Tuesday, December 25, 2007

I haven't posted in a while, but hey. The Democratic congressional leadership is still following Dubya's diktats. The mainstream press are still propagandists (lately saying that the "Venezuelan dictator" has lost a referendum, lest the facts get in the way of a good line). And, oh yeah, waterboarding is still torture.

Time to blog something that's genuinely news. Paris Hilton is here to provide:

PARIS Hilton tried to adopt two Smurfs.

The hotel heiress was so enamoured with the two dwarf actors - who were dressed as the blue cartoon characters to promote Haribo's new Smurf sweets at a Christmas market in, Berlin, Germany - she asked if she could take them home with her.

A source said: "When Paris saw the guys on the sweet stall she squealed. We heard her saying, 'Oh my, real life Smurfs. I always wanted one when I was a kid', before turning to her pal and asking, 'Can I take them home?'

"Then she added 'I didn't realise this is where they came from.'"

The guys in the Smurf suits were reportedly unamused. And yet. There is a problem here, but it's not what you think.

The real problem here is that Paris has not made it sufficiently clear that her actions are intended as an ironic commentary on the industrial commodification of child-rearing and interpersonal relationships in the postmodern, atomized social milieu of contemporary society.

Don't believe me?

Then I invite you to visit the Guggenheim museum in Manhattan, whose Frank Lloyd Wright rotunda is currently hosting a one-man retrospective of the work of Richard Prince. Right at the base of the signature spiral ramp are the pieces that launched his career --- four blown-up pictures from furniture ads, with the store names and prices cropped out. These pieces caused a sensation, as the recordaguide explains (speaking Verrry Slooowly to make sure you don't miss an Important Point), because they made it clear that furniture ads don't depict reality. Rather, what shows up in furniture ads is a simulated, fabricated, phony version of reality, dressed up to sell furniture. This startling fact had apparently escaped all notice from anyone in the art world until Prince came along to point it out. So to you, Prince's version of the ad might look like a furniture ad. But connoisseurs appreciate that even though it looks exactly same, it in fact has much greater intellectual depth.

And so it goes, all the way up the ramp. The blown-up pics of biker chicks posing topless on their boyfriends' hogs? No one on the Upper East Side would pay fifteen cents for the originals, clipped out of the back of déclassé rags with titles like "Easyriders". But blown up to life size, with the artist's imprimatur, they become an ironic commentary on class and gender relationships in postmodern society, and high society suddenly finds it well worth paying tens of thousands of dollars to bring this elevated discourse into their homes. (Never suggest for a minute that the buyers are merely paying to get an excuse to gawk at their social inferiors. For shame! It gives the game away!)

And no less thought went into Paris's performance. I really mean that. But to really establish herself as Prince's intellectual peer, she'd have to have to start talking about the theoretical framework that provides the intellectual basis for these... performance pieces. And what would it take to make that presentation really effective? Less, perhaps, than you might think. It doesn't necessarily have to even make sense. So long as it's confusing enough that it isn't obviously nonsense, that may be good enough. Heck, even in academia, that's built thriving careers for people --- Noam Chomsky may complain that the pomo litcrit crowd has never been able to explain their mysteriously nameless "theory" to him in the few hours it takes for such lesser intellectuals as mathematicians and quantum physicists to explain the basic gist of theirs, but hey, it still pays the rent.

(And if it is obviously nonsense? Well, Duchamp made that work --- but I've gotta say, it's a lot more effort).

In summary, the reason that an "appropriationist" like Prince gets taken more seriously than Paris Hilton, even though what he's doing is a whole lot sillier, is that he's got a line of pretentious babble that purports to explain what he's doing, and he knows how to look good saying it. Is it too much to suggest that Paris herself could manage the same, if she put her mind to it?

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