The Brooklyn and internet literary scene was recently suckered (including Brokelyn) by a strange prank by a small member-supported library operating out of Bushwick. Mellow Pages Library claimed it had been offered a $50,000, no-strings-attached sponsorship from Exxon Mobil. So they turned to their members, and the internet as a whole, to ask whether they could ethically take Big Oil money in an attempt to keep the library from shutting down.
It seemed improbable, and it turned out it was: Exxon told the International Business Times yesterday that they’d never heard of Mellow Pages and certainly didn’t offer them money. The library is no stranger to to weird pranks: In June, they claimed Kanye West was shooting a video in the space, and dozens of people showed up to take part.
In an interview with Brokelyn, Mellow Pages co-founder Jacob Perkins admitted that he and co-founder Matt Nelson were behind the stunt, hereby known as #mellowghazi, but defended it as a performance art piece and an attempt to find a deep-pocketed donor to keep the library alive.
Sitting in the otherwise empty library last night, Perkins explained that he and Nelson dreamed up the bizarre stunt as a Hail Mary to save the library from closing. They hoped that a third party would swoop in and offer money to prevent a potential sponsorship from Big Oil. If no philanthropic angel comes through in the next few weeks, the library will close after February.
“We did it for the survival of the library,” Perkins said. “But we’re OK with the reality of the situation, that people will hate us now.”
The two saw it as more of a performance piece than a prank or a stunt, Perkins said, explaining that “everything after the email to members, the discussion everyone had and that we had with members, was real. We were all part of the performance, including me and Matt.”
“Our options were becoming so limited that this was one of the only cards we had left to play,” Perkins said. So the two sent the email to their members saying they’d been approached by Exxon.
Perkins compared it to a rolling work of fiction that everyone was a part of. He insisted throughout the interview that the conversation about selling out, independence and corporate influence was a good and necessary one to have.
At the very least, they seem to have accomplished the part of their performance piece to get people to talk about selling out and artistic integrity. Here at Brokelyn we lauded their decision to not take the money. At The Awl, writer Elizabeth Stevens compared their plight to Jim Henson’s efforts making commercials for corporate America, and the New York Observer, called their situation “a sad story, but all too frequent in the small, non-profit business world.” But by causing the discussion in this manner, did they sell out their own members?
Perkins claimed that despite offers of smaller donations coming in from members, they didn’t take any of them, and that the goal always remained snaring a deep-pocketed donor.
“We had no intention of capitalizing on this, and there’s been no material gain,” Perkins said. As for the future of the library, he didn’t see how the stunt could have an effect on it, negative or positive. “We’re still fucked, we’re still in the same position we were when we started,” he said.
Having previously hosted a fundraiser for them, Brokelyn isn’t too thrilled to be hoisted on their oil rig of shame. But if there’s any lesson to take away from this, it’s that librarians, with their tortoise shell glasses and air of decorum, clearly can’t be trusted. They’re forever shushing us because we’re interrupting their attempts to think up of fanciful new scams to run on us. So perhaps think twice before supporting your local library.
Also, this is as good a time as any to announce that, thanks to generous underwriting by our new corporate sponsor, Halliburton, this site is changing its name to Hallibroketon. With Halliburton, a company with a sterling record on the environment, labor relations and war profiteering, we predict we can further our goal of giving you the best ways to live big on small change. Tip number one: know the vice president.