The hazards of Political Art [part MCMXII]

Even for the most accomplished of smart ass, wise guy, artist provocateurs, political art is dicey. Art can be political. But if it is, it better also be very good.
So… Banksy has a hotel in the West Bank city of Bethlehem called Walled Off. Okay. And he threw a street party to mock-celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Balfour declaration:

People from the nearby Aida refugee camp said afterwards they objected to the way the event had used Palestinian children as the centrepiece of the performance. “We came because we didn’t like the use of the British flags or the way they were using Palestinian children,” said Munther Amira, a prominent activist from Aida who planted a large Palestinian flag in the middle of a cake.

Banksy’s rendering of a British street party was intended to satirise other celebrations, including the dinner on Thursday, at which guests will include the British prime minister, Theresa May, and her Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Several dozen Palestinian children had been invited to the event, which included scorched bunting and flags, cakes and helmets painted with union flags set at a table beneath the looming concrete separation wall.
The event also included the unveiling of a new work by Banksy, etched into the concrete of the wall: a mock apology from Queen Elizabeth II to the Palestinians reading “Er … sorry”.

The Balfour declaration was the result of discussions between British Zionist leaders seeking political recognition of their goals for Jewish statehood and British politicians embroiled in the first world war.

Whoever Banksy is, his instinct to bring attention to Palestinian suffering is well-chosen but also lousy with pitfalls. Once any artist begins to make statements of expression using actual people, their stories, histories and emotions, they are using much more than words, paint, film or movement. I’m not convinced that it can’t or should not be done – it has and will again. But again: err first on the side of excellence. Good work is easily marginalized if it can be dismissed as manipulative self-promotion.

This is a Test

When I was a kid, there was probably everyday – and likely precipitated by the specter of nuclear attack (which seems almost surreal now) – 30 seconds of test pattern with a C flat hum on the tv, probably between some favorite shows. You would just get accustomed to waiting it out, then the voice over would come on and say: “This has been a test of the emergency broadcast system. Had this been an actual emergency, you would have been caught practically unaware as you have have become so complacent about the test that…” Well, it didn’t say that. But it could have.

This drop in gas prices is a similar though much more poignant test of our ability to comprehend the circumstances in which we find ourselves, vis-a-vis dwindling energy reserves. I mean, I don’t know what else to call it besides stupid. Actually, I can think of a few things.

“We’re in remission right now,” said Marvin E. Odum, the vice president for exploration and production for Royal Dutch Shell in the Americas. But once the economy picks up, he said, “the energy challenge will come back with a vengeance.”

Come back? It’s gone somewhere? Sure it’s hiding behind the drop in prices that is the result of a fire sale to jetison every asset for cash, including in the commodities market and oil contracts. But it’s… HIDING. This a test of our resolve. The biggest challenge/problem we have in society – all caps implied – is what to do when the price is cheaper. When faced with this, we always do the wrong thing: destroy downtowns, eat poison, willfully trash the environment, put ourselves out of work, live in isolation… all because it costs a little less. Low, low prices. Always.

Listen up, people. This is an actual emergency. You are being defined on your ability to resist your impulses to return to your regularly scheduled programming and wait for this to pass. You must begin to change everything about the way you do everything before this looming catastrophe changes it for you – even and especially when it is supposedly cheaper not to.

I won’t go into why it would be cheaper to begin to change now. I think I’m already starting to have more in common with the sound of the hum than I’m comfortable with.

Update: Interesting addendum to the miles per gallon vs. gallons per mile debate to tack on