Adbusters

Politics For Sale

After the iconic success of his Obama poster, Shepard Fairey continues to do what he does best: selling out.

I've never been a fan of Shepard Fairey's work. Far from the rebellious, meta-critique of consumer culture that it is purported to be, Fairey's art strikes me as contrived, unoriginal and uninspiring. But when Fairey created the now iconic image of Obama for his presidential campaign, I was forced to briefly reconsider my opinion of him as an artist. Now, just days after the inauguration, as the country basks in the light of cultural transcendence, Fairey is exploiting whatever political cachet he may have built with the Obama poster for the purpose of championing mindless consumerism.

Now I remember why I don't like his work.

Fairey has partnered with Saks Fifth Avenue to create a Constructivist-inspired marketing campaign for the high-end retailer's Spring season. Appropriating the style of one of his favorite go-to artists, Alexander Rodchenko, Fairey is doing what he does best – recycling politically-charged imagery in a way that is completely devoid of meaning. Borrowing from the aesthetic of 20th century workers' rights movements, Fairey's designs depict models with raised fists "arming themselves" with designer handbags. "Want It!" scream shopping bags in the same bold, graphic style that artists emerging from the Russian Revolution used to encourage the overthrow of the old social order.

"Some people might think [this campaign] could be making fun of what's going on right now," Fairey told the New York Times. "But I think most people are sophisticated enough to realize it's a way of grabbing attention. It's commerce. I don't think there is really any political statement embedded in this." What Fairey is either unable or unwilling to acknowledge is that the overtly political feel of the Saks campaign serves to mock and undercut the genuine desire for change inspired by the Obama campaign.

In urging a newly introspective populace to WANT, to NEED and to BUY, Fairey is helping to promote the same bullshit mindset that got us into our current mess – the very thing that we finally have a real opportunity to overthrow. He couldn't have chosen a more cynical project.

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50 comments on the article “Politics For Sale”

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Anonymous

zeitgeist... all anyone needs to disclaim that movement is a brain and 8 minutes alone with the tacky and dubious eponymous film. many of the hardcore cynics are so disenchanted with modern life that they're practically begging for a disastrous or apocalyptic "reset". this could mean anything from economic meltdown to environmental collapse, armed destruction et al. now that Obama is enacting change (and he is, if you've been following policy reversals, including the stimulus which sets aside a large chunk of money for not only education but the arts), these cynics feel threatened by the amelioration of their dystopian wet dreams. A total collapse is fantasy fodder for the anarcho-hypocrite. There's only one thing worse than everything becoming worse: signs of positive change. It's been sixteen years since I moved to the states, and this is the first real breathing room I've felt. I'm relishing the opportunity to harbor hope, to feel optimistic. Granted, I might be let down, but the positive signs are there for those willing to look. youth culture always needs something to rage against. So why not encourage a president who seems to understand rather than hobbling his message by denouncing his position? If only positive change was as sexy as rapid decline... and as far as this artist is concerned: turning a profit by inverting revolutionary signifiers...the corporations are profiting and so is the artist. And the message is counter to every art movement this man is taking cues from. co-optation is not a statement, not now: it's slap in the face. oh, and don't get me wrong, i understand how dire our predicament is. but then it's always been dire hasn't it? floods, pogroms, wars, devastation. how many doomsday signs have been held in modern cities since the rise of the machine? how many dark age plagues have eliminated millions of people? my point is that in an increasingly dark world we need to embrace even the slightest glimmer of hope, otherwise why try to change a thing? what's the point of this magazine? fine, be cynical, but at least do the rest of us the favor and disassociate from the message of change - go work for a chemical cartel or something. THAT'S cynical.

Anonymous

zeitgeist... all anyone needs to disclaim that movement is a brain and 8 minutes alone with the tacky and dubious eponymous film. many of the hardcore cynics are so disenchanted with modern life that they're practically begging for a disastrous or apocalyptic "reset". this could mean anything from economic meltdown to environmental collapse, armed destruction et al. now that Obama is enacting change (and he is, if you've been following policy reversals, including the stimulus which sets aside a large chunk of money for not only education but the arts), these cynics feel threatened by the amelioration of their dystopian wet dreams. A total collapse is fantasy fodder for the anarcho-hypocrite. There's only one thing worse than everything becoming worse: signs of positive change. It's been sixteen years since I moved to the states, and this is the first real breathing room I've felt. I'm relishing the opportunity to harbor hope, to feel optimistic. Granted, I might be let down, but the positive signs are there for those willing to look. youth culture always needs something to rage against. So why not encourage a president who seems to understand rather than hobbling his message by denouncing his position? If only positive change was as sexy as rapid decline... and as far as this artist is concerned: turning a profit by inverting revolutionary signifiers...the corporations are profiting and so is the artist. And the message is counter to every art movement this man is taking cues from. co-optation is not a statement, not now: it's slap in the face. oh, and don't get me wrong, i understand how dire our predicament is. but then it's always been dire hasn't it? floods, pogroms, wars, devastation. how many doomsday signs have been held in modern cities since the rise of the machine? how many dark age plagues have eliminated millions of people? my point is that in an increasingly dark world we need to embrace even the slightest glimmer of hope, otherwise why try to change a thing? what's the point of this magazine? fine, be cynical, but at least do the rest of us the favor and disassociate from the message of change - go work for a chemical cartel or something. THAT'S cynical.

An Earthling

to Anonymous I wouldn't be so scepticsl about Zeitgeist movement. If one takes a little time to read mission statment at Jaque Fresco's (Inventor/Futurist/Architect) www.thevenusproject web-resource, one would instantly feel that same sense of hope and compassion that you are striving for. And this is the man that Zeitgeist chose to partner with in an effort to bring peace and prosperity to the whole of the planet (not only US). Both are mature scientists and far from being scichotic anarchists that you are trying to portray. That's immature (: It is not advocating a doomsday scenario (you have mentioned yourself what this current political/economic paradigm has on offer "from economic meltdown to environmental collapse, armed destruction et al." ) but rather informing us of a possible solution - an economy without money and politics (even as hopeful as Obama's ) And God's speed to all his efforts to suceed... Sorry to digress. And on the topic of Fairlie's ouvre I would agree with you that art requires more moral and ethical courrage than artistic borrowing.

An Earthling

to Anonymous I wouldn't be so scepticsl about Zeitgeist movement. If one takes a little time to read mission statment at Jaque Fresco's (Inventor/Futurist/Architect) www.thevenusproject web-resource, one would instantly feel that same sense of hope and compassion that you are striving for. And this is the man that Zeitgeist chose to partner with in an effort to bring peace and prosperity to the whole of the planet (not only US). Both are mature scientists and far from being scichotic anarchists that you are trying to portray. That's immature (: It is not advocating a doomsday scenario (you have mentioned yourself what this current political/economic paradigm has on offer "from economic meltdown to environmental collapse, armed destruction et al." ) but rather informing us of a possible solution - an economy without money and politics (even as hopeful as Obama's ) And God's speed to all his efforts to suceed... Sorry to digress. And on the topic of Fairlie's ouvre I would agree with you that art requires more moral and ethical courrage than artistic borrowing.

I Get Money

Thanks for this post. Along with being an incredibly insulting ad campaign, I think it shows how Obama is less a president than a product, marketed like a pair of shoes to America and the world. I don't believe Obama was voted in by America. I believe he was sold to them - thanks to an incredibly clever and slick marketing campaign. Farley helped make sure the product looked the part. I don't see any difference between his Change poster and this ad campaign.

I Get Money

Thanks for this post. Along with being an incredibly insulting ad campaign, I think it shows how Obama is less a president than a product, marketed like a pair of shoes to America and the world. I don't believe Obama was voted in by America. I believe he was sold to them - thanks to an incredibly clever and slick marketing campaign. Farley helped make sure the product looked the part. I don't see any difference between his Change poster and this ad campaign.

gregor us

Insightful analysis re; Obama as product. I wonder though why we would think of him like that. All politics is the "sale" (in some sense) of a person and his ideas. Obama just happened to run one of the most intelligent and effective campaigns in history. Just because he was smart enough to really capitalize on modern methods of communication - does he really deserve to be labelled a product more so than any other person who has ever sought public office?

gregor us

Insightful analysis re; Obama as product. I wonder though why we would think of him like that. All politics is the "sale" (in some sense) of a person and his ideas. Obama just happened to run one of the most intelligent and effective campaigns in history. Just because he was smart enough to really capitalize on modern methods of communication - does he really deserve to be labelled a product more so than any other person who has ever sought public office?

janerain

Not all designers are artists, not all artists are designers. Constuctivism has been around a long time as inspiration for designers... It's a style trend now and like most trends it will go away eventually just like trash fonts and illegible typography. I do believe Fairey's intentions with the Obama poster were sincere and it's not against the law for an artist to finally make a buck. Having said that, I think the Saks campaign is absolutely despicable.

janerain

Not all designers are artists, not all artists are designers. Constuctivism has been around a long time as inspiration for designers... It's a style trend now and like most trends it will go away eventually just like trash fonts and illegible typography. I do believe Fairey's intentions with the Obama poster were sincere and it's not against the law for an artist to finally make a buck. Having said that, I think the Saks campaign is absolutely despicable.

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