James Franco, the world’s most gabbed about polymath, took an essay to Vice yesterday about the link between modern mythology in the criticism of Roland Barthes and the artwork of controversial appropriation artist Richard Prince. The main goal of the piece appears to be defending Prince’s work against the pop criticism of Barthes, for which Prince has expressed derision. We need not outline the entire argument—read it for yourself—but the conclusion rests in Franco’s assertion that Prince achieves a criticism of the mythology he appropriates in his work while retaining the magnetism therein. “He gets the sexiness and allure of the advertisements while criticizing the content that he has taken,” Franco concludes.
The Line of Inquiry:
Question One: Would this be of significant interest had a famous actor not written it? Well, no, but that doesn’t dilute its content or lessen its worth for a readership like Vice. Any chance for exposure to lesser-known (by the standards of a pop-culture magazine with a penchant for hipsterdom) and culturally lavish figures such as Barthes and Prince rubs us the right way. Vice is an odd forum for this, but then again so is Complex.
Question Two: Is this article timely at all? Almost barely. The writings of Barthes have long been internalized by the critical tradition. Prince, whose practice of appropriating advertisements for his own end, has hardly remained as relevant as he was in the ‘80s and ‘90s, save for when he did a cover of a Sonic Youth album. His work has faced the much more aggressive, politically potent work of the street art movement, an appropriation of space and advertisement that arguably deflates the momentum of Prince's million-dollar criticisms. The only peg in defending Prince’s work is his continued embroilment in copyright law, which Franco doesn’t mention.
Question Three: Why and since when is James Franco on a first-name basis with Prince? This seems oddly suspect throughout the piece, as he does not refer to Barthes as “Roland,” but rather the formal, standard last name only. In this sense, Franco’s attempt to bolster Prince’s work appears as an act of friendship or even protection of investment. Does James Franco own any work by Prince? This presents a questionable conflict of interest if the answer is yes.
Question Four: By blogging about this essay-cum-advertisement, have we participated in the very kind of appropriation that Franco suggests Prince achieves? The actor certainly is not short of sex appeal. And through an appropriation of his words, we’ve created something that re-emphasizes Franco’s allure in the modern mythology. Surely Franco is aware of the viral potential inevitability of his writing and the dozens of blog posts that would reference it, such as this one. Ergo…
Question Five: Did James Franco tacitly write an essay about himself? We get "the sexiness and allure of the advertisements while criticizing the content that" we have taken.