Capitalism Works for Me Interactive Sign: Steve Lambert

Curator: Kelli Anderson
date: April 9, 2012
Categories: Experience Design, Typography
Tags: capitalism, politics, Steve Lambert

Steve Lambert has a sneaky way of getting people to talk about stuff that matters. Even those topics people absolutely positively don’t want to broach. In fact, some topics are so fundamentally polarizing that the only common ground may be the small island of apathy toward “talking” itself. But, common faux pas notwithstanding, can’t we all agree that some stuff is just simply too important to “agree to disagree” about?

In something of a social magic trick, Steve’s work inspires human-scale conversation about insurmountable-scale topics, drawing people into the fold through sheer spectacle. Combining blinking lights, rust belt–style sign painter typography and a hacked basketball scoreboard from eBay, Steve’s Capitalism Works for Me is a rolling political icebreaker. He sets the tone for sane conversation with his customary candor, honest curiosity and an array of settle-in/stay-a-while lawn chairs.

It works like this: Steve’s sign rolls into towns and passersby vote whether they think that the sign’s assertion is TRUE or FALSE via a box on an adjacent podium. (There is a timer on the box to discourage score tampering by the ideological and lazy.)

Steve elaborates:

I’m excited that this piece takes on what for most Americans is a taboo, or even nonexistent subject: whether global, hegemonic capitalism actually works for most people. But whew, talking about that is boring! And telling people what to think is worse! This sign gets passersby to participate in a deceptively simple vote (True/ False) which only pretends to offer resolution. Every aspect of the interaction draws them in to more complex questions and conversations, leading to new thoughts and ideas about a better world!”

And if you’re slightly socially awkward in initiating conversation (like your humble narrator here), you might benefit from Steve’s handy-dandy instructions on How to Talk With Anyone. I’m unsure whether Capitalism Works for Me is art or design or talking-therapy-on-the-scale-of-a-small-town, but it is undeniably wonderful.

Spectacle may be the most palatable way to bring people together around an issue that they normally don’t wish to discuss. (And that is fine—there are oodles of lightbulbs in the world.) But implicit in Steve’s work is some bigger belief that he is testing out: If we can all just get together and talk, can’t we find some common ground (and maybe even fix some stuff??)? That’s, like, the foundation of democratic society, after all…

(And, would you just look at those rounded As!? Holy smokes!)

  • Joseph Alessio

    Great idea! I love interactive pieces of media like this, I wish there were more opportunities to do things like that.

    My take on the issue: I always wondered why the majority of designers are anti-capitalism; doing what you want to do is a benefit of the free market, in which entrepreneurs can come up with an idea or people can pick their dream job and make it successful. In a socialist/communist government we’d eventually come to the point where 1) we would be assigned a career rather than choosing one and 2) designers would be either looked upon as unnecessary or they would be limited to a few people.

  • Guest

    Update! NPR in Boston just did a nice story on this piece:

    @google-bf74d56d6c6c61c72146e2ac57a74686:disqus Good, I mean: a main aspect of the piece is to pry opinions out of people and get them to re-examine their preconceived notions about capitalism. However, if you’re implying that merely talking about capitalism is hostile/anti-capitalist, you imply that capitalism won’t stand up to scrutiny in discussion (and essentially do the bidding of the other side. :) )

  • Joseph Alessio

    @f0e365333fe90098f74224a7558f9d15:disqus You’re absolutely right; by no means should an issue be set aside for fear of hearing opinions that differ from one’s own. Discussion is always good, if it’s intelligent and open-minded.

    It seems to me that the “preconceived notions” are more often against capitalism than for it, however, since that’s been the general drift of the arts community, and I can’t help but wonder why, since without the free market mentality the arts community would cease to exist (everyone would be assigned to more “practical” tasks except perhaps a privileged few).

    That being said, I’d love to hear your opinion on the matter also!

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