Sunday, November 05, 2006

Reading (RED)

In today's
Sun-HeraldArtswipe's favourite weekend Bible – Bono defends Madonna's decision to adopt David Banda: "I'm very happy that Madonna should offer succour and more than that to a young boy," Bono said. "He's got a great opportunity now." The article goes on to reveal that Bono was once offered an African child by a desperate father, but was unable to take him home. Apparently the boy's face "haunts him to this day" and is the reason Bono started campaigning for African poverty relief. Surely Bono could have taken the boy on as staff? He does employ a whole fleet of people to attend to his family's every need.

Earlier this year Bono and Bobby Shriver, Chairman of Data, created a product line called (RED), which aimed to raise awareness and money for a global fund to help women and children with HIV/AIDS in Africa.
(BLOG) RED documents the journey, which in recent months has seen Gap, Apple, Motorola, Converse, Emporio Armani and American Express release products associated with the (RED) brand. If you buy (RED) you are helping the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Why "red"? Well, in my last post, I suggested – quite crudely I admit – that red and black work quite well together. Red string works on black skin. Even Coca-Cola know they're onto a good thing with their black and red visual identity. The tension the (RED) campaign raises is the way it purports to be about politics, when really it's about aesthetics. Writing about fascism in the epilogue of the famous essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," Walter Benjamin argues: "All efforts to render politics aesthetic culminate in one thing: war." Bono is certainly not alone today in his attempts to "render politics aesthetic." Much art and popular culture thrives on this instinct, and certainly, Artswipe believes that aesthetics sparkle brighter than ever when charged by the frisson of political engagement – but only when the machinery of propaganda isn't facilitating such processes.

Buy (RED) and we can feel like we're fighting dire social problems like the spread of HIV/AIDS in poverty stricken corners of the globe. Our rampant desire to shop can now feel justified as charity. We're saving the world when we buy a Motorola phone. Can the receipt for a purchase of a (RED) iPod Nano be claimed as a charitable tax deduction? When we spend big on (RED) American Express and get into monstrous debt, does the exorbitant interest charges also go to help Africans with HIV/AIDS? Even OprahArtswipe's favourite philosopher (after Walter Benjamin) – champions (RED), taking the time and photo-op to
spend big with Bono. Of course she supports it! Oprah obviously has a major shopping addiction. If "EVERYBODY GETS A CAR!" (as her entire studio audience did in one infamous 2004 episode of her talk show) it's only because she feels compelled to momentarily alleviate her own conspicuous consumption.

Charity begins at home and homes always look better when decked out in a wealth of commodities. Consumed with fervour in the western world such commodities become tokens of cultural, social and even intellectual capital, even if their origins derive from non-western sweat shop labour. (RED) labours under the weight of such good intentions to conflate the frenzy of consumer culture with social responsibility.

Why is it branded "red"? Simply because the issue is not as political as it is aesthetic. As aesthetic as blackness is for a white western culture bred on a Benetton "united colours" mentality. Perhaps signifying blood, which with or without the stigma of HIV/AIDS is still coloured red, the (RED) brand reveals its shallow aestheticisation of race as if it's a Dulux colour chart in its revealing manufacturing of blackness.

For celebrities endorsing the (RED) campaign, blackness is a commodity that can be purchased symbolically. Through cash register empathy, blackness can be bought to ensure the privilege of whiteness is momentarily used for good. Kate Moss appeared on the cover of the UK magazine The Independent in blackface with the headline, "Not a Fashion Statement." Touted as "The Africa Issue," this September 2006 edition of The Independent was designed as an eye catching tie-in with Bono's (RED) campaign. In her opinion piece for the
Sydney Morning Herald, Emily Maguire writes:

"The stereotypes in these campaigns range from the banal (African equals beads and face paint) to the offensive (Africa equals AIDS). Both contribute to the biggest Western misconception of all: that Africa is a monocultural mess waiting for Westerners to come and clean it up. Africa is a continent, not an issue. AIDS is a disease, not a cause. And while celebrities may believe they are helping by raising awareness, they are, in fact, telling us what we know and creating a false sense that the problem is being addressed."

Maybe The Independent is right: maybe this whole campaign is a worthy cause and "not a fashion statement." Perhaps Madonna had simply purchased everything in the (RED) catalogue to match her red Kaballah accessories, and after a Sunday afternoon bout of consumer fatigue, simply decided babies over brands.

Whatever the case, white bread has never been so (RED).


Gricegrocers said...

Anti-Bono sentiment: I first encountered it at a Henry Rollins spoken word gig 1991. Henry Rollins spent the rest of that decade making forgettable music, showing off his muscular physique and generally looking pissed off in between trips to the gym. He seems to have disappeared of the face of the earth.

And Sonic Youth took part in "Do They Know It's Halloween?", a parody of "Do They Know It's Christmas". Their friend Lydia Lunch had a clever little message T-Shirt reading "FUCK THE WORLD FEED LYDIA LUNCH".

Wasn't there a Ramones song about benefit concerts that had a chorus that went: "We All Need Something To Believe In"?

Then there was the Frenzal Rhomb song about the Tsunami donations; "Tsuna-ME".

..And all of these musicians did it as their music was going down the toilet.

Is there a pattern here?
Is this a cliche for has-been punks or what?

My point is that Oprah and Bono's idealism might indeed make a positive difference in subtle ways.

Artswipe said...

What a marvelous comment, gricegrocers. Thank you.

It made me think of something I should have added to the post: Bono, Madonna, Oprah. All have single name names. Like Coke, Pepsi or Maccas. They're the ultimate brands.

Admittedly, for Artswipe, pop culture junk food is more appetising than the kind you're supposed to stick in your mouth.

Anonymous said...

crikey i love how you bought all that together artswipe - brilliant -

it is the reason why capitalism's phoney platitudes are really just devices to make us go shopping

there was an american artist's project i came across on the internet that was responding to george w bush's plea to not let 9/11 effect the american economy because that woudl be letting the enemy win - and to keep spending for strong economic growth - (mmm sounds alot like john howard) - don't let anything stop you from this actitivity of consuming stuff.

so this artist just sat in a gallery with his credit card machine and people could pay him whatever they wanted -

of course the viewer must have seriously questioned whether an "Artist" deserved to get all this 'free' money but i wonder how many transferred that scepticism onto the shrinking number of global companies that are making billions of dollars profit - for stuff they make you think you should replace in 12 months - i mean the whole thing is horrible

when people are really rich - what is there left to buy - art of course!!!!

Gricegrocers said...

I see what you mean. A Bono with ketchup on a sesame seed bun versus a Joey Ramone with ketchup on a sesame seed bun. Give me the Bono, ploise.

lauren said...

Talk about being beaten to the punch!

I had started a blog about this myself, but i think it's more worthwhile here on artswipe

After seeing the (RED) blog, i had red envy and must admit i started wondering if there was a way that i could also get in on the (RED) act! Being an artist who is primarily concerned aesthetically with red, and having researched the psychological theory behing red (not (RED)), i can see why they've jumped on the red wagon (which was obviously started by me and she sees red first, but i'm not going to pout about it).

Red is a marketing colour from way back. According to colour psychologists, it's about passion,love, attraction and repulsion. So is addiction. i agree, see under Maccas, Coke and KFC.

And as well as that, since pink has become the new black as far as charitable identification goes, red ribbons have had to evolve into a brand experience. A little like the 'i'd rather go naked than wear fur' shirts that all the gals were wearing a while ago.

And, unfortunately, like upholding ethical fashion practices on the catwalk, it will all fizzle out in a few year's time when the next new black has come along with a new PR company and a new poster boy/girl.

Ian Milliss said...

Great post, really great post.

African AIDS victims are so anorexic looking, they are fashion naturals. Tragedy chic is a tried and trusted image enhancer for artists, and its only natural that Big Art should align itself with Big Business.

I've never really been a marxist but "All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind" sounds increasingly the description of our state.

I think what I find most distressing about this is the way it forces you to become cynical about the most fundamental human reactions like compassion because even compassion is now being so cynically exploited by extreme capitalism.

Anonymous said...

Pardon me; but as you rightly pointed out charity begins at home. In which case my apartment dons many RED accessories, including RED shoes, RED underwear, RED vibrator, RED sheets and DIOR's brand of RED lipstick.

It gives me comfort to know when I slip between my RED sheets with my RED vibrator I can now lie back of think of Africa.

Ian Milliss said...

...and RED used to be the symbolic colour of the revolutionary socialist left ("The worker's flag is deepest red/ It shrouded oft our martyred dead;/ And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold/ Their life-blood dyed its every fold") just as the anarchists flew a black flag as the negation of all flags - a point lost on black-pack curator/fashionistas, I'm sure. More proof that no symbolism is universal?

Skanky Jane said...

Great post (again) Artswipe.

"that Africa is a monocultural mess waiting for Westerners to come and clean it up"

For me that 'bout sums it up!

Now, I may be wandering a bit, but seeing as it is colour we are talking about and that colour pertains to race - I just thought I'd throw a bit of tint in the pot with a reminder that the Egyptians, Morrocans, and Libyans (all Africans) are "whites". Dark skinned whites, but "white" nonetheless because they are, racially, 'Caucasian'.

The Ethopians too are "gradients" with a lot of "Caucasian" as in "Arab" colouring the racial mix.

Up until 1860 or so, in the US, a person who was 1/16th "black" was considered "negroid".

Seems there are racial, ethnic, social, cultural, and geographic dimensions to this colour wheel.


lauren said...

i think symbolism is universal, it just doesn't have longevity in modern (or god forbid, post modern) times.

Skanky Jane said...

I know my eyesight aint what it used to be ...but does anyone else see that white model there as wearing a harness under her skirt and pony girl shoes on her feet?

Must just be me...surely.

SJ xx

Ian Milliss said...

Hey jane, you got me all excited there for a moment. That strap across the back of the dress is mighty suspicious, the general sittin astride posture, but the shoes .... hard to tell but I think not. Perhaps the artswipe can check out the original? Those kinky fashion photographers, I'm sure anonymous red it exactly rite, they shot it for some upmarket arty porn site but got a better offer from Amex first.

Artswipe said...

Did anyone hear Triple J radio's Jay & the Doctor's 'Friday Fuckwit' program last week? Three people rang in to nominate Bono as 'Friday fuckwit' and one of the three reasons was simply hysterical: the caller said that he'd been to one of U2's recent Aus concerts and at one point Bono, addressing the masses, starts clapping slowly and says: "everytime I clap a child in Africa dies". Some heckler near the front yelled out: "Stop clapping then!" Bono got really pissed off.

If that moment was documented in a Mastercard advert (if RED ever join the ranks alongside Amex) it would surely be worthy of being dubbed "Priceless".

Skanky Jane's recent comment regarding the suspected harness and pony shoes. Sounds good - very Helmut Newton (like that classic image of the woman riding a sofa with a riding crop). If indeed the model in the Amex (RED) ad is wearing the harness and pony shoes it suggests she's probably been riding some well-worn cultural cliches: namely the noble savage one that features black men and big cocks.

Thanks everyone for the amazing comments!

Skanky Jane said...

I love your incisors Artswipe.

I 'd another movie on my mind (but Helmut was certainly watching it too) it was all about white women with big (strap on) cocks.

SJ xx

Skanky Jane said...

You see I am blind (and ignorant because I presumed a "skirt" on the black model) I thought the black model was female(?)

Still, the white model does look decidedly erect and I still cant see the heel of her shoe.

SJ xx

tim hilton said...

wow of a post! luvvvv it x