Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘activism’

30 NOVEMBER, 2009

The Wall In My Head: Words & Art from the Fall of the Iron Curtain


What fallen checkpoints have to do with a generation of artists.

Twenty years ago, the fall of the Berlin Wall changed the course of world history as November 9, 1989, marked democracy’s most politically and socially consequential win. When the checkpoints between East and West Berlin burst open, two world that had been kept apart for nearly three decades finally came together, each with its unique tradition of art, ideology and cultural heritage.

Today, Words Without Borders, the international nonprofit working to promote international communication through translation of the world’s best writing, celebrates the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with the release of The Wall in My Head: Words and Images from the Fall of the Iron Curtain — a gem of an anthology of fiction, essays, images, and original documents, tracing the evolution of this revolutionary spirit from its 1989 origins to the present day.

Unlike traditional historical accounts of that era, The Wall in My Head goes straight to the grittiest, rawest source — the generation of artists and writers who witnessed the fall of the Iron Curtain first-hand. Shaped by this monumental event, their life and work offer profound memories, reflections and insight into that incredible era of frustration, optimism and epic change.

Through this incredible spectrum of stories, voices and accounts, The Wall in My Head paints a rich and powerful portrait of the event that made possible so much of what we take for granted today.

You can read about the project on the book’s blog and sample it with this free chapter [PDF].

The Wall in My Head is out on Amazon — who made the book possible with a charitable donation — today.

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24 NOVEMBER, 2009

Buy Nothing: No, Really, It’s For Sale


What the hottest gift this holiday season is, or how to dodge your modern addictions.

Let’s face it, we live in a material world. And this week is its annual pinnacle, the frantic shopping bonanza known as Black Friday. But it’s also the 10th international Buy Nothing Day — Friday in the U.S. and Saturday everywhere else. It’s a chance to detox from the omnivorous toxicity of conspicuous consumption, to seek some brief redemption from our wasteful and unsustainable more-more-more modus operandi. (Come on, did you really need that Steve Jobs bobblehead?)

Our friends at Do The Green Thing are doing something quite ingenious — they’re selling nothing. Really. Their Buy Nothing campaign is a clever reminder that we all buy stuff, often just for the sake of buying, while sticking with what we’ve got can make more sense. So in their Amazero store, an Amazon mock-up, you can literally purchase Nothing, which costs, well, nothing — they’ve got the standard e-commerce checkout procedure, from the Buy It Now button to the email confirmation after your purchase. (We’ve worked out a special deal for Brain Pickings readers — you can purchase Nothing for 30% off using this link.)

The point, of course, isn’t to completely eradicate consumption — that would be absurd — but, rather, to help us be more mindful of what it is we actually need versus what we buy just for the new-stuff thrill of it.

The effort is a simple yet powerful reminder that, over the holidays, we often end up giving and getting lots of useless stuff. (Green Thing did a survey, which found — unsurprisingly — that 96% of people have gotten a useless gift at some point. We can attest with what’s now a vast collection of annual reindeer figurines from grandma.) That stuff takes energy and precious resources to make, creating unfortunate waste as it ends up in landfills.

And if you think you’re immune to the buybuybuy messaging of the ad industry, you can test just how stealthy its impact is in the All Spin No Substance game, where you get to guess the brand advertised based solely on its logoless visual communication — we bet you’d be surprised how many you get right.

Buy Nothing promotes one of Green Thing’s 7 green actions, stick with what you got, as an antidote to our reckless and thoughtless material habits. And with testimonials from an impressive line-up of celebrities (including one of our favorite British indie bands, The Noisettes) swearing by Nothing, it’s not hard to buy into it.

And if you still feel the compulsion to buy — because, let’s face it, we’ve been so powerfully conditioned for it by today’s media environment — Green Thing’s got your back. Dr. Will Powers, retail therapist, can help you dodge any temptation to buy with some grounded professional advice. You can email him for help in taming your shopaholic urges, or tweet your concerns to @DrWillPowers.

We love both the clever campaign and what it aims to achieve. (We’ve even offered Green Thing some ad space on Brain Pickings — look right — for the attractive price of Nothing.) So exorcise your shopping urges this weekend by buying yourself some Nothing — we vouch for it with a full money-back guarantee.

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18 NOVEMBER, 2009

Social Justice with a Twist: Ctrl.Alt.Shift


Blurring the boundaries between activism, advertisement, and art, or how you can get hand grenades to hang on your Christmas tree.

More often than not, you can tell the age of a social institution by its name. The NAACP’s etymology clearly has its origin in the early-20th century. Friends of the Earth? Obviously a late 1960s lovechild. So you might guess that Ctrl.Alt.Shift, an organization whose name refers to computer keyboard commands, almost certainly harks from recent years—and you’d be correct.

A UK-based social initiative, Ctrl.Alt.Shift is a formally incorporated social movement for global justice. In an interesting departure from traditional anti-establishment associations, Ctrl.Alt.Shift locates its arena of action as much within prevailing systems as outside them. This approach has come to define millennial movements, in fact; these days the phrase “by any means necessary” could refer equally to change initiated within the boardroom or protests led by bullhorn from the street below.

Whether you’re into music, fashion, politics or direct action, photography, design, dance, art or journalism, there’s a place for you within our movement to fight social and global injustice.

(Okay, maybe business is missing from that career list—but you get the point.)

The movement’s most recent incarnation took the form of a comic book called Ctrl.Alt.Shift Unmasks Corruption. Launched this month, the limited-edition anthology collected original political work from artists and satirists including Dave McKean and Peter Kuper. The cleverly subversive comics, currently on view in the Lazarides Gallery in London, take on subjects such as imperialism (in “Reagan’s Raiders,” featuring the former President’s face superimposed on Captain America) and race (in “I Am Curious, Black!” with Lois Lane transforming into a Blaxploitation-style character).

Ctrl.Alt.Shift’s efforts so far have focused on governments’ HIV travel bans (with a campaign cleverly entitled “Nothing to Declare”), Latin American conflict, and broader issues of social justice such as gender inequality. Taking notes from the provocation playbook of TEDsters (and Brain Pickings favorite) The Yes Men, Ctrl.Alt.Shift has staged media-savvy public interventions like demonstrations outside foreign embassies, and a planned march through London to raise awareness of female infanticide in India. And like another urbane media brand, VICE (with whom it has co-sponsored exhibitions), Ctrl.Alt.Shift publishes an eponymous magazine, which it makes available in clubs and shops throughout the UK.

Other strategies seek to engage participation through competition, like a short-film contest held earlier this year (the winning entry was HIV: The Musical) as well as other targeted actions and social networking features on its website. And with a roster of hip collaborators like musician Estelle, photographer Nan Goldin, and the environmental group Plane Stupid, Ctrl.Alt.Shift seems well situated to bring its high-profile brand of activism to greater global attention. We say if a slick sell will get people talking about rape as a weapon of war, or greater buy-in around climate talks, then sell, sell away.

Have a look at Ctrl.Alt.Shift’s videos and blog to see if you’d literally like to buy into their program.

Kirstin Butler is writing an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs, but when not working spends far, far too much time on Twitter. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

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