Andre the Giant Plagiarized His Posse?

We've all seen 'em around, on telephone poles and switcher boxes in big cities and small towns seemingly everywhere: the street art of Shepard Fairey. It all started back in the late 80s, when he and some friends from the Rhode Island School of Design created the now-iconic "Andre the Giant has a posse" stickers, which were distributed far and wide by devoted bands of skaters and aficionados. When the WWF threatened to sue Fairey and friends on behalf of the deceased wrestler, the now-famous "OBEY" stickers began to appear, featuring a more stylized version of the Giant's likeness without using his name. (The "obey" concept, along with Fairey's "This is Your God" line of images, were borrowed from a John Carpenter movie; watch a few minutes of this clip and you'll spot it. Perhaps not coincidentally, They Live also starred a WWF wrestler: "Rowdy" Roddy Piper.)

To most fans, the Andre the Giant and John Carpenter lifts were nothing more than playful postmodernist reappropriation of pop culture imagery. But according to a new article on Fairey's work, as his fame began to grow and his work began to appear on tee-shirts and in art galleries, Fairey's wink-wink graphic in-jokes started moving into the territory of out-and-out plagiarism. Check out some side-by-side examples:

On the left is a still from a 1956 film version of George Orwell's 1984; on the right, an OBEY poster.

Is this kind of borrowing really so bad? Artist Mark Vallen makes a cogent case against it:

Fairey has developed a successful career through expropriating and recontextualizing the artworks of others, which in and of itself does not make for bad art. Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein based his paintings on the world of American comic strips and advertising imagery, but one was always aware that Lichtenstein was taking his images from comic books; that was after all the point, to examine the blasé and artificial in modern American commercial culture. When Lichtenstein painted Look Mickey, a 1961 oil on canvas portrait of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, everyone was cognizant of the artist's source material - they were in on the joke. By contrast, Fairey simply filches artworks and hopes that no one notices - the joke is on you.

Here's a slightly more sinister example:
Fairey created the death-head "OBEY" image on the left, which was plagiarized from him by Wal-Mart for a line of tee-shirts. What Sam Walton's band of merry filchers didn't realize, however, was that Fairey had himself lifted the death-head logo -- from the Nazi Gestapo. (Pictured above at right: a badge from an SS uniform.)

While there are plenty more examples here, this one is my favorite for the way it transforms an innocuous source into something sinister:

Of course, not everyone agrees that Fairey's appropriations should be called plagiarism -- what do you think?

College Board Wants to Erase Thousands of Years From AP World History, and Teachers Aren't Happy

One would be forgiven for thinking that the Ides of March are upon us, because Julius Caesar is being taken out once again—this time from the Advanced Placement World History exam. The College Board in charge of the AP program is planning to remove the Roman leader, and every other historical figure who lived and died prior to 1450, from high school students’ tests, The New York Times reports.

The nonprofit board recently announced that it would revise the test, beginning in 2019, to make it more manageable for teachers and students alike. The current exam covers over 10,000 years of world history, and according to the board, “no other AP course requires such an expanse of content to be covered over a single school year.”

As an alternative, the board suggested that schools offer two separate year-long courses to cover the entirety of world history, including a Pre-AP World History and Geography class focusing on the Ancient Period (before 600 BCE) up through the Postclassical Period (ending around 1450). However, as Politico points out, a pre-course for which the College Board would charge a fee "isn’t likely to be picked up by cash-strapped public schools," and high school students wouldn't be as inclined to take the pre-AP course since there would be no exam or college credit for it.

Many teachers and historians are pushing back against the proposed changes and asking the board to leave the course untouched. Much of the controversy surrounds the 1450 start date and the fact that no pre-colonial history would be tested.

“They couldn’t have picked a more Eurocentric date,” Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, who previously helped develop AP History exams and courses, told The New York Times. “If you start in 1450, the first thing you’ll talk about in terms of Africa is the slave trade. The first thing you’ll talk about in terms of the Americas is people dying from smallpox and other things. It’s not a start date that encourages looking at the agency and creativity of people outside Europe.”

A group of teachers who attended an AP open forum in Salt Lake City also protested the changes. One Michigan educator, Tyler George, told Politico, “Students need to understand that there was a beautiful, vast, and engaging world before Europeans ‘discovered’ it.”

The board is now reportedly reconsidering its decision and may push the start date of the course back some several hundred years. Their decision will be announced in July.

[h/t The New York Times]

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