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Media Identity


My niece, Casey Jones, (yes that’s really her name) is a really gifted young fashion designer fresh out of Philadelphia College of Textiles.  Her first gig is working for L.A.M.B the Gwen Stefani line of clothes that premiered big-time this Friday on the runways in New York.  There was an article in the New York Times magazine a while back that talked about what’s happening to fashion and refers to the L.A.M.B. line.  Seems that clothing lines are being launched that are tagged to celebrities, which is nothing new. What is new is that they cater to an accelerated business cycle where the line is produced in limited quantity, a media buzz is created, and when the sales of the line start to fall, the company is trashed or sold.  What happens with the young people working on the line is that they are given the lowest wages possible and the longest working hours possible. There’s no job security because they know that as soon as the line goes stale they’re out of a job.  

What’s even more problematic is that the celebs are claiming they are the designers, which is not true. The celebs work with real designers and marketers to implement the line.  The young people buying the clothes go for the celebrity labels as a status symbol.  The real designers are being subsumed by celebrity; put another way, mass media, or image within mass media has become more important than craft, or design or art. The designer is being demoted to labor or rather the appeal of the artist’s vision has been replaced by the appeal of celebrity.

I had made reference to this idea in a 1993 work of mine,  Terrorist Advertising this was way before reality TV and it’s predecessor on the web, the voyeurcam web sites.  Another piece, Tactics for Survival in the New Culture (1974-1995) also speaks to this issue. The idea is that unless one is represented in mass media in some way, one has no identity. This rings true for the art world as it does for the general public. This was one of the reasons I began to work in New Media, it seemed to be the only way to create an identity that was somewhat mediated. Media is reality.

I was at a very fancy private dinner party, for the opening of the Sara Tecchia Gallery, at a restaurant last week and was seated at a table with the producer of Iron Chef America. He was talking about how badly the relief effort was still being handled in the gulf. Indeed, he was going down to Gulfport, Mississippi to set up a feeding station for the police and rescue workers. The Food Network was financing this. It seems that after he had spoken to the red cross, FEMA and various Federal agencies with no guidance, he decided to go down there and do some direct, community service. When we were talking about Iron Chef America, he commented on how, in order to be a top chef nowadays, it wasn’t enough to be the best at your craft. You also needed to be able to present and act for mass media.

I remarked that in France the chefs were already celebrities. There were cults built up around famous restaurants and chefs. In America we need to put the chefs into media in order for them to become celebrities. Again this is subsumption by mass media.

One of the unintended consequences of the New Orleans disaster is that it has created a media identity for all the poor residents of New Orleans. No matter what the right wing Bush apologists try to do, they can’t counteract the image. We can only hope that America wakes up from the Bush hypnotic trance of paternalism and fear mongering.   

So there are new parameters to the media landscape. On the one hand it seems to me that any artists needs to manage their media image as well as create their work. On the other hand, there is a whole lot of room for actions that exist outside of MSM.