There used to be all sorts of criticisms of the old “culture industries” like Hollywood and the top 40, which entertained us with stories or songs that always ended on an upbeat note, no matter how false. But at least the culture industries went to the bother of entertaining us. Their replacements don’t even bother. They expect us to entertain each other, and pay a tax for it. Facebook or Google’s YouTube are not the culture industries so much as the vulture industries, taking an information surcharge from us while we amuse each other, and selling us to advertisers. Like do-it-yourself commercial TV.
These are all elements of what I call the “spectacle of disintegration”. The old spectacle of television and radio papered the world with images of what the lovely soul of the commodity was supposed to look like. We were at least still free to daydream while we sat idly watching.
But in the spectacle of disintegration, all that breaks apart. The big screen decays into so many little screens. Our leisure time is now to be spent producing information for the vulture industries of Google and co, in an unequal exchange of information. In exchange for the poll tax of personal data, we get to watch each other’s cat videos, while Google becomes some new version of the state, presiding over all our bitty lives, master of all our data, in aggregate.
Like any state, Google has its patriots. But there are also those who think this latest version of the spectacle offers some quirky avenues for having fun at its expense. Its time for a certain opacity, a certain glamour of obscurity. Not all the information we offer up has to be even remotely true.
Robert Xavier Burden used to paint nudes, but nearly a decade ago he shifted his eye from bare flesh to another sort of fetish. Now he spends thousands of hours creating massive, and massively nerdy, oil paintings of toys from his youth.
You might think his switch from naked human models to tiny action figures would make life a lot simpler for the San Francisco artist, but you’d be wrong.
“I’m hesitant to use the word ‘easy,’ just because of the fact that making these paintings is ludicrous, you know?” Burden told Wired during a recent interview here in his warehouse studio, which is packed with paintings that can reach more than 10 feet tall. “But I also don’t think that they work on a small scale. I think if it is about sort of recapturing a sense of childhood wonderment and awe, there is this idea that maybe these things should tower over you — that if you walk into a gallery, they should be a little bit overwhelming.”
Remember kids, billboard vandalism is a fun and victimless crime.
(NOTE: We are not saying that vandalizing billboards is funny or great)