S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 24 September 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 

 
Genius Envy

 

[Koons]

In the go-go days of the '80s art

market, it seemed as if any old

stockbroker with a creative

streak and a penchant for

self-promotion could have been

crowned "King Midas of SoHo." In

fact, one of them was. Back in,

say, 1983, when Saturday

afternoon gallery strollers

encountered a ready-made,

plexiglass-encased vacuum

cleaner courtesy of Jeff Koons,

they usually had the same,

amazed, open-mouthed reaction:

 

"I could have done that."

 

[Duchamp]

Unlike Warhol and Duchamp before

him, Koons wasn't out to infuse

everyday objects like soup cans

and blonde movie stars with

extraordinary meaning. Instead,

Koons was interested in

eliminating meaning - parodying

shiny things by making them even

shinier. By proclaiming himself

the "most written-about artist

in the world," Koons became the

ultimate art world parodist.

Only by crowning himself King of

Pop could he skewer the other

King of Pop.

 

[Breastplate]

More than a decade on, today's

parodists know that those who

can, do, while those who can't,

redo. Still, they must ache for

the life that Koons enjoyed -

wine-soaked gallery openings,

ArtForum covers, an Italian porn

star for a wife. But, since the

bottom fell out of the art

market just around, say, October

1987, the parodists of today

can't hope to enjoy Koons-like

riches. Instead, they're stuck

with nonprofit art spaces -

where society types masquerade

as curators - or the web. Thanks

to the brass ring of press

coverage and ad banners, most

choose the latter.

 

These days it's easy for a young,

budding parodist to get hooked

on the illicit thrill of digital

caricature. Combine a need to

blow off some work-induced

stress with the common desire to

surf a bastardized version of

the corporate web site, and boom -

the Zippy the Pinhead active

filter appears. It's the

equivalent of that first hit of

reefer for the kid in the

schoolyard. It's safe, it's

easy, and if their hand eye

coordination is good enough,

Alt-Tabbing away when the boss

walks by will be just as natural

as palming the smoking joint

when the wrestling coach spotted

them behind the high school gym.

 

[Your Ad]

Eventually, they'll turn to

stronger stuff and need to steal

to support their habit. The

standard web browser's View

Source command is the Saturday

Night Special of the web. Sure,

HTML is easy as hell, but

outright robbery is a hell of a

lot easier. Armed with a

browser, all one needs to

jumpstart a web counterfeiting

career is some free time and a

web server.

 

[Stale]

And maybe a C-note for a domain

name. Case in point: everyone's

favorite web whipping post,

Slate, spawned two ripoffs, Stale and

Stall. Both swiped layout and

images. Both took cheap shots at

the khakied ones from the

northwest. But Stale had the

$100 for "stale.com," and won

the publicity contest hands

down.

 

Sure, your mother told you never

to judge a book by its cover.

But on the web, image is

everything. If the game were

based on what's actually beyond

the URL, Stall would be the

obvious nominee for the Parody

Pulitzer. In the book review

category, Stall's review of

Kathy Acker, My Mother, where

"250 pages of the book are

blank" smartly appeals to the

postliterate in all of us.

Stale, on the other hand, tries

to combine the worst of a

decade-old Wendy's ad with Upton

Sinclair in "Where's the Beef,

Inspector?" Nevertheless, Stale

wins the ad banners, while Stall

languishes with obscure-joke

banners.

 

[Squat]

Stale better watch their back,

because sometimes the grandest

plans of a parodist backfire.

After all, who's not to say that

Stall couldn't reinvent itself

as a parody of Stale? The more

likely scenario, however, is

that the "Oprah syndrome" takes

over, and the cult of the victim

(in this case, Kinsley) grows

over time. In New York, a

mediocre subway mugging

transformed an ordinary commuter

into the "legendary" Bernard

Goetz. On the web, The

Squat helped catapult The Spot

from just another Southern

California soap opera to Cool

Site of the Year. If Microsoft

were smart, it would acquire

both Stale and Stall, set up

alternate production staffs, and

reap the ad revenue from all

three.

 

[Home Run]

Don't laugh - metaparody's been

done. Some of the web's more

jaundiced parodists have found

that the thrill of vandalizing

the unsuspecting mark dulls

after a while, and instead turn

sights on themselves. On the one

hand, it's a way of keeping one

step ahead of the pack, of

outparodying the parodists. On

the other hand, or with the

other hand, it's a bit

autoerotic. Sure, it may feel

good for a while, but eventually

you'll just go blind.

 

It used to be that high-profile

crimes required high-profile

tools - automatic weapons,

getaway cars, Swiss bank

accounts - and thus limited the

number of people that could

actually pull them off. But on

the web, with such easy access

to the weapons of choice -

browsers, text editors, Paint

Shop Pro - the work of the Way

New Parodists seems to elicit an

oddly familiar response:

 

"I could have done that."


courtesy of Cleary S. Day