Am I a brand hypocrite?
Some of my strongest influences back when I went to design school were the music of Joy Division and New Order with their record covers designed by Peter Saville. So I was horrified last year when I saw that Disney was thinking of creating a Mickey Mouse T-shirt version based on Joy Division’s 1979 album Unknown Pleasures. While I knew that the icon had become a visual meme for the art school students past and present, looking around further I was surprised at how it had become part of our commercial culture as well.
This was pretty amazing for a simple diagram that was lifted directly from a science book depicting the very first reading of a pulsar. There is a great video interview with Peter Saville (recently posted on Vimeo) where he also expresses a level of mystery as to why this particular image has become so embedded in our culture. While I was OK with the image on the ubiquitous t-shirt and dorm room poster, when I found out that it was showing up on products from Tote bags to Snowboards it felt like a crass commercialization of one of my cultural touchstones.
But recently I had to question if I was in fact being hypocritical about all this. Last month I went to see New Order play their old songs, as well as a couple of Joy Division numbers. When the band came out for their encore a group of people near the front of the stage held up a large hand made banner with the word “TRANSMISSION”, a song from a 1979 Joy Division 12” EP. While this wasn’t the song the band had planned on doing as their encore, they burst into the song and played it with more energy than anything else that evening. It was great, it was powerful… it is also the ringtone that I paid $2.99 to download from the iTunes store. I left the concert wondering whether there really is a line between art and the commercialization of our cultural icons and if so who decides?