Sunday, January 31, 2016

What's in a name?

Every now and again, the ishotkatemoss.com project hits marketing and publicity snags when people advertise our name and the project with capital letters. We are quick to correct them and often are met with questioning, repeated misstatement or mere confusion.

A promotion to the panel at The National Arts Club in NYC
The most recent example was our participation in a panel on Public Art, in which the press release initially indicated the involvement of the “I Shot Kate Moss” project.

The curator and moderator where both wonderful in adapting and understanding but it brought forward a long held idea that writing about the project name, and the rationale behind not capitalizing, was in itself an important topic.

The decision not to capitalize seemed to come quickly and naturally upon the project’s inception. Even though it is the idea we are constantly being sold, Kate Moss (contrary to what we are being sold) is not an object and therefore we have no desire to objectify her.

Grammatical Rules include: Capitalize Product Names and Objects - “Actual product names and brands and other objects of distinction are capitalized.”
Kate Moss inscribed a book entitled 'kate' to a Kate

Kate Moss, the person, is not the topic of our project. We look towards her as a metaphor, as an image, a changeling, a chameleon that is then interpreted and misinterpreted. “kate moss” means that we were exploring an idea not a person, not an object, not a business name, not a title, not a product, and not a defined brand. The construct, for our purposes, is “kate moss”. 

So once this was determined, and as we stated to the world that we had shot her, and asked others to do the same, what benefit was there in defining the person doing the exploration and shooting as “I”? It is not about me. It is not about you, as the participant, observer or reader. The themes we are exploring are universal and, as such, we determined the “I” should not be the definitive first person pronoun … did you know that English is the only language that actually capitalizes the personal pronoun? (Think of “je” in French, “ich” in German, “yo” in Spanish, and of course “ego” in Latin). This is also why “we” always try to write from the perspective of more than one person on this blog.

So, we came to “i shot kate moss” … now if the computer would just stop auto-correcting the “i” to “I” it would be greatly appreciated!

What has been interesting is that, as we explored our own rationale, we thought through other instances that we have found non-capitalization and attempted to understand the reasoning.

In today’s society, the impact of the digital age is profound and in a funny way it is irrelevant whether urls and hashtags are capitalized … furthermore, imagine writing an email or comment onto a web site solely in CAPS LOCK and think of the change in the interpretation of tone …

But rather than worrying about the implication of today’s digital media, let's look towards the implication of conscious decisions around not capitalizing names as there are a few notable cases of people who have brought this question to our attention:

e e cummings seemed to be the first that came to mind, however, wikipidea tells us that this is a red herring: Cummings's publishers and others have sometimes echoed the unconventional orthography in his poetry by writing his name in lowercase and without periods (full stops), but normal orthography (uppercase and full stops) is supported by scholarship and preferred by publishers today. Cummings himself used both the lowercase and capitalized versions, though he most often signed his name with capitals.
The use of lowercase for his initials was popularized in part by the title of some books, particularly in the 1960s, printing his name in lower case on the cover and spine. In the preface to E. E. Cummings: The Growth of a Writer by Norman Friedman, critic Harry T. Moore notes, "He [Cummings] had his name put legally into lower case, and in his later books the titles and his name were always in lower case." According to Cummings's widow, however, this is incorrect. She wrote to Friedman: "You should not have allowed H. Moore to make such a stupid & childish statement about Cummings & his signature.
So goodbye “e e” and hello “E. E.”

Two other prominent names come to mind: k.d.lang and bell hooks.

The internet, in all of its wisdom offers some answers as to ‘why?’ these two revered people choose this path, highlighting the effort to “subvert grammar prescriptivism” and that … capitalizing certain letters unfairly privileges those letters at the expense of other letters, thus perpetuating the hierarchical and oppressive nature of written language that the entire patriarchy is built upon.

While we could find little about k.d.lang’s decision, bell hooks’ position has great depth and meaning:
From blackpast: “Gloria (Jean) Watkins attended racially segregated public schools in Hopkinsville (Kentucky) as a child.  She performed poetry readings for her church community and was heavily influenced by her great-grandmother, Bell Hooks, who was known for her sharp opinions. As a writer, she chose the pseudonym, bell hooks, in tribute to her mother and great-grandmother. She decided not to capitalize her new name to place focus on her work rather than her name, on her ideas rather than her personality.

A still from Beyoncé's Partition
bell hooks recently came to further prominence when in May, 2014 she labeled Beyoncé a ‘terrorist’ for how she chooses to appear in her music videos – illuminating, according to NewStatesman as “one of the thorniest debates in feminism”:
 
hooks made the terrorist remark during a discussion entitled "Are You Still A Slave?" at New York’s New School, after fellow panellist Janet Mock talked about feeling inspired by Beyoncé’s video ‘Partition’. “It was freeing to have Beyoncé showing her ass, owning her body and claiming that space”, said Mock. But hooks disagreed: “I see a part of Beyoncé that is, in fact, anti-feminist, that is assaulting, that is a terrorist . . . especially in terms of the impact on young girls.” She continued: “I actually feel like the major assault on feminism in our society has come from visual media and from television and videos.

Sound like a familiar topic? Can we think of someone whose image is widely circulated and used in visual media that many may deem a ‘major assault on feminism?
There is far more to this than we are able to explore, particularly in the context of names, so we will leave it to Claire Hynes, and her interesting article Is bell hooks right to call Beyoncé a terrorist?

However, this controversy does bring us back to a question of objectification. And specifically, whether the way someone represents their name impacts our views.

dana michele boyd is a scholar who has also written extensively regarding her decision to not capitalize. She (or should we say ‘she?) discusses a number of topics including the politics of capitalization. But of most interest to us was when she asked herself the question What's in a name?: Isn't a name simply another unique adjective for me? A label? I am not my name; my name is simply another descriptor of me. Should i weight that descriptor as anything more valuable than the other adjectives used to describe me? Obviously, i care about my name - i've gone out of my way to change it too many times to suggest otherwise. But do i believe that capitalization shows the appropriate value?” 
A still from Michael Sharp's 'I AM KATE MOSS'
Screenshot of Matías Velásquez's contact

But what about Kate Moss? What about other people named “Kate Moss”?

What about the utilization of the moniker “Kate Moss” and the circulation and interpretation of those letters written “K-A-T-E_M-O-S-S”?

How does that idea of a name change when it is written into a star in a pavement, used on a number plate, tattooed onto your thigh or graffiti-ed into a corner where people urinate?
Found instagram photos from: @viniciusdota, @toooldtoskatepunx, @llcoolljm and @j_mather
Now, while I do think the lack of capitals in our title is important, we do come at it with a sense of humor and are no way arguing against the use of capitals within our language … so we leave the last word to “shiftless”, who on the Straight Dope Message Board, “In My Humble Opinion (IMHO)” topic titled “When people insist on using lower-case letters for their names. . .” wrote:
  
Capitalization is not an arbitrary rule, it is there to help understanding. The classic example: "I had to help my uncle Jack off his horse. Those who insist they are not subject to conventional capitalization rules are looking for an attention-grabbing hook. Good for them. I'm happy they have a nice, safe outlet for their artistic spirit. They can color outside the lines and claim the lines are trying to control them too. My artistic spirit tells me to write other people's names however the hell I feel like, even capitalizing against their wishes. I'm just wild and crazy that way!

So, if you want to promote this project, write it however the hell you want! Go crazy!

observe. slow down. help jack off. shoot. submit.

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