Johanna Blakley

Media | Entertainment | Fashion

Archive for June, 2010

Dwelling on Design

Bladeless fans, jackets that function like mobile homes, good-looking toilets, chairs made with zippers and coconut fibers, a guy in espadrilles  . . . these were the more exciting things I encountered at the Dwell on Design show at the Los Angeles Convention Center this weekend, but I have to say, I had hoped for more.

The most excitement I saw anywhere on the showroom floor was among men who were ecstatic about a showerhead mirror combo. Not exactly the killer app I was imagining. Lots of people seemed to be charmed by the “afro toilet brushes” (yes, a toilet brush that looks like a PERSON with an afro). I guess these people are a bit less PC than I thought they’d be . . .

I let a design-savvy friend of mine know that I was pretty disappointed — no aha! moments exactly — and she said, “Yeah, Dwell covers what’s now, but they don’t do tomorrow.” Who does, I asked? She muttered, “Wouldn’t that be nice to know,” but I think she was holding out on me.

On the upside, the place was full of surprisingly happy hipsters: guys who seemed comfortable with their metrosexuality (note the espadrilles) and scrawny women wearing comfy flats and, well, barely anything else, despite the frigid air conditioning. I figured they were  fleeing muggy studios in Silver Lake.  

The seminars were well-attended: I could barely get a seat at a panel on sustainable landscaping in LA (at least 75% of the audience was female.) It was brief but informative: one thing I learned that I now feel I should have already known is that, among the sustainable living evangelists among us, we must include the libertarians and Tea Party types who are desperate to get off the grid. These people are anything but your Obama-loving Prius drivers. They despise big government and they plant drought resistant plants so that they can more easily disconnect from city water services, and, by extension, “The Man.” Some of them are surely getting ready for the second coming, and if you want to join them, better pull up that lawn.


The Perfect Tux For Lads in L.A.

Oh, Thom Browne’s on to something here. And the gold lipstick is a really nice touch.

The Implicit Aesthetics of New Technology

I really enjoyed Virginia Heffernan’s piece in the New York Times Magazine today about our presumptions about the “realism” of high-definition TV. While we assume that the latest technology takes us ever closer to capturing reality as it is really is (whatever that means), it’s easy for us to forget that every technology has implicit within it certain formal devices and material dimensions that dictate its method of representation. In the unfortunate case of HDTV, humans look shinier, blotchier, and more garish and crinkled than in old-school TV. VHeff mentions that darker skin tends to look a lot better on HDTV: who knows — perhaps people of African, Hispanic, Arab and Asian decent will finally catch a break on American TV.

 Her article reminded me of an interesting session I attended at the New Media Consortium this month. Case Western Reserve University has been very active in Second Life, including building spaces for personel from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation to test their skills dealing with patients. One of the more surprising problems they discovered was that it’s very difficult to create middle-aged (let alone geriatric) avatars in Second Life. Most people in Second Life want to project an idealized version of themselves into this virtual world. When Case Western took on a project for an institute that counsels patients on bariatric (stomach shrinking) surgery, the artists working in-world discovered that you can’t really make fat avatars either.

It reminded me about why I’m so interested in virtual worlds: because they are mediated spaces of representation, they are among the best places in the world to see our presuppositions about the world unveiled. Fantasy worlds like Second Life are built with a set of implicit values that reveal a great deal about our ideology of beauty. While it may not be surprising that people don’t want to look fat or old, there’s something chilling about the fact that people couldn’t do it even if they tried. Case Western is hiring some kick-ass “sculptors” to create some truly obese avatars, but most people in-world don’t have the chops to create them, nor the inclination to do so. As virtual worlds become more pervasive in our culture (and I believe this is inevitable), what will be the implications of the fact that our fantasy worlds will implicitly outlaw certain types of human bodies? Will there be a backlash which makes non-idealized bodies the most coveted bodies? And what impact will the taste economy in a virtual world have on the real world? The one thing I can guarantee you is that the border between will become more and more porous. Right now, I’m not looking forward to the day that we will be able to see in HD.

Me? Lady Geek of the Week?

Oh, why yes indeed, missy, you’ve been found out!

I can’t say how tickled I was to discover (thank you Google Alerts!)  that I’d been designated “Lady Geek of the Week” by Being Geek Chic. In their charming post about my talk on fashion and copyright, they did a great job summarizing the spirit of the talk:

Key takeaway points here for the average lady geek: Imitation is a true form of flattery, sure, but what should inspire us more is that by sharing the collective knowledge of the creative giants and encouraging the spirit of reinvention, we can push our products, food, tattoos, comedy, websites, video, writing to improve the whole. Furthermore, it pushes us harder to create without boundaries and seek ways to truly make our idea stand out as it’s own – completely unique.

I was late to discover my inner-geek: it wasn’t until I was in graduate school when I was forced to be a teaching assistant for a huge science fiction class. I actually protested to the department, begging them to find me another post. But the second I wrapped my hot little hands around Neuromancer, I knew that I’d found my thrill. Science fiction — cyberpunk fiction, in particular — helped me more fully imagine the intensely mediated new world that I knew was around the corner. After that course, which was in 1991 (gasp!), I became obsessed with digital technology, eventually building Web sites and teaching a course about how to use the Web as a research tool (that was in 1995).

Anyway, cheers to the geeks! And a special toast to the lady geeks: there’s too few of us.


Thank you dotSUB!

Incredible! Thanks to the folks on dotSUB my talk on fashion and copyright has been translated into 12 languages including Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, French, Hebrew, Hungarian, Portuguese and Spanish. We’ve been waiting a long time for really good translation software to come along, but good samaritans are filling the void.

I don’t think we can underestimate the importance of “cultural translators,” people who donate their time in order to make a vast array of online content comprehensible to new audiences around the word. These people are bridge-builders. It’s a shame that Americans lack incentives to learn foreign languages (we can get by with English in most professions and in most places in the world), but thank heaven for those intrepid multilingual fans and enthusiasts. We’re all indebted to you.

Lessons from Fashion’s Free Culture:

How exciting! My presentation at TEDxUSC in April has appeared on Please take a look and let me know what you think!

R e c e n t E x p l o i t s

gave a talk about innovation and creativity in the fashion industry on!

moderated a panel about social media at the New Media Consortium

spoke on a panel about Writing in the Age of the Internet

interviewed about fashion & intellectual property on EconTalk


blogged about TEDxUSC

re-wrote T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land for the Give A Fig blog

spoke on a panel at MIT about Popular Culture & the Political Imagination

currently reading 2666 by Roberto Bolano (and loving it)

currently listening to Susana Baca

currently watching United States of Tara