Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Get Out of My Pants

Try not to choke on your hashtags, but I’m a big fan of the 30 second spot. (I’ll give the digital strategists a second to clean up the Massengill they just blew out their nose.) Call it media blasphemy. But I’m a fan of the crafting that once lassoed my extreme ADHD, capturing me for a full 30 seconds, while I inquired along with Clara Peller and the rest of America, whereabouts of said “beef.” Yeah, them were simpl’r times. But better simple (and funny!) than utterly fucking disgusting.

Disgusting like this digital advertising version of the Garbage Pail Kid. Hey, gals! Kotex is inviting you to put on your creative caps and get artsy by designing its, well, Maxi Pads!?!? Maybe it’s because I have the sophisticated sense of humor of a 13-year-old boy. But this complete FAIL of an execution conjured up all kinds of uncomfortable questions (and images) like, “Aren’t we already kind of coloring these things anyway?” (Properly disgusted yet? Ok, then.) This isn’t the first time we’ve invited the audience to craft the message, it just happens to be a big “REALLY?” from an industry that’s lost its fucking marbles and/or more and more seeing itself as curator rather than creator. When I say I’m a fan of the 30 second spot, what I really mean is that I like stories. Good ones. The kind told by people with a knack for that sort of thing. Not anybody with a mouse and a maxi pad.

Here’s something actually worth your attention. Martin Scorsese’s documentary Public Speaking on writer, Fran Lebowitz.
(Go see it. It’s hilarious. Seriously.)

In it, she laments the democratization of creativity. “There are too many books. These books are terrible, and this is because you have been taught to have self esteem.” She also admits to not owning a computer. Which is probably for the best. Because given her attitude about literary content that actually made it through publishing, I suspect if she got her eyeballs on a “mommy blog,” she would croak immediately.

Digital’s greatest strength is also, I’m afraid, its greatest weakness. There are too many lazy advertising “creatives” out there, equating brand conversation with handing out “crayons for everybody!” Result? There are too many story tellers, but not enough stories. There’s a lack of connoisseurship, because we’ve done away with the traditional gatekeepers of content, instead adapting the kindergarten teacher mentality that “Everybody’s creative!” No. They’re not. (Nor is everything a canvas. Especially maxi pads.) “Interactive” doesn’t mean we let the audience do all the talking. That would be like going to MSG, only for James Murphy to pass out turn tables and clarinets to the audience, sit on stage, and wait for us to play.

That does not, however, mean digital doesn’t possess a wildly important role. The Times just ran a great article about the ways Museums have adapted social media to engage their audience. It’s turning museums into “virtual community centers. Curators and online visitors can communicate, learning from one another.” It’s about, says Ian Padgham, the SFMoMA digital engagement associate, “off the cuff transparency.” Which for a museum, makes total sense. An organization which might have been viewed as stogy and inaccessible, is now an open-armed community, empowering its visitors with a voice. But here’s the key difference. While there’s an invitation to talk about it, nobody’s creating the art.

I don’t mean to say social media etc is only good for product discussion. (I know it gets a little mucky because they’re both about “creation.”) It just happens to make perfect sense for museums. But that’s the thing. It makes perfect sense because there’s an idea behind it. Dare I say it acts as a narrative for a larger story: “Museum art exists for it’s audience.” It certainly does not create a microsite inviting users to “Punk your Pollock!” and digitally splatter away. (P.S. If you’re not groaning there’s something wrong with you. ) Sure it might increase attendance. But what’s good for business might cause another freaking earthquake, as the entire generation of abstract expressionists roll over in their graves. It’s a quick fix, but ultimately the real Pollock suffers. Not to mention our culture.

“Curation” may be the culture’s buzz word de jour, but we’re not going to have much of one, if we leave it up to everybody.