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Mind Grenades:

Manifestos From the Future

by John Plunkett and Louis Rossetto

Mind Grenades cover I had decided not to review books for Document Design that I couldn't recommend. After all, the purpose of these reviews is to draw attention to books that writers and designers might find helpful. Then I read about John Plunkett's and Louis Rossetto's Mind Grenades, a spin-off of HotWired's quote of the week, and decided I'd better take a look at it. In truth, what follows is not so much a review of the book as of an attitude, what I consider the insufferable self-hype on the part of people like these authors who think they hold the secret to great graphic art design, the mentality of those who think "cool" is the ultimate compliment.

Never a fan of the HotWired approach, as I read through the book's introductory copy (the only copy there is), I became more aware of what, expressed loudly and clearly, I find so offensive about this attitude. The screaming colors are the ugliest thing I've seen, and in fact are downright painful to my eyes. But after all, I'm not "cool," so what do I know? The technological tools to create this kind of stuff are out there, and for those who like it, let 'em play.

However, Mind Grenades catalyzed what I find so profoundly disturbing about the HotWired mentality as expressed by these authors. It's not the "art" alone that bothers me, it's their attitude about their work that I find profoundly distateful. These marvelous technological tools are being used to create what I can only describe as the slash-and-splash style in graphic design, and these authors have the gall to scream from the top of their lungs that if you don't like it, there's something wrong with you. This is the cattle-prod approach to art. People don't like it? Zap 'em with an epithet.

The print version of Adobe Magazine (ahem...this was written when there still was a print version of Adobe Magazine) has been criticized quite a bit for this same totally artificial look in graphics. Some people like it and some don't. Adobe Magazine's saving grace is that the information inside is top notch. Actually, I think I can detect a toning down of some of the really garish stuff. In Adobe's defense, the ugly pages appearing in its print version now generally come from some of its advertisers -- the ones emulating the slash-and-splash graphic design school.

A recent ad in Adobe Magazine shows a purple, snarling, somewhat unkempt male face with some sort of brassy glob symbolizing golden ideas erupting from a balding forehead. Maybe somebody out there sees this as a symbol of letting artistic talent escape into the real world, but all I see here is the epitome of what someone evidently thinks is macho. Remember the studies of men playing pinball? This image is right up there with the bump-and-grind of tilting pinball machines.

A mind grenade, for those not in the know, is what Plunkett and Rossetto, designer and editorial director, respectively, of HotWired, call their graphic statement, that picutre that introduces their issues. Rossetto describes these spreads as preparing their readers for the "visual and intellecutal assault to come." Somewhere along the line, these men of cool have equated assault with something a reader should enjoy, coupled weapons with art, and assumed they're the smartest people on the planet to boot. While these little gems might be visual, I would suggest there's not much intellectual about them.

There are precious few words in this volume, but the few words there are are stridently uppity about their work. We are told this absolutely outstandingly gorgeous volume "should look like it had fallen out of the sky, off another planet." Rossetto tells us it was designed to be so stunning that if a person stumbled across it in the street, that person would be compelled to pick it up. In fact, that person would find it absolutely impossible to walk on by. After all, this person would "instinctively sense that it was smart and cool -- that you had to invest the energy to figure it out." What unvarnished swill!

This book was face out on the bookstore's shelf, but I couldn't find it even though I had passed it several times. I had to go to the trouble of rustling up a salesperson to point it out to me. I wonder if it's because I found the glare of shocking pink and worm green so offensive I subconsciously failed to see it. If the intent of all this garish color is to attract attention, it certainly failed in my case. But then, I'm not, alas, from another planet, although the HotWired crew might argue that point differently.

We get a detailed description of all the marvelous techny toys that make this irresistable piece of art possible, along with a report from Rossetto that all those non-Hot-Wired artists out there continaully complain that they, too, could produce this wonderful stuff if only they could afford to splash on all this color. Plunkett and Rossetto decided to show them! They agreed to produce one mind grenade in black and white to prove HotWired's founding premise "that the excitement is not about technology, it's about extraordinary people doing amazing work." Of course, without color, what hackneyed prop did they use to attract attention? You guessed it! A naked woman. Oh, alright, she has wings attached, but she's very definitely naked. Who's kidding whom here?

I know it's not considered attractive anymore to be self-effacing about one's talents and abilities, but where did people get the idea that an audience likes to be told how wonderful all this stuff is, how tremendously talented all these people are, what great work they do, ad infinitum. In essense, HotWired is the manifestation of the worst kind of "up yours" I've ever seen.

Underlying HotWired, it seems to me, is a very ugly attitude, an attitude that screams disdain for women and anyone who dares to disagree with the canon. Some people are going to like this stuff and some aren't. I have no problem with this.

The rub?

Passing a really bad attitude off as art.

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