Cart (0)
Sign up for Off the Grid and get the latest Nau news and special offers. X
The Though Kitchen - Dedicated to Stirring the Pot


Posted by admin | October 16th, 2006 | Filed under Design

Obey Retro Series
Growing up in San Diego I loved three things fiercely: reading, skateboarding and surfing. The last two were invariably done with my best friend Jim, in whose company all of my best ocean-bound moments occurred. Beyond the inevitable stacks of surf and skate magazines, my house was also awash in books about art, architecture and design. So it’s been with a certain mix of wonder, amusement and intellectual curiosity that I’ve watched the development of Shepard Fairey’s Obey grow into a multimedia force. I was in high school when their first generation stickers, with all the graphic appeal of a Kinkos clerk’s off-duty scribbling, first appeared, and I was always happy when I discovered one of the many evolutions in other cities across the country — especially when I was living in New York.

Obey is now a full-on design brand, but it’s never stopped thinking about its output as acts of social commentary, or as they state, propaganda. Fairey built an intellectual, self-aware brand from nothing more than a crude sketch of Andre the Giant, and the idea that the viewer, being asked to “Obey,â€? will somehow get the joke: what seems like an ad has no product behind it, and there is nothing to obey.

I love the simplified goal behind Fariey’s efforts: manufacturing quality dissent. By using the medium of street art, often equated with graffiti or vandalism, the Obey presence, once limited to stickers but now ranging into an entire clothing line, positions itself as an exercise in Phenomenology, with the aim of “reawakening a sense of wonder about one’s environment.â€? Where once there was an ad for nothing but an idea, there’s now a brand based on getting people to think about their surroundings.

4 Responses to “Obey”

  • October 17, 2006 at 2:56 pm | Sam Richardson says


    Checked out the obey site and thought about your comment on phenomenology. Had to look it up to make sure, but it ended up making me think about the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard a little bit, who I read in college. His ideas, which made it into the Matrix movies, were about simulation. He basically said that reality has disappeared from the modern world because the images and ideas we see today are only imperfect representations, or “simulacra”, of the past – like photocopies of photocopies. So, since we are so deluded today with these images and ideas, Baudrillard would say that true reality dissapears from our lives. I think Obey takes this idea further with Andre the Giant in that Obey is commenting on simulation through by toying an image which has no value beyond that which it creates for itself, whatever that may be. Perhaps this is Obey is trying to make people see in their surroundings – a world of confused reality. Cool stuff.

  • October 18, 2006 at 11:10 am | Otis says

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment Sam. I think your phrase “no value beyond that which it creates for itself” hits it on the head. Obey’s motto, “Manufacturing quality dissent”, gets at the idea that comsumer culture is the fastest, most direct vehicle for instigating thought and, ideally, change. Obey has gotten more political over the years, overtly calling for peace, education, and social justice, showing that you can blend commerce and working for change. I’m curious about how their clothes are made though…

    Thanks again for checking in. Send any ideas, thoughts, observations our way. We’d love to hear what you’re thinking about!


  • October 19, 2006 at 9:04 am | annoyed says

    Gee, what original content! How old is this story? Try harder guys …

  • October 19, 2006 at 12:06 pm | Otis says

    Ouch. Thanks for the nudge, I think. My point in highlighting Obey is not to say they’re new and revolutionary. He’s been doing his thing for over 15 years. But it’s increasingly relevant in a world saturated with brands, and belive it or not, some people may not have heard about it, and find it interesting. And that’s what we’re trying to do here: Call attention to the things we find interesting, the things we care about and the people behind them. What stories are you telling? What should we be trying harder to talk about? We’re all ears.


Make a Comment