About fifteen years ago, I was sitting at my computer at the TIME Magazine News Desk, and the World Editor sauntered in. After spotting one of Shepard Fairey’s notorious “Obey” stickers affixed to the back of my monitor, he asked “Now, just what does that mean, anyway?” I gave him a cursory explanation of Shepard Fairey’s work and the “Andre The Giant Has a Posse” backstory and the whole “phenomenology” thing (if you care, click here). He paused a moment and then sort of frowned, eventually admitting that he liked it more when he didn’t know what it was.
Personally speaking, I still have nothing but respect for Shepard Fairey as an outspoken artist, although I’ve since become slightly put off by how his whole thing became sort of defined by merchandising. That said, you have to admire the man for building such a massive enterprise wholly out of a humble sticker/stencil campaign. More to the point, Fairey remains a fighter of the good fight.
I remain similarly enamored of the frequently cited Missing Foundation, who –- like Fairey –- made an indelible impact strictly via Peter Missing’s tireless street art campaign. Maybe not everyone can name a Missing Foundation tune (if “tune” is even an applicable term in describing MF’s music), but any downtown Manhattanite who’s been here since the 1980s will almost certainly recognize the cryptic Missing Foundation insignia. Its strategic placement and enigmatic nature have almost given it a power that eclipses its origins. It’s a statement and a signifier that carries a potency beyond the mere citation of a band.
Street art of this variety has always intrigued me, especially when more questions are begged than answered. To my mind, the most intriguing art has always been the kind that pushes buttons. If it doesn’t stop you in your tracks and make you think, what – honestly – is the point of it?
While it seems that the era of intriguing street art has gone the way of all flesh here in Manhattan, there are always new folks out there trying to make a splash. But it’s no longer a novel approach. Too often, it’s just another gimmick to push a product. I suppose that same condemnation could be leveled at Shepard Fairey, Peter Missing and even my beloved Cop Shoot Cop (in the late 80’s, the band launched a deliberately provocative poster campaign to disseminate the name of the band prior to even writing or recording any music). It’s a promotional device, ultimately, but in those instances, it was, at least, relatively original and organic.
More recently, however, I’ve been spotting something around the walls of SoHo and parts of TrIBeCa and Chinatown that’s caught my eye. It’s certainly stopped me in my tracks and made me think, but I find it more confounding than anything else. A friend of mine put it in her Instagram feed today, which finally prompted this post. Here’s the item in question…
Possibly quite by design, this legend never fails to piss me off. As has been laboriously pointed out of late, 2016 has been an era of dramatic upheaval, regardless of your affiliations. We are currently poised on a precipice. Given the forces that are about to officially assume the mantle of government, our trajectory in the weeks and months to come may have startling ramifications. Without sermonizing too much (I’ve already done that elsewhere here), this is a historic chapter we’re all in, and I think we’d all do well to stay alert, be invested and pay close attention. Again, regardless of your sensibility, I would think you’d agree that now is not a time for any semblance of apathy.
My righteous indignation all fired up, I then took a moment to consider that maybe these posters aren’t talking about politics. Maybe they’re an attempt to make sense of society’s preoccupation with the shallow and inane. Lack of proper punctuation aside (where is the question mark?), maybe these posters are underscoring the unspoken truth that, say, Rihanna unfriending Drake on Instagram because he’s having an affair with Jennifer Lopez should NOT so dramatically change the course of one’s day. Maybe they’re a slightly misleading attempt at a wake-up call.
Curiosity piqued, I did a bit of digging and, much like my former editor was up top, I must say that I was more intrigued when I didn’t know anything about it.
As sketched out on an About page slavishly in need of some copy editing, Does It Even Matter (or DIEM –- as in Carpe…, geddit?) is a “lifestyle brand,” hawking a somewhat garish clothing line, one that strives to simultaneously exude insouciance and determination. “Never make decisions in doubt,” they assert, “always be sure, always be certain and if questioned … Make sure DIEM is the reply.”
Wait, how am I to be steely and firm in my convictions if my very credo is a shrug-shouldered, existential query?
Also, while I suppose I understand the appeal of making one’s catchphrase conveniently double as an acronym for the tail-end of a popular Latin aphorism, I’d point out that the meaningful half of that well-worn phrase is the active verb “Carpe,” meaning “Seize!” “Diem” is just a kind of passive noun, meaning “the day.”
So yeah, it’s a clothing line for millennials. Ho hum.