“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless — keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”—Elizabeth Warren
Writing about Brad Pitt is too easy. He’s the quintessential movie star. He’s the type of star that fits so neatly into Richard Dyer’s conception of stars as images both extraordinary and ordinary that embody and reconcile ideologies. That’s a complex way of saying that Brad Pitt plays the societal function that classic stars did: his image is of a particular type of masculinity, and that masculinity mirrors what the dominant American society values/tolerates/expects/valorizes in a man in terms of looks and attitudes towards women, parenting, multiculturalism, philanthropy, or marriage.
When we say “Brad Pitt is the ideal man,” what we are actually saying is that he embodies what our current society thinks is ideal. Brad Pitt didn’t make those things ideal; he became popular because his image matched the things that our society values.
And Pitt, like all iconic stars, also embodies ideologies that are seemingly contradictory. Take, for example, his attitude towards marriage. He went through a very public divorce, joining himself with another (sexual, sultry) woman who seemed to have moved in when he was still married to his first (All-American) wife. He and this women then adopted several children and had three biological children of their own, but Mom and Dad are still not married. Very un-American of you, Brad. Very anti-marriage. But here’s the thing: his relationship with Angelina Jolie is, by all accounts, the very portrait of a blissful union. They forward an image of happiness and engagement, modeling a parenting style that is tolerant, multicultural, and cosmopolitan. (Whether or not this is true is completely beside the point: they sell it so well, it’s impossible not to buy).
In other words, Pitt and Jolie are ahead of the (ideological) curve, but not so ahead that they profoundly disturb existing ideologies. They model an ideal, but one that’s not quite been achieved across America: a couple together because they love each other; a blended family; tolerant and playful parenting; a global lifestyle that promotes understanding, awareness, and philanthropy.
If Brad Pitt and George Clooney started dating and had the same family, that still might be too out-there (read: transgressive) for mainstream audiences to swallow. But Pitt and Jolie are just “normal” enough — and just beautiful enough — that they make practices and attitudes that might otherwise be “other,” “weird,” or otherwise transgressive into the mainstream. Or at least make them speakable — some may not agree with their parenting style, their refusal to marry “until everyone can,” or how they let Shiloh dress, but that parenting style and non-marriage decision is still very visible. In this way, it prompts discussions that might not otherwise take place, and it makes what was formerly “fringe” behavior into the mainstream.Sometimes the popularity of a star can highlight a societally regressive moment (Britney Spears, Charlie Sheen); sometimes they highlight a progressive one (Obama, Gaga).
Superstardom makes Brad Pitt easy to talk about. But the way he arrived at superstardom was more than just marrying Jennifer Aniston and leaving her for Angelina Jolie — although that certainly has a tremendous amount to do with his seemingly everlasting appeal. (That and the crinkled eyes when he smiles, but I digress).
Plainly put, actors become stars through two primary means:
1.) Playing “themselves” on screen, which is to say playing a relatively consistent version of their established image;
2.) Maintaining an extratextual (“private”) life that reinforces that image.
They’re reinforcing processes, but as long-term readers of this blog know, it’s all about constructing a unified and coherent image. Sometimes that image can be summed up in a word (“cool,” “indie,” “All-American,” “girl-next-door”) sometimes it’s a combination of things (gravitas and sex appeal; hooker with the heart of gold, etc.). Angelina Jolie is intense, dark, and sultry physical sexual energy; Brad Pitt is shining, golden, easygoing sex appeal. That’s part of why their images go so well together: sex and sex. (Sex and cute, not so much. See Aniston and Pitt. Sex and snotty, also not so much. See Pitt and Paltrow).
The star also needs to not play himself from time to time, mostly in the name of proving that he/she can act. There’s a fantastic academic article from the early ’90s on how Warner Bros. would use the times when Bette Davis played “against” her image as a means of selling the picture — “See Bette Davis play a husband-killing total bitch!” (See: Little Foxes!). In these cases, playing against type actually functions to reinforce type. Look at this star acting so different from their “true” image! (these performances are also the opportunities for big stars to win Oscars, mostly because the “acting” is so on display).
Of course, the innate fallacy is the belief that a star’s image is not an act in and of itself. A star’s image is no more the “real” star than any other performance. The image, however, is polished, consistent, and has the trappings of “authenticity,” despite the fact that it has been polished and practiced far more than any single movie performance.
Which brings us to Pitt. Pitt’s dominant on-screen image (also known as his “picture personality”) is, to generalize a bit, that of a hot, charismatic guy who gets what he wants. Sometimes this guy is more emotive, sometimes he’s less so, getting by on his charm.
Most of the time, especially in his recent films, he’s doing a lot of eating. There are slight variations — sometimes he plays Brad Pitt-as-half-Greek-god, sometimes he plays Brad Pitt-as-assassin — but there’s nevertheless a strong centerline running through the performances.
“Art buyers are very interested in seeing personal work and learning as much about who the photographer is. This is directly related to how much more we share more of who we are on blogs and social media, and particular to photographers—where they can discuss their inspirations, their process and stories behind their shoots. Art buyers recognize that this helps them know more about what a photographer would bring to a job and what they would be like to work with. Some art buyers have even said they are very open to being ‘friended’ by photographers they have a relationship with.”—Photographers on Photography
The founders of some big successes in digital media have returned to the world of scrappy startups—but not in the traditional way. Instead, they’re launching companies intended to embody the maxim that venture capitalists fund people, not ideas.
Perhaps the clearest example of this strategy is Churn Labs, a company created by AdMob founder Omar Hamoui. As its name suggests, Churn plans to build a series of Internet and mobile products, with the successful ideas spun out as separate companies.
Meanwhile, two of Twitter’s three co-founders, Ev Williams and Biz Stone, have revived their old incubator. Stone has written that Obvious was founded after he and Williams left Google in 2005 as a way to “live our dream—developing multiple projects under one company with nobody to answer to but ourselves.”
For a while, the pair focused on the huge hit that spun out from Obvious (namely, Twitter), but now they’ve left full-time work at Twitter and have returned their attention to the incubator, with a mission to build “systems that help people work together to improve the world.”
Other entrepreneurs aren’t quite following the incubator model, but they’re not focusing on a single idea, either. Kevin Rose, founder of the popular news aggregator Digg, has formed a new startup called Milk, with the goal of building a series of mobile apps. Despite those broader plans, Rose says the company is only focused on one product right now. The seven-person team is small enough that Rose said he doesn’t want to divide it up.
“We want to stay focused on [our first app] Oink,” he said. “Eventually we’ll start carving out nights and weekends to work on another product, but right now we’re building components of Oink that can be reusable in our future projects.”
Another experienced entrepreneur, former Hulu chief technology officer Eric Feng, cited Milk as an example of the model he’s following with his new social networking startup Erly, which plans to release a new app every 60 to 90 days. In general, Feng said startups are created in two ways. Yes, you can have a really great idea. Or you can just create a team that wants to work together and sees a general opportunity, but doesn’t necessarily have a product in mind.
When Rose approached investors, he outlined a few ideas that he wanted to pursue, according to venture capitalist David Sze of Greylock Partners. Sze predicted that once an application really takes off, Milk will have to “burn the boats” and focus.
“They’re not doing this to keep jumping between small ideas,” Sze said. “The point is to do something meaningful.”
Mr. Schuman, nowadays teenage bloggers like Tavi Gavinson are getting flown around the world to sit on the front rows of fashion shows in order to write about them. Isn’t that getting a little absurd?
Well I don’t think her audience is that big. I think her success is a little bit of a conspiracy by established print media that wanted to show that this blog thing is not that important, that it’s done by a bunch of twelve year olds. But a lot of us are serious grown-ups. I think it’s great that Tavi can create a blog and write for other people that are like-minded – probably other kids around her age – but I don’t know how that is going to help a 26-year old, if she has never had a boyfriend or any of that kind of stuff. She’s just a kid, so she can talk about art and stuff only in an abstract way.
Do you think she is going to last?
She might grow into that position, but to me it is like a five-year old Michael Jackson singing about love – to him they are just words. It is just an abstract concept. One of the other problems of many blogs like Tavi’s is that they are people who write about fashion, but in order to have a visual element they steal pictures from other people.
And the pictures they do take themselves often look terrible…
True and as soon as they start getting some real advertisement, all the people they have been stealing pictures from are going to call and say, “I need some money. Why do you keep stealing my pictures?” So for blogs to take the next step, they have to have people like me who are in charge of all the elements – the writing, the visual, everything. Those are the ones companies can buy into, because I control everything. For someone like Tavi to take the next step, she is going to have to go out and get a photographer to shoot everything.
Do you read any other fashion blogs?
No not really. The only one I look at is my girlfriend Garance Dore. To me she is the game-changer right now. She is a great writer, she does video, illustration, and photography. I look at her and I get jealous because she is so artistic in so many different ways – she does great illustrations, heart-felt writing, beautiful photography, and inspiring videos. She is funny, consistent, and her point of view on fashion is great. So that is the only blog that I look at on a consistent basis.
Do you fear competition as more and more copycats of your website The Sartorialist appear online?
No because in order to do it with any longevity you actually have to make a business out of it and actually be able to make money. They might do it for a little while, but it’s hard to keep the passion to do it until you make money with it. And as soon as they start making money, if they are not controlling that, all the money is going to go right out to all those people they are taking stuff from. So I don’t know how a lot of them are going to make a business out of it.
Talking about financial benefits. Do you make money off your blog or do you make money because of what you have created around your blog?
American Apparel bought advertising for the whole year and then I just got an email yesterday that Net-A-Porter.com is going to buy advertisements for the rest of the year (2010) as well. So those two ads alone are a good fraction of a million dollars: more than a quarter million and less than a half a million. The key for me, and for Garance also, is like any good business: diversity. I make money from shooting campaigns and editorials, from prints, the rerelease of my photos in different magazines, and from doing personal appearances. I make money from a bunch of different places.
So are the times when a blog couldn’t make any money over?
Yes, the blog itself is really making money. My audience is so much larger than everybody else’s that advertisers, well at least American Apparel told me that I am not in their internet budget. My order is so big and they have to pay so much that I am actually in their magazine budget. That comes from having a good size audience.
Also the price of an ad on your page for a whole year is still fairly cheap compared to, let’s say, a double page in a big fashion magazine.
Oh yeah definitely. But I think the thing that has worked really well, and this is potentially a new day in media, is that what they are buying into is not just the image but also the amount of integrity. The thing that I am very proud of is, even though they bought ads for an entire year, I have no relationship with my advertisers; I have no contact with them.
They are not calling you saying, “Every month we need to have this and that.”
No, there is nothing. I don’t think of them as advertisers; I think of them like a sponsor. They are kind of sponsoring the site. They let me go out there and do my thing.
Have magazines lost their integrity because of the power advertisers have?
I think everyone knows not to believe in magazines anymore, they know that magazines are just page after page of advertisers.
What do you mean?
Magazines are driven by fear: they have to keep these advertisers and do these things for them. But now blogs have grown so big that I get emails like that all the time. But we know, Garance and I, that the thing for us is the level of integrity so we just don’t do it.
SEOUL — With his debts mounting and his wages barely enough to cover the interest, Im Hyun-seok decided he needed a new job. The mild-mannered former English tutor joined South Korea’s growing ranks of camera-toting bounty hunters.
Known here sarcastically as paparazzi, people like Mr. Im stalk their prey and capture them on film. But it is not celebrities, politicians or even hardened criminals they pursue. Rather, they roam cities secretly videotaping fellow citizens breaking the law, deliver the evidence to government officials and collect the rewards.
“Some people hate us,” said Mr. Im. “But we’re only doing what the law encourages.”
The opportunities are everywhere: a factory releasing industrial waste into a river, a building owner keeping an emergency exit locked, doctors and lawyers not providing receipts for payment so that they can underreport their taxable income.
Mr. Im’s pet target is people who burn garbage at construction sites, a violation of environmental laws.
“I’m making three times what I made as an English tutor,” said Mr. Im, 39, who began his new line of work around seven years ago and says he makes about $85,000 a year.
Bounties have a history in South Korea; for decades, the government has offered generous rewards to people who turned in North Korean spies. But in recent years, various government agencies have set up similar programs for anyone reporting mainly petty crimes, some as minor as a motorist tossing a cigarette butt out the window.
Snitching for pay has become especially popular since the world’s economic troubles slowed South Korea’s powerful economy. Paparazzi say most of their ranks are people who have lost their jobs in the downturn and are drawn by media reports of fellow Koreans making tens of thousands of dollars a year reporting crimes.
There are no reliable numbers of people who have taken up the work since governments at all levels have their own programs, but the phenomenon is large enough that it has spawned a new industry: schools set up to train aspiring paparazzi.
The outsourcing of law enforcement has also been something of a boon for local governments. Not only can they save money on hiring officers, but they say the fines imposed on offenders generally outstrip the rewards paid to informers. (The reward for reporting illegal garbage dumping: about $40. The fine: about 10 times as much.)
For most infractions, rewards can range from as little as about $5 (reporting a cigarette tosser) to as much as $850 (turning in an unlicensed seller of livestock). But there are possibilities for windfalls. Seoul city government, for instance, promises up to $1.7 million for reports of major corruption involving its own staff members.
In a country where corporate whistle-blowing is virtually unheard of — such actions are seen as a betrayal of the company — turning in neighbors can also carry a social stigma. Mr. Im has not told his parents what he does for a living. But like many others in his line of work, he says he had little choice when he started tracking petty crimes.
Bang Jae-won, 56, an eight-year veteran of the trade, said he felt proud of the times he caught people dumping garbage at a camping site or exposed marketing frauds, one of which once bankrupted him.
“I regret the early, desperate days when I reported the misdemeanors of people as poor as I was,” said Mr. Bang, who turned to this work after he was told he was too old by prospective employers.
“I don’t tell my neighbors what I do, because it might arouse unnecessary suspicions,” he said. “But, in general, I am not ashamed of my work. To those who call us snitches, I say, ‘Why don’t you obey the law?’ ”
Critics, however, say the reward program has undermined social trust. “The idea itself is good, but when people make a full-time job of this, it effectively privatizes law enforcement and raises ethical questions,” said Lee Yoon-ho, a professor of police administration at Dongguk University in Seoul.
Paparazzi usually develop a specialty, for example going after hakwon, or private cram schools, that charge more than government-set prices. The Education Ministry has paid 3.4 billion won, or $2.9 million, to paparazzi since 2009, when it began relying on bounty hunters to help tame the ballooning cost of private education — a particular burden for citizens in a country laser focused on educational achievement.
Called hak-parazzi, these people disguise themselves as parents and approach hakwon managers to ask about prices. They secretly record their conversations with hidden video cameras.
Hakwon owners hate them.
“The government unilaterally sets unrealistic prices and then unleashes paparazzi in a witch hunt,” complained Cho Young-hwan, a vice chairman of the Korean Coalition of Hakwon. “This is deeply humiliating and anti-education.”
Ju Myong-hyun, an Education Ministry official in charge of the program, said, “We don’t say this is the perfect approach in a democracy. But we will maintain it until hakwon clean up their act.”
Mr. Im, the former English tutor, warns that despite his high earnings, few others make enough to become full-time paparazzi.
“People have a mistaken notion that to be successful, paparazzi must dress and act like spies and use super high-tech gear,” said Mr. Im, who runs a popular blog under his paparazzi alias, Song Mung-suk. “But what matters the most is to work and think hard.”
He gave an example of his own work ethic. In 2005, when he noticed that virtually all coin-operated coffee machines in Internet game parlors he visited lacked proper sanitary inspection tags, he hit on an idea. He called hundreds of Internet parlors, telling the owners, “I left my wallet near your coffee machine,” to find out which ones had such a machine. He compiled a list and reported all of them. He collected 3 million won (about $2,600): 5,000 won each for 600 machines. There can be abuses. Paparazzi report that some of their colleagues cut separate deals with big corporations that are guilty of infractions and fear a heavy government penalty and bad publicity.
Mr. Im said that some business people have gamed the system, deploying him against their competitors, like the pharmacist who urged him to report a drug store next to his for hiring an unlicensed pharmacist. (He did.)
“Once, someone asked me to report an illegal restaurant inside a national park,” Mr. Im said. “It turned out that the guy himself was running an illegal restaurant right next door to the one in the park.”
Like any good spy, Mr. Im shrugged off the obvious question: did he turn in both lawbreakers, or just one?
Jared Lee Loughner allegedly tried to assassinate Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords at a meeting with constituents in Tucson, Arizona, on Saturday. In the wake of the attack, the 22-year-old Loughner has been called everything from “crazed” to “unhinged.” What he’s not been called, however, at least by the media, is a terrorist.
According to the United States Law Code, terrorism is “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.” New evidence alleges that Loughner possibly planned for years to assassinate Giffords, a prominent politician. Sounds a lot like terrorism to me. But a whole host of major media outlets seem to disagree.
The Wall Street Journal today says Loughner “raged against the government” and “discussed terrorism,” which, when you actually think about it, is a vague, nearly meaningless sentence (who hasn’t discussed terrorism in the past decade?). In the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the main story is that Loughner was denied entry into the military because hefailed a drug test, while the only talk of terrorism comes in a confusing quote from a blog posting from Loughner himself: “If you call me a terrorist then the argument to call me a terrorist is ad hominem.” And, in the Los Angeles Times’ lead story on Loughner today, the word “terror” doesn’t appear once.
Compare this nebulous coverage to that on Nidal Hasan in November 2009. If you’ll remember, Hasan is the only suspect in the Fort Hood shooting in Texas that left 13 people dead and 30 more wounded. Hasan is also Muslim, a fact every news outlet won’t let you forget, while also speculating about his terrorist ties.
Four days after the attack on Fort Hood, the Wall Street Journal published two stories suggesting that Hasan was a terrorist, one of which included the assertion that it was a terrorist act because Hasan spoke Arabic while he shot. The Los Angeles Times spoke to counterterrorism experts for this piece on Hasan. And, in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, blogger Kyle Wingfield actually gave credence to a Forbes argument claiming that Hasan “went Muslim.”
Some will argue that Hasan’s terrorist intentions were proved by communications he had with radical cleric Anwar al Awlaki, but, in fact, experts who reviewed the pair’s e-mail exchange deemed it totally innocuous.
It should be noted that the FBI Director Robert Mueller has said he’s not ruling out terrorism charges against Loughner, but nothing’s certain yet. And today in Dubai, Hillary Clinton called Loughner an “extremist,” though, like the media, she stopped short of calling him a terrorist. From the sidelines, the message this sends is pretty obvious and very insidious: When a white man executes a political attack, he’s likely crazy; when it’s a Muslim doing the shooting, he’s likely a terrorist.