The following post was originally written for the most part last December, but for one reason or another I was never able to finish it. Until now. The controversy may be little out-dated, but not the message.
The first time I saw these black and white characters across town I knew that they weren't legit. I smelled a rat. For one thing, they didn't look like they were done quickly, but rather done with extreme execution and time involved. No late-night bombing sessions here, no way. (For the uninitiated, "bombing" is graffiti and any street art activity done illegally and quicky -- so don't feak out.) These characters to me were done in a style that evoked 100% poseurism. No true graffiti writer would concoct such inane and insepid cartoon kids like these. Oh sure, there are many graffiti characters painted in styles similar to these, and many of them are just as idiotic, but there was something about these particular characters that somehow 'got' to me. And I couldn't put my grubby, painted-speckled finger on it.
The more I saw the more ruffling of feathers. It started to get under my skin, and since I had no idea who or what was doing such tripe, it only escalated the irritation.
Taking a closer inspection, I noticed that the items that the kids were holding and playing were unusually detailed. All the buttons on the hand-held devices were in their perfect and proper places. Almost TOO perfect, if you ask me. And that was it: subversive advertising done on walls made to look like legitimate street art. The culprit? SONY. To become "legit," SONY came up with the big idea to turn to what some writers and artists feel is the last bastion of free artistic expression: the street.
Not gonna fly with the crews, if you ask me.
Image from Secondary Screening.
And I'm right. Once WIRED wrote about the ad campaign back in December (Sony Draws Ire With PSP Graffiti), the brilliant graffiti/street art blog, Wooster Collective was flooded with emails and photos decrying this action. A great debate immediately erupted: Should a major company like SONY use graffiti as a means for reaching out to their youth-minded audience? And worse yet, should they make it look like it's illegal, in order to maintain some sort of legitimacy?
Wooster Collective reaction posts (warning: some big-boy language being used, so don't say I didn't warn you):
Reactions to the Ads
Sony Campaign May Be a Watershed Moment
There is plenty more on the site, all of which makes for fascinating reading (that is, if you have the time), but there is a good summing-it-all-up post: Fact Checkin'. Definitely read that one.
What I find even more fascinating is the reactions by writers and artists showing their disapproval through visible means:
Defaced Sony Ads
More Defaced Ads
Graffiti writers can be a bit touchy when someone -- in this case, a big media conglomerate -- tries to pull the wool over their eyes. Expect retaliation.
Of course, someone from the other side had to add his two cents:
Sony PSP Artist Speaks Out
SONY thought that they had something going on here. A sure thing. Instead, it just created a big mess of everything: from desperately trying to reach an audience to the walls themselves. Nobody won. To see a massive entertainment company rape an art-form that is so prideful in its history and communal bonds, it frustrates me. But I'm looking at this from the eyes of a writer, so of course I'll be sensitive to all this. I'm sure that others out there could care less that graffiti is being violated -- because basically that's what graffiti does anyway, right? Descecration of public property and an assault to the well-being of society, right? An "urban blight," right?
Hmmm. Well, apparently SONY didn't think so. And now we all have to pay.
Tell me, what's worse -- graffiti tagging or corporate tagging?