by Art Chantry ( email@example.com)
one of the things that endlessly fascinates me about graphic design is the way that manipulation, fraud and pranks become reality. over and over again i stumble across cases where some graphics person’s little joke takes on huge manifestations and becomes the new narrative – the culture itself.
my favorite direct witness account is the weird place in time when i got to see the ‘creation’ of GRUNGE. it was a marketing word to sell local punk rock music to the mainstream that was selected by bruce pavitt at sub pop records. it didn’t really exist, but was in fact created as marketing propaganda. it was a deceit. a capitalist propaganda trick.
the high point in the events that followed was when a new york times reporter contacted the sub pop offices and stupidly requested the ‘secrect language of grunge’. bascially, he wanted the ‘new hip slang of the grunge rockers” to dissect in an article int he newspaper. that was a completely nieve and stupid question that walked right into a human pranking machine named meghan.
meghan simply started making words up. then she gave the reporter absurd-but-plausible definitions for the phrase she concocted on the spot. the old torn jeans everybody wore were called “wackslacks”. talking on the telephone was “hanging on the flippity-flop”. an unpleasant situation (aka – a ‘bummer’) was called “harsh realm”.
within a few days there appeared on the FRONT PAGE of the NYTIMES an article called “the secret lexicon of grunge”. there was even a little list of some of the words they ‘discovered’ along with the ‘definitions’. and it was entirely made up of the phoney list megham had rattled off over the phone! we all died laughing!
so, dan house and i got togther and and xeroxed off the list and blew up the words right out of the clipping and C/Z records down the hall printed up a bunch of tshirts with the ‘hip’ words on them and the definition list on the back. they were a big hit and everybody wore them to more uncontrollable laughter. everybody started to use the fake slang as a joke. giggle…
of course, the NYTimes was humiliated and embarrassed and stayed away after that. all the hoards of newbie children flocking to seattle (because they saw the NYTimes, i guess) saw the articles and the tshirts and actually began to BELIEVE that the slang was real. before too long, you began to hear kids actually saying “see you hanging on the flippity flop” in conversation. they WEREN’T joking, either. they thought it was real slang.
and before long it BECAME real. people still use it some of those fake words even today. it’s really really scary to see how powerfully effective this stuff can be. we can just all BELIEVE it into reality. this is what our share
lture is all about. and this is what american is particularly good at. we not only build dream houses, we move into them (thank you, woody allen).
as the joke became real, it made it’s way into reality and some of the actual faked words entered the language with their definitions intact. within a couple of years, there was a sci-fi detective TV show on the air called “Harsh Realm”. no kidding. thank god it only lasted a season or two.
a lot of these prank-to-reality scenarios pop up in sub-cultural turf. sub-cultures need a narrative to define their existence. with the narrative they can’t exist as a separate reality to believe in. in the flying saucer realm there is an actual phrase coined to describe events like these that are too weird and surreal to be blieved, yet they exist. they are refered to as “high strangeness”. this little photo i show is a great piece of graphic design “high strangeness” to tell you about.
this is the UMMO logo. back in the 1960′s there were a series of exotic and crazy UFO events that happened in brazil (i think) that also involved abductions and mass observation and psychic phenomena and strange aliens creatures the whole shebang of weird flying saucer lore. the story spread like wild and became a media sensation. ufo magazines all over the world reported on it. ufo newsletters analyzed it and the it was “studied” in great depth by ufologists the world over.
these were called the “UMMO” sightings, because the aliens claimed they came from the planet “UMMO”. these sightings are also were blessed by aliens with a grand sense of design. they had a LOGO! this photo above is an UMMO photo, showing off the logo nicely. that’s the official corporate brand of the planet UMMO. pretty moderne, eh? tres chic!
very quickly the whole UMMO story was revealed as a hoax. that flying saucer photo? a hubcap. the logo? “International Harvester” – a manufacturer of trucks and farm equipment. i even used to drive an interbational pick up, so i immediately recognized that logo when i saw it. BUSTED! everybody had egg on their faces and the whole UMMO event was swept under the rug and forgotten. it’s extremely hard to research any info on it, now, because the info and documentation is so embarrassing and forgotten.
decades went by. a billion more and even stranger ufo events have taken place. several american presidents even admit they saw UFO’s (carter and reagan, for instance). something like 80-85% of the population believe “they exist” (whatever that means.) they are as accepted and common as dirt. you saw a flying saucer? so what? i mean, who hasn’t? get real…
but, UMMO? that was foolish and embarrassing. forget about that one. decades passed and it was totally stricken from the records. then the soviet union collapsed. the KGB files on flying saucers leaked out. seems the ruskies always took that sort of thing a lot more seriously than us yanks and some pretty strange and weird documentation began to show up.
one really well documented tale that happened in the 1980′s about the time of “perestroika” was a tale of an actual UFO landing in an urban park – in the middle of Moscow! it was at night and was witnessed by hundreds – maybe THOUSANDS – of citizens. it created a near panic situation. those who saw it up close all tell the same story about a glowing saucer craft and some sort of “monsters” emerging and some sort of peculiar human contact. and it’s all documented with eyewitness accounts and photos and even a local tv station camera on the site. good stuff!
everybody who saw it or the evidence say the same thing, too. they had LOGO! it was on their uniforms and on their craft! the description is oddly familiar. look at the photos and there it is! the UMMO logo! WTF!!! these two stories are seperated by decades of time and phsyical distance and cultural distance so vast that it beggars the imagination to explain how these two events became connected. i mean, it was a fraud! what’s it doing here? the soviets never even connected the two stories until after the secret files were leaked and the western ufologists pointed it out.
the soviet citizenry had absolutely NO IDEA that the UMMO events ever took place. i mean, we’re talking about the soviet secrecy machine here. censorship was severe. why would anybody in moscow EVER hear about a shunned prank in brazil forgotten about over 20-30 years earlier? how did that UMMO logo show up on the side of that (supposedly real) UFO landing in the city park in front of curious russians?
how do these things happen? a b&w squiggle created on the other side of the planet jumps the shark and shows up in time and space in new context as reality. like the ‘lexicon of grunge’, the ‘UMMO logo’ has taken on reality. i wonder if International Harvester can sue aliens for copyright infringement? — with Jeff Ross and Megan Jasper.
AC: did you know that roswell really didn’t pop up in any serious way (only a vague mention now and then) until 1980? when that first book came out, shit hit the fan. before that the ‘roswell affair” was non-existent. yet it happened in 1947, and everybody now considers it a major ufo touchstone story. except it didn’t exist for over 30 years. great stuff…. i think that’s the episode that was written by my old graphic design instructor for the only graphic class i ever took. he was watching tv and realized how awful he show was and said, “i can write a better script than that!”. and, so he did!!! and he sent it in and they bought it and produced. for a few years after that he sidelined as a television script writer. made some nice money, too. the only thing he ever really taught me in school was the magic of HUSTLE….by the way, john mortenson actually makes video enhancements for reality tv shows like “when animals attack” and “super car chases” and that stuff. he adds gore and blood and violence and stuff to make it ‘better.’ he’s no fun to watch TV with, because if there’s some cool UFO footage (for instance) that pops up on one of those “ufo hunter’ type shows, he’ll look at it and say, i did that one, too.” what a fucking drag! DAMN YOU, JOHN MORTENSON!!!!!…and that’s sort of my point here. these little things that people do as hoaxes (and especially hoaxes with visuals (aka “graphic design”) attached seem to take on a life of their own and sort of wedge their way into our collective reality. it’s extremely prominent in the flying saucer lore over the years. some people (even vallee) speculate that it’s some sort of surreal cultural manipulation at work as a process of making us develop spiritual realities (aka, a religion machine). whatever is going on with this ‘high stangeness’ turf, i think it’s pretty darn cool….