Upon spotting McDonald's ATLIENS ad a couple of months ago while driving down Moreland Ave., my first thought actually was more like: Oh hell nawl! Does Big Boi know about this bull!?!
Apparently, I wasn't alone, as Maurice Garland reacted on Twitter to the ad, which cribs the title of OutKast's sophomore album and title song, "ATLiens."
ATLiens eat McDonald's? Thought we dined on fish & grits and all the pimp shit... #Lawsuitmaybe? http://t.co/cIir4n0QKG
- Maurice Garland (@Maurice_Garland) May 21, 2013
In case you haven't seen it (pictured above), the ad featured on billboards and MARTA buses spells out "ATLIENS!" in all-capital white letters on a black, starry background using a Dr. Pepper fountain drink as the letter "I" and an order of McDonald's fries as the exclamation point. "DINE AFTER DARK," it reads below that.
Pretty cool, as far as advertising campaigns go - which is exactly the point. Atlanta's cultural capital is being misappropriated like a mug. And it's not even the latest example of corporations swagger-jacking our cool.
Like the multitude of protests, vigils, and public outcries for justice in the wake of George Zimmerman's recent acquittal, an outpouring of Trayvon Martin tributes from rappers, entertainers, and public figures continues to grow.
One of the latest such contributions comes from Decatur-bred film and television actor Omari Hardwick, who's Little Black Boy Wonder features many of his peers including high-profile black actors Eriq LaSalle, David Oweloyo, Marlon Wayans, Bill Duke, Gary Dourdan, and boxer Sugar Shane Mosley.
Hardwick, who has starred in a wide range of films from Spike Lee's Miracle on St. Anna to Tyler Perry's For Colored Girls..., was an acclaimed spoken word artists before making his on-screen transition. He's also shined in indie roles, including writer/director Ava DuVernay's last two feature films, I Will Follow (2011) and Middle of Nowhere (2012).
Hardwick reportedly wrote the poem "Little Black Boy Wonder" the night of the Zimmerman verdict. He also produced the piece which opens with the voice of President Barack Obama before 18 participants in total take turns reciting Hardwick's lines of pain and perserverance.
You read right. Rapper/activist/entrepreneur Mike Render is the newest talking head in town since starting his own radio talk show this week on 1380 WAOK-AM, with co-host Maurice Garland. (Both of them won CL Best of Atlanta honors last year.) The show, which airs weekdays 7 p.m.-10 p.m., features the same kind of provocative, politically fueled conversation on local and national issues for which Killer Mike is known. Last night, he and Garland fielded calls on issues ranging from the NRA's push to arm teachers in classrooms (Mike's a proud, card-carrying member of the NRA) to the disconnect between the old guard of black leadership and the generation he represents. Like any good talk-radio host, he's already attracting his own diverse cast of call-in characters.
A teacher who called to voice her opinion on arming teachers and the potential effect it could have on classroom discipline admitted to being a stripper for 12 years before she segued into her current profession.
"You'd never have a problem out of my son," Mike responded with an on-air wink.
Another caller in her 50s, who admitted she isn't a huge rap fan, said she'd boosted her cool points by talking up his show around younger people. She also urged more regular WAOK listeners (i.e. the older demographic) to call in and chop it up with Mike.
On a side note, Mike explained during last night's that he'd sought out a talk slot on AM radio since he couldn't get any play on FM radio. His album R.A.P. Music (produced by El-P) was one of the most critically acclaimed albums of any genre in 2012, but because it wasn't released on a major label with a hefty marketing/promotions budget commercial radio has ignored it.
To hear the man himself "articulate" that point, check out this video clip (below the jump) of him on the Combat Jack show last month:
For those who are still talking about it (and many are), this is the one question framing all of the post-dialogue about Quentin Tarantino's film. And in this case, the "where" in "Where did you watch Django Unchained?" is not just an issue of geography but demography, too.
In Rembert Browne's response to the film on Grantland, he predicts 2013 will be the year that the long-anticipated national conversation on race finally comes to pass, and not just the Kumbaya conversations we've been pretending to have every year around Martin Luther King's birthday for the past half century, but one that centers on "how we talk about and react to race in mixed settings."
And let's not kid ourselves, those mixed company convos can be a bitch to navigate sometimes. (You know, kinda like the Fresh Loaf comments' section on occasion.)
In the latest Django diatribe, the PostBourgie.com crew (G.D., Jamelle and Joel) parses it all out in a podcast they call "Django Unpacked" with Slate's Aisha Harris and Northeastern University Professor Sarah Jackson. Despite it being a discussion between five black writers and intellectuals, they crush the monolithic myth with a conversation that turns out to be much more nuanced than black-and-white. Until, that is, they realize that their differing interpretations of the film are almost evenly split down a contextual color line.
It starts around the 17:24 mark (posted below), when Prof. Jackson says that based on her totally "unscientific poll" of black friends who saw the film, those who really liked it "saw it in theaters where it was a majority black" audience, while those who felt more apprehensive and didn't like it "saw it in theaters where it was a majority white" audience.
It's being called "the Django Moment," as Gawker's Cord Jefferson labels it, and which Browne refers to and defines as "the controversial act of seeing the film in mixed company in a theater."
So here's my Django moment:
Recession? What recession?
According to conventional wisdom, Atlanta's arts scene should be all but dead. As the story goes, when economic times are hard, arts and culture are the first activities to get the heave-ho as private and public belt tightening squeeze the life out of artists and nonprofit arts organizations.
But there's a problem with the conventional wisdom: exactly the opposite appears to be happening. A casual look around Atlanta reveals that after years of deep freeze, more arts projects are springing up in the city than any time in recent history.
A groundswell of new arts organizations is enlivening Atlanta from the bottom up. Scarcely a week goes by that some new arts production group, some new publication, festival or financial support vehicle isn't announcing that they've arrived on the scene. And although it's true that Atlanta's legacy arts institutions recently have suffered cutbacks and hardships, the once unspeakable idea that new arts activities might be fueled by the down economy is starting to seem more plausible.
For 15 years, art critic Felicia Feaster was the voice of visual art criticism at Creative Loafing. For many she was the voice of visual art criticism in Atlanta. When she left the paper in 2008 to serve as senior editor at the Atlantan, many in the art community waited eagerly to see what would become of her writing at the publication.
In fact, Feaster breathed new life into the upscale glossy. For nearly three years she covered the major Atlanta art institutions. But she also became known for introducing underground staples such as photographer Stephanie Dowda and rock 'n' roll silkscreen printers Methane Studios to a readership more likely to sip Chardonnay than to swig PBR.
Recently, the sudden news of Feaster's dismissal from the magazine, along with editor-in-chief Nancy Staab, left art watchers shocked. The magazine was bought last August by Dickey Publishing, the parent company of Cumulus Media, which owns and operates Jezebel magazine. Now, the new owners are restructuring the editorial staff.
Magazines get bought out. Publishing missions change. Such personnel switcheroos occur routinely in media, and it's usually nothing personal. But Feaster's departure leaves me wondering about a much bigger issue: What's the future for Atlanta's authoritative voices in art criticism?
When Gary Black, Georgia's new commissioner of agriculture, takes office Jan. 10, one of his first orders of business will be to chuck art history out the window. That'll be the upshot if he follows through with his plan to banish several George Beattie murals made in 1956 from the Department of Agriculture building. The offense? Two of the paintings depict somewhat sanitized images of slaves at work and one depicts scantily clad Native Americans.
You'd be forgiven for not having heard of the murals. Even though a few lobby visitors have quietly expressed feeling "disturbed" by the images, they've sat largely undisturbed and unprotested in the downtown building for more than half a century.
Meanwhile, SCAD's had its own plans for playing hide-and-go-seek with art: The annual Open Studio night last October featured the work of fourth-year photography student Nicole Craine, one of whose photos depicted a seated, nude man awkwardly cradling his own scrotum and penis. Although the work had been selected by photography faculty for display, it was pulled, according to Craine, after a last-minute decision by SCAD administrators on grounds that the photo was inappropriate for a "community open house with children in attendance."
2011 marks the dawn of a new decade. It also may mark the dawn of a whole new style of gagging public expression in the arts. Although yanking art from view after public protest has a long history in America, doing so before any significant public protest smacks of a new skittishness that puts civil society itself on the defensive.
Welcome to the "chilling effect." That's what activists called it during the culture wars of the late 1980s and early '90s. Back then, artists and their supporters warned that tactics as diverse as criminal prosecutions of museum personnel and revoking federal grants that supported writings critical of the government sent a clear message: Artists, don't rock the boat. Threats of censorship from above would seem like child's play compared to the self-censorship that arises out of a fear over what might happen if you say something someone doesn't like.
As far as Atlanta's street life goes, it's barely alive.
Thick forests of razor wire, overgrown lots, discarded tires and boarded up buildings can make getting around town an unpleasant chore at best and downright dangerous at worst. There are a few lively mini-environments: Little Five Points or the West End for example. But moving from one to another requires hopscotching through urban wastelands. Even Atlanta's tonier districts and suburbs sometimes feel less a part of a city than a desert of parking lots surrounded by the homes of people who suffer unforgiving commutes for the privilege of parking in those lots.
Earlier this month, I joined a number of Atlanta's contemporary art aficionados in a very different kind of city: Miami. That's where Art Basel, the so-called Super Bowl of the art world, took place in an alternate universe of sunshine, music and high-rolling art deals. And people. Lots and lots of people throughout the city who enlivened the light-filled streets and friendly sidewalks.
It's not exactly fair to compare Atlanta's worst stretches to Miami's best during a global festival. But the contrast does reveal with startling clarity how dysfunctional many of Atlanta's streetscapes are and, on the other hand, what a city full of vibrant public spaces might look like.
The Hudgens Center is known to Duluth residents as part of the sprawling Gwinnett Center, a multipurpose complex running along an otherwise undistinguished stretch of suburban asphalt 12 miles outside I-285. It's also home to the newly established Hudgens Prize. Announced last winter as both an art prize and a "juried show," the winner-take-all prize includes $50,000 in cash provided anonymously by a Duluth-based family foundation for a single Georgia artist. The prize jury boasts a trio of bona fide national and international art world players: Sylvie Fortin, executive director of Art Papers; Eungie Joo, director of education and public programs at New York's New Museum; and David Kiehl, curator of prints at the Whitney Museum of American Art, also in New York.
After nine months and almost 400 artist entries, the Hudgens announced its five finalists: Ruth Dusseault, Hope Hilton, Gyun Hur, Scott Ingram and Jiha Moon. All five are familiar names to Atlanta art-world cognoscenti. The final winner will be announced Nov. 30.
The strange thing is what happened immediately following the announcement of the finalists. Basically nothing. The chattering classes of the art world, always eager to express an opinion about who should've gotten what, mostly fell silent. The press produced a trickle; the blogosphere, crickets. Even social networkers didn't move the needle, preferring to report on making a ham sandwich or someone's cat doing something cute.
In 2009, Atlanta passed a milestone that few within the arts community paid attention to: 2009 was the year Atlanta logged a higher rental property vacancy rate than Detroit. Detroit! That’s according to the U.S. census bureau, which counts up all the properties that could be rented but aren’t.
Sure, everybody knows about Detroit’s legendary ghost towns and derelict properties, which — being uninhabitable — don’t get calculated into census data at all. Still, it’s a sobering statistic that Atlanta’s imminently habitable real estate is emptier than a city built for twice the number of residents than living there today.
Artists have traditionally rushed in to these empty spaces where others fear to tread. Setting up studios, pop-up galleries and other artistic uses of otherwise unused space has often kept entire neighborhoods from spiraling into economic death. Houston’s Project Row Houses — a combination of urban development and arts programming spearheaded by artist Rick Lowe — has been the most spectacular example. But others abound: Baltimore, Md.’s, extensive network of artist-initiated alternative spaces or the city of Paducah, Ky., for example. Qualified artists in Paducah can purchase live/work spaces in key urban zones for as little as $1 as part of the city’s Artist Relocation Program.
All of these efforts keep properties from becoming boarded-up eyesores and magnets for crime. But the Atlanta real estate world on the whole has been slower to recognize how artists can inject vitality and energy into flagging neighborhoods.
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