Saturday, November 27, 2010

5 Questions with Galen Smith, author of New York Dick


What inspired the book?

Whenever you ride the subway in New York you see a lot of scrawled on and defaced advertising posters. On the subway platforms the posters are right there at eye level so you're always physically interacting with the ad, standing in front of it, leaning on it, writing on it if you want too.

I had been seeing all kinds of defacements on the posters for years and never really thought about them, they just seemed like part of the visual clutter. I liked their crassness, but whatever was going on seemed to be vague and minor, the ad was in charge. But whenever I mentioned seeing a particularly notable example of a schlong attacking a superstar people would always remember similar examples and recount the weird details of the drawing style, the pop personality involved, and where the thing was sticking, or growing.

So in a sense I began to notice the obvious. A loud pushy statement is made by the voice in charge of the situation (the ad), but at the very moment that I am "consuming" the advertising statement these rude graphics make clear how strange, fake and self absorbed the whole statement is. This upsetting of the expected is what made the dirty doodles funny, and not just lewd or hateful. The statement of disrespect was a fair one, and one we all understood.

This odd graphic communication fascinated me. It was an amazing blend of elements; a graphic icon filled with various meanings, a new meaning created out of old, and power co-opted by an artful yet stupid drawing. And the idiocy of the graphic was part of the kryptonite-like power of the whole enterprise. No matter how superhuman an ad was it was made feeble by a penis being drawn on it. I started taking photos and keeping notes, over time I began to feel that the documentation of a bunch of dingus drawings could make an interesting travelogue of the advertising landscape.


What's your personal favorite pic?

Picking a favorite image from so many ridiculous examples is very difficult, they're all special and stupid in their own way. But one of my favorites is the next to last image in the book. On a poster that carried the headline "Now Every Guy Can Get Some" an immature genius restates the obvious by drawing a big wang on one of the stars of the show. Interestingly it's entering the front of his thick skull and emerging out the back, leaving the nuts dangling on his forehead and the star looking a little perplexed. Unexpected and brilliant, a little hairy too.

What drives people to deface advertising?

I think there are several factors, boredom and the accessibility of writing instruments being one. But I think there are also some emotional motivators too. Many of the ads seem to be really begging to be taken down a notch, they're annoying you as if you can't do anything about it. But on a New York subway platform people have a rare opportunity to show an ad how they really feel about the pitch, and also to show this comment to all the other viewers of the ad. It's as if you were watching a TV commercial that you have seen dozens of times and are totally sick of, but instead of putting up with it or changing the channel you step right into the commercial and start giving all the actors the finger, or mooning them. It's a rare chance to give back some of the respect and cleverness that ads have given us all these years.

What's the best compliment you've received on the book?

Positive remarks tend to come in two related forms. Some people react to the off-color humor in many of the images, and relate to the disrespectful and contrary aspect of the defacements. Others have more of an affection for the grass roots defusing of the powerful media/consumer/industrial complex. In a way both takes are related and both feel right to me. And really, who doesn't get the message sent by drawing a tiny penis attacking the rump of a mega-star in fat suit. It's all true in it's own way.

What's next for yourself?

I'm still attracted to the weirdness, rudeness, and humor of defaced posters, and I'm continuing to document and share them with anyone who cares to see the truth, at least the truth that's brought forth by drawing penises on schills and superstars.

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