Paying interest

At one point in this video by the upstart pop outfit Diamond Rings (the same one responsible for that quaint pop masterpiece "All Yr Songs"), singer/songwriter John O takes a bat to a baseball-shaped pinata, only to discover that it's empty on the inside. It's a deflating nothingness that exposes a metaphor for materialized gimmickry. Later in the same segment he tosses a Michael Jordan cardboard cut-out into a crowd surf.

It's an interesting case of post-modern influencing (which I suppose is just called pop art), championing iconic aesthetics for the ideas they purvey, not the stars they represent. We (intentionally or not) place a lot of hidden meaning behind recurring images, and when we remove the background relevance we're left to ponder how resonant our cultural memes can be. If an alien were dropped in the middle of Times Square, what impression would he (it?) relay to the tribe (colony?)? Or, hundreds of years from now which social studies texts will reference which television ads?

Jordan is already often referred to in degrees of past tense, and however celebrated he is as an athlete, his impact writ large is as a promoter, the charismatic role model we idealized him to be. But his Hall of Fame induction speech exposed a more bitter core, his repeated ill-conceived comeback attempts an insufferable ego. In the Internet age, not even Jordan is granted a facade. Kobe Bryant had marriage issues, Seth Rogen was caught being rude to fans, Britney Spears walked into a gas station restroom barefoot; but however much we rob superstars of their right to personal lives, the tragedy is that we rob ourselves of the right to heroes. John O doesn't hoist a living person, one with insecurities and flaws, but an image, a label, and most of all an idea, a perfectly-formulated aesthetic that can remove us from the insufficiencies of real-life characters. It's something we don't see anymore, unfortunately linked with other archaic mediums like the cassette tape that induces the video's dance-party send-off.

But from an artistic standpoint it's also a tedious balance to strike. It's hard to reference something with built-in significance because your use is relatively pre-determined, limited to the scope of influence of the items you employ. The more resonant the images you use, the more resonant the message you give; but the most resonant images are often not malleable enough to craft something new. The bottom line is about the same place as Jet, those Australian kooks who couldn't seem to write an original song without plagiarizing four or five others. It's one thing to wear your influence on your sleeve (Cymbals Eat Guitars and Surfer Blood the most prominent, recent examples), but it's a whole other to let someone else's art stream through your mouth.

At another sequence in the video, John O takes off with a basketball toward the hoop, immediately evoking a similar montage in which Jordan dunks in "Space Jam." But when he gets to the rim, O doesn't dunk, he tosses up a left-handed reverse lay-up. And that seems to be the key to this whole charade. Recycled fragments from pop culture are only one step removed from the trash heap, and unless the stylistic mash-up instills a unique message or narrative into the piece there's nothing to justify its resurrection. Diamond Rings takes liberally from the pop dumpster, but so long as he sticks to lay-ups he seems unlikely to become the empty pinata on the ground.

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