21 August 2011

Who's Fooling Who[m]?

This posts begins with a conversation I had with my daughter about whether Banksy would be elected as Mayor of Bristol if he chose to stand. Everybody wants to know Banksy, to be like him. The pride we feel in somebody who manages to make political argument witty and accessible is unexpected in an era when we are told that people are not interested in politics.

Banksy's variety of street politics is more appealing because it is more open, and also more directly challenging without having any apparent victims. His anonymity adds to the allure as well as to the appeal. He has become an Everyman character: like Charlie Chaplin's tramp, standing up to authority and using ridicule to emerge victorious. We would all like to feel that we could legitimately claim 'I am Banksy (and so is my wife)'.

The trickster character plays an important role in mythologies across the world. In West Africa he is Anansi, who plays tricks on the Gods and takes the form of a spider. In Japanese mythology he is Kitsune, the fox. Tricksters are cunning and witty, but often end up with joke on them. In native American cultures Coyote often plays this role, while in historic mythological systems the Norse cultures had Loki and the Greeks Hermes.

The role of the trickster, like the fool in Medieval courts, is to prick the pomposity of those in authority. He is the antidote to hubris. Perhaps it is because our society, with all its scientific knowledge, has lost the wisdom of being able to laugh at itself that Banksy is proving so popular. He also tempts us to revel in, rather than eliminate, doubt and uncertainty. His first foray into film-making, the Oscar-nominted Exit through the Gift Shop, could itself be one extraordinary hoax. But whether the joke is on the duped majority, the art establishment, Mr Brainwash, or even Banksy himself, is hard to tell.

1 comment:

  1. Banksy's year before last exhibition at the Bristol City Museum and Gallery, was a sellot-queues round the block to get in. THere was everything from a Venus de Milo sporting dark glasses and lots of shopping bags, to a sinister riot policeman rocking on a child size plane, and an old master of the Flight to Egypt with an 'Easy Jet' sign in the background. Stokes Croft, where many of his and others works feature on the walls, is a creative civil society hotspot in Bristol-now a global visitor attraction. When the so called Stokes Croft riots happened in May 2011, with police raiding a legal squat on a hot Thursday evening before a bank holiday weekend, and then kettled and moved 150 or so by then furious bystanders up the road and left them outside the new Tesco Express-some of them to 'riot' and rash Tesco's-Banksy did a 'Bomb Tesco' print(or was it "Every little hurts at Tesco?) to raise funds for the JUdicial Review of Bristol City's spineless decision to allow Tesco planning permission permission.