15 Questions for Srini Kumar

He talks anarchy. He talks e-commerce. Chiefly, he talks. Srini Kumar of unamerican.com wants to sell you the Revolution. We spend 15 Minutes kicking the tires.

Srini Kumar, revolution and e-commerce
"The Web is this nation's saving grace, and I'll be damned if I let a horde of MBA's take this crucible of anarchic joy away from us. "

1. Explain what you do.

I'm the head of Anarchy's Ad Agency, Unamerican Activities. I make people happy and thoughtful, because I think happy, thoughtful people bring the revolution with them wherever they go.
          I believe that the ideas that form an ideology that I loosely term "anarchism" can help people evaluate the obstacles that hinder their potential. Since this evaluation is important, I manifest these ideas as stickers, t-shirts, and other merchandise – what I call "tools to help you fucking MATTER."
          Evaluating, purchasing, and putting into use an object is a great way of forming a relationship with an object; therefore, I hope the stuff I sell helps my customers relate to anarchism. Furthermore, ideally I'll be able to quit my dayjob as a result of the proceeds. <Smiles.>

2. Are you an activist, a satirist, a deconstructionist, or what?

I like to think of myself as an agitator. If the stuff I make doesn't culminate in action, I start over. I'm also a born marketer, but my conscience would rather that I didn't squander this talent on some meaningless product. If there's something I was born to market, it's the TRUTH.
          It's not about appealing to five million people. It's about appealing to the RIGHT 200 people. That's all you need to really create a revolution.

3. Are you a publisher, a designer, a writer, or what?

In that context, I'm a philosopher. Everything I do stems from a burning need to get my IDEAS out there, in a form that's as simple and simultaneously confusing as possible. If you evaluate the stuff I'm doing WITHOUT the ideas involved, they just don't amount to THAT much - font-driven stickers and dingbat-driven shirts, confusing web design with a few nifty doohickeys whose source is all stolen or modified, and a writing style influenced by attention-deficit-disorder and hallucinogens just like any other manifesto-scrawler out there. In my opinion, it's the IDEAS, and the PASSION that goes into spreading those ideas, that sets my project apart.

4. Your pop-up messages are extraordinary. I've never seen that Javascript technique used anywhere else.

One of the things I was trying to evoke was my experience selling stickers on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. It's a tough job, but I did pretty well, because each of my stickers actually could launch me into a mini-spiel about the topic BEHIND the sticker. The Javascript alert() method let me implement this spiel without taking the user to another page, so it was the obvious way to go. Plus, it sure surprises the heck out of people, which is what Unamerican was built to do!

5. Talk about your design aesthetic.

I enjoy doing things that others don't – such as animated .gifs as backgrounds, I got a big kick out of designing that. It's important to give people an immediate understanding that what they're encountering is a substantial source of depth, beauty and transformation. If that's not in their interest, fine, buy some stickers and get outta here. But if it is, this site is a way for someone to actually find a family online.
          As something approximating an e-commerce site, I have to keep my product out front, but as a 'zine, I've got to present the product as information-rich and personally-fueled, and as a philosopher I've got to have tons of OTHER information available on the page that can be delved into if the user has the time or the desire.
          Basically, I am seeking INVOLVEMENT on the part of the reader. I want people downloading my posters and putting them up at school or at work; I want people buying stuff or joining our mailing list, and indicating back to us that THEY exist. It's all in the interest of amplifying word-of-mouth; I will know that it's working when I see the ideas coming BACK to me. When some anonymous kid gives ME an unamerican flyer on the street, THEN I'll know we're getting somewhere!

6. What's your most popular product? Least popular? Any idea why?

Well, "Whitey Will Pay" is pretty much unbeatable, although "Shut Up Hippy" and "I Represent GOD You Fuck" are picking up pretty fast. In addition, if it says "Fuck", or mocks organized religion or work, it'll sell.
          You know, the study of "why" certain stickers are popular and others aren't is one of the most entertaining parts of this business. Why is "GOAT-BOY" popular as all git-out? Why do sales of "Cops Smell Funny" pick up in the summer? Why does "Bad Sex Sucks" sell overwhelmingly to women, and "Orgasms Are Good" overwhelmingly to gays and lesbians?
          Least popular designs are the more unsmilingly intellectual ones, such as "Women Will Rise", "Destroy Capitalism" and "Racism Is Typical". I think that's because intellectuals (not smart people, INTELLECTUALS) are inherently nonrevolutionary. They don't think something seemingly insignificant like stickers can change things, everything they're into (like Adbusters or indie rock) brims with jaded irony, and they're a lot more comfortable than most of our customers. That said, some of my best friends are intellectuals!

7. Where did "Whitey will pay" come from? How do you come up with your ideas?

As for "Whitey Will Pay", the band Hickey has this sweaty, pig-hating drummer, Aesop, who I think unwittingly yelled it from his drum riser at the Chameleon one night in 1995. I was looking for more sticker designs for my very very first sticker sheet, and I had my journal with me.
          As for my ideas, the satellite beams them down to me and I am powerless to resist. Basically, I've got a fruitful PARADIGM - Unamerican slogans express "the truth in five words or less". It's like I've got a slogan-collection subprogram that grabs cool phrases out of random conversations or media moments. We're a punk-rock band without songs, only titles.
          It's a lot more complex than that, of course. I've written a book about it.

8. Have you been able to influence popular culture? Are your phrases being picked up by the outside world? Are you even trying for that?

I am certainly trying to influence popular culture – a project like this DEPENDS on it. It's a slow process, but I think we're getting somewhere. We can see the hit counts rising, and every day we get a couple people who are like "I will tell EVERYONE about you guys, you made my day!"
          It's sort of like when everyone started using Emigre fonts; they just made the best fonts they could with the technology, humbly selling 'em out of Sacramento, and then one day they're driving down the freeway and BAM! there's one of their fonts on a billboard for Sprite!

9. What do you read? Who do you like (on the web, in print)?

My major "literary" influences are Abbie Hoffman, Philip K. Dick and the Book of the SubGenius. A good book is a drug, definitely, and whenever I need a hit of inspiration, I turn back to these. Jerry Rubin, Robert A. Heinlein, RE/Search and the liner notes from any Nation of Ulysses album come to mind as well.
          On the Web, I'm hell of confused. Other than The Onion and HotWired, I secretly pray that every ad-supported site would crash and burn (even though they can count me among their eyeballs as well, sigh). I read the first page of a lot of sites, every day, so I've got a good overview of the Web, but hell, the only site that really SHAPES my day is Jonathan Cainer's horoscope, which is so on target it's creepy.

10. I'm told you used Web 98 as a personal soapbox. Truth or myth?

That's funny, who told you that? Truth. One of my goals with Unamerican is to create a marketing buzz stronger than any of those cubicledwellers who bought booths and went the corporate route. I do this because I've got a great story and I'm passionate about it; indeed, the world's gotta know!
          Argh, that's the thing though – I often risk being perceived as an egomaniac. I'm not an egomaniac, I just have a god-complex. <Insert winking emoticon here - ed.>

11. Do you see a contradiction between your anti-capitalist stance, and the fact that you do $6,000 a month in e-commerce?

No, not at all. Free enterprise will destroy capitalism. There's nothing wrong with someone making money by providing value to other individuals in a non-coercive context. As an anarchist, my highest value is freedom, and "free enterprise" is certainly a type of freedom.
          That said, "capitalism" (literally, "society's productive/consumption decisions are made by capital") leads to hierarchy, coercion, brainwashing, and all kinds of oppression. I don't make the things that I make because they make me the MOST money – if that were the case, I'd be introducing my Spice Girls line of stickers, or whatever. I make the objects that will help me meet (and aid and abet) the most interesting, counter-mainstream psychographic possible. Those are the kinds of people I'd like to hang out with – why should I sell to people about whom I don't give a rat's ass?

12. Is the web essential to your concept, or simply a free medium? Would you be just as happy doing this with magazine or TV advertising?

It's essential, definitely. It lets people interact with me directly, it lets me revise and modify on demand, it lets me market a simple string of text rather than an entire catalog. It shapes my product, as well - the fact that it's getting somewhere is tied to the fact that my product can be communicated effectively over the web (unlike many crafts).
          Not to mention it is HELL of cheap. I'm so conservative with money that the idea of spending tons of money advertising in Rolling Stone or whatever would kill me. This way, my prices stay low, I don't have to work too hard to communicate with my customers, and the media actually gives a fuck about my project (seeing as the media gives a fuck about the Web). In addition, I love the community that's on the web, and the fact that I can set up a community for Unamerican as well. I still believe that the Web is this nation's saving grace, and I'll be DAMNED if I let a horde of MBA's take this crucible of anarchic joy away from us.
          I can't WAIT 'til we get credit card processing up and running. At that point, we'll REALLY be tied to the Web.

13. Are you promoting a worldview, or simply promoting Srini Kumar?

The only answer to that is that there are two Srini Kumars. Like most online journal-keepers, I've got a persona and a person, and while the line may blur from time to time, my persona is vital to the promotion of my ideas. If I manage to acquire a stage for myself to promote the ideas, then the ideas will be disseminated more vigorously (thus getting me in touch with more people, which means, in turn, more ideas).
          Unamerican Activities, unlike anyone else doing e-commerce today, is not modeled after a store, but after a punk rock band. We are trying to catch people's interest to our ideas, and the merchandise comes second. I'm the obvious focus point for these ideas, so I've gotta pitch myself, natch.
          Fame and fortune is a stupid game, but fame and fortune is the game I play.

14. What are your long-range ambitions?

Really, the ambition I have is that my project, and my website, will persist for millenia. That's why I'm supercreative in the here and now – I want to create myself a pretty fucking rad memorial.

15. Wow. Um, so do I get a free tee shirt?

It's policy to give a free shirt away to anyone who interviews me, so yes. (How's that for a hint, kids? Get in touch!!!)

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