Generic Perfomance

John Malpede

197 E. 7th Street #4

New York, New York 10009

Johnny (the host):

I’m glad to see you here tonight, I’m glad to see you’ve purchased the generic product. It’s a good move, a smart move, in times like these; hard times, times of diminishing expectations, times where they’re talking about putting a tax on unemployment. Well, according to our president this is not because times are bad, but, because are too good, too kushy. So that, people in places like Buffalo, Gary, Indian, and right here in New York, are just sitting back, relaxing and luxuriating on their unemployment benefits. And, according to our President. This is why unemployment is double digit. –This and the fact that there are so many women in the job market.

But, I think, these are hard times, increasingly hard times, times that make the move to generics a smart move, as I’ve said. After all, these days who can afford to go for hype, for packaging, for advertising, for image, when you could go for…what? Uh…substance? Nutritional value? Just plain calories.

And since you only go to so many performances a year, you want to be selective. And, now more than ever, you want to make sure when you do go, that you get from it what you want out of going to a performance. You want to make sure that your expectations are fulfilled. And, you don’t want to be disappointed.

Well, the Generic Performance is a hedge against disappointment, because the generic performance is backed by the No Frills Promise: “…to provide a good, basic performance at an affordable price.” And this I pledge to do for you tonight. I promise to do a good performance

--now, if its great, inspired, or meaningful, well, so much the better. But, the important thing is that you can sit back and relax, confident that you will be getting a good performance. So, you won’t have to worry about leaving when this is over feeling like a schmuck.

Also, tonight’s performance will be basic. And by this I mean, all of the essential ingredients of performance will be there in tonight’s performance. No frills, but all the essentials. Well, I’m not going to get undressed and redress on stage. Which isn’t to say that I don’t feel the very basic, visceral pull of this activity upon the performance artist: The desire for self-exposure, and the public recreation of oneself through the art making. This is all very basic, and as I say, I’m not immune to its visceral pull. And those of you who have seen me perform before probably know how much I love to do this – in fact, you’ve probably seen me do this. Anyway, I’m not going to get undressed and redress here tonight. I just don’t feel like it – maybe I’m getting too old, I don’t know. Anyway, I’m not going to.

Also, you see this contraption back here? Well, I was going to sit back there and have you throw baseballs at the target, and if you hit it, my seat would collapse and I’d fall into a tub of water. And this idea also exerts a strong pull on my performance instincts, and is full of performance association – like to those seminal performance artists who used to shoot, bit, and masturbate themselves. But, also, did you ever see Steve Allen jump into a vat of jello? Ya. He had a show, “The Steve Allen Show”, with a “Tonight Show” format, on opposite the “Tonight Show”, when Jack Paar was the host. Actually, Steve was the original host of the Tonight Show, but then he stepped down and was replaced by Jack Paar. Paar became enormously successful, and then Steve decided to get back into it, with his own show in direct competition to Paar and Tonight. It was a hot competition. After all these guys were both great – we’re not talking about Merv, Le Crane, or Joey Bishop. So, it was a fierce competition as these two talented hosts tried to best one another for audience share. And one night Steve announced that following night he was going to jump into a five foot high vat of jello. So, the next night I didn’t do any dial switching, I just sat watching Steve, and sure enough he jumped into a five foot vat of jello. It was very anti-climactic.

Anyway, this business with the apparatus back here reminded me of that too, and as I said it seemed redolent with performance associations. But, as it got closer and closer to this evening, I got more and more reluctant to do it. There was something about it that bothered me, and finally I was able to put my finger on it. There was something demeaning about sitting back there, and I just wasn’t going to do it. Nope, I’m just not going to do it! But, there’s still something fascinating about the idea, something that appealed to my performance instincts. So what I did do was hire someone who was willing to do it. And as it turns out this is even better, because the guy that I got is the real McCoy. This guy actually makes his living doing this at Coney Island in the Summer. So, he will be with us later on in the show, and you’ll have an opportunity to throw baseballs at him.

Also joining us later in the show will be The Professor. The professor, the great man, will be here with us to discuss the psychological roots and implications of generic products, as well as, his new book, Packaging and Self-Esteem. Those of you who have seen the professor on the show before, know what a stimulating and intense intellect and person he is. And when I asked him to be on the show tonight, he said he would be happy to – on the condition that I prepared you for his visit by giving you a quiz. I couldn’t say no to the professor. But, now that I’m in front of you, I feel funny about making a big deal out of it. So, you don’t have to raise your hands, O.K., here’s the quiz:

1. Which generic brand is your favorite?

A. Basics

B. Black and White

C. Wholesome Food Products

D. Acme

E. None of the above

2. It is better to have no self-esteem than low self-esteem. True or False?

3. What percentage of the populations are complainers?

A. 80%

B. 55%

C. 32%

D. 10%

E. All of the above

4. If someone tells you that they, themselves are; no good, worthless, miserable, or full of shit, believe them or don’t believe them?

5. They ought to know. True or False?

So, I don’t know what all this means either, but when the professor arrives, I’m sure he’ll have plenty to say to make this all clear.

And when the professor gets here, we’ll be talking about product and design and looking at actual packages – thereby fulfilling our desire to have objects manipulated in performance. Actually, let’s play an object manipulation game right no. Here are the objects: a croissant, a gun (a toy, but, realistic-looking gun), and an emphatic hand gesture. Have you seen that store in SOHO, on the corner of West Broadway and Broome, that sells designer bulletproof clothing? In fact, it’s called “Bulletproof: John Jolcin, Protective Fashion”. I was talking to the owner, I asked, “John, how’s business?” He said, “It’s great!” I said, “Well who’s buying?” He said, “Everyone.”

Anyway here we have:

A croissant posing as a gun.

A gun posing a croissant.

An emphatic hand gesture.

An emphatic hand gesture posing as a gun.

A croissant as Pac-man.

O.K. enough object manipulation for now. I’ve just gotten the signal that the professor is here. So, I’m going to invite him out to share his insights on the generic phenomenon. So, give a big welcome to The Professor. (J.M. claps; looks to wings. His eyes follow the approach of the imagined professor. Johnny shakes Professor’s hand.) Welcome Professor. How are you? Have a seat. (J.M. gestures to the “guest chair”. He becomes the Professor, takes the seat and begins to talk). Johnny, where you’re driving in New York and you’re stopped at a light, what’s the first thing that happens to you when the light changes from red to green? The guy behind you honks. Am I right? The light hasn’t even changed color yet, but he’s honking. It happens at every light. Every light! It’s annoying, irritating, infuriating. But, here’s something even more infuriating. I was driving up Church St. by the World Trade Center around six this evening. Now that was exhilarating driving! After all, anyone driving up Church at that hour is either a seasoned, savvy driver or a naïve fool. Johnny, have you seen Paul Newman’s seat belt commercial for the Nissan Motor Company? Well Paul Newman is buckling up in the cockpit of his racing car and he turns to the camera and says, “It’s a lot more dangerous driving out there on the streets than it is here at the track, because here the drivers are professionals so that you can anticipate what they’re going to do.” Now Johnny, I swear, I felt that I was having Paul Newman’s experience as I was driving up Church. Everyone was so predictably aggressive, so intent upon getting there, that is was as if they were driving in unison!

Then, I pulled up behind this Japanese guy at a light. And when the light changed he lt three cabs from the right lane cut in front of us. You see the right lane was double parked on the next block. Now, the one thing you want to do in that situation is get our grom the light before those cabs cut you out. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, a guy in a parked truck on the left hand side of the road, having sensed who he was dealing with, held out his hand in a “stop” gesture as his partner drove out from the curb! And sure enough, the Japanese guy let him get away with it! I don’t know where this Japanese guy was from – probably Connecticut, or ex-urban Jersey – the Delaware watergap, but, wherever it was, it was somewhere where they operate under a completely different system of driving. Down in the Delaware Watergap, I suppose it’s considered “nice” and “courteous” to allow parked eighteen-wheelers to enter the stream of traffic. But here, it had a negative impact upon the entire flow of traffic! If the Japanese guy had just stepped on it when the light changed, blocking the others out, that would have been better for everyone, -- for the “commonwealth”.

Johnny, did they take my quiz? Good, now take this one. I’m going to be making statements, propositions, and I’ll be giving you an opportunity to raise your hand if you agree or if you disagree with the statement. Now, what I wasn’t here is the gut reactions. No thinking here! O.K., question 21 – This is taken from my new book, Packaging and Self-Esteem, and I’m just going to leap into the middle of the quiz.

21. If I strongly believe I deserve something, I have reason to expect that I should get it.

(Professor repeats question, then raises hand.) Agree. No thinking! (raises other hand), Those who disagree.

22. It is necessary to become frustrated if you find obstacles to getting what you want. Agree? Disagree?

23. If I put other people’s needs before my own, they should help me when I need something from them. Agree? Disagree?

24. If I am a good husband or wife, then my spouse is bound to love me. Those who agree? And disagree?

25. If I do nice things for someone, I can anticipate that they will respect me and treat me just as well as I treat them. Agree? Disagree?

Now, a negative score indicates that you feel entitled to things: success, love, happiness.

If you answered, “Yes, I agree”, to any of the propositions, that constitutes a negative answer. A preponderance of negative answers constitutes a negative score. A positive score, on the other hand, suggests you don’t feel automatically entitled to things. You experience a negative outcome as a disappointment, but not a tragedy, because you are a percentage player. You don’t expect justice. You have a high frustration tolerance. As a result you often end up ahead of the pack.

Now, Johnny, I have two things to say with regard to generic products. I’ll engage the subject by posing the following question, possibly the most profound question I’ve posed today. And I’ll answer it myself: Why are there no generic home video games? There’s Atari, Intellivision, Activision, Collecovision, Suprema-vision and so forth, but no generic home video games on the market. Why is this? Well, those of you who are familiar with these games know that none of the provides, delivers a truly satisfying video game experience. At this stage in their development, none of them offers the full-bodied satisfaction that can be found at the arcade. None of them have all the characteristics needed to provide complete satisfaction. Now, on the other hand, we have Black and White generic cola. Probably if you were to close your eyes and get a picture of a generic cola, it would look like this can. And the Black and White product does, I can assure you, provide a very satisfying cola experience. But then, here we have Basics Cola, and it promises to be, “Rich and flavorful at an affordable price.” And, indeed, it delivers, it makes good on its promise, I assure you. And here we have NO Frills Cola, and it too provides a satisfying cola experience.

What are we to conclude from this? What we can conclude is that once all the elements are gathered for a truly successful generic product, there is irresistible movement for the product to re-emerge as brands. After all, when you package something you make a statement about it. You can’t deny that anymore than you can avoid going through life with a self-image – good or bad. We all want to put our best foot forward, but, we don’t always or all know how to do it. Given the dialectical relationship between how we present ourselves and how we feel about ourselves, is important to get headed in the right direction. Otherwise we leave ourselves open to devastating tail-spins and descending spirals.

Johnny, I don’t feel I can go any further into these matters without the background provided by my book. (To audience) If you feel that this sort of information would be helpful to your personal development, then I urge you to buy my new book, Packaging and Self-Esteem. Johnny, thank you. (Prof. gets up to leave, extends hand to Johnny. J.M. becomes Johnny). Well, thank you professor. As always, it’s been a great pleasure, and I’m sure many from our audience will be buying Packaging and Self-Esteem. Thank You Professor. (Johnny claps as professor “exits”). O.K. So, I said, I was going to go back and sit on that seat, and have you throw baseballs but instead I decided to hire someone. So now, let’s meet our next guest, Chicky, come on out. (Johnny leads audience in clapping. Nothing happens.) Uh, Chicky (Johnny calls loudly and initiates more clapping. Again, nothing). Oh, oh. I gave this guy five bucks before the show. I have a feeling he spent it on Wild Turkey. I’d better go back-stage and see what happened to him. (Johnny starts to exit, turns back to audience and says: ) We’ll just have to consider this the mandatory technical miss-cue in a generic performance. I’ll be right back. (Johnny exists).

(Music – “Eye to Eye Contact”)

(J.M. re-enters as Chicky)


Hey, how ya’ doin’? Chicky. I been around. I played amusement parks, state fairs, county fairs, you name it. This, this here is nothin’ new to me. I done stuff like this plenty a times. Plenty a times. I played a world’s fair exposition one time. Stuff like this, plenty a times. This here, this is a piece a cake. Ya, a piece of cake. You know, you can think yourself into anything. One time I was drunk and disorderly. I got kicked out of the beer tent, landed on the stoop. I’m cursin’ out the management, but real thoughtfully. “They ain’t nothin’ but a lot a shit and scum…and piss…and doit!” You could think yourself into anything.

So, I heard Johnny sayin’ backstage that someone out here was angry. Uh oh! Oooo! Is everybody angry? Is everybody angry? Who’s angry? Who’s angry? So who is angry? Are you angry? Are you angry? (Pointing directly at an audience member) Are you? Hey, come on, -- I don’t mean no insinuendo or nothin’, I’m curious that’s all. Come on. Would anyone please tell me what they’re angry about? O.K. Did that hurt? O.K. Anybody else? O.K., O.K. Ya. Thank you.

Johnny didn’t tell you that Chicky was angry did he? Hu, did he? Hey, no way. Not me, uh-uh. Not me. Get out of here. I’m not angry. Not me. What has Chicky got to be angry about? Hu? Uh-uh, not me. I’m not angry. I’m not angry. Nah. Uh-uh. I’m not angry. I’ve got a gun. (Points finger – gun like – at audience.)

I’m kidding you. I’m not angry. Not Chicky. I’m in the entertainment business, the amusement business. You know with the people. So I’m not angry. Here’s what I do. Sink A Sucker, Dunk A Dope, Dunk A Dope Sink A Sucker. That’s my business. That’s my business name. So let’s get down to business, my business. What we’re here for. What I’m bein’ paid for. I’m going to go back here and sit on the high seat over the tub of water. You step up to the white line, hit the target with the baseball, and boom. I get dunked. Into the water I go. I take a bath.

You know this game? You seen it before? It’s my business. I own it. Chicky, me, Chicky. Since I been in town I seen these signs, on the subways, the buses, for Fortune magazine. “Fortune: How to Succeed.” You know them? You don’t know them! Oh man! “The nice thing is you don’t have to hide your ambition anymore. If you’ve got it, go get it. That’s what society’s telling you these days.” You didn’t know that? “If you got it, go get it.” Beautiful, hu? Beautiful.

So this game of mine should be fun. It is fun. But, I’ve seen it done by some amateurs where it isn’t so fun. I was visiting relatives in Genessee, New York. We went to a volunteer Fire Department chicken barb-a-que. These big farm boys, Joe Namath types, moustaches, -- they looked like New York City police – they’re standin’ there throwin’ the baseballs, drinkin’ the beers. (Chicky illustrates by becoming one of the guys):

“Here no, here I go. All right now. I’m gonna get me one. Yes sir. I’m hot. Well you know it. Well I guess so. Gimme that ball, God damn it. Hold this beer. Here I go. All right now, here I go. (He throws ball at target). All right now, doggies! (or if he misses) I’ll get me the next one!

(Chicky becomes Chicky again). And you know what they were throwin’ at? Hu? Nothin’ but these scared and shivering 15, 16, 14 year old girls in tee shirts. There were sittin’ there like this. (Chicky goes back and seats himself on the apparatus and plays a young, scared, shivering girl). Like this! They could a cried. It was pathetic – I’m tellin’ you.

(“Eye To Eye Contact” music comes up again. Quietly. He talks over it.) It was pathetic – real pathetic. These macho met getting their rocks off and these girls like babies, -- like scared little lambs in heaven. What did they know from dunking? And you know what was bad, what was ugly, what I might have known? I never seen that target hit so many times. Those farms boys were hot. It shouldn’t be that way. It figures. It figures, but it shouldn’t be that way. No. It should be fun. It is fu.

(Chicky starts to loosen up on seat, i.e., to have fun. Song ends. D.J., Frankie Crocker comes on).

Frankie Crocker (on tape): “Friday’s here. Eagle flew. Ya, my pocket’s bulging about an extra inch in the back. Hope yours is too. Spend you money wisely folks. It’s hard times in this great country of ours. You go around like me get, uh, certain things that might not be totally necessary, you find yourself like me again on Thursday: broke. ‘Any Time is Right’. Archie Bell.” (Fade music).

(Chicky has gone from ‘getting loose’ to paying attention to the D.J.’s rap). Chicky: I don’t know about you, but when I’m nervous about money, I’m really nervous. I tend to mutilate myself. Cut myself up physically. (He holds up his hands). I was born with ten fingers on each hand, and now look at me. Hu, I’m kiddin’ you again. But, I fell off a ladder one time, working for a roofing company. Broke my arm, but myself up. It could have been worse too. How’d it happen? Why? Because I was broke, that’s why. If I hadn’t been broke, I wouldn’t a been there in the first place. I was more than broke. I had a car accident I had to pay off. I’d done about $500 worth a damage on my car, and $500 damage to the other guy’s car. And I didn’t have no insurance. My insurance had been dropped because I was broke and couldn’t pay it in the first place. Just when I fell, I was cursin’ the bosses to myself because I knew those weren’t no safe working conditions. Ya, I knew that! I was bettin’ I’d get what I needed before something happened to me. I lost that bet. Ended up a guy with a broken arm, who couldn’t work, who owed on a car accident. What happened? Oh my! How did I get out of it? I placed more bets with the higher odds, until I won one. I told you – I got a gun. I’m kiddin’ you again. Look I’m here, so you know I got out O.K. I won one. That’s all. I won one.

Next thing that happened, I got a concussion doing demolition. This time it knocked some sense into me. I said to myself, “Chicky, you’re not gonna be broke again. You’re not going to be broke – no matter what.” That’s my gun. Ya see? That’s when I got a gun. And now look at me. I got my own business. And don’t think that comes easy. I got money. I said, “That’s it.” And that was it.

It is hard times here. It is hard times. I was watching the news about the automobile workers. They were talking about going out on strike. And the reporter was asking them, “The car industry is in bad shape. You got a job. You’re making $20,000 a year. Unemployment’s the highest its been since the depression. Why do you want to go out on strike? Isn’t it irrational? Self-destructive?” And the automobile worker, he’s mad, he says, “What good is making twenty thousand when they’re going to take my house away from me anyway?” See? Hard times. And what about that guy John Z. DeLorean going down like that? Don’t tell me that guy was desperate. Ya, he was desperate. But, don’t tell me he was desparate. I’ll tell you what. He was dangerous. WARNING: Being broke is dangerous to your health. And yours. And yours.

The economy hasn’t hurt my business. You know what they say how in hard times people want to forget about it, they want to have some fun. The more they want to forget, the more fun they want to have. And you know what? The broker you are the better it makes you feel to sink a sucker, dunk a dope. If you’re broke you’re dumb. You can’t take care of your own self. You’re bad. You feel like you deserve any bad thing that happens to you. And it’ll happen too. You know why? Because you’re broke, stupid.

So what about it? Let’s have some fun, ha? Who’s gonna step up to the white line, hit the target with the baseball, and sink this sucker? Dunk this dope? Come on. Let’s have some fun. Let’s give everyone some fun.

(An audience member is recruited to throw the baseballs.)

What about it? Who’s gonna sink Chicky anyway? Oh. O.K., O.K. Here we go. Here’s the guy. Yes, sir. Step right up, mister. Just a second. (To audience) What do you think about this guy? Do you think he got it? Or do you think he don’t got it? Personally I don’t think he got it. We’ll see. Let’s go hot shot. And listen, you throw those baseballs at the target. You don’t throw them at me. You understand? You don’t throw them at me. That’s why I’ve got the bat back here. (He laughs.) I’m kidding. I’m kidding you.

(The volunteer throws the five baseballs. Even if the target is hit, the seat does not fall. Chicky does not get dunked. The seat is springloaded. Chicky’s weight defeats the spring so that where the mechanism works when Chicky demonstrates it to the audience, it cannot work when he is seated on it.)

O.K. O.K. You gotta throw harder. I’ll give you one tip. You go down to the drug store. You ask the druggest for some Mal-Po-Tane. “The male potency vitamin.” Maybe it’ll put some oomph behind your throw. Are you married? Well maybe it’ll help you get married. O.K. Thank you. (Clapping). Thank you very much.

(To audience) What did I tell you? He didn’t have it. He didn’t have it. Look, don’t think I don’t know when I’m going down. I know it before you do. At least I know I’m going down sometime. And I can sense when that is. Ya. And then as I’m going down it’s all before me. I can see it all. You know what it’s like? It’s like a car crash. You ever been in a car crash? I told you I been in a car crash. There’s a time from when you step on the brakes and you’re just sliding in slow motion into the other guy and you know you’re having a car crash and you know there’s nothing you can do about it. But, it don’t seem like there’s nothing you can do about it because you know before it happens that you’re having a car crash. This is llike that. But there’s no crash. There’s splash. I feel like god is looking over my own dunking.

You know what they say about how your whole life flashes before you eyes when you’re gonna die? I understand that. You’re whole life flashes before your eyes when you’re gonna die. You know you’re gonna die, you look out at the whole thing. Look, you know you’re gonna die now, right? How many people here know they’re gonna die? Ya. How many people really believe that? You’re gonna die. I’m gonna die. Everybody’s gonna die. At the moment of death, so they say, everything flashes before your eyes. You see your life from the birth all the way up thru everything you’ve done. All the way up and you say ya. Uuuuuuh. (With voice and eyes he follows an imaginary something fall lazily, like a leaf, to rest on the floor.) Ya! And then you die. You don’t believe me? Get yourself a gun.

O.K. I’m gonna go. I’ve gotta go. It’s been fun. You come see me at Coney Island. We’ll have more fun. See ya. Chicky.


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ARTFORUM PG 1 & 2..pdf