Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Ceci n'est pas une pipe

Building on Cyril's bitch-slap on Crystal Castles and their tacky art theft...

To be honest, I'd managed to avoid hearing anything by Crystal Castles (I've somehow worked myself into a strict diet of Jesu, Current 93 and Dr. Octagon) until now. I'll give it a "meh". Would definitely work in a club full of girls with brown bobs, knee-length olive dresses and those unfortunate wide belts. Not offensive, but certainly not deserving of any serious comparisons to The Knife, as will be proven in the aforementioned cage match. Yeah, you heard me right Cyril - this Sunday the Unnatural Boy Alex Kennedy and The Devastatin' Deconstructionist are comin' for you!

...Anyway, Cyril's more than bang-on about the cheesy art theft - read all the recent bloody details here. A clusterfuck all 'round to be sure, but the apparent lack of common courtesy is depressing. As Alex said, "Way to go indie scene, way to act worse than the fucking majors". The whole snafu calls to mind the infamous "This Is Not A Fugazi Shirt" shirt that was ubiquitous in the 90s. The legend goes that since the band had (and still has) a strict no-merch policy, Ian MacKaye regularly contacted those making bootleg Fugazi shirts, asking them to cease and desist. After receiving such a call, one particularly enterprising fellow came up with the "This Is Not" design. Impressed by the sheer cheek of the act, MacKaye came to an agreement with the printer wherein the portion of proceeds from the shirts that would normally go to the band were instead diverted to a women's shelter. See? Channels of communication are opened in good faith, and DIY ethic and entrepreneurial wiseacre coexist peacefully. Had common courtesy prevailed, maybe the Crystal Castles debacle could've ended similarly. This, of course, wasn't the last time that Ian MacKaye would garner ink fighting to keep his legacy free of crass commercialization - this bloke has a nice run-down on the great Minor Threat/Nike dust-up of ought five. Let's not even get into Converse's tasteless hijacking of dead rockers who never even wore Chucks in the first place.

Seeing the Fugazi shirt without knowing the back story confounded me. As an aspiring devotee of the band shirt (I'm now hard-pressed to think of five preferred tops that aren't band shirts, much to my mother's chagrin), I needed to know - was it a Fugazi shirt or not? Some have cannily noted that this recalls Magritte's "this is not a pipe" dilemma. The response made by Nirvana (or at least whoever was designing their merch around the "In Utero" period) seemed to argue that it wasn't. A shirt was produced which was covered with seahorses, with no indication that the shirt was "about" anything other than seahorses. On the back was a lengthy essay about the behavior and life cycle of the seahorse, which ended with the words "by the way, this is a Nirvana shirt". Those with a linguistic or philosophical bent might want to gloss JL Austin's "How To Do Things With Words" and his notion of performative utterances.

I'm not aware of any similar merch hubbubs ever erupting around any goth/industrial or related bands, be they license-based (Crystal Castles) or ontological (Fugazi), although I'd love to hear of any people might be aware of. This might have something to do with the oft-cited criticism that there's a profoundly consumption-oriented ethic at work in the bedrock of goth. I finally picked up that recent collection of academic essays on goth, which seems to set itself up as a reaction to Hebdige's book on punk in much the same way that goth was a reaction to punk, so watch this space for more on the commercialization of subculture. All that being said, I still want a pair of those fresh Joy Division kicks.

57 comments:

Brad said...

KMFDM changed the colour of the Tohuvabohu cover from red to orange without Brute's permission, and he exposed it on his blog. But things must have worked out between them, because he did the art for Brimborium after that.

Does that new goth book include any analysis of the "rivethead" cultures, or is is more about the Goth goths? Would be nice to read an essay on how goth and industrial have co-evolved over the past 20 years. :)

Bruce said...

There's one chapter that takes an anthropological fieldwork approach to the dancefloor at a club night and notes the dominance of men on industrial dancefloors: "Industrial dance culture thus involved a role reversal, with men providing the main spectacle on the floor".

Brad said...

That's odd. I wouldn't say the industrial dancefloors in Ottawa are male-dominated spectacles. I've seen plenty of times when there were more women than men dancing (meaning 2 or 3 women vs. 1 or 2 men... it's really the EMPTINESS of industrial dancefloors that sets them apart, isn't it?).

Bruce said...

The club that the article was analyzing was large enough to be divided into three rooms: 80s, goth and industrial. Given that division, in a city with a large scene (LA), having a gender divide along the goth/industrial line seems somewhat expected. In mid-sized scenes like Ottawa and Van, though, it's definitely about taking whatever floor you can get. That being said, even in Van I notice some clear distinctions between who's on the floor depending on the style of the DJ at the decks at the moment.

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