What makes a cell phone cool? It's not that an executive from the service provider showed you his, the one that's engraved with his name and filled with Frank Sinatra songs he's downloaded--oh, and a couple tracks by Nelly Furtado and Matchbox Twenty, just to prove he's hip to the times. Nor is it that you went to a party that rang in the new phone while declaring its predecessor obsolete, where you got to drink countless delicious shots of lemon vodka served over tiny scoops of lemon sorbet: you'd slam the vodka, then suck down the leftover white glob like a whore. But both of those things were part of Motorola's strategy last Thursday night at the launch party for its new phone, the SLVR.
Humongor searchlights projected the company's logo (which looks an awful lot like the Bat Signal) onto the Prudential Plaza and Millennium Plaza buildings. It gave the somewhat distasteful impression that Motorola, which is headquartered in Schaumburg and has been laying people off by the thousands since 2000 (including 1,900 last year), intends to rescue the hardworking people of Chicago. Our hero!
The local arm of the promotions company Gen Art, the event's producers, pitched a giant white tent in Millennium Park and carpeted the floor with sparkly black Astroturf. The tables were Plexiglas boxes filled with plastic ice cubes and huge faux black pearls. The centerpieces were obscene orchids submerged in square glass vases. The whole thing looked like some decadent Hollywood version of Tokyo: sushi for miles, tiny tiramisu parfaits on Japanese miniature ladles, more strawberry-garnished glasses of champagne than a crowd of about 450 could guzzle.
The SLVR, meaning "sliver," is even thinner than Motorola's last big wow, the RAZR. (I'm not sure that's a good thing--my comparatively chubby RAZR is constantly getting lost among the detritus at the bottom of my handbag.) The SLVR "redraws perspective and takes you to the point where 2D and 3D meet," according to the press release. "Flatness and depth no longer apply. . . . You can walk right into pictures, slip whole cities between its pages." Unless it inserts a tab of acid into my earhole, I don't really see how this is possible.
This was the kind of party where the only way to have fun is by making a spectacle of yourself--if you don't, someone else will, and you'll be forced to watch. I bumped into my friend Joe, whom I hadn't seen since an episode a month ago that saw the two of us humping a trash can together at Nick's after the rest of the bars had closed. The tent was our oyster.
I started chatting with Elgin native Brice Cooper, host and lead designer of HGTV's interior-decorating show "Design on a Dime." When we figured out that the cute girl next to Cooper was his significant other, Joe flipped out on him. "Well, congratulations!" he shouted. "You're straight! What're you doing with a show on HGTV if you're straight?"
Cooper laughed, and Joe snatched the rectangular white plastic glasses off his face and started vamping. They didn't look good on him either. "I bet my underwear is more heterosexual than yours," Joe announced, then stuck his hands down Cooper's trousers and fished out the waistband.
Joe then wandered to one of the Plexiglas bars for another glass of champagne that he didn't need. As he tells it, some overly pomaded dude with a gold chain and a silk shirt unbuttoned provocatively low bumped into him and Joe spilled the bubbly all over both of them. "Oops," the guy said.
"No, you mean, 'I'm sorry,'" Joe replied.
The guy explained that he was in white and Joe was in black, so the spill was actually more tragic for himself.
"No, you're in bad and I'm in good. Now say you're sorry."
Joe, a skinny wisp of a thing, tends to think he's seven feet tall and 400 pounds when he's been drinking. Lucky for him this guy, who probably realized he could pound the snot out of Joe, thought better of it and walked away. Bless his heart, Joe thought he'd won.
Time to dance. We probably spilled as much champagne on the Astroturf as we drank. Joe sat on the stage where Z-Trip was DJing, and I came and freaked Joe in the face. He tipped backward and bumped the table, making the record skip. Z-Trip scowled, reached forward over the turntables and yanked a fistful of Joe's hair. "Get off the stage!" he screamed.
This was my favorite Gen Art party ever, but I was torn. On one hand, I like free booze and dancing and acting like a poop-flinging chimp, but I don't like that I'm helping brand a product in the process. I'm sick of partying with logos.
A couple weeks ago Beans and Prefuse 73 performed at a free party at the Puma store on Rush, which was promoting the marriage of Puma and Evisu jeans. It was so uncomfortably packed I was having perverse trampling fantasies and almost had a panic attack. Puma has become so pervasive as a brand it didn't seem to cross anyone's mind that their presence was feeding the cultural currency of the product, making the sneakers more valuable for their function as symbols of a kind of arty hip-hop affluence than for their functionality or even the way they look.
Gen Art reverses the usual equation, using corporate sponsors' money to promote new artists, designers, and musicians. Which is a worthy cause, but it's depressing to go to their events and watch the well-meaning hosts talk about American Express or the PT Cruiser like they really mean it.
I think Pumas are cute. I wear them myself. But their advertising and marketing practices, preying on people's desire to look cool, can have the opposite of their intended effect: I'm turned off by the product when I see how much the company wants me to want it. Of course I want to see artists and musicians make a decent living doing what they love, and I do enjoy going to fabulous parties where I get to dress up fancy and drink on someone else's dime. And, like I said, I own a RAZR. But now that I've seen its pretty little sister, my phone is starting to look old and fat. I'm like a middle-aged man who wants to trade in his loyal wife for a younger, perkier model. I'm not proud of this. No matter how wise I am to the game, I keep getting played.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Andrea Bauer.