don’t understand.

I gather the overriding goal is to get kids to drink more milk by associating it with “cool” stuff.

I also assume that the motive for Build A Bear, or an participating brand owner or pop star is, on some level, self promotion. I mean, come on, getting our name/brand onto millions of milk cartons in schools, that’s a big deal, right? (Milk Media itself says it is “the ideal way to reach millions of students K-12 with a core target demographic of tweens and teens (ages 10-18).”

Clearly, this is not new. But what do you think of it? Noble? Creepy? Both?

Flickr Interlude

Originally uploaded by Morris Brum.

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Brand names. No, I mean *brand names.*

A piece in Salon offers a debriefing on the subject of “What’s up with black names, anyway?” Apart from being a generally well-done overview of the subject, it points to a March post on a blog called Stuff Black People Hate, titled “Stupid Names.” The category of interest to me is “Luxury Latch-Ons,” regarding which the blogger opines:

For whatever reason, black parents all over the country decided that naming their children after expensive things would bode good fortune for them throughout their lives. Consequently, there are legions of unfortunate people (mostly girls, again) with names like Chanel, Mercedes, Chandelier, and even Prada (yes, I did meet a girl named Prada, and it was the worst day of my life.)

To which Salon adds:

It is true that an unfortunate culture of naming children after brands of champagne or fancy cars has sprung up over recent years. “But that’s a class thing, not a race thing,” says Cleveland Evans [ID’d as “former president of the American Names Society”], noting that he has encountered twins named Camry and Lexus who were white. If you are poor and wish a better life for your kid, a name like Lexus declares that hope.

Flickr Interlude

Alienation, originally uploaded by Manuel Valcarce.

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The functional case for super-baggy pant: “ease of wear”

The big news on the front page of the local paper here yesterday was that Savannah is the latest city/town to ponder a ban on “below-the-rear” baggy pants. This absurdity aside, what’s interesting about the story is the section in which young baggy-pants-wearers defend their style.

Or rather, they say style isn’t really the issue at all. Because it turns out that their argument turns on function — low-riding baggy pants are all about “ease of wear.”

“I feel like a Pee-wee Herman when I have my pants up,” [Michael] Hodges said. “I need to feel comfortable.”

When the situation calls for it, [Calvin] Middleton said, he and his friends know when to change their look.

“When we go to church or have a job interview or go to school, we want to look presentable,” he said. “But we don’t want to walk around looking like a teacher all day.”

Middleton also disputed that the low-drawer look originated from prisoners, whose pants droop because they are not issued belts.

He said it began because so many young men were given their older brothers’ hand-me-down pants, which were usually too big. The fit was so comfortable, young men preferred wearing oversized pants, he said.

Adam Pinell, 17, has worn the below-the-waist look before, too. “It’s more comfortable,” he said.

I have a feeling Jonah Berger at Wharton, who studies this sort of thing, and who I interviewed for a 10/28/07  Consumed on counterfunctional watches, would zero in on that comment from the guy who doesn’t want to “walk around looking like a teacher.” That’s a style/identity motive — not a functional one. Counterfunctionality can make for a useful identity marker precisely because (in this case) it’s not likely that teachers are going to poach this young man’s style by wearing ill-fitting pants.

On the other hand … low & baggy pants have been around quite a while now, and perhaps it’s possible that their fit (or lack of fit) feels like the norm to a young guy who’s worn them that way since he was 12.

Dunno how uncomfortable you find the practice of wearing pants, or whether you wear pants at all, really. But: You buying the argument of these low-pants-wearers that it’s all about comfort?