The Finger

July 01, 1999

by Rick Barrs 07/01/99

OBEY the Giant! Huh?
Was The Finger dreaming? This digit stopped by Oki Dog at Willoughby and Fairfax on a recent weekend to grab some post-2 a.m. grub and ease the effect of all the Jack Daniels it had imbibed. Standing on the corner, waiting for its weiner, it looked toward Santa Monica, and there was none other than the face of deceased World Wrestling Federation champion Andre the Giant staring down from a black billboard. The word “OBEY” was spelled out in white above his juglike puss. This digit sniffed the pungent aroma of chili and onions to clear its brain fog and looked again. Suddenly, it came to The Finger why this seemed strange: A Sprite advertisement had been in the same spot a few nights earlier. And only the OBEY, as in “OBEY YOUR THIRST!” remained. Then, as this digit headed east on Sunset, there was the countenance of Andre Roussimoff again (in the 4200 block of the street). And atop the image: OBEY.

The next day, The Finger found out that poster artist Shepard Fairey had been at work. He has brought his guerrilla campaign to make Andre’s killer kisser ubiquitous in North America to the City of Angels. Somebody stop him, or he plans to plunder billboard images all over town and put up the picture of Andre.

Why did he come here? ‘Cause the Coca Cola Company’s recent placement of hundreds of black billboards advertising Sprite was just too tempting a target. “[The ad campaign’s] already using the word OBEY, and my whole campaign’s designed to parody advertising,” says Fairey. “Also, there’s a black background with white type and a green Sprite bottle. Covering them is pretty easy.”

Fairey operates without a ladder, shimmying up drainpipes with material in tow. But doesn’t he worry about getting busted by the cops? “I don’t think I’m going to get caught,” he says. “I have to have that mind-set because the consequences are pretty daunting.” It costs $5,800 a month in some locations to rent a billboard, and Farley could be forced to pay for his mischief. “Then there’s the whole going-to-jail thing,” he muses.

But, he goes on to say, “[The police] never read this kind of stuff. It’s not like they’re TV show detectives who are pretty savvy.” Ever since Andy Warhol and that damn soup can, The Finger’s given up on trying to understand what’s in the heads of artists, but it had to ask: “Shep, what’s the freakin’ point here?!”

Explains Fairey: “The whole idea is elevating something absurd to the level that it’s going head-to-head with corporate America. It brings into question the fact that you’re bludgeoned with imagery day after day trying to get you to buy something. What I’m doing is getting a dialogue going. To subvert one of those huge billboards that they pay a lot of money for is like taking the power back.” Uh-huh.

It’ll probably make more sense the next time The Finger’s at Oki Dog after 2 a.m.