As I’m working on the next Popular Culture post I’ve been getting a bit of flack about how I’m approaching the subject. A few of my friends thought this would be a more sociable, chatty series of posts on coolness. So I thought I’d try to clarify a bit. I believe that it’s the actual delivery systems that have a great deal to do with what’s Popular. By this I mean anything can be made popular simply by its facility (facility of understanding, facility of use, etc) – how easily the “product” can be delivered. A quick example can be found in the destruction of the music industry as it once was set up. After electronic delivery systems dismantled the actual physical production involved in delivering music, the need for support industries fell apart – stores to sell it, transportation to deliver it, plastic to make it, machines to press it, label it, artists, photographers, etc. to design the packages – well, you get the idea. Music is now uploaded and downloaded through electronic devices. By so doing it has created a new clearing house for music – namely iTunes. That’s a lot of pop cultural power in the hands of one corporation. The amazing thing about iTunes is that every era of Pop is now available without any differentiation, every era and style is contemporary – the idea is context. So the bricks and mortar recording industry is drowning in waves of technology as we surf the deluge on ipods stuffed thick with contextual Pop music at 99 cents a download.
I’m also intrested in the idea of the Tipping Point put forward by Malcolm Gladwell. What makes something popular? Gladwell discussed the idea of 3 types of entities that would be involved in the process – connectors, mavens and salesmen – all of which have their counterparts in the art world. These are the “street level” folks that create buzz – that all powerful term that will have us groping in our wallets in short order. We see it come about in waves every couple of years in the art world – usually timed to Biennials and fairs. The amount of buzz surrounding these Pop gatherings has reached epic levels in this century as money has become more and more evident in the making, publicizing and selling of art of all kinds. A good recent example is Damian Hirst’s attempt to circumvent his gallery market by selling his excess production directly on the auction market. The compilations and complications of insider dealing and outright publicity spin is amazing in its baldfaced bravado. But these machinations follow a predictable path, and whether for good or ill, this will be yet another fiscal success for Popular Culture.
I am interested in how Pop Culture plays out in the work we see. For instance can we actually understand the difference between placing pictures of Cheerios in our paintings or using another artist’s style to depict those Cheerios as Jeff Koons uses Jim Rosenquist’s style without irony or acknowledgment? Is it the Pop Culture he is addressing or is it the Pop Artist? For the Postmodernist these questions do not matter, because all culture, high and low, is now Pop Culture. There is no difference only “differance” – context. Recently in an ironic turn of high and low an academic philosopher became a Pop Culture star – Harry Frankfurt. In all honesty the title of this work probably had a lot to do with his “get factor” on the talk show circuit. In his extended essay “On Bullshit” he led a salient critique on Postmodern ethics. Mr. Frankfurt’s contention is that bullshit has no connection to truth and it matters little to the bullshitter if something is true or false. The concoction of bullshit is simply an attempt to buttress one’s viewpoint. It isn’t a lie, because a lie implies that there is a truth. Bullshit and its “truthiness” is determined through context. And in all truth (no pun intended) for those of us who are following the political news, we have just witnessed two massive spectacles of steaming, sticky, gooey Popular Culture Bullshit. Both of these events were presented exactly as any televised event is presented and the similarilities, to say, the Superbowl telecast, were astounding – complete with play by play commentating, replays, computerized telestrator, corporate sponsorship, player interviews and on-the-field reporting. Sporting event or political event – the rising subject has no meaning in the era of Pop Culture.
I believe these are some of the contributing Pop Culture factors in how we make art today. I plan on expanding these themes as we go on. I hope that makes it a bit clearer for those of you who think I’m out of my ever lovin’ gourd. I’m sure I’ll be throwing in a few references to those fun things, but I’m a bit of a mechanic – I like to know what’s working beneath the hood. More to come later this week….