The Yes Men’s New York Times Edition: Iraq War Ends

November 12, 2008

yesmen_nytThe Yes Men deliver another fake! BBC reports that the interventionist art/activist group distributed 1.2 million free copies of a fake New York Times edition in New York and Los Angeles. The headlines: Iraq War Ends. The date: July 4, 2009. Replacing the NYT’s venerable “All The News That’s Fit To Print”: All The News We Hope To Print.

70 years ago, Orson Welles’ radio broadcast “War of the Worlds” sparked mayhem because listeners mistook scripted fiction for real-time fact. Today, The Yes Men are taking this a step further by simply turning the dates forward.

Is this a fake NYTimes, as the BBC describes the action? Or is it prophetic? Is this a fake-real paper or a real-fake paper?

Certainly, my fingers are crossed that come July 4th, 2009, the NYTimes WILL, in fact, read: Iraq War Ends.

Ah… art. One small step for The Yes Men, a big leap for humankind. Nothing like putting something out into the universe I’m told.

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Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk at Columbia University Tonight

November 11, 2008

pamukFor people in New York:

Orhan Pamuk speaks with Andreas Huyssen at Rennert Auditorium, Kraft Center at Columbia University on Tuesday, 11/11/08 – 6:15pm. The event is free. Seating is on a first come, first served basis.

Pamuk was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006. The first Turkish citizen to win a Nobel, he accepted with this speech, in Turkish.


Old Media Dips Into New Media Waters

November 10, 2008

In Ars Technica today: film studio MGM has partnered with video-sharing site YouTube to deliver full-length movies online. In the NYTimes: book publishers have signed a deal with e-giant Google (which also owns YouTube) to sell electronic versions of out-of-print, copyrighted works.

Both are obviously landmark deals that test possible unions between old and new media — parties that have been wary of each other, but whose business futures are hugely co-dependent.

Both also highlight a persistent (historically-pressing) need to redefine/rethink the role of the media creator (authors, musicians, visual artists, etc.). And her rights to her own produced, reproduced, and distributed works.

The 2007-8 Writers’ Strike is just one vivid illustration that the increasingly digital and transnational mediascape has far outgrown already-deficient intellectual property protections.

As more and more of old media creeps into the internet, the challenge will be to keep new media from morphing into the closed institutions and lopsided relationships it sought to tear down. The more things change the more they stay the same?

Let’s hope greater reach translates into greater financial support for media creators, not just middlemen. Information wants to be free! Yes, indeed. But artists need to be protected and compensated as well.

Note: Larry Lessig (Stanford University/Creative Commons) talked about copyrights and creative freedoms at this enlightening TedTalk back in March 2007.

The Glaring Absence of a U.S. Department of Culture

November 7, 2008

200px-ussealThere’s been much excitement and speculation about how Obama will staff his Executive Office. With Joe Biden Jr. as VP (link to the Senate) and Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff (link to the House), the search is on for 15 new Cabinet members*: Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health/Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing/Urban Dev’t, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, Veterans Affairs, and the Attorney General.

What missing? Secretary of Culture.

Call me biased, but pretty much all the most powerful nations in the world have one. There are Ministers or Secretaries of Culture in France, England, China, India, Russia, Brazil, Spain, Italy. And so on and so on.

It’s the 21st Century: America needs one.

Obama’s victorious campaign itself proves that images, words, beliefs, attitudes, narratives, and aspirations can bind us together, powerfully, as a nation (and tear us apart — as Dubya’s violent legacy proves).

Culture — the ideas, practices, and ideals people share — is a dynamic and critical apparatus of any nation-state. Mightier than steel, as Obama wisely put in his acceptance speech. More primal than religion, if I may add.

In these dark, fractious days, the strength of American Culture/s (or at least, the belief in it) just might be that magical something, that je ne sais quoi, that pulls us through to a new and better era.

So, I’m putting this out into the blogosphere: Secretary of Culture, Please!

(Cultural Council would be cool too.)

*For posterity, here’s a pdf of Dubya’s Cabinet.

Free Obama Toy (with a Catch)!

November 6, 2008

obamadoll

Amazon.com had this ad up today. It’s funny enough on its own. Then I thought, there’s an even funnier role reversal here. Shouldn’t they be offering a free McCain doll with purchase of an Obama doll? I’m assuming that popular demand for the winner’s doll would be greater than that of the loser’s. I mean, generally, who pays for the loser’s memorabilia? (That’s akin to buying holiday decorations on the day after. What’s the point, right?)

Maybe Obama’s popularity is so strong right now that a free Obama toy WILL actually get someone to shell out the big bucks for a McCain doll?

Maybe there are some microtrend market studies out there that say more McCain supporters happen to be toy collectors as well. Or maybe more toy collectors happen to support McCain. Who knows.

Get yours while supplies last!


70 Years Ago: Orson Welles Broadcasts “The War of the Worlds”

October 30, 2008

On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater on the Air broadcast a radio play based on H. G. Wells’ science-fictional work, “The War of the Worlds“. The hyperrealistic play about an invasion of Earth by Martians created mass hysteria among thousands of radio listeners who had tuned into WABC and CBS’ radio network from 8 to 9 that evening.

The next day, the New York Times reported on the historic event:

Despite prior announcements and an introduction about the play’s imaginary content, thousands of listeners believed an alien invasion had indeed begun. Police stations and newspapers nationwide, but particularly in New York and New Jersey (non-fictional site of the fictional alien attacks), were swamped with frantic calls for help and rescue.

After the event, CBS, Mercury Theater, and Welles expressed their profound regrets at having stirred up so much fear, anger, and panic. Ironically, Welles disclosed that he had hesitated about presenting the play because he thought that “perhaps people might be bored or annoyed at hearing a tale so improbable”.

70 years ago today, the great Orson Welles tapped into the power of mass media and the lure of dramatic narrative — and unexpectedly, revealed how much we want to believe.


Right to Humor Trumps Sarkozy’s Lack of Humor

October 29, 2008

Today, a French court rejected President Nicolas Sarkozy’s demand for a ban on a Sarkozy voodoo doll released by French company K&B earlier this month. According to BBC, the Paris judge ruled that the doll was “within the authorized limits of free expression and the right to humour”.

The voodoo kit includes a manual, a doll emblazoned with some of the president’s more memorable quotes (including “Get Lost You Pathetic Asshole” and “Work More To Earn More”), and pins for users to stick into the doll.

Sarkozy’s lawyer had argued that like any French person, Sarkozy owned the right to his own image, which was violated by the sale of the doll. According to the Guardian, the highly litigious president has been ridiculed by his critics for launching the legal action — his sixth lawsuit since his election. The doll has become a must-have.

Earlier this year, Sarkozy and wife Carla Bruni won a case against Ryanair for using their image in a Paris newspaper ad without permission. Sarkozy has also launched a legal case against another company that produces novelty T-shirts bearing his name and a target sign, saying “Sarkozy Tolerance Zero”.

Whatever happened to Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité ?

Photo: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty images