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July 26, 2005

'A collective identity does not travel with a ticket'


What four "Blissets" said in 1997 when asked in an Italian court why they had no tickets when they were apprehended on a train.

This and many other arresting lines appeared in a wonderful essay by Claude Willan about culture jamming that graced Sunday's Washington Post.

You'll enjoy it — or your money back.

    We're All Borf In the End

    Here's an Empty Image My Generation Can Relate To

    It was after braving the crush at Kramerbooks to buy the latest Harry Potter novel that I sat down on an enormous concrete planter in Dupont Circle and noticed that I was staring straight at a black stenciled face.

    It was one of the pieces of graffiti by 18-year-old art student John Tsombikos, aka Borf, that have proliferated inthe District.

    Until his recent arrest, Borf produced scrawls and pictures, almost all of a scowling boy and most accompanied by a bizarre slogans like "Borf Writes Letters To Your Children" or "Borf Is Good For Your Liver."

    He wasn't just kooky, he was ubiquitous.

    He has been held accountable for vast amounts of graffiti, not just in the District, but across the whole country, and beyond -- in Raleigh, N.C., in New York, in Los Angeles, and even in Athens (that's Greece, not Georgia).

    Sitting there, it hit me -- Borf wasn't an isolated guy; he was a phenomenon.

    People from L.A. to Europe have assumed his identity and turned it into a group endeavor, subverting popular cultural images in a practice that my twenty-something contemporaries call "culture jamming."

    This kind of collective identity (which is a kind of anonymity, if you think about it) is my generation's reaction to having been spoon-fed advertising and having had identities marketed to us.

    We've been led to believe that to be homogenous and fit into certain characteristics is safe and desirable.

    Even correct.

    Crudely put, culture jammers represent the way people my age feel about modern society: that its images don't relate to us; that we won't or can't engage with what we've been told we should be; and that all we can do to make ourselves heard is to twist these images back on themselves.

    In a sense, I'd got to know Borf before I came to America from Britain three weeks ago.

    He's the American incarnation of British graffiti artist Banksy, who is notable, among other things, for creating pictures of Winston Churchill with a green mohawk.

    Banksy has been pulling much the same stunt as Borf, in much the same stencil style, and for longer; and he has maintained his anonymity (although he has an agent and a bank account).

    Major stores have even released posters of his images, making him rich along the way.

    It's commonplace now in small British towns to see what could only be described as Banksy knock-offs: graffiti mimicking his style and passed off as originals.

    Just as Banksy's identity has been co-opted into a collective body, so has Borf's.

    Both tap into ideas articulated by the American graphic artist Shepard Fairey, whose bold, stylized pictures of the late professional wrestler Andre the Giant, which are plastered up in public spaces, are juxtaposed with slogans like "Obey" or "Giant."

    Fairey says that in his project (called "Andre the Giant Has a Posse") the medium is the message.

    What Fairey produces looks like trendy advertising but is in fact a deliberately empty message.

    He's therefore engaged in the subversive distribution of a meaningless thing; it's anti-marketing, anti-singularity, anti-message.

    Maybe the reason why apparently empty messages like these resonate with my generation is that we don't have any icons of our own.

    We don't have an Allen Ginsburg, or a Jack Kerouac.

    We don't even have a Douglas Coupland -- the writer who articulated the idea that the main characteristic of the '90s generation was that it had no characteristic.

    We have no Bob Dylan, no Bruce Springsteen.

    When someone recently asked me why people my age (I'm 21) listen to bands from our parents' generation, I had to explain that, with a few exceptions, we don't have any real musicians any more.

    Without massive advertising campaigns, a lot of the "music" you can buy today, like Beyonce, wouldn't exist.

    We're a voiceless generation.

    We have nothing we can point to and say: "This is us, this is where we stand."

    We're lost and silent and we don't know what to do about it.

    We're sold a parody of culture that we buy because, well, what choice do we have?

    Even the generational angst I'm engaging in now is stolen.

    This is the cry of the generation before mine, the Lost Generation, Generation X, Coupland's kids.

    People 10 years older than I am cornered the market in existential meanderings and, self-indulgent though it is, at least it's a flag, something to rally round.

    What have we got?

    Beyonce and Harry Potter -- both created and sold to us by people our parents' ages.

    Not that I've anything against Harry Potter; I enjoyed "The Half-Blood Prince" immensely. But it isn't us. It's not who we are.

    Even the most conventional of magazines has recognized that something is up.

    Vanity Fair has an essay competition in its current issue titled, "What's on the minds of America's youth today?"

    It asks young writers to explain, for a prize of $1,500 and a Montblanc fountain pen, just what is going on.

    As Vanity Fair's editors see it:

    "More than 30 years ago, young people across the country staged sit-ins for civil rights, got up and protested against a misguided, undeclared war, and actually gave a damn if a president lied to them. Today it seems as if the younger generation of Americans are content to watch their MTV, fiddle with their game players, [and] follow the love lives of Brad, Jen, Jessica and Paris. What has changed? What is going on inside the minds of American youth today?"

    What's funny is that this hailing of "American youth" displays a paradoxical lack of awareness of our generation even as it tries to pin us down.

    There's no such thing as "American youth" -- or British youth, come to that, these days.

    That's exactly what we're not -- a body, a set.

    At the other end of the magazine spectrum is the international publication Adbusters.

    Achingly hip, painstakingly designed and printed on recycled paper, Adbusters is the flagship magazine of the counterculture movement, such as it is.

    The Adbusters manifesto states the magazine's purpose boldly: "We're the ragtag remnants of oppositional culture -- what's left of the revolutionary impulse in the jaded fin de millennium atmosphere of post-modernity in which revolution is said to no longer be possible. What we share is an overwhelming rage against consumer capitalism and a vague sense that our time has come to act as a vague collective force."

    So there you have it -- I bet you never thought defining a generation was so easy!

    Seriously, though, this is about as close as anyone gets to saying what culture jammers are all about.

    The idea of the collective is one that has always captured the imagination of young people -- remember all those '60s communes?

    The most fertile ground for collectivism today is the Internet, where identity is automatically annulled.

    Anonymity allows collective projects to flourish with no individual gain, only collective gain.

    The collectivist writing project Everything2.com is run by people you may never meet or talk to, and who specialize in creating fiction or journalism.

    One user, identified only as "loquacious," puts the collectivist ideal this way: "[The site] is the way the internet was supposed to be. [It] is a reference collection, a novel that writes itself, poetry that reads itself, and the shiny toy that never grows dull. It is the potential to exceed the sum of its parts."

    As such, it's a project that will always slip away from any effort to capture it.

    "Grown-ups are obsolete"; "Teenagers are Invincible"; "Andre the Giant has a Posse."

    It's heady, apocalyptic, meaningless even.

    You can probably sense here that I'm struggling to say what it is that I mean, but that's precisely because the movement, such as it is, is undefinable.

    This idea of slippery collective identity is nothing new -- in Italy it dates back to 1994, when a band of disaffected youth chose to call themselves Luther Blissett, assuming the name of a former soccer player.

    In the words of one of the Blissetts: "The group considers identity to be the prison of the self."

    The Blissett phenomenon acquired a certain notoriety in 1997 when four "Blissetts" were caught traveling on a train without a ticket.

    When asked about this in court, the four replied that "a collective identity does not travel with a ticket."

    They were acquitted. (The soccer-playing Ur-Mr. Blissett, though bemused, appears not to have cared. "It's rather funny," he said, "but I don't mind these people using my name -- whoever they are.")

    In attempting to do the impossible and define for you this enormously earnest brand of collectivism, I feel both ambivalence and sadness.

    Like any fringe movement, culture jamming rests upon its politically oppositional nature.

    Culture jammers are caught -- on the one hand dissatisfied and willing for change to happen, but on the other depending for their existence on the status quo's never changing.

    Of course, the people who can afford Adbusters at $8 a pop are the very people who don't need the "liberation" from conventional culture that they so sincerely advocate.

    And who needs the pseudo-babble of such hardcore identity anarchists as the Blissetts?

    Saying that his goal was to "show the public how to fight a dishonest media" one Blissett claimed: "We are a collective ghost -- a myth which finds reality in those who take part."

    Frankly, this makes me run for cover -- it's glib, and its heady intellectual detachment is about the least appealing mask a movement can wear.

    I far prefer the end of the Adbusters manifesto: "At the simplest level we are a growing band of people who have given up on the American Dream."

    Until we can find our own vision to aspire to, maybe Borf and Andre the Giant are all we have.

July 26, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Remote Control Padlock



Because they could, that's why.

    From the website:

    Tired of dragging out the key every time you want to open your padlock?

    Our Remote Control Padlock ends all that fuss with a tiny infrared remote.

    Just point the remote at the lock, press the button and the padlock springs open.

    Hardened steel shackle, all–metal casing and optional key entry.

Along with your tricked–out padlock and remote control you get the following:

• Spare key

• Red LED mini–flashlight on remote

• 2 AAA batteries for the padlock

• 1 button cell battery for the remote

"4 billion rolling security codes prevent accidental opening by others."

Hackers probably have slightly better things to do than try and open your silly padlock — you'll be fine.

Measures 3.25"H x 2.5"W x 1.25"D.

$17.98 here.

The thought did occur to me that looking for your "tiny infrared remote" might be just as much a pain in the buttocks as "dragging out the key."

And also that your key never fails to work because of a dead battery.

But I'm sure that's just my inner Luddite speaking.

Ignore it.

July 26, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Aszure Barton — The next Mark Morris?


She's a young Canadian choreographer (above) described as "extraordinary" and "uncompromising" by none other than Mikhail Baryshnikov, who made the comparison to the young Morris.

Claudia La Rocco wrote about the new new thing in modern dance in a story that appeared in Sunday's New York Times; it follows.

    Choreographing a Toothlock on a Dancer's Tongue

    Ask people to describe Aszure Barton's work, and the adjectives fly: dynamic, tribal, demanding, musical, authentic, risky.

    But ask them to place her in a tradition, and you're likely to get silence.

    "I don't think you can categorize her," said Robin Staff, director of the Dancenow/NYC festival, which has shown Ms. Barton's work since 2003.

    "She's definitely rooted in classical ballet but with strong jazz overtones and also a more ethnic or primitive side. She likes to take risks, which is what people downtown do often."

    Born in Alberta, Ms. Barton, who just turned 30, trained at the National Ballet School in Toronto, and danced with the company on graduation.

    A 1994 grant from the Canada Council for the Arts allowed her to study with adventuresome European choreographers like Jiri Kylian.

    She returned the following year to dance with Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal, but her hunger to choreograph led her to Manhattan, where she worked with various companies, presenting her own work wherever she could.

    In 2003, her one-year-old company, ASzURe & Artists performed at the Joyce SoHo Theater.

    Not so unusual - until one notes her 2004 Juilliard commission or sees that a chief booster is Mikhail Baryshnikov, who described her in an interview as "extraordinary" and "uncompromising," comparing her, when pressed, to a young Mark Morris.

    This summer, she was artist in residence at the new Baryshnikov Arts Center in Manhattan.

    From July 28 through 31, ASzURe & Artists is performing at Jacob's Pillow, in Becket, Mass.

    Ella Baff, the Pillow's executive director, also hesitated to place Ms. Barton in one tradition.

    Instead, she praised the choreographer's musical intelligence and self-editing abilities, pointing to an impressive development of emotion and vocabulary between the 2002 "Mais We" and this year's "Lascilo Perdure."

    "Lascilo Perdure" ("Leave It Alone" in Italian) is an ambitious, 40-minute exploration of letting go by seven dancers - including one of Ms. Barton's sisters, Charissa, though not Ms. Barton herself. (She does perform in "Mais We.")

    Set to Vivaldi and the Cracow Klezmer Band, "Lascilo" integrates enigmatic videos by Kevin Freeman with full-bodied movement, including a duet in which Banning Roberts grasps Éric Beauchesne's tongue with her teeth for four erotic and terrifying minutes.

    "Aszure is exploring most of the actual trends in dance, and she's integrating them into her work," said Mr. Beauchesne, a Montreal dancer who has worked with Ms. Barton for eight years.

    "It's definitely not on the path of contemporary dance that we see in France or Montreal."

    Ms. Barton developed "Lascilo" through improvisation and her dancers' journal entries.

    In one, her sister detailed a recurring nightmare in which she is underwater, unable to breathe until she stops struggling.

    Transformed from nightmare to fantasy by Mr. Freeman's camera, the dream comes to life in captivating black and white.

    Her eyes are open, calm.

    A small smile comes and goes, and air bubbles cluster on her eyelashes.

    She slowly moves her hand, pruning fingers curling in and out of camera's view.

    Next month, Ms. Barton heads to the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia to work with the filmmaker Daniel Conrad, and she will participate in Dancenow/NYC at Dance Theater Workshop this fall.

    "I would love to work at P.S. 122, and I would love to work at City Center," she said.

    "I'm open to anything."

    Audiences, says Ms. Staff of Dancenow/NYC are open, too, though she acknowledges that "the avant-garde dance scene is still not quite sure" about Ms. Barton's choreography.

    David Dorfman, a downtown choreographer Ms. Barton cites as one of many influences, said it was too early to tell where she would end up.

    "If it were a game show and I had to pick, I'd say she's uptown," he said.

    "But I think that she can walk downtown, too - if she chooses."

July 26, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Foot Condom


It's come to this.

"Mandatory shoe removal at airport security shouldn't expose your feet (and the inside of your shoes) to dirt, germs or fungi."

Makes sense, I guess.

"Just place your shoes in a security tub and slip into a pair of disposable Feetwrap™ to get the personal protection you'll need."

Uh, excuse me for being really stupid but where are you supposed to put your feet after you "place your shoes in a security tub," before you don your Feetwrap™?


Oh, I know, I'm being a hater.

I'll stop.

"After you pass inspection, move away from the security area, dispose of Feetwrap™, and slip back into your shoes."

Probably they want you to "move away from the security area" so when you take the baggies off your feet everyone around you doesn't pass out from the smell. But I digress.


$9.85 for a pack of 10 pairs here.

July 26, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

ISDN* — Colloquial Acronyms Decoded


Whenever I come across one of those abbreviations that are internet shorthand for something or other I just skip over them because I don't use them nor have I a clue as to what they mean.

Oh, sure, I know FYI means "for your information" and IMHO means "in my humble opinion"; I also know LOL means "laughing out loud" and WYSIWYG is "what you see is what you get" but those are the only four that rang a bell out of a list of approximately 115 such acronyms compiled on this useful site.

I'm better at decoding emoticons: I usually understand the message they send.

Maybe I'm more visual than verbal — ya think?

ISDN* = "it still does nothing."

July 26, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Would you buy a bookofjoe calendar?


Guess what?

You're gonna get the chance, and real soon too.

From the company that brought you the ultra–trendy and stylish personalized tea mug with built–in bagholder comes the personalized plastic wallet–sized calendar pictured above.

For $5.99 you get 50; for $9.98 you get 100.

Even I know that's not a bad deal.

Mine will feature just one line of type in the area where you're allowed up to four:


But here's the best part: I'm going to personally number each card on the back and inscribe it for the buyer just as she/he wishes.

How's that for cool?

I'm not sure yet whether to charge a nickel or a dime apiece: depends on how good they come out.

Wait a minute: I've heard contests are really, really popular on the internet.

Have you heard that too?

Maybe I'll have a contest and give the calendars away.

Your ideas and comments are welcome.

This is the first time I've ever seriously contemplated dipping my toe into the commercial internet waters, so stay tuned.

July 26, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Jennifer Aniston's Toilet Paper To Be Auctioned — $100,000 Reserve


This Friday on eBay Michael Baroni, a California lawyer, will be auctioning off memorabilia from his summer fling with Jennifer back in 1984 when he was 16 and she was a 15–year–old student at New York's High School of Performing Arts and they were two teenagers in love.

Among other items, he's selling a 17th birthday card she made for him on a piece of toilet paper; a photo of the two of them hugging when they first met in 1974 (she was 5 years old at the time); a piece of paper with her name and phone number written in lipstick; a love letter from Jennifer handwritten in red pen; and a page from Baroni's little black book with his contact information for her.

Baroni says he's holding the auction for "financial reasons."

At least he's honest about it.


The items go up on eBay at 12:01 a.m. Friday with a reserve of $100,000 for the entire lot.

July 26, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

'i love me' mirror


You knew it would come to this.

Self–esteem junkies and those with an uncommonly droll sense of humor now have the ideal image maker.

Frosted letters underline your visage, "giving you the perfect boost of confidence you might need in the morning."

Tell you what: from the feedback I get, it's gonna take a lot more than a frosted mirror to do that. But I digress.

12" x 12" glass.

Black border at the top and bottom.

Comes with hanging hardware.

$25 here.

July 26, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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