fixations

I Think About This a Lot: When a 60-Something Feminist Artist Dragged Overgrown Skaters

I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.

The best insult I’ve ever heard came out of one of the most trivial news stories I’ve ever followed.

The story involves the cult skatewear line Supreme, in the years before it was fashion-relevant, back when it was just an expensive hobby for rich teens and cool dads.

Important historical context: Before Supreme partnered with Louis Vuitton, it ripped them off. In 2000, Louis Vuitton sent Supreme a cease-and-desist letter when their trademark showed up on skateboards. So did other entities whose logos Supreme used on hoodies and jackets, such as the NHL and the NCAA.

These days, Supreme doesn’t steal, it collaborates. But intellectual property theft is in its DNA. The white Futura on a red box logo is “inspired” by 72-year-old artist Barbara Kruger, who uses an identical text treatment to collage anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian maxims over 1950s advertising-style black-and-white photographs.

In May of 2013 — decades after Supreme started slinging T-shirts with a bootleg Kruger logo — Kruger made her opinion of Supreme known. The circumstances of this event involve in-group drama that is tedious to recount — an ouroboros of cringe. But the outcome was one of the sickest burns since “virgin who can’t drive,” so bear with me.

A rival clothing company run by young women was selling hypebeast parody items, beanies that said “Supreme Bitch” and the like. Supreme tolerated Supreme Bitch until they tried to trademark “Supreme Bitch,” at which point Supreme sued the makers of* Supreme Bitch for $10 million for stealing the logo Supreme stole from another woman. The whole thing made me want to look away. Thank god I didn’t, because Foster Kamer, an editor for Complex at the time, had the good sense to ask Kruger (the Ur-bitch?) for a comment.

Kruger’s response was a blank email with a Microsoft Word document attached, file name “fools.doc.” What fools.doc contained gave me the words to understand the Supreme v. Supreme Bitch feud. It also gave me the tools to analyze the many inconsequential imbroglios that would follow.

“What a ridiculous clusterfuck of totally uncool jokers,” Kruger wrote. “I make my work about this kind of sadly foolish farce. I’m waiting for all of them to sue me for copyright infringement.”

I think about fools.doc about once a week. The absence of digital niceties in Kruger’s statement sends a chill of awe down my spine. My own file names have since become tributes to its evocative brevity (bummer$$.xls, doneforever.pdf).

But mostly, I think about “what a ridiculous clusterfuck of totally uncool jokers,” because it is a perfect insult. Kruger didn’t call Supreme thieves or Supreme Bitch opportunists and, in her amusement and restraint, did more damage than the most hyperbolic flame war. Engaging with petty drama is a way of validating it. WARCOTUJ dismisses an entire situation without even bothering to differentiate the players.

Husband’s tribute to curvy wife sparks backlash?

Animal shelter slams Lena Dunham’s abused dog farewell post?

Ted Cruz staffer faves porn tweet?

You don’t need an opinion, all you need are eight words: “What a ridiculous clusterfuck of totally uncool jokers.” Repeat and keep scrolling.

WARCOTUJ is equally useful in one’s personal life. I think of it when a minor workplace conflict devolves into reply-all hell (“just jumping in here … ”) or when a party I wasn’t invited to turns into an Instagram photo shoot. I thought it of myself one recent Saturday morning, when I waited in line (in 90-degree heat with no cover) for an indie, luxury-candle sample sale.

On a deeper level, I love WARCOTUJ because it’s a feminist critique of Supreme. Supreme’s use of logos isn’t an earnest, Adbusters-style commentary or a clever fashion world send-up à la Comme des Fuckdown. Call it a ripoff, an homage, or a collaboration, Supreme’s style of straight-up appropriation is evasive. It’s a way of signifying something without actually coming out and saying anything.

Supreme relies on obscurity to retain an aura of cool — sending hypebeasts racing to prove they “get” its references. Kruger’s popularity, meanwhile, is a function of her legibility. Lines like “I shop therefore I am” and “Your body is a battleground” transform the appropriation of familiar images from a commentary for the benefit of other art-world insiders into something accessibly meaningful and politically powerful.

Kruger’s quotability feels inextricable from her being a woman artist. At least, it doesn’t strike me as a coincidence that so many prominent female artists — Kruger, Jenny Holzer, Tracey Emin — use text in their art. Or that after a female celebrity turns 50, she becomes a beacon of DGAF candor. If you can’t count on being heard, you can’t risk being misunderstood.

I don’t want to jinx it, but it does suddenly feel like they’re being heard. Holzer’s “Abuse of power comes as no surprise” has become a rallying cry in the art world’s reckoning with its own Weinsteins. Kruger, meanwhile, is headlining the performance-art fair Performa 17, and her pieces all seem designed to mimic Supreme. In addition to a Kruger “takeover” of a Lower East Side skatepark and a Kruger Soho pop-up shop (billed as a performance) with around-the-block lines and strict item limits, the MTA is releasing a limited-edition line of MetroCards printed with her provocative questions — a better version of a stunt Supreme pulled earlier this year.

So you can find me at one of the four subway stops said to have Kruger cards, waiting in line with all the other fangirls, trying all the machines, messing up your commute. You know what to do. Say to yourself — what a ridiculous clusterfuck of totally uncool jokers — and walk on by.

*The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Supreme sued Supreme Bitch. It has been corrected to show that they sued the makers, Married to the Mob.

I Think About When a Feminist Artist Dragged Supreme a Lot