Oops, don’t look too closely, or you might catch a glimpse of the collective nature of creativity! That’s the message from an article in yesterday’s The New York Times, “Hi, Gorgeous. Haven’t I Seen You Somewhere?” (August 28, 2005; registration firewall). The piece, by Fred A. Bernstein, looks at the remarkable similarities between buildings designed by different architects.
It is the nature of evil to wear us down. The drip-drip-drip of injustice and institutionalized greed, leave us both resigned and numb. Or else it insinuates itself into our lives until it becomes a new normal, and we cease to notice. Dictators understand this; Hitler turned the screws slowly. So too do corporations, which push the boundaries of the acceptable inch by inch instead of all at once.
I keep tripping across some clever and sophisticated remix works of video and music. It has gotten me wondering what it all means. Are these works ephemeral novelties that are captivating chiefly because they are unauthorized uses of mass-media product — a kind of cultural rebellion that we can’t help but love? Or do they herald a more serious and durable genre of culture that exemplifies the emerging networked environment?
Who said you need money or a marketplace in order to reap the benefits of exchange? A new movement is arising that is locally based, globally coordinated and altruistically motivated to get perfectly good stuff headed for the landfill into the hands of people who need it. Most of the exchanges occur through online notices that publicize what’s available and what things people are looking for. It’s not a market, it’s not barter, it’s not a flea market.
For a long time I’ve been pondering how exactly a commons is converted into a market, catalyzing the usual social inequities and pathologies. How is a lively civic culture with a particular local history and character (e.g., Main Street) transformed into an anonymous and anaesthetized arena of consumer fantasy (e.g., the shopping mall)?
I doubt Garrett Hardin ever met William H. Whyte, but he should have. Hardin of course was the academic who, in abstract and theoretical terms, declared the commons inherently “tragic.” He backtracked later, but it was too late. The tag stuck.
Whyte was the writer who spent years observing how people actually act and interact in public spaces. He walked the streets, sat with notebook in plazas and parks, set up cameras in unobtrusive places and spent endless hours studying the results. He could have told Mr. Hardin a thing or two.
Unlike the film and music industries, fashion has thrived by shunning strong property rights for its creative output. No one can “own” the herringbone jacket or the “little black dress.” Upstart entrepreneurs can make exact copies of gowns worn on the red carpet, and no one cries “piracy” and sues.
After years of being pummeled with the facts about America’s obesity crisis, the junk food industry is finally starting to show some bruises. It’s beginning to acknowledge, indirectly, that its marketing practices just might be related to the prevalence of fat, unhealthy children. While the industry still has the upper hand in Congress, the FTC and some state legislatures, it is clearly losing in the court of public opinion.
When I was researching my book of stories about copyright and trademark absurdities, I kept turning up stories that I thought could never be topped: the tattoo artist who secured a registered service mark on a full-body tattoo of angel wings (the ® is between the feathers on the person’s right buttock).
The President has declared war on what he calls “junk lawsuits,” but the only kind of legal action that seems to bother him is when ordinary people seek justice from large corporations. When the shoe is on the other foot — when the corporations are siccing their lawyers on you and me — there seems to be no problem.
We’ve all heard the justifications for the emerging property police state — the copyright term extensions, the international jihad on infringers, the government mandating of anti-copying technology and the rest. It’s to protect the “creative process,” the inspired artist laboring away in a basement or garage.
It’s easy to see how media concentration limits the diversity of programming. You only have to flip on your TV. What is less apparent is how media concentration is fueling a self-reinforcing spiral of commercialism. This thought is prompted by an excellent article in the Denver Mountain News that surveys the growing commercial barrage at concerts, movies and plays (July 9, 2005, reported by Erika Gonzalez and Mark Brown).
In the sixties, Gil Scott-Heron warned that “the revolution will not be televised.” (Yes, son, there once was a time when mainstream music was actually culturally relevant…) Of course, we’re now in an era of diminishing expectations, so even the struggle for media reform is not going to be televised.
She said something about Josh, who was asleep on my shoulder. Such a sweet boy. Those eyes. I thanked her, asked if she had kids. A daughter, she said, eighteen. Was it hard, her daughter leaving home? Yes. When she looked at her did she still see the three year old the daughter used to be? Yes again.
I think about that a lot, I said, how one day I’ll look at Josh and wonder what happened to the little guy who called me Dadda and fell asleep on my shoulder. She could get choked up over this, she said. Our eyes retreated into our own thoughts.
My last post drew attention to the potential threat to public rights in the commons posed by the city of Chicago’s proposed renting of its new public park to Toyota for a private corporate convention. You might ask, is this really such a big deal? After all, the initiative comes at the behest of the public-spirited Department of Cultural Affairs, and the city gets a nice check to offset the cost of subsequent public programming.
After a relatively quiet and enormously successful summer season, Chicago’s Millennium Park is poised to open the fall with a new controversy involving the slowly eroding commons. In February, David Bollier nicely chronicled the controversy regarding copyright and other fees for photographing park icons like Anish Kapoor’s 110-ton sculpture “Cloud Gate” — affectionately known as “The Bean” by Chicago’s public.
“Life actually forms and changes its own environment.” That bit of wisdom, from evolutionary biologist and UMass professor Lynn Margulis, is inscribed on a ceramic tile glued to the side of a brick building in my hometown, Amherst, Mass. Every time I pass that tile en route to Antonio’s Pizza or Collective Copies, I have a small burst of civic pride that someone, somewhere, in the town had the imagination and persistence to makes that unusual bit of public art happen.
Turn on the tap, and it’s there: clean, safe, inexpensive water. Most U.S. citizens take this basic resource for granted, as if it were an act of nature. On average, U.S. residents pay less than 0.1 percent of their annual salary on water bills — a bargain by any standard.
I am back from a wonderful vacation in Colorado (sorry for the hiatus in blog posts!), which concluded with three days at an Aspen Institute conference on the emerging “pull economy.” Historically, our economy has been a “push economy,” driven by corporations trying to anticipate (and create) consumer demand by aggressively “pushing” goods, services, and marketing onto consumers.
A story from the “news” section of the Greenpeace website announces that Monsanto has filed for patents on pigs. Not content with owning seedlines, apparently, the company now hopes to get monopoly privileges to farm animals.