S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 6 May 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 
 
 
 

Iconoblast

 

[Iconic]

"Whenever you can build a shed,"

says David Lynch, "you've got it

made." He might not seem like

the man to go to for business

advice, but the lost

highwayman's insight into the

value of property demystifies

his presence on the cover of the

premiere issue of Icon:

Thoughtstyle Magazine for Men.

Less sage, and certainly a step

away from the kind of

gregarious, man-of-the-world

image most men's magazines try

to project, is his observation

that "Sugar is granulated

happiness. It's a friend."

Though we're not averse to

enjoying the company of a few

close pharmaceuticals ourselves,

Lynch's idea of a good time does

sound a little peculiar. But who

are we to judge?

 

No one, according to Icon. "While

Icon focuses on accomplishment,

it is not concerned with

concepts like 'hero,' 'role

model,' or 'villain' for that

matter," the editor's note

effuses, presumably to set the

magazine apart from the choleric

commentators at Details and Fast

Company. Icon, we are further

informed, will feature "case

studies of people who - for

better or worse - have become

symbols, or icons." You'd have

to go to the Los Angeles jury

pool to find another group this

forgiving.

 

[Car of Death]

Of course Icon's rush to

nonjudgment just translates into

equal-opportunity celebration,

as everyone from Todd McFarlane

to Ollie North receives the kind

of lexical fellatio usually

reserved for genuine role models -

like Howard Stern and Larry

Flynt. Even if Icon had somehow

managed to cover its subjects

with something else besides

enthusiastic spittle, the mere

fact of a magazine devoted to

"icons" suggests that the "Great

Man" theory of history continues

to dominate our cultural

imagination.

 

[Riot]

Not that the masses can't make

news as well. While the Los

Angeles riots were all the rage

a few years back, the uprising

produced very few, er,

recognizable faces beyond

Reginald Denny and, of course,

Rodney King. In fact, only Daryl

Gates has remained in the

spotlight since the heat of the

fires died down. We always knew

he would continue to haunt us,

but somehow we thought he'd live

on in our conscience, not on E!

 

[A Day In The City]

Gates can pursue his

infomercial-level stardom

because, in the last analysis,

the post-verdict violence was

too big a burden for one man to

bear. In the face of a scandal,

we look for someone to blame,

but in retrospect, the LA riots

have taken on the cast of a

natural disaster: inevitable,

cataclysmic, and, in their own

right, "iconic."

 

The riots brought to the surface

and continue to symbolize the

desperation that is both

capitalism's threat and its

driving force. Doubt that our

nation's history rests on

people's willingness to knock

off liquor stores? Think Saint

Valentine's Day Massacre or Whiskey

Rebellion. When it comes to the

American dream, we've always

been willing to make the

ultimate sacrifice: law and

order. We succeed as a country

because we're willing to fail as

a society. Is it worth it? Just

look at all the cool stuff we

have!

 

If you doubt the magnificence of

the free market's bounty, a

sampling is lovingly displayed

at the San Francisco Museum of

Modern Art. Sadly, SFMOMA's

current exhibit, Icons: Magnets

of Meaning, missed the

opportunity to co-brand with the

Thoughtstyle crowd. The scheme

wouldn't have been so

far-fetched, either: Beyond

parallel labels, the collection

and the publication share a

reluctance to judge the objects

of their affection, even when,

in the case of SFMOMA, the

objects are only objects.

 

[Luscious Lipstick, very Phallic]

For curator Aaron Betsky, this

critical reserve might stem from

his conviction that the items

are, you know, icons, invested

with all the symbolism and

quasi-spiritual power that word

implies. Introducing the

exhibition's 11 mostly common

(some might say prosaic)

consumer goods, ranging from

Philosophy lipstick to 501

jeans, Betsky argues that they

have become "anchors in a world

in which continual movement and

change have replaced static,

social, economic, and political

statements ... these objects

remain as magnets of meaning

onto which we can project out

memories, our hopes, and our

sense of self." Levi-Strauss

will be happy to hear this.

 

[I have no idea what this picture represents]

To be fair, Betsky acknowledges

that icons are "made not born,"

but within the exhibit's Crate

& Barrel format (reflecting

museum trends everywhere, the

hall feels more like a mall),

the Invisible Hand is nowhere to

be seen. Simply recognizing the

role of advertisers and

corporate PR in creating our

associations between The Luxor

and leisure, a mixer and

efficiency, a surfboard and

freedom does little to help us

understand it. Then again, who

can blame him? The system is so

darn complicated. Betsky

sidesteps the confusion by

suggesting that though our

understanding may be imperfect,

the icons are not: They are the

"perfected results of

complicated manufacturing,

distribution, and advertising

processes on a vast and

unknowable scale." Um, OK.

They're all still available at

Macy's, right?

 

[Vrooom, A Jeep]

Idol worship has always been a

form of transcendence, but

Betsky makes shopping sound like

prayer, the ritual by which we

come into contact with

commodities "which cannot be

explained, that remind ... us of

the something we have made, made

ourselves into, or can remake."

Any archaeologist will tell you

that we know our own history

through objects, but this is

history as a catalog, and the

news as fetish.

 

Actually, outside the museum

store, there's little explicit

reference to shopping at SFMOMA.

Indeed, the exhibit's retail

ambience and consumerist

boosterism make the lack of

price tags the show's most

frustrating detail. Repeated

allusions to the role of

"appropriation" is the closest

he comes to acknowledging that

"making by making one's own"

usually requires you to own.

Unless Aaron Betsky's taking a

page from Abbie Hoffman and

talking about just taking

something. Unless he's trying to

start a riot.



courtesy of Ann O'Tate
 
 
 

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