10/27/2008 5:57:23 PM
Until recently, the Puerto Rican dancehall music reggaeton was better known for its sexualized dance moves than political messaging. That changed when musician Daddy Yankee, complete with signature sunglasses, stood proudly on stage with John McCain, talked about immigration policy, and endorsed the Arizona senator for president.
Now, reggaetoneros like Daddy Yankee have taken center stage in the 2008 election, Marisol LeBrón writes for NACLA. Barack Obama’s campaign quickly garnered endorsements from other prominent reggaeton artists including Don Omar, Julio Voltio and Puerto Rican-American rapper Fat Joe. The International Herald Tribune reports that Daddy Yankee turned to more local politics, moderating a televised gubernatorial debate on the island that was designed to attract young voters.
Unhappy that reggaetoneros “are being used in an effort to attract youth to a political system that systematically ignores their concerns,” NACLA reports that protesters showed up at Daddy Yankee’s moderated debate, burning his albums in defiance. One artist Sietenueve released a scathing single called “Quedate Callao” (“Shut Up”) insulting Daddy Yankee for his political ignorance (video available below).
The problem wasn’t that reggaetoneros were engaging in politics. According to NACLA, Daddy Yankee’s political endorsements and debate moderating “threatened to turn reggaetón into a hollow signifier, separating it from its radical and subversive potential.”
10/27/2008 2:38:47 PM
Feeling discouraged by the nasty partisan attacks of the presidential campaign? Overwhelmed and exhausted by politics in general? An antidote awaits in the form of Callie Shell’s photo essays.
Shell’s stunning series of photographs for Time magazine, following Barack Obama on the campaign trail from October 2006 to the present, have been circulating in the mainstream media for a while now. But they are worth all that attention—in fact, they deserve several thorough viewings, for like a good book upon a second reading, they reveal new narratives and imagery with each look.
Despite Obama’s ubiquitous mediagenic charisma, not many photos or videos have succeeded in portraying him as an actual human being. (This is probably due in part to the messianic aura bestowed upon him by acolytes and detractors alike.) By gaining unprecedented access to the candidate over two long years, Shell captured Obama when no one else did—in the interstitial moments between photo ops. This is how she grants us rare glimpses of the candidate napping, eating an ice cream cone, or regrouping with his family just like any other father.
We get a glimpse of Obama’s frugality—not a quality often associated with politicians, especially former lawyers—in the worn soles of his shoes as he puts his feet up on a table. We get a shot of him at an Illinois rest stop in the early days of his campaign—striking for its juxtaposition of an extraordinary figure against a banal tableau. There are also new takes on the assured, tenacious candidate we know: his playful competitiveness as he hangs from a pull-up bar in a gymnasium, or the satisfied smile on his face just before taking the stage in Denver to accept his party’s nomination.
Even more poignant, however, are Shell’s images of the people who gather at Obama’s rallies. These are reaction shots in the purest sense: In one shot, tears streak the faces of two teenage girls in a South Carolina crowd. In another, a pair of young African-American boys wait in line to meet Obama. (Their grandmother told Shell, “Our young men have waited a long time to have someone to look up to, to make them believe Dr. King’s words can be true for them.”)
The campaign’s early days are marked by shots of Iowans mingling with Obama in diners and barns, while its final phases produce images of the man standing before staggering seas of people in Berlin and Denver.
Digital Journalist collects the images in chronological order, from the Illinois rest stop to the end of the DNC. The arrangement provides an uplifting, dignified chronicle of an election season that has too often been anything but.
10/27/2008 12:02:25 PM
So many websites have run posts on Obama-inspired artwork (Utne.com included, twice) that one blog has taken on the task of reporting daily on new Obama-themed creations. The Obama Art Report gathers images and information on all the candidate’s representations, everything from posters and action figures to sculptures and paintings. The website even has its own eBay store, where the starting bid for all items is 99 cents and all proceeds go to the Obama campaign.
You can also find roundups of Palin art. Fun, although not as organized as the Obama site.
(Thanks, Visual Culture)
Image courtesy of
, licensed under
10/23/2008 9:29:55 AM
Back in July, I blogged about Phil Toledano’s elegant visual profiles of phone-sex workers. Now, he’s moved on to foreign policy, asking the simple but odd question: “If American foreign policy had a gift shop, what would it sell?”
Using what he calls the “vernacular of retail,” Toledano takes us on a surreal commercial tour of the last eight years—a trip well worth taking on the eve of the election.
“We buy souvenirs at the end of a trip, to remind ourselves of the experience,” Toledano writes. “What do we have to remind us of the events of the last eight years?”
The fantasy store’s stock includes the requisite T-shirts (“I Was Rendered to a Secret Prison and All I Got Was this Lousy T-Shirt” and “I (Heart) Unilateral Preemptive Strikes”) and some chocolates, along with an inflatable Guantanamo Bay bouncy prison cell and an Abu Ghraib bobble head, which Toledano tells me he had to have fabricated in China since no one stateside would make it.
Toledano’s installation is being shown today at Meet in New York (101 Crosby Street). If you can’t make it, take a virtual tour here.
Images courtesy of
10/17/2008 9:46:28 AM
For film buffs dying to see a new documentary but short on change, the Canadian magazine Broken Pencil offers a fun little three-point plan for stealthily infiltrating film festivals in its Summer How-To Issue.
Fiona Clarke suggests that smaller film fests are more opportune for creating mock passes, but “don’t put yourself too high on the totem pole, someone might actually ask you a question.” She says the trick is to create an identity that is “simultaneously vague and with a hint of hyperbole to guarantee confused acceptance.”
If you can’t gain access with your “official pass,” why not try a disguise? Clarke suggests transforming into a tradesperson:
If you can pass as an electrician or plumber, use this. Get a small toolbox or equipment bag, look haggard and confused at the long line of people waiting at the theatre and walk up to the front. Dismissively inform the FOH manager of a “building issue” that the theatre management has called you in about and you were told you should be let through.
Plan B: You can be a courier that has “an urgent delivery of ‘paper-tape.’”
Clarke warns that building infiltration is highly tricky, but “most festivals in big cities rely on old, large movie houses for their screenings. These old theatres contain all manner of surprise entrances and hidden areas.” For additional tips, crack open a copy of All Access Areas, a book by the creator of Infiltration, a zine about “going places that you’re not supposed to go.”
But getting caught will come with a price (and it might be more than a festival ticket), so Clarke advises that it’s probably best to pony up for a ticket or else volunteer. We agree. While events like Sundance can spare a few lost dollars, your local film fest probably can’t.
10/16/2008 10:51:32 AM
For 13 years and 75 issues, No Depression was a beloved chronicler of the alt-country music world. In February of this year, the magazine’s publishers sadly announced they were halting production, citing insufficient ad revenue, a music industry in transition, and the troubled economy.
“Barring the intercession of unknown angels, you hold in your hands the next-to-the-last edition of No Depression we will publish,” publishers Grant Alden, Peter Blackstock and Kyla Fairchild wrote in the magazine’s March-April issue.
Just eight months later, Alden and Blackstock provide this addendum: “As it turned out, the angels who interceded to preserve No Depression were mostly well-known to us. Some who responded were rank strangers; all were generous and kind.” So begins issue #76 of the resurrected magazine, in the form of a lavish, 145-page, ad-free paperback—or, in the words of its cover copy, “bookazine (whatever that is).”
Published by the University of Texas Press and hitting stands this week, the theme of Issue #76 is “The Next Generation,” its cover graced by Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet and its profiles mostly devoted to emerging artists like the Infamous Stringdusters, Bowerbirds, and Samantha Crain. Tucked in the back of the issue is a feature on Hanson—yes, that Hanson.
No Depression’s online organ—currently offline, but set to relaunch soon—will continue with news and reviews, along with a near-complete archive of back issues. The bookazine, published semiannually, will contain less time-sensitive content.
In a troubled publishing industry, No Depression’s unique reincarnation might provide a model for other endangered or extinct publications—the bookazine represents one altered, but not necessarily diminished, manifestation of the independent magazine in a changing media landscape.
10/15/2008 6:05:05 PM
Writing for the new issue of make/shift (article not available online), Keidra Chaney profiles the welfareQUEENS, a performance art group that aims to “make poor women of color visible and vocal in the U.S. dialogue on poverty,” adding their stories and experiences to the opinions of policy makers and “experts” who have rarely (if ever) experienced poverty themselves. (The welfareQUEENS’ name, of course, is a reclamation of the hideous term popularized by Ronald Reagan during his first presidential campaign.) Chaney writes:
At a time when the gap between the wealthy and the poor seems insurmountable, poverty remains misrepresented in both mainstream and independent media. Poor people, often demonized as criminals or infantilized as charity cases, are rendered silent. The voice of experience is quieted in favor of the voice of so-called expertise. Academic scholars, social workers, and pundits are allowed to represent the poor in the media while those who actually experience poverty daily go unquoted.
Back in May, I pointed to an excellent FAIR study that backs up this argument. In fact, the study notes, “If you’re poor and want to get on the nightly news, it helps to be either elderly or in the armed forces.”
The welfareQUEENS are neither, so they communicate their stories another way: Last year, the group wrote a play based on their experiences with poverty, then performed it at the U.S. Social Forum and at San Francisco’s Brava Theater.
Chronologically structured around the experiences of three generations of women, the play looks at the herstory of the welfare system. The performers speak of the lives of their grandmothers and mothers, who experienced domestic abuse, discrimination as single parents and women of color, and separation from their families through domestic work.
The Bay Area–based welfareQUEENS are part of the POOR News Network, a grassroots media organization that includes the online POOR Magazine and tons of other poverty-related projects.
For more alt-press dispatches from Blog Action Day, click here .
10/15/2008 4:37:19 PM
What has happened to great rock concert photography? Is it part of a bygone era, or has the music industry forgone photographers due to control issues? A mix of both, says Mark Paytress in Creative Review’s article "Three Songs and Yer Out! The Dying Art of Gig Photography" (reprinted from a recent issue of M magazine). The "three songs" refers to an industry-wide guideline that photographers are allowed access to the artists only for the first three songs of a performance. The practice started as a courtesy to performers to keep distracting flash bulbs to a minimum. But then it worked its way around the scene and became the rule at most venues. Artists and their management blame the venues for enforcing the rule, while the venues insist they're just doing what they're told by the management.
Blame game aside, it's difficult to capture great images when you know you're racing against the clock. Paytress points out that some of the greatest photos of rock 'n' roll came from the latter part of the set. For example, Pennie Smith snapped Paul Simonon of the Clash smashing his bass at a show in an image that would later be used as the cover for their classic album London Calling.
The three-song rule is a symptom rather than the illness. For the past decade or so, musicians have increasingly gone from being entertainers to being corporations. Case in point: Both Madonna and Jay-Z left their longtime labels to sign with concert promoter Live Nation. The PR departments of these corporations try to control images of their clients all costs, shunning the raw candid shot for staged, vetted images. Add the limited opportunities to the ever-shrinking medium of music imagery (the evolution from LP to CD and CD to digital thumbnail image), and you can see why Paytress and many photogs call concert photography a dying art.
All that's really left for rock photography are studio shoots, where the photographer and the artists can explore their creativity, albeit without the delicious spontaneity of a live show. But with the music industry continuing on a downward spiral, who knows how far budgets for those shoots will stretch.
Although the outlook is bleak, there are still great photos out there. You can find some of them at: Rock Archive (
), Redferns Music Picture Library (
), Rex Features (
), Photographic Youth Music Culture Archive (
), and Steve Gullick (
Image courtesy of flashbacks.com, licensed under Creative Commons.
10/8/2008 12:55:31 PM
There’s a whole lot of Obama-wear out there, from the streets of New Jersey to the runways of Paris, but the printed Ts and onesies made by Piggyback-Kittycat are especially fetching designs that ought to do well with the baby-mama set. With messages like “Baby Needs a Change” and “My Mama’s for Obama” for the kids and “Go Bama” and “Obama’08” for mothers, they take equal inspiration from children’s wooden blocks and contemporary design. Babies can’t vote, but the persuasive power of cuteness plus progressive advocacy shouldn’t be discounted when undecided grandparents (pdf) come for a visit. Piggyback-Kittycat “head hog” Ruth Weleczki says she custom-designed a shirt for one customer that targets an older demographic: It reads “Audiologists for Obama.”
Image courtesy of Piggyback-Kittycat.
10/7/2008 4:41:20 PM
Dorothy Polley, New York expat and owner of Dorothy’s Gallery in Paris, has commissioned 30 artists to create paintings, sketches, videos, and other media inspired by Barack Obama. The artists are mostly French, with a few notable Americans (like cartoonist Edward Koren) featured as well.
Inspired by the Manifest Hope gallery in Denver, Polley organized the show in less than a month, paying the artists out of her own pocket. In addition to the art, Polley has organized several events designed to raise awareness and funds for Obama’s campaign like a fundraiser cocktail party, a roundtable discussion with members of Democrats Abroad, and an evening of music conceived with Obama in mind.
The show runs from October 3 to November 17, with a portion of the proceeds from the sale of works going to the Obama campaign. It’s unclear if Obama actually needs more money, but with so much art, music, fashion, and even poetry coming out of the presidential race, the national trend of political creativity was bound to catch on overseas sooner or later.
Image by Cyril Anguelidis, courtesy of Dorothy Polley.
10/7/2008 12:18:27 PM
By the time Tina Fey emerged onto the cultural landscape in 2000 as an anchor on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” segment, the Second City alum was already the show’s head writer, quietly shepherding the comedy institution into its late-'90s renaissance and noticeably improving its ratio of funny-to-bad sketches.
Her star continued to rise with the razor-sharp satirical sitcom 30 Rock, which premiered in 2006 and solidified her status as the embodiment of geek chic in an entertainment climate where brainy, funny women are tragically undervalued. Fey has carved out a career in which she accomplishes the seemingly impossible feat of injecting savvy cultural and political commentary into mass entertainment, with her cerebral, rapid-fire monologues on “Update” and then with the surprisingly subversive 30 Rock.
But no one could have predicted Fey’s next act until August 29 of this year, when John McCain announced Sarah Palin as his running mate. The world pounced on the striking similarity between Fey and the VP candidate, and Fey didn’t disappoint. She has returned to Saturday Night Live to lampoon the candidate’s disastrous interviews with Katie Couric and her debate against Joe Biden, and delivered a speech with Hillary Clinton as played by longtime collaborator Amy Poehler. For her part, Palin has joked about honing her own Tina Fey impression, telling reporters she dressed as Fey for Halloween. (When? Last year?)
This week, Fey signed a multimillion-dollar book deal for a collection of humorous essays in the vein of Woody Allen and Nora Ephron. She appears undaunted by relative missteps like the box-office flop Baby Mama or her shilling for American Express, and now wields enormous cultural influence—as writer, performer, and human barometer of that uniquely American nexus of politics and entertainment.
Fey doesn’t necessarily relish her newfound cultural clout, however. As successful as her Sarah Palin gig has been, Fey hopes it doesn’t last long: “I want to be done playing this lady November 5,” she said backstage at this year’s Emmys. “So if anyone could help me be done playing this lady November 5, that would be good for me.”
We’ll do our best, Tina.
Image by David Shankbone, licensed by Creative Commons.
10/7/2008 11:37:12 AM
In Jamaica, “where music saturates everything like fluoride in tap water, the water these days has a new bitterness to it,” Edwin “Stats” Houghton writes for the Fader. That bitterness is embodied in the musician Busy Signal, part of a wave of Jamaican dancehall that has garnered worldwide attention, but has been unable to transcend the feuds endemic in the lyrics and origins of the music.
A general angst permeates the Jamaican dancehall scene, according to Houghton, with feuds breaking out between musicians. And some of the fights have translated into real violence in the streets. Many believe the petty fights between the stars of Jamaican dancehall have held the music back from achieving its full potential. An industry professional confided in Houghton, off the record, that the music has, “Too much war and bun chi-chi man. Nobody outside Jamaica wan hear that!”
Busy Signal began at the center of the musical feuds, trading violent lyrics and allegedly pulling a knife on stage in 2006. He then took a hiatus from the scene in a an attempt to transcend the fights between his fellow Jamaican musicians. His new music still addresses violent themes, but he now emphasizes a unity among his fellow dancehall luminaries, choosing instead to focus on the music. He told Houghton:
Sundays to Sundays, music. By the sweat of your brow, you eat. Me wan build a museum, an me nuh want no museum built after me dead. We wan do these things before man, so if death come, whatever. Keep Drilling.
The problem, Houghton writes, is that “His voice has become so synonymous with the dark pulse of runnings in Kingston that it seems legitimate to wonder if he is part of the curse or the disease.”
Watch a video of Busy Signal’s song Nah Go a Jail Again below:
Nah Go A Jail Again
10/6/2008 3:37:55 PM
American politics crept its way into Paris Fashion Week, where models lankier than Obama himself strutted down runways in attire inspired by the presidential contender. Designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac debuted a loud yellow, black, and white dress with a headshot of Obama printed on the front and Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous words, “I have a dream today,” on the back. The model sporting the dress wore fingerless gloves reading “yes” on one hand and “no” on the other. Obama also captured the creative imaginations of Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the sisters behind Rodarte, who sent a simple knit dress with “Obama” written boldly across the chest down the runway as part of a tribute show to Sonia Rykiel.
But the Democrat isn’t the only one making a mark on the design and retail worlds. Mother Jones reports the release of the Sarah-Cuda, a pink camouflage crossbow named after Sarah Palin and touted by the retailer as a “tribute to women like Sarah Palin who bear the responsibility of family and work while strengthening the moral fiber of society.”
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