Thursday, May 7, 2009

WNYC New York

I was asked to be on WNYC earlier this week and obviously jumped at the opportunity. For a section called "Your Uncommon Economic Indicators", Mr. Lehrer talks about different things around the city which might give us a glimpse into the economy where we wouldn't expect one. The first part of this section is a discussion with Clear Channel Spectracolor president, Harry Coglin and Liz Goldwin, a video artist. They talk about a recent collaboration in Times Square that gives Liz use of Clear Channel's digital technology for her artwork. There is little mention of whether or not this is actually because the billboard space isn't selling well these days, or because Clear Channel suddenly decided it was time to dabble in the arts, but my guess is it's the former. Around 7 minutes in, Brian Talks with me about the PublicAdCampaign Project. I must admit I was a little nervous.

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Brian Lehrer Live-Cancelled

Recently PosterBoy and myself were asked to appear on the Brian Lehrer Live TV show, broadcast over the CUNY cable network. After having been approached by the producer, it became apparent they were interested in the politics of the activist artwork we both make. They made it abundantly clear that they wanted to discuss the social ramifications of work which challenged the current system of public space usage through social deviance and illegal activity.

Obviously we were very excited for this opportunity and agreed to a Wednesday evening appearance on 02-11-09. After talking to PosterBoy, I explained to the producers that he would need his face blurred out and his voice manipulated in order to retain anonymity. (This was especially necessary given Henry Matyjewicz's recent arrest) Things seemed fine, and both of us looked forward to having a forum to openly discuss our work with someone known for attacking critical cultural and social issues.

Tuesday morning I received this email...

Hey guys,

I just got off the phone with the President of the CUNY television station, and I have some bad news. After thinking about the face blurring question he decided he is worried about legal ramifications for CUNY with having you guys on the air at all.

When we went deeper, he was too worried about the concept of what might happen, and he mentioned a few CUNY rules and regulations that I was not aware of. While I don't agree with his decision, it doesn't look like a battle that I can win right now, so we are going to have to cancel this Wednesday's interview.

Good luck with all that you guys do. I will be in touch next week when I've had a chance to take my case to the right authorities in person.

My apologies,

The rest of this post is made with all due respect to Brian Lehrer and the rest of the crew.

I was obviously a little upset at the opportunity passing before us to present our case in a respected public forum. I thought highly of the show for wanting to discuss what I think to be a very interesting and important public space issue. It struck me as odd that they would cancel, sure that they had over the years entertained other guests who were involved in illegal activities, both activist as well as less socially motivated crimes.

This got me to thinking about whether or not they would allow a landlord or outdoor advertising company executive on the show that had been involved with illegal outdoor advertising. I looked back into their history and couldn't find any specific examples but guests have definitely come and gone with controversy. I came to the conclusion that they probably would not have legal issues bringing on a executive or landlord, despite that guest being responsible for illegally putting up advertising images in our public space.

What is the difference between the two guests, and why would one have "legal ramifications for CUNY" that the other would not? It couldn't actually be the nature of the crime. If that was the case, one would think PosterBoy and I would be more readily accepted onto the show given that our crimes are meant to promote open discussion of another larger illegal issue in our city, while the crimes of the outdoor advertising industry were crimes committed in an effort to take advantage of the public for personal gain. Clearly the criminal behavior we promote has at its heart less criminal intent.

What could be the difference between us and them in the eyes of the President of the CUNY television station? I started thinking of other people I have been compared to over the years, street artists, graffiti artists, urban pranksters. The terms kept flowing and I soon arrived at a term often used to blanket large swaths of critical outdoor visual activity, Vandals. It became abundantly clear that we were not being allowed on the show not because of our label as criminals, but rather because we were painted as social deviants.

And herein lies the problem. Somehow in a strange manipulation of the facts, the severity of the crimes committed by individuals and those by large outdoor advertising companies, have been switched. The activist, or vandal, whatever you would like to call him or her, takes the brunt of the legal responsibility for illegal usage of the public environment, while those responsible for much larger crimes seem to hide in broad daylight.

In fact this same situation has played itself out for years, criminalizing petty crimes while casting a blind eye on more traditional illegal activities perpetrated by the the outdoor advertising industry in the city of New York. I hate to continually refer to the same post over and over again, but The Anti Advertising Agency's post on the anti-vandal squad resonates to well. With 3,786 graffiti arrests in 2007, and not a single outdoor advertising perpetrator arrested, the city is telling us what kind of visual pollution it sees as criminal, despite what the laws may be. This is obvious without even considering the amazing feat undertaken by the NYPD to reveal the identity of these deviants, compared with the incredible ease needed to catch those responsible for outdoor advertising.

So who is the Brian Lehrer show afraid of? Who would be upset enough to give legal troubles to a University because they entertained the socially minded mischief of a few public individuals? (I'm sure they are not that frightened by the actual legal ramifications but the fact that they are willing to entertain the possibility at all shows they don't want to take the risk of outing a very powerful industry in the city) I think the answer to this is relatively obvious and is yet another example of how outdoor advertising promotes a social environment which silences the individuals that live in that space.

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