This design misstep will make you think twice about buying business cards

moo cards sad placesI’ve reached the point, apparently, where people* in certain (microscopic) segments of the DC theater community expect me to carry an arts-specific business card.  It’s not that they’re unimpressed with my daytime business card (where “Project Manager” trails after my name), they** say.  No.  It’s just that, well, they’d take me a little more seriously as an artist if I passed around little pieces of paper stock featuring my headshot and other vital information.  Like all actors do.

The first time someone*** asked for my business card, I appropriated a cocktail napkin and wrote down only the most essential personal data, my name and email address (a woefully gangsta popmail address at that!), before placing the napkin down on the bar.  But I put it down in an invisible pool of some sort and the ink almost immediately drained away from my pen strokes, dissolving my contact info as if reflecting a cosmic judgment on my theater career.  I resolved then to scrounge up something more professional.

But of course I didn’t.  I mean, I hadn’t had a business card for the arts in five years easing my way into the DC scene, so why did I need one now?  Who cares what some people**** think?  I still wear the same Birkenstocks from college, for Chrissakes.  My possessions are on a need-to-own basis only.  Months went by, I got new gigs through my existing contacts, and all was well, theatrically speaking.

Until, of course, I ran into those same people***** and they asked again for my business card.  Surely five months time would have been enough to design and print pocket-sized testaments to my aspirations: Writer, Storyteller, Actor.  And yet… “When are you going to get it together?  I really expect to see more of you, you know – up there!”  They were pointing to a vapor stage at the end of their index finger.  So I passed along half of another cocktail napkin, this time directly into their hand; there would be no unfortunate lesson in materials science this time!  On the other half they wrote down their contact info, which they crimped between their fingertips.  “We don’t feel like searching for our cards right now.”  They handed me a flimsy piece of paper as punishment for being unprofessional.

Matt Spitz, Moustache Brewery

I was consumed by the shame of my recidivism, so I went to(o?) moo.com (on the recommendation of my cousins, the fledgling bier meisters at Moustache Brewing) straightaway…. er, within weeks and perused its vaunted offerings.  How happy was I to discover the hundreds of pre-fab templates in its catalog, with their emphasis on freelance professions that cater to the moneyed class.  Real estate agents!  Dog Walkers!  Plumbers!  Even ACTORS.  My fans****** were right to prompt me forward!  I quickly selected three or four favorites and felt, as if for the first time, that I was a bonafide thespian!  “With hell’s heart, I stab at thee!”

But my joy abated quickly when I saw a photo of a yellow earthscape with saggy manufactured homes.  What was this melancholia?  When I clicked through, there were other images, of shuttered businesses and faded ’80s-era Ford Broncos, all depicting this or that wasteland created (perhaps) by the trickle down economy.  I scratched my hair, gently, so as not to accelerate what my PCP calls “irreversible” hair loss.  And when I scrolled back to the top of the screen, I saw the title Moo had decided to grant this wilting assemblage:  Sad Places.

It seemed a little off-key for our mindlessly cheerleading age, so I opened an adjacent link to learn “more” about the design.  Here’s what Moo had to say:

“How can hoplessness (sic) and lethargy be so compelling? This series of cards blends a selection of depressing locations with stunningly beautiful photography. The result is a totally unique, collectable set of cards that are truly remarkable to look at, as well as making you think.”

What’s more, the design is part of Moo’s Luxe Project (as in blingy de-luxe biznez cards, yo!), which means 100% of the net proceeds go to the designer’s favorite charity.  In this case, that charity is The Art Center College of Design Scholarship fund.  Which got me thinking (though perhaps not in the way Moo intended)…  What if Moo, in a sequel to this very special charitable fundraiser, released an entirely new pack of cards called – wait for it – SAD PLACES 2!?!?  The subjects, instead of abandoned small towns and disused bric-a-brac from decades past, could be the lofts and warehouse spaces belonging to starving artists.  Or some shared housing hovel.  This follow-up would not only extend the Sad Places brand, but also get the card-carrying hipster set to think directly about the charity their purchase will support.

I know what you’re thinking – studios are joyous cauldrons of creation!  They’re not sad – just look at these photos!  But keep in mind two things: 1) I’m a terrible Googler (for example, my search for “cramped shared housing artist” – which obviously highlights my bias on this matter, but pffffft! – returned mostly images of overpopulated apartments in Hong Kong); 2) the median salary for graphic designers is around $44k/yr.  That’s less than the single-earner median for all households – around 20% less.

And these are the “haves” in the arts economy!  (If you’re an actor, as my fans****** insist I am, the median drops to $30K or lower; that’s still above the poverty line, but tell me – what country is this?)  The image of gleaming studio spaces, then, juxtaposed with these downscale wage figures, should blow people’s minds and encourage them to think twice about the real value of art in the modern economy.  Because as Sad Places (1) indicates, many of us (by proxy —> Moo) think small town decay is not only beautiful, but a wonderful way to market oneself in the post-industrial age.  Would we feel differently if there were actual people in those photographs?  The driver of that Bronco, say?

But back to my favorite subject: me.

The Sad Places discovery derailed by business card purchase.  First there was, well, this post and then: when I actually filled out the info template (I opted for Here’s Looking at Euclid), I was horrified by the sheer volume of Hillzian propaganda.  Name: Derek Hills.  Website: derekhills.com.  Twitter handle: @dthills.  Email: derek@derekhills.com.  Who the hell does this guy think he is?  And when I added a pseudo-headshot I robbed from the SpeakeasyDC website, I felt like an even greater charlatan.  So I closed my browser session without completing the transaction, transfixed instead by the prospect of Sad Places 2.  Would my face, my milieu, be a suitable subject?

Yes and no, I suppose.  Yes and no.

*One person, actually.
**It’s a she.
***That same woman.
****Ibid.
*****Same lady.  I’m not making this up.
******…
*******<yawn>…

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About Derek Hills

DEREK HILLS is a storyteller and playwright from Washington, DC. He's notched over 100 performances on several DC-area stages, including Story District, The Moth, and Better Said Than Done. He's also appeared in "e-Geaux (beta)" and "Apocalypse Picnic" at the Capital Fringe Festival, and debuted his full-length comedy, "Prison Break, Incorporated," in 2016. He contributes occasional freelance arts criticism and essays to the Washington City Paper and Washington Post and is now working on two new shows: a play called "Shopworn" and a one-person show called "Boy of the Year," both of which will premiere in 2018.
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