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@MarcDSchiller versus @ArtFagCity

At times, the blogosphere can feel like a miniaturized version of academia. With so many voices competing over authority and pulling readers this way and that, fights are bound to break out. Just like any serious punditry, bloggers have healthy disagreements over what they cover as well as how they cover it — the etiquette of the developing world of online media. It’s an exciting world to be a part of, but once in a while the group dialogue becomes less of a forum for debate and more a playground sandbox.

Thing is, in the blogosphere and the online real-time media, sand can get thrown in many (and very personal) ways. I would cite video game web comic Penny Arcade’s “Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory” on the social phenomenon in which the relative anonymity of the Internet can lead users to say publicly some stupid things that they wouldn’t IRL. Though we are now personally familiar with many bloggers, and many are held as personal friends, it’s still easier to send a nasty email or post a mean tweet than have a similar telephone conversation, and when those exchanges are public, it sends a message to all those reading.

Last week, a sandbox argument broke out between two prominent members of the Internet art world. Though they may look at times immature, these fights are necessary parts of a healthy blogosphere. It’s worth taking a detailed look at this conflict and noticing how and why it happened, as well as seeing what we can learn about building a consensus in the no-holds-barred world of online media.

Paddy Johnson (@artfagcity) of Art Fag City made the first sally in reaction to Wooster Collective co-founder and CEO of Electric Artists Digital Agency Marc Schiller (@MarcDSchiller). Schiller had been unleashing a cavalcade of Twitter and Wooster Collective support for English street artist-cum-art world enfant terrible Banksy’s directorial debut, Exit Through the Gift Shop. Then Johnson came out with this initial strike at approximately twenty-two hundred hours East Coast Twitter time on April 18th:

Is @MarcDSchiller being paid to promote the #Banksy movie? If so, he should DISCLOSE before abusing followers with endless tweets.

Schiller responded with this resounding riposte 40 minutes later:

@artfagcity Nope.

The resulting conversation covered a lot of ground and ranged from Twitter to the Art Fag City blog and back again. Schiller defended his support of the film as a personal passion. After an Art Fag City blog post in which the critic made her claim and pointed to a tweet that Schiller himself had tweeted, that he was indeed a part of the marketing team behind the film, the pair reached something of an impasse.

A telephone conversation, requested by Schiller a few times through Twitter (and through private phone calls to a mutual friend/acquaintance) resolved much of the confusion but not all of the conflict. Marc was indeed involved in the marketing of Exit Through the Gift Shop, but not monetarily compensated. The advertising and street art impresario did, however, curate the film’s introductory sequence, an involvement that was also not superficially apparent.

A final Art Fag City retraction noted that Schiller wasn’t in the wrong, but did refer to him as an “uber annoying fan boy who’s over zealous promotion left a sour taste in the mouths of many.” Ouch. The name calling bug spread to the Wooster Collective co-founder, who posted a series of seven tweets, “Lessons From @Artfagcity,” that bordered on the vitriolic, including:

Lessons From @artfagcity #2: Your Twitter feed should appeal not to the people who support you, but rather to those who hate you

Lessons From @artfagcity #5: If you own a marketing agency but also like street art and Banksy, you should be vilified regardless of truth

As well as this spectacular RT:

RT @Kirsteninc: @artfagcity just burned a major bridge that will cost them. Bad choice to exploit @MarcDSchiller for cheap gossip

Oooooof. This from Marc:

@artfagcity = A person who doesn’t give a shit about me, my friends, street art, or Banksy, but wants to tell me what I can and can’t do.

Thankfully, the aggression cleared up. Let me clarify here that I don’t believe anyone was entirely in the right. Paddy’s initial claim had a bit of yellow journalism to it — an online call out published before the entire story was verified. If we celebrate the ability of the Internet to be instantaneous, we must also recognize that it also provides a stage to be impulsive and make mistakes.

Schiller did well to get in touch with Johnson and illuminate the real story, but he still initially failed to clarify his role in the Banksy film. He was also similarly impulsive in his reaction. Granted, I could’ve stopped following him, but the drama was riveting.

Schiller repeatedly argued that his Twitter account and his website reflected his personal passions, and anyone who didn’t like that could stop looking. That argument might have held water in the Geocities era, but the street art enthusiast and interactive marketer is not just a hobbyist with a blog. He’s a career denizen of the blogosphere and, in the Internet’s echo chamber, a towering public persona. His celebrity means that not all those who follow him are devoted fans, in fact, some are probably less followers than people who check up periodically because of his authoritative voice in the information melee.

The takeaway lesson from the exchange, I think, is that call outs and spats and conflicts like this are a part of what it’s like to live in the ever more authoritative and ever more mainstream blogosphere. What’s important is that the Internet, Twitter, and blogs give us the ability to have these conversations in public. While we all participate in this giant online dialogue, it is often difficult to know where the boundaries are. When someone steps over a boundary, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that the misstep is now a public spectacle. We’re developing a group consensus for Internet media rules; what constitutes a conflict of interest is ever changing. Whether it’s a false accusation or not, it’s clear that what matters most is the exchange itself — the back and forth that ends up creating something new.

Disclaimer: Paddy Johnson of Art Fag City shares office space with Hyperallergic but the writer of this post works out of Boston and has never met Johnson.

Kyle Chayka

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly,...

38 replies on “Evolving Rules: When Bloggers Battle (Paddy Johnson vs. Marc Schiller)”

  1. Good post, but it’s all about process issues. It’s like when the media talks about a congressional hearing–the drama of the back and forth exchanges, the race to a final vote–but avoids telling us what’s at stake in a particular bill: Will this law limit our personal freedoms? Will we pay more in taxes? The subject here is an attention-craving artist, “Banksy,” who trades on his image as a rebellious “street tagger” but has been gradually moving up the institutional art ladder. A film has recently come out that adds to his aura and resume. One of the bloggers you mention has been involved in the media push; questioning his arsenal of public relations moves seems like a perfectly legitimate inquiry. To reduce it to a food fight, however thoroughly you are documenting it, helps Banksy towards the art history books by avoiding the issue of whether he’s really just a person of modest talent riding a tsunami of hype. Nothing wrong with documenting how the hype went down but let’s please not lose sight of the big picture, mural pun intended. Take a side, in other words: Marc and Paddy can’t both be right about Banksy.

  2. This is such a great story. I’ve been following @artfagcity & @hragv and now I’ve added @MarcDSchiller & @chaykak. If you compared the blogospheric in-fighting in my nichey neck of the woods (“art toys”) to what you’ve got going on, you’d maybe feel like CNN. Or that’s too square, maybe like Talk Soup. Anyway, all of you write really well about interesting art, and you do it while still managing to voice an opinion–sometimes critical. Such voices are practically nonexistent among our scene’s journalists. Although on social media, as the saying goes (and the Penny Arcade link illustrates), opinions are like a certain orifice…

    As to the topic at hand, I represent a toy company, and I also write about toy art. It’s possible to do both (I think). I aspire to one day have something we produce be fodder for you esteemed art bloggers. And yes! I’m in San Francisco, and I chased Banksy all weekend. Real or fake, deserved or not, it was really exciting. I’m writing up my take on his film today. Cheers for a fun story.

  3. @tom moody I respect your call for clear stances on Banksy but I’m not quite as worried as you are about his hyped up fame, mostly because while his art is a cool/funny reflection on our times, it doesn’t have much staying power. Someone called him frozen at freshman art school level, which I agree with. I didn’t put that in the piece because it’s meant to be more journalistic, but here you go.

    @Jeremy Thanks for all the compliments! Still trying to work on a way to combine opinion with reporting, it’s tough. The toy stuff is really interesting, I checked out your website earlier. I think that kind of toy art has tonnnns of potential, but definitely not tapped by contemporary artists. (except maybe murakami?)

    1. Murakami is definitely a name that comes up and crosses over. His associates in the superflat style (like James Marshall “Dalek”) have worked extensively in the toy medium. Pop art has a lot of tie-ins. (I’ve heard Kenny Scharf has even claimed he coined the expression “art toy.”) Rock poster artists and other subcultures (graffiti, DIY) factor in. We’re seeing toys in MOMA, toys in art auctions, toys in car commercials (heh)…it’s kind of a play on the art multiple–an affordable 3D art object recalling the feel-good nostalgia of a toy.

  4. Hrag, it’s messed up in Firefox 3.0 on a PC, but
    I “upgraded” to 3.6 and it looks fine. Damned constantly
    changing specs.
    Kyle, Banksy may be a boring thing to talk about (I’m not disagreeing with you there) but these netiquette issues are also thin grist for an article. If a freshman level artist is rising in the world through the power of disingenuous hype, that should be the story.

    1. Thanks for always being insightful, Tom. But i should mention that Kyle couldn’t really tackle the hype issue since Nick Rigglt was covering that in a post that went live the same day on this blogazine.

    2. I disagree. I’m enjoying the surge in Banksy discourse, but the reason why I left a comment on this post (as opposed to the myriad other Banksy film-related blogs) is because of the other (netiquette) angle. Mr. Brainwash is a manufactured thing. As a concept, it needs hype to exist. That’s why for almost 2 years (between Life is Beautiful and Exit Through the Gift Shop), nobody really talked about “his” work. Now it’s living again. It’s all part of the project. Now you and I are part of it. The more angles with which you look at it (two Internet art people squabbling, for instance), the more interesting it is. To me anyway.

  5. Well, it’s a tempest-ette in a thimble, but the retelling kept me interested for a few minutes. And for the record, I think Paddy was right to call him on it.

  6. I’m not particularly interested in the he-said, she-said between Paddy and Schiller (or street art for that matter), however the first statement of this piece, that “at times, the blogosphere can feel like a miniaturized version of academia,” seems wholly wrong. Where did this assertion even come from? Are there flame wars in academia that I’m not aware of? Isn’t the blogosphere predicated on acting as an alternative to traditional academic discourse?

    1. There are flame wars in academia all the time. Some lightning rod figures, such as Noam Chomsky, are particularly prone to them. Another example is Edward Said, who during his life was attacked by so many “flamers.”

      1. Yeah or Paul Krugman, who never lets any slight go unanswered, whether he has a coherent answer or not. Academics love spats — how else would they fill their abundant time?

    2. Just wanted to second Hrag. There are tons of flame wars in academia, especially in the world of art history. I don’t think the blogosphere is really that much different from the process of academic discourse, it’s just open to everyone. The format- publishing, commenting, back and forth arguments- are all the same.

      1. Of course there are disagreements between academics, however the difference between “flame wars” in the blogosphere and disputes in academia vary considerably in their style and frequency. The ad hominem attacks that define flame wars on the internet are far more rare in academia, and generally speaking, less professionally tolerated. I don’t think this is the case within the blogosphere–it seems (thanks to articles like this) flame wars between bloggers just generate more publicity for those taking part. Also, as the author of this post rightly noted, the anonymity of the internet comes with the propensity to put one’s foot in their mouth, which is completely absent in the editorial process of printed discourse. Furthermore, disputes in academia found within published discourse generally make an attempt to clarify a specifically intellectual position whereas blogosphere flame wars seem to be rooted in protecting one’s personality.

        My point isn’t that there _aren’t_ similarities between blogging and academia (though I’d argue they’re not particularly relevant), rather that the parallel is dangerously equivocal and prone to misinterpretation. What’s at stake in recasting that lead? Not much.

          1. Um, I don’t know, who did say anything about that?

            I think one of the issues being considered here is the varying effects of arguments between authors (bloggers or academics) in specifically a public arena–bloggers being endemic to the internet and academics to print.

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