Author Archives: GG

The Horror: Cash for Ukeleles

Smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, far, far away from any significantly large land mass or continent sit the Hawaiian Islands. This archipelago is a well-known paradise full of lush flora, beautiful beaches, dramatic mountain ranges, gorgeous waterfalls, volcanic landscapes and a warm, balmy climate where the water and air temperature are roughly equal year around. For better or worse, it’s a tourist mecca, but still a genuine paradise nonetheless.

Yet there’s a darker side.

It’s often overlooked that Hawaii is home to over a million people! A MILLION people hunkered down on a few small islands in the middle of the Pacific. That’s a million-plus humans planted on the most remote islands in the world! Most of these people are on the island of Oahu and its modern capital city Honolulu. There you’ll find all the features of a large metroplis — Freeways, skyscrapers, multi-level luxury shopping malls, and hipster-run third-wave coffee shops serving creative and obscure espresso-based beverages!

And like almost any major city there are homeless, crime, and some strata of economic misfortune. The last may be most visibly measured in the number of pawn shops in a city, easily spotted in the evening by cheap neon signage that cut right to the chase of the transaction terms.  

It’s a telling sign of contemporary Hawaiian culture when the pawn shop specifically says it offers cash for ukeleles, like the one pictured here in the Kaimuki neighborhood of Honolulu.

The iconic ukelele is Hawaii’s major modern contribution to the world of music and has become a symbol of its culture, even though it was invented in the 1800s and inspired by a Portuguese stringed instrument. Which makes it all the more poignant that there’s probably a person somewhere in Hawaii who is at this moment contemplating pawning their beloved uke so they can pay an unexpected medical bill or make their car payment. That neon sign, and the financial distress it implies, is in stark contrast to every popular image of America’s 50th state.

It’s paradise. But not for everyone, it seems.

Street Art Begs Passersby to “Stop Making Stupid People Famous” – We Disagree!

On the surface, the sentiment seems straightforward, sensible and pleasantly righteous enough: “Stop making stupid people famous.”

That sounds like a great idea. After almost two decades of Hiltons, Karadashians, a Richie, assorted “House Wives of …” and bearded redneck dynasties AND Honey Boo Boo, as well as countless reality shows of the type that require participants to compete not on vocational skill, but on guile, personality and the whims of flaky group politics, well, we’ve easily seen a lot of stupid people made famous.

And it seems just plain wrong that stupid people should be famous, that idiocy and narcissism, and bad behavior should be rewarded with the financial spoils and celebrity that most hard-working people will never even get close to in their lifetimes, even if they aspire to it.

So the sentiment to stop making stupid people famous is well-placed and understandable.

But we’re going to disagree.

Making stupid people famous is an industry and it’s not going to stop in the foreseeable future, not until people (audiences) lose interest in watching stupid people. It’s the watching of them that makes them famous. Yes, they may be stupid and undeserving and crude and base, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not interesting. In fact, they can be very interesting. #sad.

At minimum, in the lowest-common denominator way, stupid people doing stupid things on TV is very entertaining. Packaged the right way, a lot of people will want to witness all the above variations of stupid-famous-people behavior (what we refer to as “SFP bevavior”).

This entertainment just can’t be “created” in the same way as a TV comedy or drama is. Though the set-ups, scripting and scenes may be planned ahead of time by a cadre of writers and producers, and reality TV shows are full-scale “productions,” and though reality TV stars are playing to — or are at least aware of — the camera, their behavior, even when easily predictable, is unscripted and often hammy and this can be fascinating, entertaining, cringe-worthy, amusing, laughable, intriguing, offensive and simultaneously all of above rolled into one. Because they’re not actors and because they’re not “acting.” And maybe because they’re a little stupid.

The sentiment  and argument doesn’t just apply to reality TV stars, of course, but to others in the industrial-entertainment-media complex: Super models, film and television actors, musicians, politicians. Not all, not most, but a damn lot.

Takeaway: We need somebody to unassailably, righteously roll our eyes at and laugh at, somebody who is a deserving target, and somebody we can point to as a cautionary tale and as a teachable example of how not to be, how not to be an intelligent, decent human being.

Full disclosure: We once appear on a very popular mid-2000s reality TV show with Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie called “The Simple Life 2: Interns.” We appear on camera with these stars for less than 15 seconds.

 

Nostalgic Street Art Desperately Pines for ’80s NYC Cool

There’s a mini-era of years in the early 1980s in New York City when Andy Warhol, Grace Jones and Afrika Bambaata were each their own hot streak of underground influence and cultural relevance.

Warhol the uber-successful pop artist now in the latter part of his enormous career, as iconic himself with his shock of white hair as his Campbell’s Soup cans 20 years earlier.

Grace Jones, an androgynous alien born of art and post-disco club music, who was a Bond villain and a model.

Afrika Bambaataa, the genius behind one of early commercial hip-hop’s most influential, ground-breaking tunes, “Planet Rock,” and true pioneers of the genre from its Bronx roots through to the MTV music video era.

At the time, each was very much a product of NYC and helped define the look, style and sound far-reaching beyond its immediate place and time.

These are cultural heroes. In SoHo, downtown NYC, somebody ephemerally enshrined them as images on old, worn, black wooden door.

Ok, that’s cool.

But there’s something nostalgic about this. No doubt, the greatness and bona fides of these pop-cultural icons of cool is timeless and legit, and it’s great to know these influences and appreciate them, but the shrine feels like a momentary lapse of facile nostalgia, which, frankly, saddens us.

The Warhol-Jones-Bambaataa street art shrine feels suddenly like a cheap, all-too-easy artwork as wistful signifier of a deliriously idealized memory trigger of good times, of doing lines of coke at a SoHo loft party filled with downtown art-scene celebrities and a television showing MTV music videos with the sound turned down. A party where the DJ in the corner is playing Duran Duran records,  while the actual members of Duran Duran mingle with the actual Andy Warhol off to the side a few feet away. It feels like escape from the present and pining for a “better” time.

That’s sounds like it would have been a fun party. But we want to focus on the 2017, and we want new art to speak to the present and the future, even with all the scary, crazy political weirdness going on in America right now. In fact, we need to focus on the present and future BECAUSE of the all the scary, crazy political weirdness going on.

Art Installation of Giant Cigarette Butts Elicits Barely A Remark at Whitney Museum

News flash, kids! Times change! What was shocking once, now evokes a weary “Meh!” When that crushing realization is made, it can be kind of depressing for some, forcing people to ask themselves “What’s it all mean?” and to think really hard for a moment about one’s ever-shrinking relevance and relative smallness in the scheme of the Universe.

Or, to put it another way: Some shit just don’t resonate anymore and nobody gives a flying f*ck.

The artist Claes Oldenburg and his chief collaborator Coosje van Bruggen, a GIANT of post-modern pop art probably best known for his literally GIANT artworks, may have elicited “Oohs” and “Aahs” when his art installation of a GIANT ashtray overflowing with GIANT cigarette butts hit the public back in the day. The artwork is titled “Giant Fagends” (which might be funny to some subset of rural American teenage boys) and was created way before our time in 1967. (In case you didn’t know, “Fagends” is the British English word for cigarette butts.) It is a major artwork by a major artist that any major museum or serious major collector would be stoked to have in their major collection.

But spotting this fun and playful artwork with a sudden rush of art-nerd enthusiasm in the Whitney Museum in New York City, we were a bit surprised to see so many museum visitors — uh, almost everybody, actually — walk by it with scarcely an intrigued glance during a 10-minute period.

First, this says something about Whitney Museum visitors, which is a mix of aforementioned art-nerds, art-worlders, hipsters, students and tourists. Art-nerds and many art-worlders aside, lot of them don’t know shit about art, or they’re tired or bored and don’t even want to be at the museum.

And, for the art-nerds/-worlders and hipsters and those who are interested in art and do want to be at the museum, there’s just so damn much to see at the Whitney. Sure, it’s not the gargantuan MoMA, but it’s still huge. It’s a treasure trove of an art collection and is among the finest in the world. But it can be exhausting. (Granted, this is pretty much true for any major museum.) 

More importantly,  it says something about where art is at, mon amis!  With each passing hour, “Giant Fagends” has to compete for human attention with an ever-faster, ever-growing body of artworks and media, in the museum, in the city, on the streets, in other galleries, on the Internet, on your iPhone, in your InstaSnapFaceTwitter feed.

But don’t despair. In the five decades since Oldenburg birthed “Giant Fagends,” contemporary art as we know has evolved and arrived in greater volume, in more mediums (media?), at greater scale and in more surprising ways, in an exponential explosion of richly diverse creative output, that is more than we can keep track up in our present uber-information-over-loaded era. Hooray and awesome!

And this is a testament to the power and influence of Oldenburg’s work and other artists and artworks like it. It was ground-breaking, pioneering, original and genius, and it opened the minds of creators and viewers alike to the possibilities of what art was and could be, where it was going, where it could go.

Sooooooo. Amen. Word. #shook. Go to the Whitney — and if you’re lucky! — “Giant Fagends” will still be on view.