HYPOCRITE IDLER 2017
January 2, 2018
To idle is to work on meaningful and varied projects — and also to take it easy. If you’re interested in my 2017 projects, please keep reading; otherwise, don’t. The title of this series of posts refers to this self-proclaimed idler’s hypocritical inability to take it easy.
HILOBROW is a noncommercial blog. None of the below should be construed as an advertisement for SEMIOVOX, UNBORED, or one of my other semi-profitable projects. This series is merely intended to keep HILOBROW’s readers updated on the editor’s doings and undoings.
I am deeply grateful to the many talented and generous folks with whom I’ve collaborated during this past year.
TAKING IT EASY
I’m co-founder of the semiotics-fueled branding and strategy agency SEMIOVOX, based in Boston and New York. During 2017, we conducted US and global audits identifying and diagramming the networks of unspoken cultural codes — in categories from Spirits and Personal Care to Financial Planning and Energy Bars — around ideas, values, and higher-order benefits such as “Rewriting the Rules,” “Getting Away from It All,” “Rewriting the Rules,” “Unlocking Potential,” “Discovering What Matters,” and “Seeking Out the New.”
During 2017, I traveled around the country, from Miami to San Francisco and points in between. Why? In order to inform and inspire positioning, breakthrough pack design, retail design, and communications optimization, we often combine semiotic audits with qualitative research, from consumer-led shop-alongs and cultural tours to co-creation labs. Also, my business partner Ron Rentel (of Consumer Eyes) and I run face-to-face strategic and tactical workshops — designed to ensure that the audits’ insights are immediately actionable — for brands, companies, and their agency partners.
In July, I was a speaker at SEMIOFEST TORONTO. It was a treat to rub elbows with commercial and academic semioticians from: Mexico, India, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, the UK, the US, Bulgaria, Spain, France, Poland, Brazil, Portugal, India, Belgium, Singapore, and Argentina!
This summer, the brainy toy and game company MindWare released two new UNBORED kits: UNBORED Carnival and UNBORED Time Capsule. Elizabeth Foy Larsen and Tony Leone (my collaborators on the UNBORED series of books) and I developed the two new kits, which are described here. Mister Reusch provided illustrations; and Cara Ciardelli provided design assistance. Check ’em out:
UNBORED Carnival encourages kids to step right up and get started planning an event full of fun and friendly competition! All of the details you need to host a memorable carnival are included, from tickets and a megaphone to decorations and equipment for midway games. Whether it’s held in a local park or your own backyard, you can enjoy a little good old-fashioned carnival fun and maybe even raise some money for charity.
UNBORED Time Capsule includes everything you’ll need, from stickers and labels to envelopes and boxes to a nifty date stamp, to capture important details that you’d like people in the future (including your future self) to know about. Record your current interests and activities, details about your friends and family, and stories about your school and town. Seal and store your time capsule… and then plan to be amazed years from now by what you’ll rediscover.
The kits have sold well! And this fall, UNBORED Time Capsule won several toy/game prizes, including:
- An Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award for Tweens and Teens. (UNBORED Carnival won a Gold Seal Award.) PS: In October, the Washington Post‘s KidsPost blog published a story about the Toy Portfolio team’s Top New Toys of 2017, one of which was UNBORED Time Capsule. Nice!
- A National Parenting Product Award, which enlists a team of expert judges and family testers to select “the most entertaining, appealing, safe, educational, age-appropriate and enduring products.”
- A PAL Award, recognizing particularly fun and creative “language-advancing” games. UNBORED Carnival also won a 2017 PAL Award.
- A “100 Best” of 2017 award from the Institute for Childhood Resources’ Dr. Toy website. UNBORED Time Capsule was named one of the site’s Top 10 Creative Toys of 2017.
In 2009–2010, Rob Walker and I co-produced the SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS experiment, which resulted in the 2012 book of the same title. This year, we rejoined forces to publish 100 all-new object-oriented narratives, here at HILOBROW, as part of the ever-evolving PROJECT:OBJECT. We want to thank SEMIOVOX for sponsoring this endeavor.
During 1Q2017, we published 25 nonfiction narratives about objects of political significance. Installments in this volume include: Luc Sante on CAMPAIGN PAMPHLETS | Lydia Millet on PVC POLAR BEAR | Ben Greenman on MATCHBOX CAR | Rob Baedeker on PRESIDENTS PLACEMAT | L.A. Kauffman on WHEATPASTE POSTER.
During 2Q2017, we published 25 nonfiction narratives about objects of talismanic significance. Installments in this volume include: Veda Hille on CROCHET SHEEP | Gary Panter on DINOSAUR BONES | Jami Attenberg on SELENITE CRYSTAL | Annie Nocenti on MINIATURE DICE | Wayne Curtis on CLOCK WINDING KEY.
During 3Q2017, we published 25 nonfiction narratives — including several audio pieces! — about objects of illicit significance. Installments in this volume include: Kio Stark on PEEPSHOW TOKEN | Sari Wilson on TOMBSTONE PARTS | Annalee Newitz on CAR-BOMB REMNANT | Tito Bottitta on MOONINITE DEVICE | Eric Bennett on DIRTY MAGAZINE.
During 4Q2017, we published 25 nonfiction, beautifully illustrated narratives about lost significant objects. Installments in this volume include: Kate Bernheimer on MULLET WIG (ill. Amy Evans) | Dan Piepenbring on COLOGNE (ill. Josh Neufeld) | Doug Dorst on STRATOCASTER (ill. John Holbo) | Paul Lukas on VANILLA BEAN (ill. Alison Bamcat) | Mimi Lipson on DODGE DART (ill. Mister Reusch).
Rob and I are very grateful to PROJECT:OBJECT’s 2017 contributors, many of whom donated their fees to the ACLU. Between merch sales and donated fees, by the end of 2017 PROJECT:OBJECT had donated nearly $3,000.00 to the ACLU!
PS: In September, Rob co-hosted “The Thing Is…”, a New Orleans storytelling event featuring several PROJECT:OBJECT contributors. Susan and I attended — it was a terrific night.
I’m the editor and publisher, here at HILOBROW. To see what we’ve been up to — Adam McGovern’s weekly THIS: series, Lynn Peril’s PLANET OF PERIL series, James Parker’s KALEVALA series, Tom Nealon’s STUFFED series, Brian Berger’s INTO THE GROVE series, curated reprints from friends, and more — please check out the post HILOBROW’S 2017. And for a look at what’s coming, check out the 1Q2018 SNEAK PEEK post.
In addition to PROJECT:OBJECT (see above), in this post I’ll just mention three other 2017 series that I edited for HILOBROW.
During August, HILOBROW published 25 posts, by 25 contributors, in the series KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM, which analyzes and celebrates a few of our favorite neo-noir movies from the Sixties (1964–1973). The KLUTE lineup includes: Kio Stark on THE KILLERS | Drew Daniel on BRANDED TO KILL | Luc Sante on POINT BLANK | Adrienne Crewe on PERFORMANCE | Melissa Gira Grant on KLUTE | Kaleb Horton on FAT CITY.
#SQUADGOALS was a weekly series in which talented HILOBROW contributors — 52 of them, over the course of the year — waxed enthusiastic about their favorite gangs, bands, teams, and cadres. The 2017 #SQUADGOALS lineup includes: Annie Nocenti on THE WILD BUNCH | Annalee Newitz on ROBIN HOOD’S MERRY PALS | Mark Kingwell on THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | Chelsey Johnson on VI ÄR BÄST! | Matthew De Abaitua on THE TIME | Carl Wilson on NEW YORK SCHOOL POETS | Ken Layne on THE MONKEY WRENCH GANG.
We published a second HERMENAUTIC TAROT series, of 24 installments. (The first 54 installments were published in late 2015 and early 2016; a proper tarot deck contains 78 cards.) The Hermenautic Tarot deck is composed of images drawn from HILOBROW friend John Hilgart’s 4CP archive. The new-24 HERMENAUTIC TAROT lineup includes: Veda Hille on THE DUSTY REVEAL | Wayne Chambliss on THE RIDE-ALONG | Kenya (Robinson) on BALANCE BEAM | Mimi Zeiger on THE RED MOON | Vanessa Berry on DARK MATTER | James Hannaham on THE URBAN HAWK.
I am very grateful to HILOBROW’s talented and generous contributors — many of whom have donated their writing/illustration fees to the ACLU.
The following are examples of HILOBROW posts that I contributed in 2017:
- I occasionally make an appearance, in character as “Josh Glenn,” a globe-trotting semiotic brand analyst, on Benjamen Walker’s popular Radiotopian podcast, THEORY OF EVERYTHING. Just in time for Inauguration Day, Ben and I wrote and recorded a new THEORY OF EVERYTHING episode about a 1981 spy thriller, The Twentieth Day of January, which uncannily predicts Trump’s ascension to the presidency… and perhaps explains his shamelessness. The transcript is here; and you can listen to the episode here.
- An installment — about DADA — in the #SQUADGOALS series. Excerpt: “Dada weren’t political activists, though. Rather, they were waging a guerrilla struggle — “Dada world war without end,” as Hugo Ball declaimed at the first Dada night, “dada revolution without beginning” — in the cultural sphere, in the eternal war of wit against shit.”
- An installment — about my MONKEY WHIMSEY — in the TALISMANIC OBJECTS series. Excerpt: “Red Rose whimsies are worthless — you can’t give them away. Over the years, I’ve thrown away scores of them, straight into the garbage from the Red Rose box. But when I came across this little guy, at some point in the mid-1990s, I couldn’t do it.”
- The INTRODUCTION to the KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM series. Excerpt: “In comparison with what came before and after, neo-noir’s first wave can seem clumsy, awkward, neither here nor there; but ever since the Seventies, neo-noir’s first wave has grown ever more appealing — precisely because it is neither entirely innocent nor entirely experienced.”
- An installment, in the KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM series, on Don Siegel’s 1973 caper movie CHARLEY VARRICK. Excerpt: “[Walter Matthau’s Varrick] is stubbornly independent, of any and all “combines” — whether corporate or criminal. He’s smart enough to be scared, canny enough to outfox his foes, and takes no pleasure in pain. He’s a true maverick — he makes us proud to be American.”
- JAY-PEE SLUGGER. I contributed a post to PROJECT:OBJECT’s new volume of nonfiction stories about illicit objects. Excerpt: “Whenever I’ve handled it, over the past three decades, I’ve enjoyed imagining that I’m prepared for violence. I’ve handled it often.”
I offered notes on a few of my favorite New Wave (1964–1983) science fiction novels, for NEW WAVE SCI-FI 75. The 2017 lineup includes: William Burroughs’s Nova Express (1964) | Philip K. Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965) | Samuel R. Delany’s Babel-17 (1966) | Ursula K. Le Guin’s Rocannon’s World (1966). The complete NEW WAVE SCI-FI 75 list (a work in progress) is here.
Finally, as part of my ongoing BEST ADVENTURES series, during 2017 I offered notes on 170 of my favorite adventure novels. Here’s the complete 2017 BEST ADVENTURES lineup: 1907 | 1912 | 1917 | 1922 | 1927 | 1932 | 1937 | 1942 | 1947 | 1952 | 1957 | 1962 | Best YYA Lit 1967 | 1968 | 1972 | 1977 | 1982. Thanks, Boing Boing, for reprinting the Best YYA Lit 1967 post!
THE HERMENAUTIC CIRCLE is a secret(ive) society that I’ve superintended for over ten years now. I’m not at liberty to discuss the HC, but you can read what may or may not be a parodic version of our history here.
In the taking it easy department…
1Q2017: Susan and Max visited with our dear friends Marilyn and Gregory in Los Angeles, for a week… and there was a Hermenautic Circle meetup too.
2Q2017: We spent a week with Susan’s family in Montana. Here are several of us hiking along the Continental Divide, for some unknown reason.
3Q2017: Susan and I spent a few days in New Orleans. We went down for a PROJECT:OBJECT-related literary event, but also to soak up the atmosphere.
4Q2017: I turned 50! Here I am celebrating with my office-mates and the staff of the Westbury Diner.