Banksy has come to Los Angeles in advance of this year’s Oscars, where his excellent film Exit Through The Gift Shop is up for Best Documentary. His presence in LA means new street art, which in turns means crowds of people standing around staring at the sides of walls, taking pictures. I saw his Charlie Brown in West Hollywood and laughed at the gaggle of people milling about; Banksy essentially made fun of this in Gift Shop when Thierry sticks around to video tape the reactions of snobby punters to his phone box installation.
The street art has been a center of media attention, with people getting up in arms when it is painted over by the property owners. Meanwhile, Banksy has been playing a two-step with the AMPAS about attending the Oscar ceremony in a disguise, something which is against their rules.
Who gives a shit? We’re in the middle of one of the most momentous political movements in decades and Banksy is spending his week tweaking the blue hairs in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science. One of the best moments in Exit is the documentation of Banksy’s soaring, beautiful, political and uplifting defacing of the West Bank Barrier, which turns the Palestinian people into de facto prisoners.
To me that’s the high point of Banksy’s work. Subversive, dangerous, political, meaningful - it’s everything street art could be and has been claimed to be. It was one of the most potent artistic statements of my lifetime, and seeing it on the news and in papers the day it appeared actually choked me up.
Now, as revolution grips the Middle East and incredible change comes to the region, Banksy is half a world away, promoting himself for an Oscar. He obviously has no responsibility to be in Cairo or Libya right now - and it could even be incredibly dangerous for him to try it - but if he were to show up there he’d be putting a real mark on history. Instead he’s playing games with the Oscars.
A game, by the way, that he already lost. Just getting involved in the silliness surrounding the Oscars is losing. It’s not like Banksy is going to top Marlon Brando sending Sacheen Littlefeather to pick up his award for The Godfather; Brando at least simply boycotted the proceedings. Showing up in a monkey mask will be a pale retread of that moment.
This is what Hollywood does to dissidents - it devours them while making them feel like they’re rebelling. Hollywood’s co-option is smart and loose, absorbing the reactions of reactionaries into its own publicity and mythology. The harder Banksy fights this blob, the further into it he sinks.