from our Editor: Aaron Mandel
So Banksy set-up a stand hidden in plain sight alongside other artists in New York City. He sold a few paintings. Did he prove the existence of the lottery for the purchasers? Or demonstrate the massive reverb of a good publicity stunt, well-conceived and well-played?
I would argue those explanations capture the surface gloss and dross, but miss the profounder message.
Banksy went deep on us in New York the other day and now he is dropping mad PUBLIC art outside in the square.
But what about the message?
I read Banksy as part of a sequence that runs: Warhol, Basquiat, Hirst, Banksy. Warhol said the joke was on the buyer. He sold people soup cans and kitsch for millions. Basquiat couldn’t accept that it was to be conceived of as a joke and opted out. Hirst knows very well it’s a joke and is cashing in on it. Banksy knows there is a joke and this was a warning that the joke may be on us (society).
Warhol predicted everyone would/could have their fifteen minutes of fame. This was not because he thought everyone was deserving of it. Rather, it was because he thought the gross stupidity and excessiveness of culture would dictate it. Everybody does something, brilliant/dumb/dangerous/profound— the distinction became irrelevant.
Essentially Andy foresaw Reality TV. The dominant cultural paradigm can package and sell us fifteen minutes of anything, from Snooki to Lauren Conrad, from teen moms to amazing racers.
Reality TV contestants are like lottery winners in the public sphere.
Warhol’s take implies we’re fucked and like Nero’s Romans we may just as well enjoy a good party on the way out. This meme and the cult built around it devoured Basquiat.
Banksy’s warning is that branding, heredity, and Reality TV lottery winners may not be a good way to select talent. Branding is about the logo and the label as everyone from Naomi Klein to Macklemore has absorbed, a 99 cent t-shirt can become $50 with the right branding. Banksy has noted that as well, and in New York warned us that this is obscuring our ability to select talent.
Concomitantly, heredity has become increasingly powerful as our society has become more sclerotic. Look at the Senators, bureaucrats, football coaches, singers, actors—who surfed their parents name into a position. The examples are legion.
Of course, we have tome, upon tome of history that tells us this is a terrible way to select talent with damaging and destructive consequences.
Eyeballing this status quo, Banksy’s attack on the corporatist mindset of branding is substantive. He points out that genius could be in the Bronx or Bangladesh, but unless it is properly branded and packaged, or gets lucky enough to end up on a Reality TV show or in a professional sports league, we will never know it.
How many geniuses are lost to the streets annually? Surely more than there are Slumdog Millionaires.
The pseudo-elite, those near the center of power, suckling the teets of global capitalism want to sell the myth that the meritocracy is coming on slowly. Thomas Friedman, for example, penned, The World is Flat, a paean to globalism. Banksy pulls back the curtain. The world isn’t flat. It is more like a motherfucking Alpine ski slope and if you are born outside the comforts of the first world or elite wealth, you get to start at the bottom. Oh and their ain’t no ski lift. Best of luck. Occasionally a miraculous hot air balloon will happen by and one of you out of the billions down there will be fortuitous enough to grab the string and float to the top.
Welcome to the Capital, Davos, CH.
Sounds a lot like the Hunger Games, right?
Except Banksy was talking about the real world.
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