I had seen the brilliant 1989 short film Ilha das Flores (translation, Isle of Flowers) before, but in the original Portuguese with subtitles. The narration is so poetic and coy, I was thrilled to find this wonderful version dubbed in English, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Writer and director Jorge Furtado actually said the piece was in part inspired by Kurt Vonnegut, and you can certainly hear it in the cadence of the narration (and subject matter), but there is also a Pythonesque humor to this absurdist little “documentary,” very reminiscent of the black humor in The Meaning of Life. I mean the opening credits land the first punch with, “God doesn’t exist.”
The “story” of the film begins with a Japanese-Brazilian farmer, who grows tomatoes that are later purchased in a supermarket by a nice middle-class door-to-door perfume saleslady. She then cooks these tomatoes into a sauce for her nice middle-class family—throughout all this the narrator is taking little contextual detours along the way on matters like evolution and the Holocaust. The story spins back and forth with cutting little observations on labor alienation and capitalism, until eventually we arrive at the titular Isle of Flowers, the tragic, ugly side of all our modern conveniences.
China’s air pollution is a serious issue, one that can be downright deadly, especially for small children. Predictably there is a lot of brutal Chinese environmental art out there, but this is one of the most legitimately creepy stunts I’ve ever seen—projections of wailing children and babies on columns of smog. My first impression of the spectacle was, “Oh, it must be a Chinese artist making an environmental message!” Nope, the installations and associated video are actually an advertisement for air purifiers. Yes, despite all those nifty overtures to communism, China is very much a country that runs on capitalism. The company’s statement on the ad:
Xiao Zhu wanted to stand out in a market that was almost as congested as the air. A market where half a million people, mostly children, have died due to air pollution related illnesses. So we decided to put a spotlight on air pollution’s biggest culprits—the factories—by using the actual pollution from the factories as a medium. People took notice, and the word spread.
Clear the air. Let the future breathe again.
Oh wow, I feel so hopeful about the future now that there’s a product to remedy this problem!
Remember kids, if capitalism caused the problem, you can certainly count on capitalism to solve the problem! (Right?)
As if the punk-is-dead crowd needed any further ammo, Virgin Money (yes, it’s a thing, and yes, it’s an offshoot of the record label/airline/cell phone provider/whatever) is issuing Sex Pistols credit cards. Because nothing says “ANARCHY” like a line of credit from MasterCard.
Quoted in The Mirror, Virgin Money exec Michael Greene had this to offer, evidently in total seriousness:
For a long time now, UK banks have all been the same.
In launching these cards, we wanted to celebrate Virgin’s heritage and difference.
The Sex Pistols challenged convention and the established ways of thinking, just as we are doing today in our quest to shake up UK banking.
Virgin mogul Sir Richard Branson added:
The Sex Pistols are an iconic band and an important part of Virgin’s history. Virgin Money is a bank that can be proud of its past and I love the fact that the team have chosen to celebrate it in this way.
Even after nearly 40 years, the Sex Pistols power to provoke is undimmed.
Of course, given the band’s history it’s easy to argue that there’s nothing inappropriate about this at all, and that furthermore a credit card that has the word “bollocks” on it is, in a way, actually kinda punk as fuck. I’m unable to find any information on how much the surviving band members themselves make from this.
Here’s Branson, in what amounts to a hagiographic infomercial for the cards:
“She came from Greece / She had a thirst for knowledge.” So starts “Common People,” the epic 1995 song by Pulp that combined a glam/arena aesthetic, punk rock vitriol, and a nuanced understanding of the lived experience of class-based resentment that even Thorstein Veblen would envy.
The entire song is structured as an obliterating rebuke to a female Greek student who claims to “want to live like common people,” with the sly, cutting afterthought “like you.” Along the way, the narrator (or the song’s writer, Jarvis Cocker, if you prefer) succeeds in utterly dismantling the unnamed Greek woman’s blithe acceptance of class inequities, reminding her that when the project of pretending to live your life “with no meaning or control” gets too unpleasant, what with roaches climbing the wall and all, “if you call your Dad he could stop it all” but also emphasizing the authenticity that “common people” have that she never will; she is “amazed that they exist” and “burn so bright.” The song is the third track on Pulp’s breakthrough album Different Class.
It seems that the identity of the woman who inspired the Britpop classic may have been revealed on a Greek website—none other than video and installation artist Danae Stratou, who is also married to Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. Cocker has been unhelpful bordering on coy, stating the following: “On that BBC Three documentary [The Story of “Common People”], the researchers went through all the people who were contemporaries of mine at St Martins and they tried to track her down. They showed me a picture and it definitely wasn’t her. I dunno. Maybe she wasn’t Greek. Maybe I misheard her.”
The Athens Voice reports that Danae Stratou met Pulp’s lead singer Jarvis Cocker while they were both students at St. Martins College of Art Design in London. She attended the school between 1983 and 1988. Cocker had previously told Brit-music bible the New Music Express that the song was about a Greek girl he met at the school. He added later that the girl told him that she “wanted to move to Hackney and live like ‘the common people.’”
St. Martins is, of course, mentioned in the song.
Furthermore, according to Farrell, “Danae Stratou’s father was a millionaire Greek industrialist,” which means that she didn’t marry into money but was wealthy when she was a student as well.
So is Stratou the slumming Greek socialite? We can’t be sure—yet—but right now the signs look auspicious.
If you haven’t heard the song lately, here’s your chance to have it in your head for the rest of today (and probably tomorrow, too):
Retrospectives on communist art and design are often dominated by some pretty inaccessible (and sometimes downright godawful) aesthetics. For example, many people find the grey boxes of GDR architecture a bit alienating, and while I personally adore it for kitsch value, most folks don’t dig on Socialist Realism paintings, as all that beatific portraiture of Stalin can get overwhelmingly corny. Dictators and stark buildings are not however, the whole and sum of communist aesthetics. There has been a lot of exoteric art produced in the name of the workers state, and with his unmistakable saturated colors and revolutionary tableaux, René Mederos was one such propagandist of the people.
Born in 1933, self-taught Cuban artist Felix René Mederos Pazos began his career at a Havana print shop when he was only 11 years old. By his mid-twenties he was Chief Designer for the big Cuban television station, and in 1964 he started making propaganda posters as head of a design team. In 1969 Mederos was sent to Vietnam to paint the war alongside the Vietnamese communists that were fighting it. Despite the brutality and violence he witnessed, Mederos often produced alluring, joyful images, a direction that some Cubans felt wasn’t dark and/or anti-American enough.
Mederos actually returned to Vietnam in 1972, and though he also did series on Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution, Vietnam remains his most famous subject, and a major touchstone in Cuban graphic design.
“Como en Viet Nam, Mes de la Mujer Vietnamita” (Month of the Vietnamese Woman), ca. 1970
Most Americans pay absolutely no attention to British politics, and frankly why should we? Our politicians are actual goddamn sideshow freaks, whereas the UK just has a bunch of drips, simps and wimps with only one actual lunatic in the person of Ukip’s unhinged dingbat, the Palinesque (and I don’t mean Michael) nincompoop Nigel Farage. BORING.
I do follow British politics (I lived there for a while during the Thatcher era) and like many actual Britons, I too believe this is one of the most important elections for the country in our lifetime. The UK is most assuredly at a pivotal juncture politically, with issues of wage stagnation, structural unemployment, immigration, the conservatives’ much hated NHS reform, affordable housing, tax cuts for billionaires and many, many other serious matters seeing that this election has an extremely high level of public awareness.
Again, most of my fellow countrymen couldn’t care less about any of that stuff, but now they have a reason to pay attention because there is a celebrity angle: Comedian and social activist Russell Brand has done a bit of a U-turn and decided that INDEED there is a reason to vote and he’s throwing his support behind the Labour Party and Ed Miliband. If you’re reading this and thinking, “Big deal, some celebrity big ups a politician, who cares?” Owen Jones writes at the he Guardian that “Brand matters” and why the comedian’s surprise endorsement of Miliband should have the Tories quite worried:
And however much bluff and bluster the Tories now pull – maybe more playground abuse from David Cameron, who called Brand a “joke” – his endorsement of Labour in England and Wales will worry them. More people have registered to vote than ever before: between the middle of March and the deadline to register, nearly 2.3 million registered, over 700,000 of them 24 years old or younger. In countless marginal seats, disillusioned voters who were either going to plump for a protest party or not vote at all could well decide whether we are ruled by David Cameron, George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith for another half a decade.
Even in a country as large as America, 2.3 million newly registered voters *SNAP* like that in would be seen as a somewhat staggering number, so in a nation the size of Great Britain, this should be seen as an incredibly significant development. Russell Brand’s opinions matter to young people, even if, it would seem, that (happily) many of them ignored his “Don’t bother voting” hectoring last year that he obviously doesn’t even believe himself anymore.
And don’t think any of this is lost on the current resident of #10 Downing Street as Prime Minister David Cameron has repeatedly spoken with scorn at Brand’s surprise endorsement of his political rival. In recent weeks this race has gone from merely tight to a real who-knows-what’s-going-to happen nailbiter and he knows it. Politically speaking, tectonic plates are shifting in Great Britain, this just makes the situation even more volatile.
Brand shot back at the Tory leader:
“David Cameron might think I’m a joke but I don’t think there’s anything funny about what the Conservative party have been doing to this country and we have to stop them.”
We’ll soon see how these newly registered voters tip the scales politically in the UK, but just hours away from the vote, the flux and uncertainty of the situation is impressive to say the least. Brand’s last minute endorsement of Miliband, and the effect this might have on the election’s outcome, is interesting to contemplate. Even if you’re only tuning in now and following the broadest strokes of the horse race, it’s worth paying attention because all bets are truly off.
Let’s hope Brand gets a chance to meet with Bernie Sanders soon, eh? Keep it inneresting, mate!
Socialist post-punk dance-floor agitators, Delta 5 were closely aligned with the Gang of Four, another Leeds-based group who mixed music and left wing politics. Formed in 1979 by vocalist/guitarist Julz Sale, fretless bassist Ros Allen, and second bassist Bethan Peters, who then added guitarist Alan Briggs and drummer Kelvin Knight. Their thumpy, double bass guitar-led funk attack, slashing guitars and flat, bored female vocals made them sound like a tighter version of the Slits mixed with the Gang of Four’s razor-sharp guitar lines. Both Delta 5 and the Gang of Four were associated with the Rock Against Racism movement. Delta 5, with three women in the group, also played several benefits to fight the Corrie Bill, an anti-abortion statute.
In late 1970s, the racist British Movement, a National Front offshoot that was unashamedly Nazi organized in Leeds and enlisted some local yobs to form skinhead groups to harass the “Communist” bands and to counter RAR. The concerts they organized were called Rock Against Communism (The notorious oi band Screwdriver sprang from this mucky milieu). One night Delta 5 member Ros Allen was recognized in a pub by eight British Movement members who called her a “Communist witch.” The members of the group were followed outside and beaten. Vocalist/bassist Bethan Peters told Greil Marcus in 1980 that the sight of skinheads doing “Sieg heil” salutes was common at their gigs and how she once grabbed one of them and repeatedly smashed his head into the stage.
Delta 5 did not last that long, just one album and some singles before they split in 1982. Their reputation was obscure for several decades, but in 2006, the Kill Rock Stars label released some early Delta 5 material called Singles & Sessions 1979-81, which saw renewed interest in the group.
Their best song (in my opinion): “Mind Your Own Business” performed at the Hurrah nightclub in New York City, 1980. The full set is available on DVD.
At Babylon Falling I stumbled across this remarkable full-page image of countercultural satire at its sharpest and most dangerous. Fifteen trading cards for the “Outlaws of Amerika,” featuring radical rock stars like Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver and Huey Newton and less known figures like Cha Cha Jimenez and Roger Priest. This image has been variously attributed to The Chicago Seed and the Black Panther publication Lumpen. According to this article in the Atlantic Monthly, the BAMN Anthology from Penguin claims that it was created for the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.
However, according to this listing on abebooks, it definitely appeared in the “Second Birthday Issue” of RAT Subterranean News, March 7-21, 1969. (This reddit thread gets this information substantially correct but blows the year.) Whether it appeared anywhere before that, I can’t say.
The artist was Lester Dore, who went by the nickname “Wanderoo” (you can barely read his signature at the bottom). The All-Stars are classified into “Social Deviants,” “Third World Revolutionaries,” and, in a single instance, “Native Americans.” The cards wittily use icons such as a raised fist (protest), a bomb (use of bombs), an M-16 (violence), a tomahawk (Indians’ rights), a marijuana leaf (drugs), an electric chair (outlaw is on death row), and an ohm symbol (resistance). On the right hand side, in small print, it reads “Save a complete collection ... If sent with a Wanted Poster or reasonable facsimile thereof, good for: a wig, a complete set of phony I.D., and am M-16.” On the bottom it reads, “Wait for the second series of Amerikan Outlaw Trading Cards ... You may be next!!!” The logo on every card is “KOPPS,” a play on Topps, which had well-nigh monopolistic control of the baseball card market for many years until rival companies entered the market in the 1980s.
(In case you are wondering, yes, Afeni Shakur is Tupac‘s mother.)
(Click below for a larger version of this image.)
More of Amerika’s outlaws, class of 1969, after the jump…
Ellen DeGeneres is so very likeable that nobody is going to mind at all that she stands to make a huge wad of moolah from the what can in many cases be presumed to be the problem gambling habits of thousands of lower-income Americans.
When your face is on a device that will be used to vacuum all the spare change out of patrons’ pockets, you can’t exactly hide the fact. Ellen announced the new machines last year on her site. Her website also has a “finder” so you can make your way to the slot machines more easily. There are currently four in the San Francisco area, five in the Los Angeles area, two in the Chicago area, and so on.
“From the first spin of the reels, the famously familiar Ellen theme song emanates from each game and players are transported to the set of their favorite TV hour,” says International Game Technology, which its website identifies as “the industry’s leading manufacturer of gaming machines.” Phil O’Shaughnessy, director of Global Corporate Communications for IGT, said the following:
If you think about the show, there are so many icons from the show, be it the red chair, the sunglasses, even the boxer shorts. They really lend themselves nicely to a video slot environment. The other thing is, Ellen’s all about laugh dance play, and we really embrace that concept, realizing that some of the elements, such as “Know or Go” or “Wheel of Riches,” would actually make excellent bonus rounds in a slot environment as well.
There are actually three Ellen-themed games, “Ellen’s Dance Party,” “Ellen’s Know or Go” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show 12 Days of Giveaways.”
“Casino gambling expert” Al Moe hilariously opines that “the huge Ellen photos are a bit creepy, as her eyes seem to follow you around the slot floor.” However, the San Francisco Chronicle reported yesterday that the new machines are a hit, “drawing crowds”—a representative from some casino indicated that “it’s not unusual to see a crowd standing around the machines, laughing at what transpires while people play,” according to the Chronicle.
In the summer of 1965, Dutch designer and political activist Luud Schimmelpennink suggested a simple radical scheme that would eventually change the world. Schimmelpennink had an idea for creating a more sustainable environment by giving away free bicycles for communal use in Amsterdam’s city center. The suggestion was called the “White Bicycle Plan” and was part of a series of “White Plans” devised by the Dutch anarchist group Provo.
Provo is a Dutch word for “young trouble-maker” and was considered an appropriate name for a group of young anarchists to carry out political “happenings” and stunts that were inspired as much by DADA as by Herbert Marcuse. Provo was formed by artist and anti-smoking campaigner Robert Jasper Grootveld, writer and anarchist Roel van Duijn and activist Rob Stolk in May 1965. Their motivation, they explained, was to fight back against capitalist society that was “poisoning itself with a morbid thirst for money,” where its citizens were “being brought up to worship Having and despise Being.”
Because this bureaucratic society is choking itself with officialdom and suppressing any form of spontaneity. Its members can only become creative, individual people through anti-social conduct.
Because the militaristic society is digging its own grave by a paranoid arms build-up. Its members now have nothing to look forward to but certain death by atomic radiation.
Provo attracted anarchists, beatniks, activists, hippies, philosophers and even “charlatans,” “scratchers and syphilitics, secret police, and other riff-raff.”
The group listed their beliefs as:
Provo has something against capitalism, communism, fascism, bureaucracy, militarism, professionalism, dogmatism, and authoritarianism. Provo has to choose between desperate, resistance and submissive extinction. Provo calls for resistance wherever possible. Provo realises that it will lose in the end, but it cannot pass up the chance to make at least one more heartfelt attempt to provoke society. Provo regards anarchy as the inspirational source of resistance. Provo wants to revive anarchy and teach it to the young. Provo is an image
In 1965, Provo announced their plan to stop all personal motorized transport within Amsterdam, making the streets safe for the public and only accessible by walking, cycling or public transport. Provo presented their proposal to the municipal authorities, suggesting that they should buy 20,000 white bicycles every year giving them away free for public use. This proposal was rejected by the local politicians. Provo then decided to supply 50 free bicycles themselves—this was the “Witte Fietsenplan” or “White Bicycle Plan.”
The White Bicycle Plan proposes to create bicycles for public use that cannot be locked. The white bicycle symbolizes simplicity and healthy living, as opposed to the gaudiness and filth of the authoritarian automobile.
The first white bicycle is given away.
However, as soon as these 50 white bicycles were made freely available they were impounded by the police on the grounds the bikes were not “lockable.” Apparently, all bikes in Amsterdam at that time had to be lockable. Undeterred by the police actions, Provo waited until the bikes were returned and they then fitted each bike with a simple combination lock with the number painted on the bike’s frame. Of course, some of the bikes were stolen, but the White Bicycle revolution had begun.