the revolutionary bent of the modern T-shirt fad suggested that, despite years of anger management classes, behavior medication and lack of decent education Americans can still get mad enough to shell out twenty something dollars to be rebellious. Which means a lot, considering votes are free.
Young people sporting the shadow of the AK 47, cameos of violent revolutionaries and whatever Shepherd Fairey decided to steal that week did so in order to appear dangerous, which is often all that is needed to keep predators in check.
In short, the T-shirt kings of the last century had misunderestimatedazimuth in the vacuum of pop, overshot fashion and ended up in politics.
It was with these fads that I rediscovered hope in the generation with the X hung on it. I wasn’t the only one. Spike Lee contacted me and asked if he could use the T-shirt in a movie called “Inside Man.” We met and I gave him permission, hoping that it would be a “Defend Brooklyn” commercial when it came out.
So. 9/11. Boom Boom. Civil rights canceled. Special Delivery. Airmail. And woe is us, for the forked phallus of Wall Street was the lodestone of the Bush Gang, without which maps and words lost meaning, until Operation “Enduring Freedom” kicked down the doors of the wrong war.
Most of the real terrorists were killed at the crash site, so the Department of Justice took advantage of aggressive new statutes to give a violent monster named “Free” twenty years of jail for burning down a beautiful young Truck. National discourse about this chain of events was relegated to sloganeering as the recently purchased Fourth Estate parroted the “For Us or against Us” hokum coming from our beloved “leaders”.
The profits accrued during those <911 days afforded me the scratch to start looking for a neighborhood with hardwood floors where I could dig in and the copycat hipsters couldn’t follow me to make my rents go up. Queens was too complicated and there were too many honkies in Harlem. The South Bronx had real potential as the place from which to Defend Brooklyn.
The great restructuring of American cities by Robert Moses has rendered the south Bronx into a prep jail. The rate of incarceration was so high that certain surviving elders felt it wise to teach a lethal fighting style to the local youth in order to enable them to stay out of gangs.
It was a good pitch, anyway. Soon “Jail Karate” had a producer and some Swedish television station showed interest. (Films like “Jail Karate” constitute escapism in Sweden because an effective social system has dulled Svenski graffiti, hip hop and street violence to the most boring in the world.)
Jail Karate’s thesis dovetailed nicely with the previous Defend Brooklyn work and helped me define the nature of the resolve worn so readily on so many T-shirts. The clannish atmosphere of the various dojos and the vulgar noblesse oblige of the Bush administration made me want to conjure a serious, violent left-wing militia into existence, if only just to have someone to talk to.
Friends of mine from New Orleans told me about this guy named Jac Currie hacking the “Defend Brooklyn” meme with “Defend New Orleans.” Apparently he was claiming that he was the genius behind the brand that was sweeping the nation.
Jac Currie’s plagiarized “Defend New Orleans” shirt had an old musket which will make a nice paddle the next time they blow the levies. I won’t even bother to crack on the skull-with-mohawk stencil stolen from Manic Panic hair dye kit. I emailed this Jac Currie and told him that I was about to hire a bunch of lawyers to monkeyfuck him if he didn’t quit messing with my Defense Industry project. I figured that would be all it took, as the threat of a righteous copyright litigation had worked on all the other wannabes.
Biters copying my work all over the country proved that I had a nationwide mandate. This spurred me to try and create more complex types of manipulation than just a T shirt. I was going to use my enormous talent as a documenter and a writertarian to subvert the dominant paradigm from within the military industrial entertainment complex, and make tons of money.
My first assignment was a piece on Larry Clark for The Face magazine, from which I quote myself, respectfully, with permission:
You are familiar with Larry Clark’s photography even if you have never perused his seminal photobooks Tulsa(1971) or Teenage lust (1983). Before Larry was a film director he was already ‘the photographer who changed American films and photography.’ The proof is found in the works of Mario Sorrenti, Nick Knight, Terry Richardson, Juergen Teller, Corrine Day, Nan Goldin, Bruce Weber, Steven Meisel, Alexie Hay, David Armstrong or Steven Klein (whose work graces the cover of this magazine).
So many photographers have bled Larry’s art for their advertising work that Larry has been implicated as the father of heroin chic. One critic so profoundly misunderstood the situation that he said “Kids” looked like a bad Calvin Klein ad.’ This is why Larry refers to anyone in the industry as “fashion cunts.”
“They got it all wrong. They don’t understand it. I’m documenting real life. They thought it was all about the drugs. They take what I do, use it and make a lot of money at it. My art is personal. I don’t fucking sell clothes. And then some art director goes out and buys a book and says ‘Here it is! This is the next ad campaign!’ Is that supposed to be talent?” Then Larry calls them cunts again.”
At the time, I thought all the outrage was due to Mister Clark’s prison inculcation, as his conversation is peppered with dogmatic rules like “Don’t talk for nobody,” “Get people back” and “Don’t pop off with no antisemitic bullshit.” Plus, it was hard to hate Steven Klein and his boyfriend as they were nice, cute, and didn’t call anybody the “C” word while their assistants made us coffee. They even let Larry pet their great danes.
The plagiarism implicit in mimeo art and sampled music had eroded the ethics of the arts world allowing Larry to be brazenly robbed in more than one format. If you believe a 19-year-old is capable of being the “creator” of a feature film like “Kids” then you might believe Larry Clark made Gummo, pissing him off all over again.
I didn’t know that having someone successfully plagiarize your work is akin to an artistic rape, resulting in a bastard which the artist can neither claim or deny. Or how distracting it is to lay in bed night after night thinking about how you are going to hit somebody in the head with a brick for pissing on your life work.
I was lying in bed, too angry to sleep, realizing that if violence was part of the Defend Brooklyn ouvre then plagiarism of that work demands a violent response. Or else I lose my tough guy rights. I called Jac Currie’s answering machine and called him a fashion cunt and told him I was serious about the lawyers and the monkeyfucking. For some reason I got no return call.
Then Hurricane Katrina hit. The “Defend New Orleans” flag made great video bites for the national news, emblematic of the necessary feel-good story about town pride bringing people together after a racist storm. Someone sent me a link of Jac Currie claiming the Defense Industry as his own on television.
I couldn’t believe it. After all my revolutionary talk and half-assed planning it had been stolen by a shakey-voiced party chaser wearing my name out like a bitch. Then I recognized him. The salon bedhead. The hundred dollar jeans slouched off the ass. I saw him get off the RISD bus. Jac Currie was the very guy we were Defending Brooklyn from! Of course he would be related to that thieving-ass Ellen…
I called some evil people I knew and plotted a trip to The Big Easy.
There was a time called <911 when Defend Brooklyn consulted the oracles of black math and conducted several studies to determine that, if the coming generation of rabble, hoi polloi, and 85%ers were groomed properly, “Riot” could be the new “street wear” market.
We planned to harness the anarchic energy driving the nouveau contact sports like skateboarding and grafitti to stop the world from becoming a strip mall. Cribbing tactics from the best political propagandists and advertising, we would use loaded language to dripfeed enough revolutionary iconography into the mainstream and pull the center to the left, like Barbie in reverse. Then things would get progressively better until our grandkids would eat vegetarian big macs on spelt bread in sustainable settings. Or whatever it was we were trying to do. I still can’t remember all the best things we said.
I got a sweatheart deal to place an ad in a legitimate fashion magazine (thanks sweeties) in preparation for something called the Magic Fashion show in late August of 2001 in Las Vegas. The ad was to be used as evidence that I was a T-shirt “curator” instead of just a drunk wingnut with a Ho Chi Minh complex.
Uncanny isn’t it? But Destiny speaks not only through me. There are plenty <911 artifacts suggesting that others felt the crosshairs as well. I claim to be neither conspirator nor prophet, but submit these images as proof that many American artists have developed a situational awareness during their forays into the American third world in search of affordable housing with hardwood floors. Maybe the wood of those floors is where the harmonics of the unconscious collect to be absorbed by those of us who, in the course of living the dream, have to sleep on them.
All I suggest is that if an adept is truly sensitive, he might interpret what the world thinks, speaking as it does through various argots of hair, dress and music.
Or maybe if you read the newspaper, history, and a couple intelligence reports, the future becomes easy to predict, like some crazy science faction.
Cracks of thunder woke me twice that morning, so I slept on, as rainy days and Mondays always get me down. The phone went unanswered as The Defend Brooklyn Hangover Index had been upgraded to Puce.
Then came a huge noise under which there was an intricate snap and bash, like boulders breaking apart with a violence too intense to hear with ears, registering in teeth and marrow instead. I would have bravely slept through even this, as it was a pet nightmare of mine since witnessing several big avalanches in the steep mountains of South America, if it were not followed by a roller coaster whoop and a full-throated scream of outrage, a sound which human DNA demands a response.
I was occupying one of those back stage apartments made available to me in the latter days of affordable Brooklyn. The apartment window faced northeast, away from the picturesque southern tip of Manhattan, and overlooked the maw of an immense shed where green trucks dropped paper to be recycled. Normally a ballet of heavy machinery performed reverse pirouettes to a polyrhythm of back-up beeps day and night, rain or shine.
This particular morning a hundred trash men stood flat-footed on the dock with their trucks idling will nill. From my vantage point I could see only their reaction. They weren’t cheering like when they had strippers or fights. Their body language was inert, unreadable. What awes the trashman thus?
By the time I got the coffee pressed I knew it had to be Godzilla, and I hate that motherfucker. So, I pulled on my plush Defend Brooklyn TM sweatshirt and charged up the stairs.
There were a hundred or more people I didn’t know on the roof, which was weird because I was the mayor of Williamsburg and what kind of party goes on at the crack of nine on a Monday morning anyway?
I asked an Asian couple what was going on. “They blew up the buildings. Planes flew into them,” was all the girl would say, never looking away from Manhattan. The sun was bright and clear so I had to squint to make out the smoke billowing from downtown.
I contended that those buildings were made to take a lot.
“Not this much,” a blond girl piped up.
“Planes crash into buildings all the time.” says I.
The blond girl pointed out that the first building was gone already.
“Really? How?” I asked the blond girl, meaning “which way did the building fall?” but she replied, “This is going to sound weird, but it was beautiful.”
Forgive her. We said a lot of things that before the jaws of <911 turned on us. Shock makes people do weird things, like giggle at open caskets or take pictures in front of the smoking World Trade Center just before it falls.
(P.S. If you have those pictures contact me for your five hundred dollar reward.)
The jokes stopped when the Asian girl realized aloud that it was people jumping off the building, struggling to stay upright as they fell to earth. “Maybe there’s guys down there with the trampoline things.” Finally, we stood like trash men, realizing the impossibility of any scenario except the worst one.
Then the whole building jumped into itself and sifted away, avalanched, leaving a glittering tempest of broken glass to sift to earth like ersatz snow settling in a globe and winked out among the buildings.
The howl started at a woman downtown and grew until it bawled in all voices, everywhere. It was a biblical sound, a primitive shriek, the keening germ of ululation, passed from those who’d seen it with their own eyes to those who watched with televisions, expanded from where the building fell and rolled out into the world in a ring.
When finally the sirens spun down, New York City was silenced. The smoke billowed heavenward, much higher than the Towers it replaced. Without the diffusion of smog Manhattan was as naked as I had ever seen it. Scores of birds circled, looking for their nests in the cliffs of mountains moved by Mohammed.
A stealth fighter skated low over the river, wagging like a kite, too late to do anything more than comfort us.
“That’s a damn stealth fighter,” I said, never having seen one before. This scared the Asian couple more than when the cell phones went out.
“Maybe there is something in that smoke.”
“They wouldn’t tell us if there was. This is gonna be mayhem. The tunnels are fucked for sure.”
“We could go out Long Island and try to catch a ferry.”
We made escape plans as blackbirds of charred business confetti wafted down on Redhook.
We were shamed and much afraid because as liberals we knew intuitively that this was somehow our fault. The Asian girl and her boyfriend left, as it wasn’t their neighborhood and they didn’t know if they could still get home. The skinny blond girl, reckoning that her job assisting for Diane Von Furstenburg was canceled, stayed and listened to 1010 WINS late breaking news bulletins over and over.
I laced the coffee with whiskey, in case of anthrax, and made a passable egg and toast breakfast. After we ate, this girl, whose name might be Lauren, stretched out on the couch and said, “If you want to take advantage of me, this would be a good time.” And it was.
Turned out to be a good time to take advantage of every American, what with our radical veneer peeled away like a prom dress. Whatever revolutions we might have thought necessary were over and done with. We were in shock. Vulnerable.
By the time the smoke cleared, most of the orders from Magic Fashion show were canceled, along with the Fourth Amendment. Every damn one of us went with a holding pattern on the idea of civil liberties, like a herd of cows. Soon thereafter, I stopped aggressively pushing Defend Brooklyn, as such a thing might be construed as profiteering, Arab-bashing or, worse, treason.
This is the sixth part of a series about how, in the course of harvesting the pocket change of his peers with an irresistible T-shirt, Dave Reeves glimpsed the gears of a great machine where the will of a generation was made. Now he will endeavor to impart the wisdom gained from laying his eyes upon these inner workings, like Dante after swimming the Styx.
The orange lettering of Defend Brooklyn flared in the logoarchy from Greenpoint to Redhook. The only reasons it wasn’t graffiti is because I got paid for it. And did I ever. If Americans vote with their wallet then I was the mayor of Williamsburg. Curiously, I found that a majority of my consumers perceived the logos behind the logo and asked, “When’s the meeting?”
Motivated by my newfound civic responsibility Defend Brooklyn LLC bought a video camera to sacrifice at Quebec City Riots.She was a young camera, so full of promise. I post her dying moments below to remind readers of that time we call “<911,” when people were sensible and kicked the windows out of any city brazen enough to host a convention of corporate colonialists trying to genefuck the world’s seedbanks into sterility.
It seems that <911, Alpha Hipsters attended an “Action” in Quebec City because “Nothing really costs ninety-nine cents, man, it’s built on somebody’s life,” and “If you don’t riot, you can’t complain.”
Furthermore, my notes report that, despite their heritage, French Canadian resistance was vigorous and well organized: “Outside the fort stores stay open in solidarity. Bought beer and nice cheese. Watched peace hooligans in full hockey gear fire bomb bank across street..Gas Gas gasss…Poured most beer onto my face until the Black Cross came and sprayed antacid in eyes… Throwing empty bottles at the Mounties is a clear vote, and no hanging chads…”
Evidently, “Actions” were like a big party with literate chicks, free lawyers and Black Cross medics quick to break into the medication. I can’t think of anything to compare Actions to in these >911 times. Try to imagine Burning Man with a purpose. One could only assume that, if allowed to continue, this milieu would have produced more intelligent offspring than Facespacing “Idiocracy” into prophecy.
History says that people do what their clothes tell them to do. Togas made the Roman orgy. Jackboots and crossbones drive certain people to genocide. Skirtlines fluctuate with the market. Pastel suits equal cocaine abuse. So what was the orange AK-47 telling people to do?
Unfortunately for mankind, I can’t say what Defend Brooklyn really means as fine artists never interpret their own work. I will say that in those <911 times it screamed to me, “Cut this idiot manchild from the president’s office and run him to death before these fatcats pass so much as a fart in Congress.”
It’s easy to laugh at talking machine guns now, but in the summer <911 it was a serious fad. Groups of people were defending everywhere back then, in Davos and in Spain. The mandate cleaved evenly. The government was being run by distracted, greedy halfwits and The Man was on the run. Scared.
My piece de resistance had chummed the waters. Fashion cunts were schooling around, looking for the next way to waste their time. I knew that they would follow broke music geeks and Alpha Hipsters anywhere after they were lured out to Brooklyn. This time we were going to mug them into doing something good.
See, Hipster hierarchy dictates that Fashion Cunts are the last stop on the way to mainstream acceptance. If we played the crowd right brains might catch on like tattooes, and soon everyone would have one.
We would mobilize the heretofore useless nabobs to strike while the mandate was halved, utilizing their book learning, fancy college talk and clean unearned money. “If I had ten divisions of those men our troubles here would soon be over.”
If mobilized as a faction, hipsters could be as big a game changer as the heretofore unknown black vote . We could have used this power to overthrow the dominant paradigm once and for all. We’d start over with a new set of rules, using the light of modern reasoning as a guide. For instance, if weed was legal, I could be a cop. Then it would be time for some real justice.
It could have happened. If herded properly, lemmings might go somewhere smart. Don’t believe me? Here is a picture of the owner of an uberhip fashion magazine, Eric Lovioe, trying to blink the Maalox out of his eyes after getting teargassed:
Soon, I had an investor and was going to some fashion show called Magic. I had to design a label, because that’s what clothing labels are (duh). The Fourth Amendment fit the bill.
Applying a stroke of genius toward the master plan, the “Defend” line of clothing would feature secret pockets with your Fourth Amendment sewn in as the lining. So when The Man makes you turn your pockets out, it would be there for you.
You could say to the policeman, “Say, look here. Hate to bring it up… but my Fourth Amendment here says that I have the right to not be searched or seized.”
Now he’s hanging the shirts up from the “Don’t Walk” sign outside the L stop, steeled for ad hominem criticism, ex-girlfriend attacks or people who would tell his mom that, despite years of pretension, her son is out on the street slanging T-shirts. And his mom would whoop his ass if she heard that shit.
People got off the train, looked at the shirt and asked “How much?” Like many artists I misunderestimate my massive talent and sold that second pressing of “Defend Brooklyn” for just ten dollars. Cheap.
Business was slow the first night. I made just enough money to buy a giant bottle which I shared with my roommates to help them forget the monolith of T-shirt boxes I’d parked in our loft. I tried to have a good time, but no matter how fast I drink my money away, I couldn’t shake this nagging feeling that I’m an impulsive drunk with terrible business sense.
The next day came up clear and sunny. Perfect T-shirt weather, but I was afraid to attend my own opening. It’s brutal for a sensitive artist type like myself to confront his critics at the purchase point with no agent, gallery or even a frame to hide behind. There’s a lot more honest dialectic on the street. When they shout “Defend Brooklyn from what?” you answer “What you got?” If they try to get “Brooklyner than thou” you tell them “fugeddaboutit.” If they talk about “Why does there have to be a gun?” you let them know that you’re armed and they can take that line of jive on home.
It was nothing less than fear of abject impecunity that forced me to shake off the stage fright, pick the melted Twix bar out of my hair, untangle myself from the lime green bra and drag that box of shirts to the corner and sell those motherfuckers to some insane people.
From my corner vantage that sunny Brooklyn day, Williamsburg was a small town idyll where we’d found each other. I saw a lot of talent riding around on bicycles on a Sunday free of zealots, control freaks or speed traps.
Now those without sin might try to denigrate my contemporaries by calling them “hipsters” to which I reply “it takes one to know one.” If I have to be hipster then I take the word back, like when Lord Buckley was one of us or when all the “colored people” turned black.
I sold a shirt, then another. Then ten in a row. The price went up to 20 dollars. I still sold a couple dozen more by the end of the day. Those shirts sold like hot fire. Wildcakes. All that. It was as if the neighborhood saw “Defend Brooklyn” the first night, slept on it and come back the next day, ready to buy. What dream did they dream that night that made it okay for liberal types to wear a gun on their chest? What Jungian archetype was agreed upon from behind the wall of sleep?
I suspect it was one of the old dreams about how that nowhere called utopia was now here, even if it were for only a little longer.
By the end of the weekend I’d accrued enough money to move out of my windowless room at the kibbutz. I can’t explain the satisfaction of graduating from a mewling artist with no money to a character from a Reagan speech, bootstrapping my way to financial freedom by standing on the street corner peddling dub sacks of apples or whatever.
Then I hired a beautiful girl to sell the shirts and she clocked between four hundred and eight hundred dollars sunny weekends. She was an Arab whose fierce eyes evoked caravans of opium rebels, resisting armies of infidels with only their Kalashnikovs. It was the summer before 9/11 and freakonomics was different then.
Soon enough I was a certified T-shirt genius, which happened to be coolest thing to be that year, right after the grafitti artist/drug addict or bike thief. I was so cool that some fashion magazine called Vice let me write articles which were then changed completely and printed under someone else’s name, but I didn’t care. It was such an honor to be invited to the Viacom frat party. I made buddies with a bunch of really neat guys who are still my great friends to this very day. They helped me advertise “Defend Brooklyn” on Tap Dancing Outlaw Jessco White and his lovely mama in their photo issue.
Suddenly, I had enough money to return to the real work of overthrowing the government and get back at those goddamn Jump Off Rock cops.
Apparently, the rest of the country was with me on this. There was a palpable anger at the government. It was right when greedheads were having a hard time meeting anywhere without thousands and thousands of radicals fighting back and defending Brooklyn all over the world, wherever it was. I know we can’t remember this because those precious Twin Towers burned and fell. Patriotically, we have forgotten those issues which are important enough to throw rocks at cops and burn down banks.
For those who haven’t kept up with the Defense Industry Reports 1, 2 or III Dave Reeves is about to realize that printing the words “Defend Brooklyn” on a three dollar t-shirt will turn that shit into a twenty dollar fashion accessory. See, back in 1998 little Dave thought he was too good to get into the schmatta trade because writing is the classy way to earn a living, just ask Hemingway’s brains all over the wall. Unaware that he is sitting on a gold mine, this idiot is using the shirts to bribe Priest from Antipop to do the sound for his off-off-off-Broadway play and to get backstage at a Thurston Moore show with his dad to blow his redneck mind.
People told me I could make a lot of money selling the “Defend Brooklyn” shirts I’d been giving away, but I couldn’t waste my time because I’m so smart at writing. My first major effort as a writist was the beautiful tale of a Satanic mountain climber who eats his partners in order to climb the world’s holy mountains and desecrate the summits with evil demon penis figurines.
I went to Hollywood and, by Beelzebub, I’d have Babylon Working now but for a misunderstood ritual performed in a certain talent agency after a couple or three bloody leroys. I was just being me. I’m not one of these salon satanists. They got all “you’ll never work in this town again” about it. Who knew that Hollywood Agents are a bunch of humorless assholes?
If you missed the last missive, here’s the nutshell: Manhattan has a drink, a chowder, a Frank Sinatra song and the opening of Saturday Night Live but Brooklyn has murderers who keep the cops focused on doing their job of murderer-catching and let me do my job of riding stolen bicycles into flaming trash cans with girls who look like Mick Jagger.
Revolutions are born in cities because it’s hard to be revolutionary when you’re thankful to make it home after too much beer and zeitgeist. The real freedom of Brooklyn was the freedom from the pig’s eye and his harsh blinking lights, crappy polyester uniform and horrible reform school shoes. Brooklyn cops didn’t pull over a responsible citizen asking “Where’s the fire”, “How did my sister end up in your car?” and “Why is she wearing only a tubetop?” because they didn’t have time and I didn’t need a car.
I turned into a man of many bicycles as rubber on the wheel is faster than rubber on the heel. Cycling in New York is more lethal than riding a motorcycle in Los Angeles. It’s roughly the same drunk/medicated population and chossy roads but New York has the added hazard of the Taliban cavalry driving yellow people squashers.
At the end of a Manhattan night I’d have to get on my bike, navigate traffic and cross the muggerland of the old Williamsburg bridge, drunk and hopelessly clipped into my pedals. It was dangerous but I was healthier than my Lower East Side peers who only had to stumble a couple of blocks home to nurse their habits into junkiedom.
In 1995, going back to Brooklyn meant you’d had been voted off the island. Bowery Boys and Loisidas loved to shame me about how they never been to Brooklyn and where was Brooklyn anyway?
Damn right I defended it. I’d been kicked out of college and run from the Bible Belt. Disney and Giullianification priced me out of Manhattan. I had to make a stand before I got pushed into the sea. Brooklyn was the Masada of me.
When I say “Brooklyn,” I mean before the raw food dipshits got there and it was all rice and beans or pierogis. Before the graffiti got all cute. Before the neighborhood was defined by the cookie cutter do’s and don’ts of Viacom.
I’m talking about Brooklyn when you could get a Heineken and bolsita right over the counter at Kokie’s. The kind of place you might shoot a king rat with a twenty guage shotgun in your apartment on Lorimer Street and your Chinese landlord never said a word because he was scared of getting deported. That place where Haitian families felt comfortable enough to burn a mattress and cook a goat on the sidewalk. A time so poorly lit that Monk could fall down the steps at Rug o Lad and then spit bloody teeth at the bartender so we could nab the Absinthe. The Brooklyn where you pour beer on the floor of the Greenpoint Tavern in order to twist with Horsey and Carlos on Christmas Eve.
That place is gone a long time now, banished to East New York or squelched behind facades of baby clothing shops. I’ve been going through the black box, trying to parse the day, the hour, the moment that Brooklyn turned into a mall. I remember a big bus pulled up. It said RISD on the side, which must be some kind of fashion academy because everybody that got off it had a bedhead and a pair of hundred dollar jeans slouched half off their ass.
They came in, ordered slices and checked their hair in the bulletproof plexiglas. There was a local kid named Mando in the pizza parlor, famous to us for a trick of breaking into David Henry Brown Jr’s apartment late at night to sell him drugs. Mando eyeballed the RISD kids, turned to me and my boy and shook his head solemnly.
“Remember? This neighborhood used to be hard.”
Mando was blaming the pioneer hipsters for how fashionistas thought it was safe to primp in Brooklyn. Mando intuited that the presence of these nabobs meant that the neighborhood had forgotten to keep up an illusion of danger. The ability for them to exist here indicated that the corruption was now systemic, as gentrification exponentializes so quickly. He was suggesting that it was our presence that brought this plague upon us.
Soon it became obvious that Mando was right. Every day overwhelming number of non-weirdos and normal job-having motherfuckers came in on the trains and paid exorbitant rents on time to live in our charming bohemian cesspool.
It’s the same every time: alpha hipsters and indie bands make coffeehouses which are patronized by fashionstas until the gays and college reality shows find out where they are and then suddenly all the buildings have doormen. The neighborhood keeps getting nicer until one day the local crackhead doesn’t come around to pimp Nazi uniforms, alligator heads or any other treasure reclaimed from the garbage. The Koolman is run off by hipster taco trucks. The cops write tickets for drinking beer on the street.
I wanted Mando to be wrong so badly that I went to the printer that day and had them make twenty t-shirts that read “Defend Brooklyn” with an AK-47 emblazoned on it. I didn’t try to sell them yet. Back then I didn’t want to be a t-shirt merchant. I just gave them out to like-minded people hoping to spark a war, like Red Dawn II if it was written by Genet featuring a cadre of wastrels vicious enough to break windows, burn down coffee klatches and scatter syringes around the neighborhood so we could still afford to live there.
Understand that I’m describing pre-9/11 thoughts and actions. Since then we’ve all made money, lost money and seen things that make the language and stance of “Defend Brooklyn” moot. Twilight Zone things like people that know they can’t fly jumping out of buildings and the BQE empty at rush hour.
If you missed the first installment of the Defense Industry Report then here’s a recap of that amazing document: Hate me now for I, Dave “Affadavit” Reeves, started “Defend Brooklyn”, the contagion of which continues to this day in many bastard forms.
That’s right. I have become a thousandaire by harvesting the pocket litter of jingoistic hooligans and those who pay to dress like them. The quick wisdom of the “Defend Brooklyn” slogan has eclipsed everything else I’ve done in my life. Women have loved me, left me and tried to kill me with weapons purchased from the filthy profits of this T shirt. It introduced me to famous people and conned that bunch of Hollywood hacks calling themselves “writers” to let me into their guild.
But why is this? What does it mean? What the fuck? Defend Brooklyn thrives in ambiguity like middle east politics or the lyrics of Powderfinger .
First off: I am not really from Brooklyn. Brooklyn became home for me after a series of nasty run-ins with North Carolina authorities, culminating in an assault on a police officer. (Be careful about assaulting a police officer, as you will end up like Danny Chavez of the seminal Negroclash band “Apollo Heights” or or worse.)
I was acquitted of assaulting said police officer not because of my rights or anything but because I was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of my harassment. Still, small town cops watch out for their own, so they sharked ever closer in my rearview mirror, trying to force the swerve. Eventually I called a friend of mine who’d been kicked out of college the same week as me for some advice. He told me to come up to his spot in New York City where the cops don’t give a damn about anything.
I was such a hick when I got off the plane. I had never eaten sushi, falafel balls or lox bagels before. I thought Alphabet City was so named because the bums walked around chanting “A” “D” “C”, only to learn that these are the initials of drugs (acid, heroin, cocaine respectively) they peddled. And they were junkies, not bums. Things like junkies were news to me.
My boy’s “spot” was a squat sponsored by a Cooper Union painter. We were allowed to crash in his studio at night along with a guy named Doug, who seemed normal until he lost his life paying Russian Roulette. We took herbal ephedrine to help us relax while playing chess and waiting for photo assistant gigs.
I was able to enjoy my birthright of a full flowering southern degeneracy by drinking beer day and night anywhere I wanted: forties on the stoop, tallboys on the train, a wee nip in the hall to help soften the floor for a good night’s sleep. Dinkins was in office and the Lower East Side was an open air drug market. I couldn’t get arrested in that town. Nobody cared about a white boy with all his teeth.
My friend played saxophone with downtown jazzbos Cecil Taylor and Butch Morris. We smoked weed with Zorn, who clowned my choice of clubwear. It was made clear to me that I had to get hip quick or get shipped back to the sticks. They were famous downtown horn tooters and piano beaters but who was I and what did I think I was doing stomping around New York City in hiking boots?
As I pondered this situation providence intervened. An undercover cop disguised as a barefoot rasta busted a friend of mine for drinking beer on the stoop. It was Giulliani time. Overnight, our idyllic crowded Lower East Side squat zone became an expensive, cop-infested hell. I cried, tore hair and lost all hope, until a real rasta told us shit like that never goes down in Brooklyn because those cops out there are busy.
So, we scouted across a dangerous mix of rusty metal plates cattywamped between patches of thick blacktop and muggers called the Williamsburg Bridge .
The caged walkway ended in dark, pocked leavings from the great insurance fires of the seventies. It was 1994 and the area near the bridge was empty, except for an old Amish mobster singing weird songs though a big tube on top of the Jew church.
As we headed north the streets were rimmed with fresh-off-the-jet types, drinking beer on the stoop, radios turned up to eleven. Back then it was correct to consider Williamsburg a tough neighborhood in San Juan. Every day was Puerto Rico Day, and then at nighttime too.
When cumbia and car alarms mixed together on Bedford it was disorienting as a casino. It was the summer lazer pointers came out, so we had to advance up the Avenue fighting the urge to flinch at the red dots dancing on our shirts, comforted by the belief that maybe there wasn’t a gun at the other end of the beam.
After this, an initial force of somewhere between six and ten white black and french types occupied that room, spoke English and dug in. More Alpha Hipsters came across the bridge every day, run from their hometowns like common lepers or Mormons, unafraid, broke and weird. The world had cornered us in Brooklyn, between the recycling plant and where lead paint sandblasted off the bridge fell to the ground.
Power might be at the end of a gun, but sometimes it’s also at the end of the shadow or an image of a gun. – Jean Genet
In 1996 I printed this design on T-shirts and handed them out to friends, musicians and bartenders to curry favor:
There are many like it, but this is the real one.
Positive feedback from my target market helped me realize that I had minted a blue chip slogan.
Since that day, my minions and I have distributed a veritable shit ton of these Defend Whosiwhatsit shirts allowing me to enjoy the riches and fame of a rich and famous man, without the benefit of proper health care or competent legal counsel that he gets.
Every week a random amount of money appears in my Paypal account. This windfall has allowed me the modicum of financial irresponsibility necessary to scribble drivel at this competitive level.
You may have not seen Defend Brooklyn before. It’s okay. I’m not claiming that it’s a famous design or anything, or that it’s everywhere.
Or maybe you hate the design. All I can suggest is that if you have seen “Defend Brooklyn” enough to hate it, then you are one too. Stop hating yourself or you will turn into a “Hipstler“.
Defend Brooklyn is not a saturation thing like “I Heart New York.” It’s more a “now you see me now you don’t, some will see me others won’t” piece.
I’m not claiming to rank as one the captains of the T-shirt age, nor have I masterminded a contagion of meme on the scale of the Grateful Dead, Che or even Obama. I’m not in the old guard of the T-shirt industry such as Rolling Stone lips, “Frankie Say Relax” or “CBGB.” I’m aware that I’m somewhere below the “I’m With Stupid” progenitor in harvesting disposable income. I know that I will never have “Shut Up and Fish’s” money because my graphic is too challenging for mass consumption.
That said, if you print the word “Defend” in an arc over the image or the shadow of a gun and the name of a town on a T-shirt, you’re guaranteed a return better than American real estate or drug money. It’s so easy and fun that the danger of this article is that you might try to steal the concept, damning yourself to being a biter.
Basically, I have found the wellspring of profitable jingoism. Me and the people who steal my ideas are some of the few reliable money makers left in America. We are a veritable Defense Industry.
Why is this slogan so popular? I can only posit that it uses the same force which enables soccer hooligans, Reaganites, Bruce Springsteen and Hitlers.
Or maybe it harkens back to the wily and armed “don’t tread on me”-populace, rather than one so is easily duped by a bunch of Ivy League clowns who take power through double talk and Diebold deals.
Either way, I think Defend Brooklyn suggests some dark thing about human nature and the slogans we use to advance our agendas.
I thought Defend Brooklyn was a mere opus minimum, an ante in a game bigger than T-shirts, only to find that there is no bigger game. If one were to analyze all the relevant data we would find that Earth is primarily a T-shirt producing planet.
Please take this time to re-approach this meme with me as it has allowed me to observe certain things about the damn kids today that might be useful to those who would manipulate the whimsies of the thinking population into a functioning mandate, or take their money, or both.