Integrity is something I’ve been thinking about lately. Also dignity. And my thought is that these are things that have gone the way of the mimeograph.
Writing the words up there, they even sound quaint, if not stupid and ridiculous in the way that kvetching about the modern world makes you feel like a grumpy, out-of-touch old man (and old people are no good at everything).
There are several threads involved in this (which is how my brain works for better or worse) including:
- that the bar for celebrity has now been lowered to a point that we can be famous for… well I was going to say willingness to embarrass ourselves on camera, but I’m not even sure what this person has done;
- sub rosa shilling for companies via personal essays (now regulated by the FCC and who even remembers that once, product placement in a novel was grounds for much sturm und drang?);
- that we never apologize for anything (“sorry if someone was offended,” and “lapses in judgement” are not apologies);
- and, to get back on topic, Shepard Fairey. But I should keep this simpler and just go with the Fairey thing.
My point with the other things was that integrity seems to boil down to saying “no” to money; to there being some one thing at least that is, at bottom, not for sale. Or some one instance where you will forgo money that you could’ve taken, just because it’s the honorable (another dusty word) or at least fair thing to do. Which all seems like anachronism these days. It’s money and money is good!
Why would anyone ever say no to money? Which is why I’m wondering if dignity and integrity have any place at all in a country that has seemingly eliminated the last vestiges of “society” and now operates purely in an “economy.” But anyway.
So Fairey lied in his court documents and destroyed evidence and his lawyers have now abandoned the case. Which is something I did not expect to happen. He was (imo) hiding behind a mendacious concept of fair use to defend his image theft and the resulting badly-rendered (also popular) poster, although that was to’ve been a matter for the courts.
That he’s a cheesy copycat* is one thing. That he’d go so far to manipulate the case this badly is another thing entirely, and something I never saw coming.
The point about integrity might be something like this: if he had just paid the photographer – forgoing, really, a miniscule percentage of whatever money he’s gotten from the poster (he says none, but he’s said a lot of things that aren’t accurate) none of this would’ve happened and he could continue blithely LiveTracing photos for Nike** and whatnot (why is he called a “street artist” again?). So that’s your economic argument for doing the right thing. Hooray! We still live in an economy.
Here’s a link to the AP’s story (and bear in mind that it’s the AP reporting on a lawsuit against the AP, so, you know).
* Do click that link. Glaser rocks.
** Ugh, that’s so horrible. And it’s in my neighborhood.
So Fairey’s getting sued for the Obama poster. I have to say, I think the AP has a good case. If I believed that he used the photo as a source for an illustration, that would be one thing. And had he done that, it would’ve probably been nothing to get permission from the photographer, if not for the support of the candidate, then for some percentage commission. Which would be just plain fair – photographers gotta eat, too. And even if it is the AP which is suing, it’s good to remember that the AP is paying that photographer for his work (which is how we have the image in the first place – a photographer was getting paid to work).
But Fairey was kind of cheesy about the whole thing: grabbing the shot from Google, Live Tracing it, and then crapping out a poster for sale (remember, this was not a public service). That’s the thing – doing it honorably would not have taken much extra effort on his part. And presumably, Fairey’s making a decent living, so why not hire an illustrator? Why not shoot a percentage deal to the photographer? Think about the flip side – Fairey himself is hired by art directors, and he has been involved on the other side of the copying issue. It seems like he thinks compensating creatives doesn’t apply when it’s him.
Another update: This thing is really going crazy. Glaser weighs in here. Heller weighs in here. Even though Heller and Glaser are (for my money) a bit tepid, and there may be some schadenfreude in other critiques, I do think this is bad for the field of graphic design. With his complicity, he’s become a huge public face for design, and now we’re now just another fraud. First it was baseball, then the politicians, the newsmedia. And now we suck, too.