So far, I've had the pleasure of reading galleys for the first two, Jonathan Lethem's deconstruction of John Carpenter's They Live, and Chris Sorrentino's homage to Death Wish. These are fun little books - little, meaning a hundred or so pages and in a tiny fits-in-your-back-pocket format suitable for reading anywhere at anytime. And they justify all the nights spent watching reruns of these films, never sure if we were allowed to like them as much as we do - even after we see through to their obvious faults. This book series considers such films "deliberate" B-movies.
I read Lethem's time-coded analysis of They Live on an airplane while I watched the film on my phone, for the perfect DIY mini-Criterion experience. Lethem is one of my favorite writers anyway, but experiencing him wax on about Nada and the ghouls was perhaps the highlight of my summer reading. Here he is on Shephard Fairey's original OBEY campaign, which began as a reaction to the "obey" signs revealed beneath ordinary advertisements when characters in the film wore "Hoffman glasses":
Fairey's interventions occupy the same uneasy middle ground as They Live itself: on the one hand, the termite arts of graffiti or of the deliberate B-Movie, marginal activities carrying a subversive potential past the sentries of high art. On the other, the gallery-ready postures of text-artists like Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer, or of the Cahiers table of "conscious" auteurs - Hitchcock being the supreme example - at which Carpenter may occasionally be granted a shakey seat. Too poisted and context-aware to be claimed as primitives, too crass and populist to be comfortably claimed for the high-art pantheon, Fairey and Carpenter both oscillate dismayingly in the void between.
Or, a bit later...
Kruger and Holzer's non-sequitor interventions briefly attained a gallant purity, but they'd always needed the gallery or museum context as a quarantine against recontamination. Their work degenerated anyway, refamiliarizing into po-mo moral rhetoric or reappropriated for fashion layouts. What makes Shepard Fairey's populist gesture insipid is is how self-evidently it awaited a product retrofit, a proceed-to-checkout button. When the OBEY t-shirt or CHANGE political campaign rolled out, no one, least of all the 'artworks' themselves, even hiccuped.
Winner of the Media Ecology Association's first Neil Postman award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity, Douglas Rushkoff is an author, teacher, and documentarian who focuses on the ways people, cultures, and institutions create, share, and influence each other's values. He is technology and media commentator for CNN, and has taught and lectured around the world about media, technology, culture and economics. His new book, Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age, a followup to his Frontline documentary, Digital Nation. His last book, an analysis of the corporate spectacle called Life Inc., was also made into a short, award-winning film.