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Posts Tagged ‘michigan’

I Demand Better Graffiti

April 25, 2012 1 comment

Gerald R Ford Graffiti at the Ottawa Ave Exit

Recently someone in Grand Rapids, Michigan started adding Banksy-esque stenciled images of former president Gerald Ford on walls downtown.  The first image that appeared depicted a standing figure of Ford, which later had a word bubble added with the words “Motu Viget” (the city’s motto which is Latin for “Strength in Activity”).

Another figure appeared more recently of Ford with his arm raised and the infamous quote from Ford’s Oath of Office speech in 1974: “our long national nightmare is over.”

There are also other works I haven’t had the chance to see yet depicting Ford and his quote “I am indebted to no man,” and even other local celebrities like Floyd Mayweather, Jr with the quote “all work is easy work.”

I’ve been amused by these works and am now keeping one eye peeled near the I-196/US-131 interchange for more of these illustrations, wondering about the motivations of the individual(s) behind them, what they’re building toward and hoping that the Michigan Department of Transportation is slow to act on its threat to remove the graffiti.

This morning, however, I noticed that someone had scrawled the words “War Criminal” in red spray paint with poor handwriting next to the first Ford illustration.  It upset me.

I wasn’t upset with the characterization of Ford as a war criminal, there’s certainly a case to be made for that.  Rather I’m pissed at how utterly lazy and unimaginative the response is.  I’ve decided that I don’t hate graffiti – I hate CRAP graffiti.

  • Crap graffiti is some jerkweed tagger plastering the exact same sloppy, rounded uninventive image of their inane alias over every available surface out of view of a security camera.
  • Crap graffiti is some lazy, ignorant suburbanite teen adding a wobbly swastica to a school wall for shock value – completely unaware of the origin of the icon or the weight the symbol carries.
  • Crap graffiti is what adorns so many railroad cars – though there’s slightly more time invested, it still is the same unoriginal design: a crunched, barely-legible thickened font filled in with swirls of color.

T Rex "King" Graffiti on Division Ave in Grand Rapids

If you’re going to post something for hundreds of people to see each day as they walk past a transformer box, don’t you take enough pride in what you do to make a good show of it?  Ostensibly you’ve got the need to communicate (which you’ve demonstrated by risking misdemeanor charges) – if you’re going to go to all that trouble don’t you want to be effective and original when you do so?

So you want to critique President Ford – fine; add to the stencil illustration and give him an arm offering a thumbs-up to Suharto to massacre East Timorese civilians, or add a stencil of Henry Kissinger doing the same.

That goes for anyone that puts up a billboard (which I usually consider to be visual affronts more offensive than graffiti, distinguished only by the fact that they’re more expensive to produce and are officially-sanctioned).

Can’t we do better?  If you’re going to confront me with your message – at least provide me some value; a bit of humor, a spark of originality, an artistic flourish, a new font … ANYTHING.  Maybe social media has ruined me – but I now expect to extract something of value from attempts to get my attention and I refuse to believe I’m the only one.

So taggers and advertisers – give me better graffiti.  Make it art.

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Hey Wisconsin – How do You Like it?

December 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Earlier this month, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism appropriated the image of a mitten to stand in for the state as part of a winter tourism promotional campaign.  It didn’t sit well with Michiganders like Alex Beaton of AwesomeMitten.com – and now it’s whipped up a national news story (Washington Post | “Mitten Envy?”) as the people of the REAL Mitten State fight back to reclaim the mitten.  I’m with them:

Hey Wisconsin - How do You Like it? - Re-appropriating Cheese

No Truce, Newsweek – The Six One Six is Coming at You

May 27, 2011 2 comments

Newsweek Says Grand Rapids is Dying (While Circulation Plummets)

After declaring Grand Rapids, Michigan a “dying city,” Newsweek is now backing off the characterization after GR’s flashmob empresario Rob Bliss organized the world’s largest lipdub video in response to the charge.

Perhaps written up best by Gawker (“Dying Michigan City to Newsweek: Drop Dead”), the response boggled my mind:

“To the Grand Rapids crowd:

First off, we LOVE your YouTube LipDub. We’re big fans, and are inspired by your love of the city you call home.

But so you know what was up with the list you’re responding to, we want you to know it was done by a website called mainstreet.com—not by Newsweek (it was unfortunately picked up on the Newsweek web site as part of a content sharing deal)—and it uses a methodology that our current editorial team doesn’t endorse and wouldn’t have employed. It certainly doesn’t reflect our view of Grand Rapids.”

A couple of immediate concerns spring to mind:

  • Newsweek recycles content under its masthead?
  • Newsweek publishes analysis it doesn’t even stand behind?
Talk about the Lamestream Media.

Here’s my problem:  A Facebook status update is hardly as prominent as an article on Newsweek’s website.  Fairness demands that Newsweek publish a retraction of equal prominence.

As Grand Rapids (along with the entire state of Michigan) attempt to attract emerging industries to the state to diversify our economy (which suffered so greatly recently because decades of incompetent leadership allowed us to grow far too dependent on manufacturing) – publishing a characterization like this isn’t just an interesting diversion; it has real economic ramifications.

As I teach my Communication students: perception is extraordinarily powerful.

So my challenge to Newsweek still stands: let’s wait five years and see which institution better fits the adjective “dying.”  

It’s on.  Time to take yer beatin’ like a grown-up.

Dying Magazine Names Grand Rapids Dying City: Why Newsweek can Tongue-Bathe my Crotchular Region

January 25, 2011 2 comments

Newsweek Says Grand Rapids is Dying (While Circulation Plummets)

Newsweek just caused a flap by declaring Grand Rapids (viewed by many as a shining beacon of economic recovery in a depressed state) to be one of America’s top ten “dying cities” (“Americas Dying Cities: Cities With Bleak Futures Ahead”).  The basis for this assessment of the top ten dying cities is based on a scant two pieces of data:

  1. a population decline from 2000-2009
  2. a population decline for people under the age of 18

There are a lot of ways to rebut Newsweek’s deliberately inflammatory article, but here are just a few:

Limited Data: Basing a declaration of  a “dying” city based purely on population statistics is … stupid.  It ignores the variety of other measures that can be used to assess vitality.  How about median income, for starters?  Economic development?  Access to higher education?  Unemployment rate?  Using Newsweek’s very short-sighted measures, many flourishing European cities would be considered to be “dying” simply because people aren’t procreating enough.  Just look at the fastest-growing metro areas in the US.  More people doesn’t always = better.  More people create more congestion, they tend to lower the median income, contribute to traffic, and in many cases in the Southwest – they’re going to cause catastrophic shortages of fresh water.

Population Trends: Grand Rapids is in the latter stages of weathering a once-in-a-generation structural economic shift.  After the state of Michigan ignored the signs that banking heavily on an auto manufacturing economy was untenable, the dam finally burst and the state has been scrambling to diversify its economy (something it should have been doing since the 1970s).  The good news is that West Michigan has turned things around. The population losses happened in the early 2000s, and the city’s population is up from 1990.

Comparison:  Just as Newsweek would like its declining circulation to be considered in the context of a radically changing mass media environment that has seen content and readers move online faster than most print news enterprises can adjust business models to respond, Grand Rapids decline has been tiny compared to the declines in the rest of the state.  By comparison to the rest of the state, Grand Rapids is doing fantastically.

West Michigan has been tremendously successful at attracting investment from the healthcare, biological sciences, and alternative energy industries.  Cranes have dotted the skyline of the city for the past few years as gleaming new buildings have gone up.  Higher Education institutions have clamored to open up campuses downtown.  Internationally-ranked breweries are scrambling to expand to meet demand.

Let’s put the shoe on the other foot: how would Newsweek feel if I called it a “dying magazine?”  After all – its circulation numbers have been falling far more precipitously than the City of Grand Rapids’ population.

Unlike Newsweek, nobody’s putting Grand Rapids up for sale.

I’ve got a wager for Newsweek: let’s wait five years and see which institution better fits the adjective “dying.”

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