Left Behinds

The anti-andrewsullivan.com. Or, the Robin Hood (Maid Marian?) of bright pink Blogger blogs.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Banksy's Wit and Wisdom

My friend Fycelle recently fulminated against the triteness of Banksy's courageous critique of Paris Hilton, whose vapidity has never before been pointed out by anyone, ever.

Like the world needs another fucking Barbara Kruger! Apparently Banksy has been inspired by those tote bags and fridge magnets in Camden Market, emblazoned with Kruger's classic fighting-talk slogans such as 'I Shop Therefore I Am' and 'Your Body Is A Battleground'. Anticapitalist art fuck off and die!

Paris, already enjoyable as a persona for her glacial nonchalance, is only being elevated by the amusing (and slightly hysterical) upset caused by her music career. I think the 'Every CD you buy puts me further out of your league' slogan is revealing - its her wonderful air of self-containment, even when doing something as precarious and potentially embarassing as attempting to launch herself as a popstar, that pisses people right off. I often hear the word 'talent' being banded around and it makes me blush - are people really so naive about pop? Like a film, a popstar is the work of a team of people across various creative disciplines, visual and aural. Paris is doing not bad and has so far given the world three and a half good songs, which is better than Banksy's piles of shit art and stencilling.
After the jump, Fycelle rounds up some more of his favorite political art.

Hey guys, I found more really great art!

Although I have to say, I kind of like the Banksy thing with the Vietnamese girl and Ronald McDonald, simply because it made me laugh the first time I saw it, in that nervous, "that's challenging my petrified ways of thinking" laughter that Adorno liked so much. It seems to be about the sentimentalization and other distortions of that iconic image, though the aspect of it that's a critique of multinational profiteering in southeast Asia or whatever is, indeed, trite.

I like Banksy's (inconsistent) visual wit, I hate his sloganeering.

Shortly after writing the thing about Paris, Fycelle (who is a film student in London) clarified that he is not opposed to all political art per se, just bad political art.

I am not averse to art by any means, and neither to the idea that things like it can sometimes be profound, but it's this shit that pisses me off. Like, once a friend of mine (whose parents call themselves marxists) told me that she thought the most important duty of art was to 'express a social and political message'. I think the exact opposite! The idea that art should be massaging our (trite) moral sensibilities is obviously outrageous, but this is what so much shit vying to be called 'art' prides itself upon, including Banksy. His bullshit stunts remind me of the class clown who picks on the weakest teacher and then looks round for approval from the other kids - it's like a form of posing. There is a quote, I think it's from Proust, which is something like 'Art that contains theories is like an object on which the price tag has been left'. I like it because I've always struggled with the premium placed on ideas and meaning in a lot of art discussion and especially in my shortlived art education - it says eloquently how much art like this diminishes itself by cancelling out its own mystery. Anyway, once I was able to to free myself from the anxiety caused by the poisonous idea of 'meaning' and focus on the surfaces - the formal and aesthetic qualities - in art, I found my appreciation became both wider and deeper. Two really good essays that helped me were 'Against Interpretation' and 'The Aesthetics of Silence' by Susan Sontag.
How adorable of Fycelle to struggle so mightily with the question of meaning in art! Reading that made me feel like a cynical old man, which prompted me to sit back in my leather armchair, take a puff on my pipe, and stir the embers of my study of the philosophy of art ten years ago, most of which I'm sure is completely wrong and oversimplified.

for kant, art (including poetry) stimulates a particular part of our brains that nothing else can, precisely because its ambiguities stimulate creative, associative, unpredictable thinking. it's a kind of pure reason that needs the occasional workout.

bad political art does not serve this function. there's a simple meaning and not much more.

of course, good political art comprises more than one heavyhanded political message. i'm thinking of the film maria full of grace, or some of felix gonzalez-torres' better pieces, for example.

there are many other theories of the purpose of art (especially relevant might be adorno's argument that good, critical art can be a particularly effective indirect critique of petrified ways of thinking), but i always liked kant.

If you know what I mean.

(I think I'm constitutionally incapable of writing "Kant" without soon thereafter making a dirty pun)


  • At 4:39 PM, Blogger Phoebe Evergreen said…

    What are the other two and a half good songs? I enjoyed "Stars Are Blind" all right ("show me your love and I'll show you mine?") but it didn't hold a candle to the Xtina Aguilera single. Help me out here.

  • At 11:27 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Good call on the best moment of Stars Are Blind.

    Fycelle wrote the stuff about Paris, but I think he was referring to "Nothing In This World" and "Screwed," neither of which I like very much. NITW is very Hilary Duff, serviceable candy pop. Screwed has a bit more of an edge. You know, like Lindsay Lohan.

    What I don't like about Paris' songs is that she uses her breathy little girl high voice. My favorite thing about her as a celeb is that her natural chest voice is pretty deep, kind of like Jane Fonda's. There's a nice disconnect between her iconic image and her natural, not unintelligent voice. You expect her to sound giggly and squeaky, and instead she sounds commanding (I'm guessing she's pretty used to giving orders). The breathy thing is a complete affectation, and it would have been more interesting (from a, um, feminist perspective) if she'd sung from her chest voice rather than her head voice.

    I've clearly participated in too many American Idol message boards.

  • At 1:13 PM, Blogger Phoebe Evergreen said…

    While I'm a fan of Banksy and Babs Kruger, I do appreciate the militant pro-pop anti-rockism of the whole post. Bravo! Also, Dept. of Nelly Furtado: Is "Promiscuous" really that good? I like "Maneater" better.

    In other Paris Hilton news, I had the fortune to attend a party at the Playboy mansion where models had been hired to flesh out* the gender balance. While the actual Playboy mansion staff who were giving tours looked as creamy, round and airbrushed-in-life** as ever, the models tended towards a Paris Hilton look: sleepy-eyed and slack-jawed, or "dumb and slutty". And I have to say, that look works much better on Paris than it did on the rent-a-danes. I think I like Paris because she kind of gives the lie to the whole slutty=empowerful movement: actually, being a sexbot isn't empowering to women, having enough money to have people killed is, and you shouldn't confuse the two.

    *Oh yeah, he did that.

    **We should figure out how to say "airbrushed-in-life" in German. I bet Heidegger used it.

  • At 2:52 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    I love Maneater! It's my jam of the week. Timbaland can do no wrong. Actually, that's not true, half her Timbaland-produced album is crap. But 5 of the songs are great (and, to avoid being as cryptic as Fycelle, I'm referring to Maneater, Promiscuous, No Hay Igual (pop reggaeton from a middle class portugues girl, but it works), Glow (her impersonation of Madonna), and Showtime (her impersonation of Aaliyah)).

    This summer there have been some excellent female pop jams.

    Also, every time someone uses the word rockism, I think of Kelefah Sanneh, a buddy from high school, which causes me to reflect on my relative lack of success, which bums me out, which makes me listen to Nelly Furtado. And the circle has been squared.

  • At 2:57 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Also, good point about Paris as an embodiment of the failure of sluttiness (though, sadly, if you ever talk to teenagers, you'll discover that they don't see her as a cautionary tale. At all. It's insane and tragic how influential she is with Generation Z or Q or whatever current teens are).

    Except I would argue it's just the failure of a particular kind of brain-dead, bobble-headed sluttiness. That's not what feminists or even post-feminists are talking about. They're talking about Candida Royale.

  • At 6:47 PM, Blogger Phoebe Evergreen said…

    Digressing only so slightly, while referring back to the Deep Springs post from last week, I learned this summer that Tad Friend was responsible for the phrase "do-me feminism". It wasn't all that surprising. It would be cool to get something that sticky into the language, even if it was a term as apalling as "do-me feminism"

  • At 7:50 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    I'm a who, me? feminist.

  • At 7:51 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Or should that be "who-me feminist"?

    Anyhow, let's make this neologism happen. We are who-me feminists, hear us roar!

  • At 7:54 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    "Solomon, stop trying to make who-me feminist happen! It's not going to happen!"

    -Regina from Mean Girls


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