debbie millman

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Poem: Starstruck

I have embraced this seamy side of myself now
Thighs wide and hips spread

You search me looking for something long gone
I taste your breath your hands

There are remnants of me in your eyes

The night leaks out so slowly

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Commentary: The Banality of Evil

This past Monday, as I usually do at 10pm, I was watching Aaron Brown on CNN. There was massive coverage of the serial killer BTK, which is of course, the acronym for Bind Torture Kill. BTK’s “real name” is Denis Rader and the coverage on NewsNight was nothing short of gruesome, as Mr. Rader recounted the first of his nine killings to Judge Greg Waller, who accepted Rader's plea in Sedgwick County District Court. At Waller's urging, Rader provided detailed accounts of each killing, which he dispassionately described as "projects" or "hits." At one point, as he explained the serial killer's modus operandi, Rader said, "they go through what they call different phases. In the trolling stage, basically, you're looking for a victim at that time. You can be trolling for months or years, but once you lock in on a certain person, you become a stalker. There might be several of them, but you really hone in on one person. They basically become the...victim. Or, at least that's what you want it to be."

Rader pleaded guilty and he also recanted his right to a jury trial. He seemed perfectly calm and quite at peace with his decisions, and if viewers didn’t know better, one could almost consider that he was recalling the play by play of a horror movie rather than the details of nine serial killings. BTK’s lack of remorse as he confessed the last moments of his “projects” caused even the usually taciturn Aaron Brown to shudder. I was riveted, I felt nauseous and I was all but paralyzed listening to this man who seemed to have, as Aaron Brown aptly put it, “no soul.” When NewsNight went to a commercial break, Mr. Brown asked his viewers to return to continue to witness what he referred to as the “banality of evil.” This is when my jaw dropped.

According to, banal means “drearily commonplace and predictible.” A common definiton of evil is “causing ruin, injury, pain, morally bad or wrong. It seems to me that when you join these two words—to suggest somehow that evil can now be considered trite is when the world as we HOPE to know it undergoes a mutation of sorts. I can think of no better response to this than that of my dear comrade Jaymes Kint, who when I emailed my consternation to him Monday night, he responded as follows:

The banality of evil. I think that statement right there indicates how society has become completely numb to the effects of evil. Nothing surprises us anymore. It fits right in there with the steady decline of civilization. Oh another kidnapping, another car bomb, another missing kid, another serial killer, another dead girl in Aruba. Its like we just shake our heads and go "Damn what did Tom Cruise do today????"

He goes on to say that Ihe really enjoys the dry sarcastic whit of Henry Rollins from Black Flag. He has his own show on IFC called Henry's Film Corner. Jaymes thinks he put it best most recently when he said "Do you remember a while ago when pop culture events used to be small blips on the news screen to momentarily divert us from the day to day boring, tedious, and horrible events of Planet Earth? And now the boring, horrible, nasty events of Planet Earth are a mere distraction from Pop Culture news! You know as well as I do that we live in a dangerous time where the war in Iraq, a nuclear threat in North Korea, and a president who is shoving arch conservatives into the American court system, and we don't hear anything about them. Why? Because Jennifer Lopez has a new line of sunglasses. Because Martha Stewart just got out of prison and we're wondering what she's going to plant this spring! Could it be that current events are so horrible and dreary and grinding that we need massive relief where we take the eye of the ball? How many dead Americans do we need to come back to this country from Iraq and Afghanistan for us to take our minds off American Idol, Survivor, and American Bachelor? I want to watch the news and I want to find out what's going on in the real world, not what's going on in the world of Paris Hilton, who makes interesting porn films, but past that I really don't care what waify overpaid trust fund kids have to do with anything. There is a time and place for Pop Culture news. The problem I have is the priority that all this stuff gets next to real weighty world events. And I know I sound like I'm overreaching, politically correct, and tree hugging, when actually I'm a pissed off American who's tired of people sleeping on the job when they should be really concerned about what's going on in the wonderful country they live in."

Hence, the banality of evil.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Commentary: No Confessions Today

I am often moved, sometimes profoundly, sometimes humorously and many times surprisingly by the things I see around me. Silly posters for garage sales, house cleaning services or guitar lessons, posters pasted up on buildings touting a dating service specifically for people who have pets, or ominous signs asking you to determine if you, too, could possibly have a life-threatening disease by answering “yes” to a series of fairly mundane questions. Now, for whatever reason, when I see these masses of images surrounding me, I can’t help but feel that they may have some divine purpose or be part of some bigger plan, a master message of sorts. I guess what I am saying is you could probably call me an anti-existentialist. I can’t help but try to connect the dots of my visual landscape, looking for some grander purpose: perhaps an answer the origins of the universe or maybe something more simple: why we do the things we do, to ourselves and each other--in our culture and to humanity. Nevertheless, despite the sensory overload of messaging in Manhattan, I must confess that I haven’t found many answers yet.

However, there is a little church I pass on my walk to work every day, and they often have handwritten 8 x 11 posters on in the window box in front of the church. Usually they are advertising the upcoming sermon during the upcoming Sunday services, or a pot luck dinner on Friday night. This last week, however, featured two rather innocuous signs that not only made me pause, they also forced me to pull my cellphone out and snap pictures of them. Both of them made me smile, both of them brought me some pattern recognition as I could connect them to other events that were in synchronicity with manners of living these days, and both, in a lovely turn of double or triple entendres, gave me unsolicited advice that I felt compelled to take.

The first poster was a handwritten one color poster, probably made with a nearly out of ink, dry magic marker. It was taped to the front of the window box, as it was clearly a last minute notice. It said simply: NO CONFESSIONS TODAY. I riveted. I was surprised. I felt forewarned. I went on to my office and shared the picture of the poster with my workmates, and about an hour later, scrawled in green magic marker on one of those rather ugly erasable boards near my office, my darling colleague Gregory put up the same message: NO CONFESSIONS TODAY. Everyone laughed. But I felt just a twinge of sadness or disappointment, as I realized that part of what is so wonderful about being close to people and sharing the remarkable lives we are all leading is the unique ability we have to share our deepest thoughts, fears, anxieties, secrets…in short to trust each other with our confessions. For like love and fear and hunger and sleep and sex, trust seems one of the qualities of life that must be experienced fully.

The other sign was one I saw yesterday, for a church class…but this one was far more promising and optimistic. First, it was actually typeset, and it used two different fonts, so it was far more professional looking. But it had a most ominous feel which matched the following boldly portrayed message:

Oh, if it were just that easy! I couldn’t help but wonder if there, in that little church class held all the answers to all the questions we have in life. Is there a higher purpose? Is there a higher being watching over us determining our destiny, our paths and our actions? And what, for goodness sakes, does sex have to do with that?

I am not sure when the class is, but I am going to try to take it.

Ultimately, in some small and wonderous way, I think design can help us determine who we are, and why we are, and what we want to be or hope to become. It might not have the power to get us there—that, I think resides in our actions and commitment to those actions, but I do think it can give us the information and the impetus and the inspiration to at least become more aware. I ask you, I ask us all to look around, really see the things around us, the innocuous beautiful things: electrical grids, manhole covers, fire hydrants, fences, abandoned railroads, vacant lots, front lawns, trolley pulls, door bells, dilapidated buildings, mail boxes, broken down neon signs…things with messages (or without) that are all very poignant and necessary. I ask us all, I ask myself, to try and see the things that we don’t see but could and should. I think all of these things connect us to society and to culture, and to each other. Common vision connects us to common experiences which can connect us to common vocabulary and ultimately to a common, connected and very special sense of trust. Yes, I do think that design can accomplish all that.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Poem: double d

I think the thing I liked most
was when you told me
that when I kissed you
I tilted my head in slowly.

You are so much bigger than me
and as I inched my way in,
burrowed myself into you
I felt like a fragile little bug

soft and black and round and
I felt my resilient, narrow heart
shake in its shell
and beg for forgiveness.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Announcement: We can talk about making a difference or we can make a difference. Or we can do both.

Design Matters Second Season Begins June 3rd at 3pm ET

Design Matters is a one-hour live internet radio show broadcast on the Voice America Business network every Friday afternoon from 3-4 pm ET. You can also listen to the show any time you'd like via the network's free on-demand egocasting. The show is a (hopefully) provocative intersection of branding, design and culture--live callers chime in and overall, it is a fast, funny and fascinating hour of radio.

Second Season Line-up:

June 3 Season Premiere:
The Groovy World of AdamsMorioka
Two of the most innovative, exciting and provocative designers in the US, Sean Adams and Noreen Morioka, will be joining Debbie for a lively and inspiring hour with discussions on some of their more profile projects for clients such as MTV, VH1, Sundance and Nickelodeon.

June 10
The Legacy of Eames: Eames Demetrios and Neenah Paper
The grandson of Charles and Ray Eames, Eames Demetrios will be joining Debbie for a discussion on the new innovations coming out of the "house of Eames."

June 17
American Mutt?: David Barringer
David Barringer sent Rudy Vanderlans, editor of Emigre, a 35,000 word letter to the editor, which Rudy published in its entirety in Emigre #68. Titled "American Mutt Barks in the Yard," David will join Debbie to talk about his views on the state of graphic design today.

June 24
Design at the Beach: Jake Gorst and Alastair Gordon
Jake Gorst, grandson of Andrew Geller and Alastair Gordon, author of Beach Houses: Andrew Geller, will be joining Debbie to talk about Jake's phenomenal documentary "Leisurama," the first "branded" community in America, located in Montauk, New York.

July 1
Nicholas Blechman: Artist and Auteur
Knickerbocker Design is an illustration graphic design studio founded by Nicholas Blechman, former Art Director of the New York TImes Op-Ed page and publisher of the alternative comic book NOZONE.

July 8
Andrew Zolli: Forecasting the Future
Z + Partners is a foresight think-tank which helps global companies and institutions see, understand and respond to complex change. Andrew Zolli is the founder, and will discuss the future of mass culture on this show.

July 15
Paula Scher: The Reigning Queen of Graphic Design
Paula Scher studied at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia and began her graphic design career as a record cover art director at both Atlantic and CBS Records in the 1970s. In 1984 she co-founded Koppel & Scher, and in 1991 she joined Pentagram as a partner. She is arguably the most successful and influential woman working in design today.

July 22
The Substance and Style of Virginia Postrel
Virginia Postrel is the author of The Substance of Style and The Future and Its Enemies. She writes the Economic Scene column for The New York Times business section every fourth Thursday. She writes a column for Forbes four times a year and publishes articles on cultural and economic topics in a wide-range of other publications. Writing in Vanity Fair, Sam Tanenhaus described Postrel as "a master D.J. who sequences the latest riffs from the hard sciences, the social sciences, business, and technology, to name only a few sources," while Camille Paglia has called her "one of the smartest women in America."

July 29
Design Blogs: The Good, the Bad and the Nasty
Join the founders of three influential design blogs for a rousing discussion on the popularity of this new media. Joining Debbie will be Armin Vit and Bryony Gomez-Palacio from Speak Up, Jen Beckman from Unbeige and Adrian Hanft and Bennett Holzworth from Be A Design Group.

August 5
King of the World: Stefan Sagmeister
ID magazine has called Stefan's work: "Distilled, intense, cunning, evocative and utterly complete. His inventions have set a new standard." A candid and revealing discussion with the master of design.

August 12
Bad Boys of Design II
Our most listened to show last season is back with a vengeance, new group of (very) bad boys:
Rodrigo Corral
Marc English
Tan Le
Bennett Peji
Felix Sockwell
John Zapolski

August 19:
Pervasive Design in our Culture
Join Joan Francolini, Senior Director of Global Design at Kraft Foods and John Krajkowski, Director of Design at Kraft for a discussion on the state of the visual landscape of our culture. Other guests to be announced closer to show time.

August 29th: Season Two Finale
The Goddesses of Graphic Design, and arguably the show I am most looking forward to: Emily Oberman and Bonnie Siegler of Number 17.
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