Monday, April 13, 2009

Buzz of the others

Elizabeth Currid and Sarah Williams created maps of New York and Los Angeles in their study “The Geography of Buzz,” trying to find patterns that define how the creative art world works in the two cities. It sounds like a very interesting research, and I respect the hard work. But I really don't agree with their findings.

The first paragraph in a related New York Times article goes, "Apologies to residents of the Lower East Side; Williamsburg, Brooklyn; and other hipster-centric neighborhoods. You are not as cool as you think, at least according to a new study that seeks to measure what it calls 'the geography of buzz.'" What do "cool" and "hip" really mean? What's culture and what's art? The study collects events such as film and television screenings, concerts, fashion shows, gallery and theater openings. Creative art only happens where these events are held? Are all concerts and films cool and hip? The study found out that major "cultural milieus" in New York include Times Square, Carnegie Hall, and Lincoln Center. Who goes to Times Square for art? If a fashion show is held there, it is not because it's a locale where creative arts are buzzy, but just for the publicity of the place! I guess the hipsters couldn't even get into Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall with what they are wearing, even if an opera would be considered as hip.

The two authors used a "unique data set," Getty Images, to find the events. What kind of events would catch the eyes of Getty Images? Given the fact that the photos are for sale, I'll say the agency would probably only consider the media-worthy ones. This is not only an incomprehensive set of data, but a biased one. Indie cool and hip events with no celebrity involvement would be most likely overlooked. This will eventually kill creativity if we let the dominating mainstream media act as a cultural gatekeeper. As Keith Haring said, "artists should be a kind of antagonists of their culture." Well, I think if Getty Images were operating in the 80s, they wouldn't care to take pictures when Keith Haring drew with white chalk in the New York subway stations anyways.

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