The confusing meanings of "tagging" Air Force One

Over the weekend, I stumbled across the “Still Free” web site, which is a publicity stunt/public advocacy page by the hip-hop/youth fashion company Ecko. The “Still Free” site features a shaky video of Air Force One outside of an airport hanger and hooded people climbing over a barbed-wire fence to get to it. Ultimately, one of these “vandals” spray paints the phrase “Still Free” on the side of the engine of the plane.

Also on the “Still Free” site ia a video of Marc Ecko himself titled “Why I Tagged Air Force One.” It’s kind of a convoluted explaination. He says he did this because the president needs to remember that when he goes places, he needs to represent freedom, and Ecko thought that spray painting the plane would be a great way to open a dialog. Then he goes on about graffiti as an art form and some of the kind of stupid laws that prevent kids under 18 from buying broad-tipped permanent markers in New York City and such. But then he says that vandalism is never right and he’s not suggesting that people go out and do that. Ecko just wants people to chill and talk about freedom.

Ah, okay. A bold (and crazy and illegal) move for freedom, I guess.

But it turns out (and actually, I knew this all along because this is how I found out about the “Still Free” web site in the first place) that this was all an elaborate hoax. As this AP wire story reports, the video appeared real enough that an Air Force spokesman for the unit responsible for Air Force One was “looking into it.” But of course it wasn’t real.

Why did he do it?

“I wanted to do something culturally significant, wanted to create a real pop-culture moment,” said Marc Ecko of Marc Ecko Enterprises. “It’s this completely irreverent, over-the-top thing that could really never happen: this five-dollar can of paint putting a pimple on this Goliath.”

Okay… so, tell us Marc; how did you pull it off?

Ecko acknowledged Friday that his company had rented a 747 cargo jet at San Bernardino’s airport and covertly painted one side to look like Air Force One. Employees signed secrecy agreements and worked inside a giant hangar until the night the video was made. Ecko declined to say how much the stunt cost.

“It’s not cheap,” he said. “You have to be rich.”

So ultimately, this statement about free speech– which appears to come in a form (vandalism) which Ecko says is of course illegal and wrong– is actually a fabrication, a fiction, and something that could never happen. Which, in a very real way, is not an example of free speech at all. And for me it is all the more problematic because it portrays itself as a “real” event in the name of “free speech.” It’s sort of like these faith healers you see getting people to get out of wheelchairs: at first, it demonstrates the powers of the healer; but it then it soon demonstrates the powers of the con man.

Or I guess it’s a lot like the whole Million Little Pieces thing.

That last sentence from Ecko in the wire story, “You have to be rich,” is of course key. It suggests two very important things of this speech act. First, it isn’t “free;” in fact, it’s really REALLY expensive. Second, it isn’t a protest at all, but rather a commercial. In the end, this is simply an advertisement for Marc Ecko Enterprises, which I suppose is a form of free speech, but its purpose is not really to raise awareness so much as it is to sell sweatshrits.

Anyway, I’m perhaps giving this more attention than it deserves, but go check out the video and see what I mean.

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