Today I have an old story for you, something I would imagine you're all tired of hearing about on the Twitter and the Facebook. But hey, in case you haven't heard, guess what? Chris Brown made a vinyl toy with artist Ron English. The figure, titled "Dum English" was released for sale earlier this year and you can get a look at it here. Again, this is nothing you don't already know but it is important background to the issue at hand. But before you read any further, in the interest of giving both sides of the argument a fair voice, I implore you to download and listen to episode 12 of the Ya' Heard Show. If you've never listened to Ya Heard before you're in for an interesting experience. Hosted by Ritzy P., Shane Jessup, KaNO, and Sket-One, it is a podcast covering various topics relating to the designer vinyl and street art scene. Visit their site for a better, more articulate and accurate, description than that but it gives you an idea. If like me you have a difficult time following along with the conversational style of the show what with the in jokes and lingo I'm way too unhip to understand, feel free to skip ahead to the only segment relevant to today's discussion, entitled, "Slow your roll," in which the crew discusses Chris Brown's foray into the toy making scene.
Done? Have Ya Heard? Get comfortable and read on, this is a long one.
I do most of my podcast listening in the car during my long commute to and from work and yesterday, about 45 minutes away from a computer and Twitter, was about the point where Sket started to kick off the group's feelings on the topic. I turned up the volume. I listened intently. I grew more and more frustrated. Kept listening and heard them through, up until the point where Ritzy P. suggested (in a not-so-kind kind tone) that Mr. Brown could eat a heaping helping of male genitalia. I'm known for healthy doses of hyperbole and aggression but even I've never suggested someone I don't like swallow pieces of a fellow human being.
But to get on to the point, the argument presented was that Chris Brown has no place releasing a toy in this scene. That he is using his wealth to buy his way in. It wasn't earned. Perhaps my favorite supportive detail of the collective argument against his presence in the scene was that he has listed his favorite artists to include KAWS and Banksy. How rare. They are quite popular for a reason, no? What makes me most uncomfortable about the segment and the vitriol present, most specifically by Ritzy, is the hypocrisy of it. To suggest that he, or anyone for that matter, not be allowed to release a figure (which, lets be honest, is a Ron English toy with Chris Brown's name slapped on it because he was coherent enough to point at some color swatches and write a check) because he hasn't earned the cred to be a part of this scene is pretty asinine and thoughtless. I mean, I’m sure the hosts making the criticism have never themselves thought to step out of the art world and into other, tangentially related industries (like this or this).
I don't see anything wrong with venturing into fields outside of what you're known for and in fact this scene wouldn't exist at all if that hadn't been allowed and encouraged. This scene is comprised of designers from all fields. It's made up of people who have nothing to do with being creative on a daily basis but who have fun slinging resin in the garage on the weekends. It's made up of people who buy toys made by professionals then break them apart, glue them back together again in random configurations, and call it art. If that dude can do it, so can Chris Brown. Bruised knuckles and all. Am I suggesting you buy it? Hell no! Have you seen it? It's another lame, stale design by Ron English. Pass! But he's got every right in the world to make it and call it (half) his.
Everybody in this scene (getting really tired of that word) came from somewhere else. No one, well very few, of the popular artists today started out as toy makers. Even fewer started out as street artists. The designer vinyl scene isn't what it was even five years ago. Who even says Urban Vinyl anymore (sorry Urban Vinyl Daily)? The art that's big, that sells huge now, has nothing to do with that stuff. It's about cute now. It's about monsters. It's about licensed characters now. Yes, there are certainly those street artists that are still doing great work and are popular, like hosts of Ya Heard for example, but they are the minority of folks making it big in toys. Even KAWS releases of late, whether they be light bulbs, liquor bottles, or "commentary" on Walt Disney, are not exactly widely acclaimed for their relevance or creativity. They're pay days. So street!
The point is that it's irrelevant where you came from or what you do for a living outside of making toys. If you're here to make toys, make them to the best of your artistic ability and let the fans and collectors decide if you "belong". It's not for me or anyone else to say that you can't even try. Having money helps get your foot in the door, but it does not give you a great toy and an adoring public. It gives you more opportunity to succeed but ultimately its going to be up to the people spending their paychecks to decide if it was worth your while.
Chris Brown is not a good person and not someone who you should buy a toy from. But this argument is bigger than him. The anger evident in the Ya Heard episode around him shone a light on an elitist mentality that worries me and makes absolutely no sense in context. I'm sorry Chris Brown didn't make public which toys he'd bought in the past or which lesser known artists he appreciates. Apparently that is the kind of stuff you need to publicise before you're allowed in this prestigious club. My first vinyl purchase was a Dunny from Urban Outfitters. Is that okay with everyone?
And if you're going to hate on Brown simply for not belonging, for being a musician buying his way into a scene in which he has no place, here is a list of other offenders you may also like to be pissed about:
Blink-182: Pop band who released/licensed an artist series of their mascot
Deadmau5: Producer/DJ who released/licensed a mini figure series of his mascot
Capcom/Kidrobot: Street Fighter (video game) character licensed mini figure toys
Battle Babies: Just look
There are many more examples I’m sure we’re all aware of but who really cares? No one screamed about how the artists/companies listed above had no place in the scene. Just admit you don’t like the guy as a person and leave it at that. Admit you don’t want his kind in your club, stomp your feet and pout, and move on to issues that actually matter.
It comes down to this: If you want to hate Chris Brown for hitting Rihanna, fine! I fully support that. But to say he isn’t allowed in this club because he doesn’t fit in; because he hasn’t earned it; because he doesn’t like enough of the same artists publically that you do, and isn't an artist (which by the way apparently isn't true), is elitist and petty and pretty disgusting. You’re welcome to avoid his figure and hate it for what it is and even hate him for thinking anyone can be a success in this scene who has a check book. But to say he can’t play at all is dumb. Have a little faith in the people around you, your fellow collectors and enthusiasts, that if it isn’t worth endorsing or isn’t quality work, he’ll fail. Don’t be a snob. Hate the guy all you want but don’t be a snob about a scene that is much bigger than any one of us and wonderfully so. Stop acting like any single person has the right or a place to act as a gatekeeper and realize that there would be a lot of really great toys we’d have missed out on if people weren’t allowed to jump genres. Don’t limit us with pettiness. Let the guy fail and move on, because he will. It was something to try and he did. I can’t imagine it’ll do well for him and he’ll move on. But even the assholiest of us are allowed to have a hobby and enjoy this art. Some of us just have the money available to be a fan at a much greater level than others. Aside from his personal life, how is what he did any different than any other “artist” self-producing a toy or working with a toy company to get something done?
I don’t fault the crew from Ya Heard for not liking the piece or having a personal distaste for the guy. I’m right there with them. I just really do not like the almighty attitude that opinion was expressed through. There are plenty, plenty of reasons to hate on him but to get protective of a scene (which is getting more and more commercial every day anyway – and I don’t consider that a bad thing, by the way) with the reasons that were given are simply lame. My opinion. I was fortunate enough to have a brief chat with Ya Heard cohost, Shane Jessup, about this yesterday and I appreciated the way he approached me and was honest in his feedback about my tweets (about their comments – so meta!). From what I know of him through our very few interactions (including his comments on this very site - past post) he’s a stand-up guy and I hope I was able to get across where I was coming from. I don’t have anything against any of the hosts and I don’t fault them for having their opinions and I love that they have their show to get them out. The messaging just felt wrong in this instance and that’s all.
Okay I’m going to hop off of my soapbox so you can jump on and take a turn. Let me know how wrong I am in the comments below!