What happens when protesters gather around a wrecked guitar, a can of Guinness, and a pile of old issues of Vice chanting incantations in an effort to levitate the magazine’s offices into the East River? Nothing supernatural, but it does make for a spectacle. It happened yesterday on North 11th Street in Williamsburg, where a group of about 30 people organized by local band Talibam! showed up despite the snow to express their displeasure at Vice Media’s plans to move into 289 Kent Avenue.
The levitation was inspired by The Fugs’ protest of the Vietnam War in 1967, in which the band rallied with more than 100,000 people in an attempt to raise the Pentagon. “Levitation is a metaphor for what’s happening in New York City,” which is really apt, said Matty Mottel of Talibam!, “because every day people are leaving their communities. They may as well be going up into the sky.” Mottel takes umbrage with the way Vice went about taking over a building occupied by DIY institutions like Glasslands Gallery and Death By Audio. “They didn’t communicate with the community,” he said. “It was all secret rumors and handshakes.”
On the Williamsburg sidewalk, the protesters stood around pieces of “cultural ephemera” (a toy motorcycle, the packaging for a six pack of root beer, a used Styrofoam cup), which the participants had contributed. The elaborate protest had its own program with lyrics to an “offertory song” so the group could follow along. A selection from said song: “They keep building, they keep on building, and it’s destroying our neighborhood.” There was a reading of a text, led by Talibam!. The crowd, which included Mr. LES Claude Debris, joined in for lines like “the consumer in consumer society is fascinated by the fetishized consumer society is fascinated by the fetishized object.”
The protestors then recited the speech given by Ed Sanders of the Fugs at the 1967 rally. It’s a trippy hippie rant, with many references to Greek gods and the cosmos, and it ends with Sanders declaring “in the name of the mouth of the river, we call upon the spirit to raise the Pentagon from its destiny and preserve it.” Of course, they changed it to make Vice the new target of exorcism.
All the participants shouted “Levitate!” “Out damn spot!” “Rise!” and “Be gone, demon!” They tried several times, but everyone had to agree that the building remained firmly on the ground. Not to be deterred, Mottel said the group would likely be back on a date yet to be determined. “This was only the first try,” he warned.
We reached out to Vice but didn’t hear back. Last July, a spokesperson for the company told the Wall Street Journal, “Brooklyn is our home, and we’re already hard at work developing a freaky, space-age utopia that will give today’s creative visionaries a place to produce astonishing stories.” The media company moved into a building on North 11th and Wythe Avenue in 2004 and expanded into the adjacent Beacon’s Closet space last year. The Observer reported that Vice’s latest expansion into the former industrial building on the corner of South Second Street and Kent Avenue will allow it to nearly double its staff with the help of $6.5 million in state tax incentives.
Mottel hopes that with its state money and the backings of a major publisher, Vice will choose to give back to the Brooklyn counter-culture from which it mines its image. “There can be an opportunity for some version of collaboration,” he said, adding that venues like Death By Audio didn’t have the resources to actually support musicians to the point where they could earn a living performing full-time, but Vice has the means to make a significant contribution to the Brooklyn cultural scene.