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.

Advertisements

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

Chanel Mobile Art Container by Zaha Hadid Opens in Central Park

October 20, 2008

“Mobile Art”, a slick UFO-like exhibition space designed by architect Zaha Hadid and commissioned by Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel, has arrived at Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield (off Fifth Avenue and 69th Street). The traveling container for about 20 Chanel-inspired projects (very kindly misbilled as contemporary art installations — don’t be fooled: it’s corporate branding) by a rotating list of international producers will be open to the public from October 20 to November 9.

The promotional-spectacle-disguised-as-art container is on a two-year worldwide tour. Launched in Hong Kong in February 2008, it traveled to Tokyo before arriving in New York. In November, it continues onto London, then Moscow, and finally Paris in 2010. (These stops probably represent the fashion house’s most lucrative markets, yes?)

Adrian Benepe, NY’s Parks & Recreation Commissioner, is ever-eager to further the corporate takeover of public space, aka public-private partnerships:

Our partnership with Chanel continues the great tradition of bringing world class cultural offerings to New York City’s parks… Zaha Hadid’s traveling pavilion will place a futuristic work of architecture and outstanding works of contemporary art in an historic setting in the heart of Central Park. The contrast will be fantastic, melding the vision of one of the world’s most important fashion houses with the beauty of one of the world’s most significant works of landscape design.

Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s Fashion President, is ever-eager to equate the company’s products with art:

Mobile Art was conceived as a project that examines the relationship between contemporary art, fashion and architecture. The project pushes the boundaries of the Chanel aesthetic by joining these mediums and creating an innovative artistic experience. As envisioned by Karl Lagerfeld, the project explores the role fashion plays in the everyday life of women through symbolic evocations of the Chanel quilted handbag.

ACK. In the midst of today’s economy, this recalls Marie-Antoinette’s response when she was told that the French had no bread to eat: “Let Them Eat Cake!”


Palin (aka Fey Lookalike) to Appear on SNL?

October 9, 2008

On MSNBC‘s News You Can’t Use: Sarah Palin may take on Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live/SNL this week. Whoa!

Fey’s hilarious and scathing performances as the Republican Party’s desperate and ill-conceived pick for VP are spreading like wildfire. The physical resemblance is uncanny. And Fey definitely capitalizes on Palin’s patent on fake-adorable prairie-pinscher. In a sense, one could say that Fey constructs and deconstructs a simulacrum: a simulation of a simulation, or a copy of a copy (think Disneyworld).

If MSNBC’s sources are accurate, Palin taking on Fey on SNL would indeed be a spectacular feedback loop. Not art imitating life or life imitating art. Just a copy wrestling with a copy.

It will definitely be a good day for arts and entertainment — but a bad, sad day for politics. I can’t wait: the imperial GOP wolf outfitting itself yet again in sheep’s clothing. Now THAT’s a joke.


A Dinosaur in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport

July 11, 2008

Curious grand gestures in public space:

Chicago’s O’Hare Airport has this huge replica of a Brachiosaurus skeleton, a plant-eating dinosaur that apparently lived 150 million years ago. I’d love to meet the airport officials who approved this. Fascinating for its extreme absurdity — and its innovative use of the atrium’s verticality.

Bloomberg, we need one of these at JFK! Okay, outside JFK would be cool too. Attracts tourists. Just like those $15 million fabricated waterfalls. Probably cheaper.


Two Artworks Use People as Primary Material

July 7, 2008

Regular People: it’s the art material of the moment.

Last week, Turner Prize winner Antony Gormley won a turn at creating a temporary public artwork for London’s Trafalgar Square. The site is the square’s empty fourth plinth, which has become both a stage for contemporary art experiments and a critical platform from which to question what constitutes a “public”.

The piece is called “The One and The Other”. 2,400 volunteers will occupy the plinth one at a time, for an hour each, 24/7 for a hundred days. These human subjects individually and collectively become the art objects.

In the Independent, Gormley describes:

It’s an opportunity to perform an act of collective creativity, people contributing one hour of their lives that represents Britain now… the exercise will present a national portrait of this time.

…it will be a moment of theatre, someone lifted from common ground and made into an image when they are on top of the plinth … It will be a spectacle, but I’m also concerned about the subjects, what they learn about themselves, exposed in a public arena.

Over at the Tate, another Turner prize winner Martin Creed is exhibiting his new piece “Work No 850”. It consists of a runner sprinting the entire length of the Tate’s neoclassical sculpture galleries. The 86-metre sprints will be “performed” every 30 seconds, from 10am to 6pm, for four months.

In the Telegraph, Creed explains:

Running is the opposite of being still. If you think about death as being completely still and movement as a sign of life, then the fastest movement possible is the biggest sign of life. So running fast is like the exact opposite of death – it’s an example of aliveness.

While both artists are saying that they are celebrating human-ness, these projects (and similar others) make me uncomfortable. I can’t help thinking that regular people are being turned into material objects intended for display and commodification.

There’s a deep, underlying violence to these creative acts. And neither artist seems to have a clue.

In 1904, a 22-year old pygmy named Ota Benga was taken from his home in the Congo, exhibited at the St. Louis World’s Fair, and then put on display as a caged animal in the Bronx Zoo. 40,000 visitors came each day. (He was “rescued” but eventually killed himself.)

It’s 2008. I’m not sure how these artists differ from Ota Benga’s zookeepers a hundred years ago. As they say, the more things change…


Life For Sale On eBay Posts New Sequel: Do We Care?

July 3, 2008

The eBay auction for Ian Usher’s entire life is officially over. The winning bid: AU$399,300 (US$380,286). Unfortunately for Usher, it’s about $100,000 less than what he’d expected. (I suppose everyone’s got recession worries.)

The question is, What’s Next? For starters: a sequel-website. Usher’s original website, http://www.alife4sale.com, now has a link to Part 2: http://www.100goals100weeks.com.

AAARRRGGGGHuhhh.

This move, of course, is part of a not-so-new trend of living one’s life in a collective time and space. We’re way beyond tv culture, and now wading deep into YouTube waters. Life no longer mimics tv content. It IS content — and it’s being documented and broadcasted (or slivercasted) in realtime.

I can’t help thinking about Jim Carrey in “The Truman Show“, a movie released in 1999. From the moment of birth, Truman Burbank’s life is broadcast 24/7 on live tv — without his knowledge or consent. Less than a decade later, we hear of thousands willingly auditioning for the chance to get on reality tv. A chance to live and tell all in public.

As technology allows us to record and archive ever-increasing hordes of data with minimal material costs, we’re seeing more and more of these representations. The itch to document one’s self, one’s loves, one’s property — every moment from every angle — is now getting scratched all the time.

The question becomes: what’s the point of so much information? Really, who cares?

There’s a difference between a photograph, a film, and a video. A photo captures a single frame. Film captures 24 frames per second. HD is at 60 frames per second. Not everything has to be recorded on HD! My point on this tangent being: Edit! Much ado about nothing is, well, boring.

Move on, Usher. Move on.