Sunday, October 10, 2010

Winner Take All?

My father recently sent me a clipping from the Hampton Roads Daily Press that highlighted some curious research presented at my alma mater, the College of William & Mary.

Biologists have determined that "the maximum length of a duck's penis depends not on genetics but rather [on] the males he keeps company with." Dr. Maydianne Andrade, of the University of Toronto Scarborough, explained that ducks "are essentially engineering their own phallus in response to social challenges." This is fascinating evolutionary biology, to be sure, but I find it remarkable that ducks have penises at all, given that most birds do not. (Apparently, a cloaca just won't cut it in duck world!) Dr. Patricia Brennan, of Yale University, believes that the heightened intensity of male-male competition among waterfowl has resulted in the development and size fluctuation of their sex organs.

The evolving duck penis battle came to mind when I read Ashley Mears' article about Coco Rocha, the popular fashion model. Early in his piece, Mears summed up the competitive dynamics of creative industries revealingly.
"Rocha is what economists would call a winner in a 'winner-take-all market,' prevalent in culture industries like art and music, where a handful of people reap very lucrative and visible rewards while the bulk of contestants scrape together meager livings before they fade into more stable and far less glamorous careers."
As with the bulk of would-be daddy (or uncle) ducks, most artists, designers, musicians, writers, and other creatives will not be prolific and celebrated. There are many intangibles in play, of course, but, like the drake duck whose penis twists to extraordinary lengths to impregnate a hen, "winning" in a creative industry often depends on who you're keeping company with.

Once vetted, however, the successful creative becomes, like Coco Rocha, a known label; his or her career is likely to be a fruitful one. That label is what the blog "Is It Art or Fart?" trades on. As the blog's co-founders explain,
"The blog began as a conversation between two friends living on opposite coasts who shared an undying passion for contemporary art. Both friends have the habit of seeing as much contemporary art as they possibly can, and this habit has uncontrollably spilled over into the recognition of 'fart'--coincidental moments in everyday life that, when isolated and [attached to the name of an] artist, bear uncanny resemblance to art seen in museums and galleries around the globe. Back and forth the two friends would point to the 'fart' that seemed to be just about everywhere. Now the humor of their findings is for all to enjoy. Remember, the world is your readymade!"
Part of the humor of their project is that the "fart" is often as good as or better than the "art" it might be confused with. Unfortunately, for the "fart," as for many drake ducks and coulda-been-a-contender creatives, it's a winner-take-all world.

Image credit: Scrooge McDuck, copyright Walt Disney Company


andrea said...

I knew where you wre going with this from its lowly duck penis beginnings ... so can I hang out with you? :) (I promise not to produce more than my fair share of Fart.)

Hungry Hyaena said...


Lowly? Some drakes might not appreciate that remark! Despite your anti-waterfowl prejudices, of course I'd hang out with you! ;)

Anonymous said...

That's a fun read ! ! ! Okay , some might say it's a bit of a stretch, but what's the point in being a good writer if you can't stretch a concept and comparison pretty far and see whether or not you get away with it, and you do! What fun ! Thanks :)