Got a cause? Night duders Peter Berkovsky and Sean Stevens are your poster boys. Need a couple of smirking, authority-defying artists behind which to hide your embarrassing law-enforcement and new-judgment calls, Mayor Menino and Channel Five? The cunning Berkovsky and Stevens are right out of central casting. Need help getting out your viral-marketing campaign? I know two starving wannabe artists with time on their hands who’ll do it for only $300 apiece. Looking for the lo-fi face of your goofball-transgressive alt-generation? Come on down to the Charlestown courthouse, y’all.
It’s been just a riot of subjectivity, exactly the kind of consciousness ripping that art thrives on. Except it’s a very old story. The avant-garde began baiting the flustered booboisee, with all its whited certainties, more than a century ago. Not far behind came the advertising industry, scavenging the talented hip away from the purity of their rebellion with cash money. And then, sometime in the late ’60s, the advertising industry began appropriating wholesale the gonzo ethos of countercultural subversion. It acquired “edge.” “The Conquest of Cool,” as Tom Frank (who’s better known for What’s the Matter With Kansas?) dubbed it in his much-worth-reading 1997 book by that name.
The resulting sense of cultural and spiritual suffocation gave rise to indie, remember? So why are these guys being high-fived for their pathetic enlistment in the stale, time-tested service of PR-flack art?
It is funny. These guys couldn’t be any better suited to all the parts they’re being asked to play. But the one role they’re not playing is that of independent artist, carving out institutions with critical distance from the world. As long as we all understand that, as long as we don’t conflate pop-culture savvy and hip and indie into some watery aesthetic porridge, there’s still hope for this world.
--- Catherine Tumber